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My daughter has been practising the violin with the Suzuki method since she was 3.5 years old and she is now 6 (so 2.5 years practising). However she's never really wanted to.

She has struggled severely to learn the instrument. It took her 18 months to learn the first song - Twinkle twinkle little star. We effectively let her drop a year after the first year because she was so far behind the other children. We have effectively practised every single day during that period.

She now can play until the 8th song but again is falling behind.

Problems:

  • Verbally wants to stop, says that she never wanted to start
  • Never wants to practice, we have tried different times of the day, giving stars where she gets a gift after getting 10 stars
  • The violin school is a great place, it's a very friendly community that does everything together on a Saturday morning - there's nothing like it anywhere near us
  • She is ingraining bad habits - holding the bow, holding the violin, posture
  • She will do the absolute minimum in group lessons by just pretending to play with her fingers
  • We've been considering quitting for over a year
  • There does seem to be more of a problem than just motivation, she gets very confused with similar song structures and seems to forget what she has learned very quickly

Going well:

  • She can learn to sing the songs - and sing them very nicely
  • She has made it to song 8 and is slower than the other current students but not as bad as with the first year

Clearly we are pressuring our child into doing something she doesn't want to do. But what will be the consequences of giving up?

Similar to this comment:

Pressuring is really a balance I think; I felt some pressure with continuing my instrument, but I am happy that my parents were persistent. Learning to give up at the first hurdle is not a good lesson.

Do we persist but somehow relieve the pressure? Give up and leave it until she shows some interest (but I'm not sure that will ever happen)?

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    Have you asked her why she doesn't like violin, or investigated if there is another activity that she would prefer? (Maybe piano, or a children's chorus, since it sounds like her problem is dislike or disinterest in violin, and not lack of musicality..)
    – Meg
    Feb 1 '19 at 20:58
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    I think a better question is: "Why is it so important to you that she plays the violin?"
    – elbrant
    Feb 2 '19 at 0:23
  • @elbrant The benefits of learning an instrument and learning it early are fairly well documented. It needs to be the violin as it is the one instrument that is trained with the Suzuki method that allows children to start young and is available to us localy. The group that she goes to is also the only place within more than an hour's drive that teaches the violin to children whilst also surrounding them with other kids learning the violin. It's an awesome and inspiring environment.
    – icc97
    Feb 2 '19 at 15:19
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    There are some great questions here that you should ask yourself in regards to whether your daughter should be continuing lessons: elitemusic.ca/age-child-start-violin
    – Derek
    Feb 2 '19 at 18:30
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    if you push too hard at such a young age you will totally put her off playing music for life. My D has aptitude at guitar but does not want to learn right now. If I let her take time she may fulfil her talent when she is ready Dec 23 '20 at 12:12
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The Elite Music Academy in Toronto has an excellent Q&A page discussing many of your concerns. While, as the title of the page suggests, it's aimed at parents considering starting lessons for their child, it does cover some of the issues that appear to have come up for your kid:

Children as young as three years old can start studying with a professional violin teacher, thanks to the Suzuki method and scaled-down instruments. However, there is more to consider than size and age. For other children, five and six turn out to be the best age. Here are some questions to consider when deciding if your child is ready for violin lessons.

Is Your Child Interested in Violin?

One critical element of this development is keeping the child interested and engaged in their violin lessons. If a child is not at all interested in violin, then they will not be able to tap into their fullest potential. They might be more comfortable with piano or guitar, which are both also great instruments for developing a great foundation in music.

Will your tyke enthusiastically practice for 20-30 minutes every day? Have they named an instrument they are interested in? Will your child stay engaged with their violin teacher?

How is Your Child’s Attention-Span?

Attention-spans develop over time, with some children able to sustain focus by the age of three, while others have the appropriate attention-span by age five. Others still will struggle with attention for many years. If the interest is there, that is half the battle – but many kids do not have the ability to sustain a half-hour lesson until around age five. On the other hand, if your child is a late-bloomer in the attention department, music is a fantastic tool to help them reign in their wandering minds.

Does Your Child Have Patience?

Learning violin does not come with instant gratification. to learn how to handle the bow properly and how to hold the violin and finger the notes on the strings. They then need to learn how to draw the bow across the strings without making a screeching noise (or at least enough to tease the note out of the string). During this time, they are also learning how to read music and the fundamentals of violin theory.

All of this can take a month or longer. Younger violin students do not have the same dexterity as older children do, so it is more difficult for them to grasp these fundamentals. Some youngsters get frustrated because they want to get to the music right away. You know your child best – can they persevere through the early learning until it gets “fun”?

