Child Being “Held Back” in Group Class Due to Age

Elizabeth & Peter said: May 26, 2011
 7 posts

Our six-year-old daughter has been taking Suzuki violin for three years and is moving into Book 3. The music school where she is enrolled has numerous Suzuki violin teachers. She has a private lesson every week and a group class every week or two with a different teacher.

This year, our daughter was in the “Book 2″ class. Based upon her book level, she normally would be moved to the Book 3 class in the fall. However, we have been informed that due to her age and the fact that most of the Book 3 students are eight years old (with an occasional seven-year-old) and therefore, are more mature, our daughter will be required to repeat the Book 2 class next year. To my knowledge, no other child at this school has been asked to do this, but I do not know of any other six-year-olds who are in Book 3.

Our daughter loves her violin teacher. Since her teacher has not been successful in intervening on this issue, I doubt that I can succeed where she could not.

I find it odd that in a program in which the goal is to teach very young children to play the violin that a child would be held back because she is young. I also find this decision to be odd, because our daughter would still be allowed to pay the Book 3 classes in the group recitals, but without the benefit of the rehearsals, which occur during group class.

I realize that there is always more to learn and that our daughter undoubtedly could gain something from a repeat of the Book 2 class. However, my daughter is upset by the prospect of repeating the Book 2 class given how hard she has worked to move to Book 3, and I do not take action she will become discouraged and want to quit violin. However, I think she also will be upset if we move to a different studio and she can no longer take lessons from her current teacher.

Any suggestions?

Irene said: May 26, 2011
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

I find it very strange that she can’t proceed to Book 3 because of her age. How mature do you need to be to play book 3? If a child can practise diligently daily, with perseverance and motivation, isn’t that mature enough?

I hope you will intervene and speak with the person in charge.. Oh, I can imagine your little girl must be so disappointed,. If they still refuse , due to strange reason like that, maybe it’s time to move elsewhere.

Rachel Schott said: May 27, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

From a teacher’s prospective I would offer that the group classes are very social, friendly, and sometimes goofy (at least mine are). If your child is much younger than the rest of the class, she probably has a way different sense of humor, is reading different books, is watching different movies…a class that may seem totally chaotic to a first-grader, may be just the right level of energy and freedom for a third grader.

Is there a possiblity that this particular Book 3 class are very friendly-sarcastic with each other? Unreserved? Very confident? Have they known each other for a long time and already have friendships and teams built?

Perhaps, the teacher has a gut feeling she just isn’t ready for THAT Book 3 Group and wants you to spare the discomfort of not fitting in.

Perhaps, they’re just lumping her in with the ‘little kids’ and that isn’t fair, either.

Rachel Schott said: May 27, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

ps: did your daughter actually say she wanted to quit the violin if she didn’t move to the book 3 class? Is she truly as upset over it as you are?

Elizabeth & Peter said: May 27, 2011
 7 posts

Thanks for the input.

Our daughter is quite upset about this, in part because she also was told that she will not be allowed to join the studio’s “chamber orchestra” because she is “too young.” Last year, she was told she had to be in first grade and in Book 2 or above to join. Since she was only in Kindergarten, she understood that she had to wait a year even though she was in Book 2. She waited for a year, listening to classmates who are much earlier in Book 2 than she brag about being in the group and the neat experiences they get to have. Now, she is being told she has to be seven at the beginning of the school year (which in her school system means she will have to be in Second Grade), as well as in Book 2 or above.

Because our daughter is academically advanced, she is accustomed to being in classes/groups with older children. in fact, two of the last three friends’ birthday parties were for children two years older than she is. I do not know about the current composition of this Book 3 class, but I expect that several of the children in her current Book 2 class will be in the Book 3 class next year. This particular group is pretty tame, and she has gotten along fine with them.

I do think that the issue could be related to the following:

  1. Although our daughter is six, she is quite small for her age (about the size of a four-year-old). I think it is easy for teachers who do not know her well to think she is younger than she really is.

  2. Our daughter is extremely precocious academically. She has been tested and performs academically like a 9 or 10-year-old. Because of her intellectual age, it can be easy to expect her maturity to be that of a 9- or 10-year-old. However, her maturity is that of a six-year-old. She is not immature for her age, just not advanced in her maturity.

I am upset by the unfairness of this and the apparent changing of the rules, but I would be far less upset if my child were not so upset.

Thanks again for making me look at this clearly.

