Burned out…

said: May 13, 2011
 2 posts

I’ve been pushing my 9 year old to play Suzuki cello for 2-1/2 years now. I love his teacher—she’s patient, encouraging, but not a pushover. And she’s a wonderful cellist herself. Sadly, my son has disliked, almost hated, playing the cello from about the 6-month mark on. We practice 30 minutes each time, occasionally more if we missed the day before, or there’s a recital coming up. So I don’t think I’m asking too much from him.

I’m just so tired. I’m losing the motivation to go on. The other students we see at group all enjoy playing the cello. Really, one mom said that when her son complains about practicing, she just threatens to stop lessons, and he gets to work. He wants to play. My son totally doesn’t. He never touches his cello other that when I make him practice. I am only encouraged by the slight feelings of pride he displays when he plays for a recital. And he does like some of the songs on the CD, like Gavotte (Book 2). I think he’s making the best out of what he sees as an inescapable situation, and likes some of the songs he’s forced to play on an instrument he wants nothing to do with.

The worst part is he’s very talented, easily picking out tunes on the piano, and able to accurately tune up his cello w/o even using a tuner. (Though I insist he hears a piano A, and tunes his A string. He then tunes the others to that A.) He loves music. He’s bounced to it as a baby, and often hums tunes throughout the day. He loves movies with beautiful music, like Phantom of the Opera, though I haven’t allowed him to watch the whole thing. His teacher said not to let him quit until he’s 18. I’m so tired of driving him. He doesn’t complain because I won’t let him. But I know his heart.

I think he’d prefer piano. He does play the piano on his own, and enjoys it.

How long should I force him to play the cello? It’ll be three years in Sept.

Barb said: May 14, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Hi Tulip19,

I want to call you by name because your story sounds suspiciously like it’s about one of my students with a few minor things changed to protect identity! One being what the teacher’s advice was.

But, assuming you are NOT who you sound like to me…. :)

What I told the parent in your situation was that there are differing philosophies. Some won’t leave their children in music lessons if the child is not enjoying it. Music should be enjoyed. Another philosophy is that a child needs to have music lessons whether he likes it or not, it’s just a part of education, the same as math or English. And at the age of 8 it’s possible he doesn’t really know what he wants. (He was 8 at the time I told her this.)

What we did was to have our son continue with piano lessons until he was 13. At that point we allowed him to chose industrial arts over music (also gave him the option to switch instruments or do both industrial arts and music). I know another family who insists that their children take music until 18. But they did allow one son to give up violin since he was also taking piano.

My last word, based on knowing that boy and his musicality, was to encourage the mother to not let him quit music altogether. If he was to quit cello, keep him playing the piano.

One of my concerns with my student, however, is the number of times he comes to lessons seemingly exhausted. He doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time practicing, but in addition to cello he does have two piano lessons a week and is involved in a number of other activities—clubs, sports, etc. I could see where burn-out could be a problem with both mother and son as they seem to be constantly on the run. Of course mother has her own life in addition to her son’s and it seems to be a stretch for her to be very involved with practice.

My student has really not progressed in the last year or year and a half. He’s learned a few new pieces, but has not really improved in his playing. He’s very bright and musical, and can pick up tunes easily, but still struggles with basic technique, and doesn’t seem to have a lot of motivation to improve. However, the last time I talked to him, he DID want to still be playing cello “If my mom lets me. It costs a lot of money.” I think whether he wants to quit is something which he changes his mind on not infrequently, depending on his mood, though. The fact that he mentioned the cost has me concerned. He seemed to have some level of guilt there. Heavy burden for a 9 year old.

For MY student, if he wants to quit again, unless things can change with the level of commitment from mom—he needs her there for practice time if he is going to un-learn poor technique habits, and to make sure he practices what is assigned and does his other assignments like video-of-the-week, and just to have her spend time with him in a positive and encouraging way—and maybe cutting back on other extra-curricular things, maybe it’s time to let it go (but keep him in piano or some form of music!).

Have you read Edmund Sprunger’s Helping Parents Practice? http://yespublishing.com/ I wish I had read that when my son was still taking piano lessons. It would have helped me to know better how to support his practice without being the “practice police”.

What do the rest of you say? Have you had experiences like this?

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Jennifer Visick said: May 14, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

There are other instruments, and perhaps true enjoyment of the piano is the thing for your child.

But be prepared—taking piano lessons is much, MUCH harder than picking out songs on the piano by oneself. Every viola or violin student I’ve ever had can do that, and likes doing it. They like it because no one hounds them about posture while seated on a piano bench, and no one hounds them to practice piano every day or pushes them to practice technique or exercises or etudes or “the hard bit” of that song they can’t yet play well.

If he likes piano because he thinks it’s easy, and you let him switch to piano lessons instead of cello, you will soon run into the exact same problem. Piano is just as hard (if not harder).

My advice would be to set a musical goal—NOT an age—at which he will be able to choose to study another musical instrument if he wants to. For example, when he has finished a certain Suzuki book level (consult your teacher as to an appropriate milestone—perhaps the end of book 4, 5, or 6?).