Are They Too Old?

You don’t have to enroll your child in music at three, four, or even five years old to unleash their inner prodigy. Up until nine years old, children have an extraordinary capacity for learning violin or any other musical instrument. They will gain all of the same benefits that younger children gained. Even children who are in their preteens and teen years can blossom into professional musicians if the interest, talent, and stamina is there.

Lastly, I'll add my own input to your situation. While I understand your desire to take advantage of the fact that kids are learning sponges at that age and may have the greatest ease of picking up skills like instruments, other languages, etc., it sounds like you're pushing her really hard. And when that happens, they usually rebel and want to do the exact opposite of what you want.

You may be better suited to exposing your kid to a wide variety of activities instead (other arts, the sciences, sports, etc.), and see which one(s) she takes a liking to. If she naturally gravitates towards one over all others, then use your energy to get her to explore that further. There will be a lot less aggravation for all the parties involved!

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    I'll add that this article from The Music Parents' Guide is also enlightening. The issues they point out aren't ones you highlighted in your original question, but you might find it helpful too.
    – Derek
    Feb 3 '19 at 15:24
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I really feel like you are not looking at the situation objectively. You list 7 issues that present obstacles to your daughters success. You realize that it took a year and a half for her to learn the basic starter song, Twinkle, Twinkle. And you recognize that her classmates are more advanced in their accomplishments. But you think that (somehow) continuing will be better than stopping?

... what will be the consequences of giving up?

Why look at the negatives?
Why not consider the positives?

If you let go of your expectations that she become a concert violinist:

  • There will be less stress in your home.
  • She will be a happier child.
  • She will be able to explore activities that she enjoys.
  • She will learn that she doesn't have to be perfect.
  • She will learn that she can try new things.
  • She will even learn that you love her because you love her, not because she can rosin a bow.

Every parent wants their child to be successful. But your daughters success isn't going to be because of one thing, it will be a result of many things. Not playing the violin isn't going to make her a failure unless you tell her she's a failure because she doesn't play the violin. At the end of your life, you aren't going to look at her and tell her that she "should have learned the violin". You're going to be proud of her for being who she is. Give her a chance to find something she does enjoy... that's how she'll find success.

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  • Thank you for your answer. My fear is that it will be replaced by watching TV and then 20 years down the line she asks me why I didn't keep her playing the violin.
    – icc97
    Feb 3 '19 at 13:27
  • I don't expect her to be a concert violinist though, absolutely not. I am simply aware of the benefits of learning an instrument.
    – icc97
    Feb 3 '19 at 14:08
  • I think you saw this as an amazing opportunity for her. But children don't comprehend life that way. I hope she finds something she can embrace with all the passion you wanted her to have for the violin.
    – elbrant
    Feb 3 '19 at 15:35
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    @icc97 : It's not violin or nothing ... if you want to make sure she has an extra-curricular activity, there are plenty of others -- but let her have a say in what it is. (and she might decide after a while that she's decided it's not for her ... and that's perfectly okay so long as she's giving it a fair chance before deciding). If she has ADD, pushing her like you are could set her up for a life of misery and resentment ... that's something to fear, not that she might ask why you didn't push harder at making her miserable
    – Joe
    Feb 21 '19 at 4:03
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    I was a nerdling SF geek and fully expected my kid would follow me into fandom, but as well as reading to her a lot, I also put her into every type of lesson I could think of as early as I could -- swimming, dance, pottery, chess, sports, guitar (when she was eight -- I had never heard of Suzuki violin). Now I have a kid who's planning to play Division I ice hockey in college (!!!). So you never know. And, hey, she's started taking guitar lessons again. Feb 21 '19 at 21:47
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Although the benefit of learning an instrument is an amazing skill to have if your young child wants to enjoy this hobby she may want to try other instruments and if she doesn't want that there are many other hobbies for young children to expand there education and creativity telling her to quit should be quite simple as it seems she doesn't like the instrument much x

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    Can you add an actual answer to the OP's question "Do we persist but somehow relieve the pressure? Give up and leave it until she shows some interest (but I not sure that will ever happen)?"? Feb 3 '19 at 18:58
  • @AnneDaunted The other two answers didn't answer that question so I don't see why a new contributor should have to instead.
    – icc97
    Feb 3 '19 at 22:33
  • Switching instruments is one of the valid answers that I'd considered, but hadn't said that explicitly in my question.
    – icc97
    Feb 3 '19 at 22:40
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After a further 2 years (my daughter is 8 now) since asking this question I can answer what we did.