Laura said: May 27, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Wow, I am also surprised. This does seem rather counter-Suzuki. I know a number of 6-year olds who are/were in Book 3, and were in a Book 3 class. They tended to be among the stronger players (I suppose that could be expected, or there would have been any number of other age/maturity reasons to hold them back at private lessons…), so ironically they often stood out musically in the group.

If anything, their problem was that they socially didn’t fit in. My child always felt self-conscious playing a 1/16 among other students on 1/4 to full sizes. Nevertheless, the teacher made all students feel like they belonged, down to the very youngest 6-year olds.

I know that boredom and discouragement would have set in if was forced to stay in a Book 2 class.

Now regarding orchestra and chamber groups, that can be a different matter. Orchestra and chamber music isn’t always melodic, continuous, or “Suzuki-friendly”; it’s often comprised of “bits and pieces of the conversation” with odd rhythms and notes that take longer to acquire, compared to your average Suzuki pieces. This is particularly true with orchestral works of the Romantic to Modern eras. A minimum music reading ability, often not found in very young Suzuki students regardless of playing level, is necessary just for them to keep up and hold their own in a rehearsal setting.

If your daughter is intellectually advanced and is comfortable enough with music reading, this shouldn’t be an issue. Neither should it be if it’s a Suzuki-friendly group in which all parts are more Baroque/Classical in style and can be taught by ear. So do check what kind of chamber/orchestral music it is, and how the parts are taught and rehearsed. It’s just my observation that most Suzuki kids aren’t ready for “mainstream” orchestra and chamber groups until they are closer to 8-9 years old, regardless of playing level.

My daughter joined junior level orchestra and chamber music when she was 7 and at Book 4/5 level, even when the stated minimums were 8yrs/Book 2. The crash-course in score-reading and “orchestral group skills” (for lack of a better term), and refreshing change in repertoire kept her challenged and motivated, and she enjoyed it immensely. Still, she felt a bit miserable socially (range of other kids roughly 9-13 yrs old) until she turned 8 later in the year and got to know the 2-3 other kids who were 8-9 years old. Interestingly, after her music reading skills completely took off over the first year, she chose to audition for the same junior group for a second year rather than try for intermediate (which required only Book 4 playing level). Still happy.

Laura said: May 27, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

One more thought:

Are there fiddling groups available? Now THAT is a great experience for a young, advanced Suzuki student. Everything can be learned by ear, every ounce of their technical playing skills can be challenged, and age doesn’t seem to be much of a restriction for any reason. And it’s FUN!!

Elizabeth & Peter said: May 27, 2011
 7 posts

The “chamber orchestra” is actually an all-Suzuki group, so music reading is not required. If the students are able to read, then they are permitted to do so. Otherwise, they learn the pieces aurally. Our daughter’s reading is not quite to her playing level, but she can sightread at about the level of the Minuets in Book 1.

Not being in the “chamber orchestra” was a blow given that she was led to believe she could be in it next year, but I think we could have gotten past it. Adding the issue about the Book 3 class to it has just added fuel to the fire.

She does not seem self conscious being the youngest and smallest in a group. The smaller violin is an issue but only because she can not get as much sound from it as the older children can from their instrument.

Actually, I am looking at a fiddle class as an alternative to group lessons, but that would mean switching to conventional lessons—something we are not ready to do if it can be avoided.

Thanks all for your suggestions/comments.

Laura said: May 27, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I believe, then, that you have a very legitimate reason to be complaining, particularly in a Suzuki institution. You wouldn’t have this happening at summer institutes, that’s for sure. I’ve seen 6-year olds playing Vivaldi A minor together with teenagers twice their size. Sure, their playground activities will be different. But musically they can be peers.

Perhaps if you spoke up, it would carry more weight than the teacher, because you are the paying customer and not the employee. I would ask the reasons why they believe it is not appropriate for your daughter to be in the Book 3 class, period. “Not being old enough” is not very specific. Do they believe that she cannot understand the directions? Are they afraid that a 6-year old will be too fidgety? Do they want to hold her back to be an example to the kids who are her age? If they cannot come up with such reasons, then propose some of your own for the sake of discussion.

If these specific concerns are brought out into the open, and you are then given a chance to respond to each one of them to their satisfaction regarding your daughter, I would hope that they would be willing to accept her in the Book 3 class.

For example, “Yes, I understand that you are concerned that she might be intimidated by older children. But this is not the situation. She is clearly wanting to be in the higher class, and has friends there.”