Setting a goal instead of a time limit means that he has to put in a certain level of work, no matter what. If cello practice is truly torture, then he can make it end sooner by working more efficiently every day, and he can make it last longer by NOT working hard… Setting an age just means that he’ll be tortured until that age, regardless of what kind of work he puts into it.

said: May 15, 2011
 12 posts

I’ve always said that, after the first couple of years, I’ll pay the not inconsiderable cost of music lessons as long as the kids practice a reasonable number of times a week and make a sensible amount of forward progress. So far my kids have kept up to the bargain. My view as far as extra curricular activities are concerned is that they should do something constructive with some of their out of school time and music is a good way to go about it. It involves commitment and structuring their time to fit in practice every day as well as being exposed to an important part of their cultural heritage in a way that mere listening and mucking about with music without structured lessons doesn’t do. Given the dumbing down of school curricula in almost every area, the music that my kids do out of school seems to be just about the only area of rigorously applied learning they are exposed to.

But playing one particular instrument isn’t the only way you can get some of the same benefits. In the end constant arguing over something like this can be poisonous for a parent child relationship. If it were me I’d be looking for an alternative instrument or program (drama, choir, chess club, whatever) that involves similar amounts of commitment and learning, but that might suit your child better. If after three years it isn’t working, then I suspect it’s not going to.

I agree that overscheduling can be an issue with kids—and it’s not always parent led! We had big battles over just how much its reasonable to allow children to do during term time, and there were tears when I forced them to chose between music and drama classes when they started to get more serious about the music at about the age of 10-11 (we compromised and they do drama camps and workshops in the school holidays but not in term time). I’m actually trying to persuade my older child (age 14) that it’s not practical to have lessons in three instruments plus voice and give all them enough practice time (but as sax and voice lessons are at school and only cost her time I’m leaving it up to her to work out her priorities)

Barb said: May 16, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts


My advice would be to set a musical goal—NOT an age—at which he will be able to choose to study another musical instrument if he wants to. For example, when he has finished a certain Suzuki book level (consult your teacher as to an appropriate milestone—perhaps the end of book 4, 5, or 6?).

Setting a goal instead of a time limit means that he has to put in a certain level of work, no matter what. If cello practice is truly torture, then he can make it end sooner by working more efficiently every day, and he can make it last longer by NOT working hard… Setting an age just means that he’ll be tortured until that age, regardless of what kind of work he puts into it.

I like that idea! But I don’t think I’d take it as far as book 4, 5, or 6, myself.

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said: May 20, 2011
 2 posts

Barb, I don’t think my son is one of your students as there are some differences between I noticed (between both students and you and my son’s teacher.) Still, I imagine it does happen that students (moms, really) run into their teachers here. My son isn’t taking piano, and we don’t do a video-of-the-week. Also, I cannot imagine my son wanting to continue lessons if it was up to him. He has wanted to quit since 6 months in… I checked out that link. I think I need that book! I’ll try to find a used copy.

RaineJen, I think that’s a very good idea—having a musical goal, not just an age. And I think Barb’s right, end of Book 3 might be best. I haven’t told ds yet, or his teacher, but I’m thinking that is probably best. Perhaps by that point ds will want to continue. (But I won’t get my hopes up.)

Susan, I have been concerned about this conflict poisoning my relationship with ds. It isn’t to the point where he cries or stews about it. It’s something he accepts as part of his education, like math or English. And I won’t let him complain about those, or he probably would too. He just doesn’t want to work at his cello. It’s laziness I guess.

I would really like to meet alone with his teacher and talk this all out. I’ll see if we can over the summer. Until then, I guess we just muddle through. Just being about to hash this out with other Suzuki folks is encouraging. Thanks so much for the replies :)

Paula Bird said: Aug 5, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I was playing the piano since I was 3. My mom taught me a few things. When I asked for lessons at the age of 5, my mom presented it as something I had to think about and agree to: if I started lessons, I would not be able to stop until I graduated high school or no longer lived in the home. I thought about that and agreed to it. And I always knew that it would no longer be a topic of discussion in the future. I would not be able to bring it up again, because I had thought about it and made my agreement. Yes, I know, how can a 5 year old make that decision? The point is, my mom set it up in a way that brooked no future discussion about quitting. That just wasn’t something we did in our family. When I ran away from home at age 7, I left a note that said I would be back on Wednesday night for my piano lesson. Guess my mom had the right idea, huh?

When I address a group of parents, I ask for a show of hands of how many parents took music lessons as a kid. Just about all hands go up. Then I ask parents to put their hands down if they were allowed to quit. Most of the hands go down again. THEN I ask, “how many of you parents wish that YOUR parents had insisted that you continue lessons?” And guess what? Most of the hands go back up again.

