sibling issues

Anne said: Jan 4, 2009
 17 posts

My 11-year-old son began Suzuki violin at age 3. It took a long time to get through Book 1 (four years), but now he plays beautifully in mid Book 5…has a beautiful tone, a great sense of musicality, and plays with a lot of heart, he was concert master for the elementary schools’ district orchestra, plays in the middle school elite chamber orchestra, etc. Recently, though, two issues are kind of coming to a head…

First, middle school has been a rough transition—so much more homework, harder orchestra pieces (he’s in 3 orchestras and won’t drop one), harder Suzuki pieces, lots more practice, and then general growing pains. He recently went through quite a rough patch where he wasn’t advancing at all in his Suzuki pieces, but I think we’re coming out of that (his wise teacher told me that often at this age/level there’s a bit of a backslide before they take off again).

Thus, the age/level issues probably wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t for the other issue…his 6-year-old sister has really taken off with violin. She’s just finished the 1st Vivaldi in Book 4. When he heard her start the piece, his face just fell. Top that off, he found an old recital program from when he was her age—he had performed Etude! Now he’s asking if I think she’s better or smarter than he is; while I try to minimize comparisons and point out all of his wonderful qualities, and emphasize that it is his beautiful playing that has inspired his sister, I am really, really worried about what will happen we she catches up, or even passes him. I thought this would happen eventually, but later. My son is great and loves playing, how do I keep him from getting discouraged? (His teacher is also very sensitive to this matter. One possible route she suggested is his trying viola. He does enjoy the viola and plays it in the school orchestra, but he doesn’t want to give up violin completely).

At the same time, I don’t think I should be holding his sister back… but she’s one group/orchestra level below him… he is very worried about when she’s at the level where she can be in his orchestra (maybe next year). Also, she gets so much attention from other parents and older students (they’re in a very big Suzuki program). (Another discussion thread should probably be how to deal with the attention she gets—I don’t want it going to her head and I definitely don’t want it to be one of her primary motivating factors.) I’m also worried that my enthusiasm for her progress translates to him as lack of enthusiasm for his, or something along those lines.

I tell both, talent is as talent does… in the end the one who puts in the most work will reap the most rewards. As my son said yesterday, right now, that’s his sister… she thinks “practicing is the best thing in the whole world”. Logically, for a normal 11-year-old boy, there are lots of things more interesting than practicing right now. Our 1 hour a day is a struggle, but it gets done.

Sorry for the disorganized thoughts. So, I guess my questions are, how to I help my son continue proud and enthusiastic about his accomplishments? How do I deal with the sibling comparisons/rivalry? How do I support both in the unique ways they each need support, helping them each reach their maximum potential and, most importantly, keep loving the violin? (Again, their teacher is very sensitive to this issue and has been helpful; I’m just wondering if I can find more helpful ideas).

(one update—for those who responded to my summer message about my husband’s lack of enthusiasm with violin…he quit his administrative job and has a lot less pressure at work. He’s been dedicating a lot of his free time to joining the bandwagon with violin. As I right he and my son are investigating Baroque bows.)

said: Jan 4, 2009
 89 posts

I’ve been where you are and it’s tough to see the oldest child realizing that the little sib is catching up rapidly. Remember that she’ll probably slow down with the difficult music in late book 4 and trust your teacher to move one or both of them “sideways” to nonsuzuki rep so they don’t end up quite so competitive.

As for the attention issue, that will go away by itself. There’s a period when being the “small, adorable one” in group class is important. But everyone grows up and soon your little one will just be another one of the “big kids” looking at the next generation of adorable little ones. :)

said: Jan 7, 2009
 21 posts

My younger daughter started violin at 6, 6 months after her older sister (9 at the time). Now they are 8 and 11. The younger is getting ready to start book 4, the older is in book 5.

The older sister asks fairly often who will be the best violinist. I always say whichever one learns to practice the best. (This is true, they have similar amounts of talent). In the meantime, I’m trying to build the team concept with them. They love playing together in harmony and have peformed in a lot of different venues. They’ve even done a wedding for some friends at church. By stressing the advantages of having two violinists in the family, it lessons the competition of being the best. Fortunately, the younger one doesn’t seem to care one way or another. She just doesn’t want to be bossed around by the older sister and rebels whenever her sister tries to correct something in her playing.

said: Jan 8, 2009
 4 posts

It could also be that he has so much to do and she has the time to put into the Suzuki songs that he is spreading out over many things. IMO he shouldn’t feel bad about that. He is doing a lot.

Anne said: Jan 8, 2009
 17 posts

That’s true. Both school orchestras’ and Suzuki orchestra’s music has become exponentially more difficult and he has to put more time into those, plus school homework has gone from 30-45 minutes to a couple of hours a night. We don’t let him load up with other activities, but he’s very busy and often tired, poor guy. You’ve given me a good idea of an explanation to give to him when he asks if I think his sister’s more talented…she does have more time and less overall to worry about.

said: Jun 2, 2009
 44 posts

You have to admit that your daughter has the distinct advantage of having heard live Suzuki music since birth and that she has a much more experienced home teacher—YOU. Having spent 4 years on Book 1 with your son, you could help her overcome the challenges of the early pieces so much more effectively. It sounds as if your son is just at the cusp of the stage of very rapid progress. With music reading well in hand, a nice vibrato, and musicality in his playing, he will pull away from the younger sister.
We had the same issue at our house and decided to switch the younger child to viola. She is now a viola performance major in college! The world needs more violists! If you think your son would like some attention, you should see how much attention she got as an 11 year old violist playing advanced concerto music. During high school, she got lots of performance opportunities and played with a professional quartet—there are not too many high school kids who can make $200-300 for a few hours work on a Saturday evening while their peers are toiling for minimum wage at the mall. While this is not a good reason to play the viola, it is motiviating for teenagers—I am speaking here as a parent, not a teacher. Over the 20 years that I have been a Suzuki parent, I have seen how things so often even out over the years. In high school, it is often hard to distinguish which kids were early bloomers and which kids started out slow, but had good foundations and good work ethics. I think it is important to remind your son how much more material he is working on than his sister and that there is more to playing at his age than learning notes. Good luck. It sounds like he is a great kid.

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