Good luck!

Rachel Schott said: May 30, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

I wholeheartedly agree with Purple Tulips’ suggestions.

Please keep us posted. I’m sure all of us are eager to hear the outcome.

Carl said: Jun 10, 2011
 11 posts

I can vividly recall a chart that a teacher trainer had drawn and left on a blackboard at a Suzuki institute of a few years ago.

The chart graphed the difficulty of studies vs. the ability of the student. Where difficulty over-matched ability, the chart was labeled “frustration” (for the student). Where ability over-matched difficulty, the chart was labeled “boredom.” Right down the middle of the graph was the area where the two were balanced, and it was labeled “FLOW.”

I’ll never forget that chart. One of our responsibilities as parents is to ensure our children are appropriately challenged for their abilities. All children can learn violin, but each child is unique with varying ability and interest levels in various skill areas. The Suzuki method is supposed to de-emphasize the comparison of one student to another. If a child needs an extra year to master Book 1, so be it—but it is likewise with a child who is ready sooner than average to move on.

Just do what’s best for your child, and do so with love and respect for all parties involved. That’s your responsibility but also your privilege as the parent. And whether your child’s situation remains or changes, be sure you enjoy the journey together.

Amber Dahlen Peterson said: Jun 10, 2011
Amber Dahlen PetersonViolin, Viola
Derby, KS
2 posts

For more information on “Flow,” check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s writings. He originally came up with the theory.

Sara said: Jul 4, 2011
 Violin
191 posts

I have a 6 year old mixed in with my 11-12 year olds. They started at 10 and 11, she started at 4. That’s the way of life. Do you not work a certain job because your boss isn’t your same age?
Music is said to be a universal language, I think it means that as far as age goes too. Eventually we all have to have the ability to socialize and “fit in” with those that are not in our age group. Why not start this now? I’m sure she has ample opportunity to socialize with kids her age at school and with friends. Musically I don’t see why she couldn’t advance especially if she has put forth the effort to be where she is!
Hopefully you work this out for the best interest of her as a student.

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Sue Hunt said: Jul 4, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

I can understand that you are upset. There are a couple of things to consider though:
1. Many teachers prefer kids to work on earlier repertoire during group classes. I have been told by many Suzuki teacher trainers that true ability comes from working on and polishing earlier repertoire to a higher standard, rather than focussing on advancing through the pieces.
2. Suzuki is not a race. Take heart. With your help and love, your daughter will learning much more than violin technique. Have a look at the link below.

Sue Hunt said: Jul 4, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Whoops, here’s the link link

Laurel said: Jul 14, 2011
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

Oh, that’s great, Sue! Can I print it and give it to my students’ parents?

Laurel

Sue Hunt said: Jul 14, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Of course. I’m glad you found it helpful. I’ve just put some free games and practice advice on the signup form if your parents are interested.
Music in Practice

Elizabeth & Peter said: Jul 25, 2011
 7 posts

I received the fall schedule, and I have been told that they have decided to do away with the Book 3 class in favor of a Book 2/3 class. I’m sure I’ll know more once classes start next month.

Unfortunately, this issue is going to come up again soon. My daughter has been working hard this summer and is already playing Becker Gavotte. She almost certainly will be in Book 4 by the time enrollment for second semester comes around.

Rachel said: Jul 21, 2012
 19 posts

Curious to see how this all turned out, as this post started over a year ago…

Elizabeth & Peter said: Jul 21, 2012
 7 posts

It did not turn out as badly as it could have. The school ended up having a combination books 3-4 class, which they allowed her to attend. The school still would not let her into the chamber orchestra.

To quell her disappointment in not being in the chamber orchestra, I allowed her to start piano lessons (conventional teaching method, as I did not think I could handle the parent involvement required for two Suzuki instruments).

Fortunately, I have a music performance degree, so I also have been able to work with our daughter on other parts of her musical education. I purchased some music theory books and software, which I worked on with her during the school year. This summer, I have expanded her music education to include music history, with books, DVDs, and audio books/CDs about famous composers and musical eras.

Between this additional music enrichment and her fantastic patient private lesson teacher, our daughter (now seven) maintained her interest in violin despite her disappointment about her placement. She played Seitz 5th concerto, 1st movement for her spring recital, is working on Vivaldi a minor, and probably will probably play Bach Double before she turns eight. She reads music well, and her teacher has recommended that when she is eight that she audition for the honors program at her music school.