Here’s the point: children have parents because children do not have the emotional or cognitive maturity to make important decisions about their lives. If given the choice, most children would not brush their teeth, take a bath, eat nutritious food, go to bed early, stay away from trashy TV or movies, or go to school. Thank heavens we have intelligent parents to make those wise choices!

I look at music education as the opportunity to impart many important life skills to the child. Children learn the abilities of memorization, listening, concentration and focus, perseverance, discipline, performance, and emotional expression. And most of them have a darn good time doing it.

As a pretty involved teacher, I work closely with my studio parents to discover what kinds of reasons might be underlying the resistance. Sometimes parents don’t recognize that there may be something else going on.

Some of my parents add another music instrument during summer months when there is more time. One little boy resisted his mom’s summer plan to add 15 minutes of piano lessons to his violin lesson. I listened while the mom explained how the piano (and violin) lesson was to help him to grow smarter in his brain, and also to provide “food” for his brain and his heart. He might not have liked her answer, but I watched him accept it. Now that 2 months have gone by, he loves the piano.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Aparna Asthana said: Oct 27, 2011
Aparna AsthanaViolin
13 posts

Hi I just ran across this post and I am not sure its still active. BUT here are my thoughts as a parent. Music training is hard and Suzuki method compared to other methods of learning music for young children is much harder mostly because of the level of commitment and sacrifice involved. And make no mistake…as a parent you are giving up time and other commitments to be your child’s practice coach. You make this a priority and so does your child. I have two children…my older son is 10 and is a violinist…closing out book 2. we have had a long haul and a good one because he took to violin. he has been very motivated and we keep going because he is innately very musical and does a lot with music (voice lessons and city choir on top of orchestra and violin lessons). My younger son started suzuki piano with a wonderful teacher…he played for 2 years and just stagnated 3/4 of the way through book 1. He was 6 at the time and saw all his friends pass the book test and move on. He hated piano…did it because he had no choice. I made the choice and forced him to keep going. It was terrible. We moved and ended lessons. I decided it was not good for our relationship and the peace in the family to force a very young child to take music lessons if they did not want to. 6 months of no lessons later, he comes to me and says i want to take cello. There was no cello suzuki teacher near us and I thought about it and realized that my son’s personality is such that he needs some level of control over his own learning and Suzuki method was not giving it to him. Also he hated to do the endless review and being held back because he could not play an early piece amazingly well one year later. I understand this is innately suzuki and my older son has no problems mastering review for violin and keeping up with book 1 and 2. However again its a case of one way may not fit all kids.

I found my son a conventional cello teacher who teaches students an award winning orchestra at our local high school. I drop him off at lessons and pick him up…yes he is 8! He is completely independent…reads music (my 10 year old struggles to read at his younger brother;s level though he is a more advanced player) and deals with practice himself. He is very motivated…its between his teacher and himself…if he does not practice he has to tell his teacher why. Its like school. I stay out of it…I listen to practice and say good job etc. No involvement and that has made the biggest difference in him sticking out music lessons. He is making progress and has a great sense of ownership…I don’t coddle him into practice and there are no negative emotions involved. Would his progress be faster if I got involved…possibly but long term he will be fine so I don’t sweat it. guess the point I am trying to make is that Suzuki is a wonderful thing…cannot imagine my older son doing it any other way BUT for my younger son suzuki was not going to work.

I would take a break from cello lessons for 3 months. Explain to your son that at the end of that time he can decide to continue or switch to another instrument or stop altogether. give him the control and I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the results. And for the teacher that is concerned about the child being aware of how expensive lessons are…yes they are expensive for the average family! I spend $600 a month in two string instrument lessons, group classes, instrument rental and anything else the teacher asks me to buy from books to CDs without hesitation! And my kids understand that this commitment takes money and time and if they are going to waste both then they don’t get to do it anymore. I will happily pay the money even if they were struggling but were motivated and had good attitude. I won’t if they are playing well but are unmotivated and hating to practice. Both mine understand the difference.

Good luck!

Barb said: Oct 27, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts from the parent point of view!

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MaryLou Roberts said: Dec 31, 2011
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

My view of a situation like this would be different, so I will offer it. How about finding out what the child doesn’t like about the instrument involved? Maybe some problem solving is in order. What is the hardest part for him? If a parent talks to the child, maybe some really important things will come out. Maybe it’s too rigid in some way. How long could he practice happily? Are there physical challenges that are difficult? Maybe handling it from a different angle will help. I have 3 children, all in Suzuki at one time. One wanted to practice by herself much too soon, but we struck a deal. One would practice for m&m’s, one would absolutely not practice for any reward. Part of the struggle can be finding each child’s way. if you stay in lessons, those are the things to search for, and will make it rewarding. If you are coming up empty, go observe lessons of another instrument, so the child will see what goes on. Typically, if one begins another instrument, the same habits occur eventually.

If the parent feels stuck, the child will certainly pick up on it, so make it something you as a parent look forward to. Being the parent in the Suzuki triangle takes as much work as the teacher! Your payment is a child who can problem solve, and work out the kinks in life!

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