Unfortunately, her teacher also informed me at the last lesson that the Suzuki coordinator is talking about keeping our daughter in the same Book 3-4 class, and once again, it appears doubtful they will allow her to participate in the chamber orchestra, even though she will be in late book 4 and reads music (other children have gone into the chamber orchestra in late book 2 at age 5 not reading music).

If things go the same way this year, I have pretty much decided that as soon as she is old enough to participate in our local beginning honor’s orchestra that we likely will move from Suzuki to conventional violin instruction. Fortunately, our daughter’s wonderful teacher also teaches non-Suzuki students.

In one way, it is a success story—the Suzuki program gave her an early start, she has grown a lot musically and loves music, probably will grown into a very accomplished violinist and maybe musician generally. In another way, it is a sad result for Suzuki education, because it took a huge amount of parental (and student) motivation to overcome the situation, and a promising student probably will leave the Suzuki program because it was unable to meet the needs of a child who accomplished exactly what the program is supposed to accomplish—to teach very young children to play instruments and love music.

Carmen said: Jul 21, 2012
 13 posts

That is a bit disappointing…

Do you mind sharing what music theory books/softwares, dvds or products that worked for you?

Thanks!!


From: SAA Discussion

Elizabeth & Peter said: Jul 21, 2012
 7 posts

For theory: Workbook for Strings (2 vol.), Alfred music theory software, www.violinonline.com

For music history: Series of children’s books about composers by Roland Vernon, Robert Greenberg CDs/DVDs from the Great Courses, plus my own blend of music from various eras and genres, which I play in the car and discuss with her while taking her places.

Suzuki music is set up to play in her room in the mornings and evenings.

Rachel said: Jul 21, 2012
 19 posts

Thanks for the update.

Elizabeth & Peter said: Oct 4, 2012
 7 posts

Another update—our daughter received a letter yesterday (mid-year) inviting her to be in the chamber orchestra.

Since the chamber orchestra rehearsals started two months ago and our daughter’s schedule for the school year was set without taking that extra activity into account, we were going to politely decline, saying we could not fit it in her schedule. However, she wanted this so badly that we relented and are changing her schedule to allow her to join starting next week.

Despite the disappointments, she still says violin is her favorite activity. :)

Sue Hunt said: Oct 5, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

Good for you. How exciting for your daughter. I’m so glad that you are rescheduling. In order to get top value from music, it must be a priority activity.

Kiyoko said: Jan 22, 2013
 84 posts

That’s lovely to hear your daughter was finally invited to play in the chamber orchestra and you decided to help her make it happen.

I can empathize with the frustration. Mine came from my junior high school conductor who thought a seventh grader couldn’t play first violin in the eighth and ninth grade orchestra. (Somehow my mother got me into the upper level orchestra.) I was the only kid in the orchestra that had started as a toddler. I was so bored that year in orchestra, and hated it. Even though I was a model student, I remember “going to the bathroom”, and sneaking out to see my Theater teacher. It took an All State session at Interlochen to get me interested in playing in an orchestra again, so I totally subscribe to the camp that realizes under challenging leads to boredom and frustration. I also remember begging my mother to buy me two to three books ahead so I could play pieces I liked hearing and pretending a piece was “new” with a teacher when I got to it.

That said, I think ensemble groups and group lessons are wonderful at any ability level. My niece started playing violin at 14, (she was dying to start earlier but her parents wouldn’t let her and her school didn’t have a program). A year later, her parents moved and she was torn away from a school that had a music program. I tried hard to find her an ensemble group to play in, because that was what she was only interested in playing an ensemble but it didn’t work out. I think as long a child has the desire and ability play in a group, they should be encouraged.

Props to you as a parent for helping your daughter.

Emily said: Sep 22, 2013
 59 posts

It is the skill and commitment of the violinist that should be put first regardless of age. If a child proves to be advanced in math or reading for their age they are not kept with their same age group, they are moved on to advanced studies- why would it be any different with music lessons?

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer
www.musiceducationmadness.org

Richard Franklin said: Apr 9, 2016
Richard Franklin7 posts

I received the fall schedule, and I have been told that they have decided to do away with the Book 3 class in favor of a Book 2/3 class. I’m sure I’ll know more once classes start next month.

Unfortunately, this issue is going to come up again soon. My daughter has been working hard this summer and is already playing Becker Gavotte. She almost certainly will be in Book 4 by the time enrollment for second semester comes around.

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