We persisted. For about a year, because the lessons weren't going well with me, my partner took over the lessons.

I then read the book behind the Suzuki method - "Nurtured by Love" by Shinichi Suzuki. It is one of the most fantastic books I've read about learning or anything to be honest.

Firstly it suggests that all children have the talent to learn the violin. Some learn faster than others, but going slowly is not a problem. Learning a language is far more complex than learning the violin. Secondly it talks about how important love is in the teaching. There's lots of other things besides this - but those two were the most important to me.

So 6 months ago I tried again to take over the lessons from my partner. Since then it has been a transformation.

It's a small change - but it's changed from a negative spiral to a positive spiral. This over time has made all the difference in the world.

Things that have changed:

  • She has cleared up almost all of the faults that she had - bow holding, posture, violin hold (no pancake hand), keeping the fingers rounded instead of flat when pressing them onto the strings
  • She no longer says she doesn't want to play the violin
  • There is little problem in getting her to practice
  • We actually have fun during the lessons, she laughs she feels happy about having learnt a new song, each time she gets past a hurdle she is genuinely excited

Some of the things that I've changed:

  • I saw how much my daughter was trying and noticed where she improved - I have more empathy and love for the changes she makes
  • I realised that a lot of the problems were the lessons given by the violin teacher, he is good in many ways but the lessons are overly complicated
  • I hardly care at all now about how fast the progress is - the violin teacher is still pushy but I mostly ignore that. We're up to song 19, the last in book 1 - so the first book has taken us 4 years. Some kids do it in one year but we don't care.
  • We went back to only playing Twinkle Twinkle with the first rhythm that is learned (described as 'tikka takka boom boom' or matching 'mississippi god damn'), then the notes were no longer a problem and we could just focus on technique. It's also a great barometer to see how things change, the notes are much clearer and better played now. We finish every lesson with two minutes of playing Twinkle Twinkle. We have a video of the piano player at the violin school who plays the song to a metronome to work on the speed of playing too - she actively enjoys playing with this and asks for it. It needs to be played through speakers as a phone or computer speakers get drowned out by her violin.
  • We spent a lot of time focusing on fixing the problems as effectively they blocked everything else - the good thing was these are one time problems that once we spent enough time on them improved and the problems stopped coming back
  • I do everything possible to make the lessons fun - we stick googly eyes on the violin during the lesson - it's currently called 'Mr Moustache', I make stupid faces, singing is a big part of it, there's lots of breaks during the lesson. The 20 minute lesson usually takes 30-40 minutes to complete, but the time taken doesn't really bother her, just keeping the concentration is hard. It can just be 1 minute practice followed by sitting for a bit.
  • There is an excellent YouTube channel from Mike Hall for violin and viola who plays through each of the songs in the books

Some of the things that haven't changed:

  • The speed of learning - it's still slow relative to other children - but again I don't see this as a problem as long as she makes progress and is happy doing it then its good
  • I still get angry and frustrated at times, but this is my problem which I apologise to her for afterwards, this is becoming less and less of a problem
  • She still gets angry and frustrated. Sometimes we just stop the lesson, sometimes I hug her til she feels better, sometimes it just takes a few minutes until she wants to try again

Reasons why we persisted (basically ignoring most of the advice here) - these are all my own opinions but I hold them fairly firmly now:

  • There's simply nothing like the Suzuki violin school near us. There is a music school but the amount of learning that happens there is tiny compared to what happens in the violin school
  • There's nothing as good as the Suzuki method for learning
  • We still are considering other instruments, but the violin is such a perfect one to be able to learn music on switching seemed like a backward step. The cello or piano are definite alternatives
  • My daughter never actually became too down-hearted or fully refused to carry on. Lots of other children have stopped by simply refusing to practice, but she has persisted, she see's this as a positive in herself now
  • She was actively trying just finding it difficult

Answering the reasons from the top answer here on why we should stop:

  • There will be less stress in your home - true, but we believe the extra stress is worth it, that it is positive stress that comes from trying to master something
  • She will be a happier child - I don't believe her happiness is tied to learning the violin. We give her almost total freedom to do what she wants outside this, every other hobby she does she chooses. But we see the long term benefit
  • She will be able to explore activities that she enjoys - she already does, we just add one to the list
  • She will learn that she doesn't have to be perfect - learning to master something is different from trying to be perfect
  • She will learn that she can try new things - she knows this without me telling her
  • She will even learn that you love her because you love her, not because she can rosin a bow - this was the biggest thing I changed, bringing my love for her into the lessons.

So my answer to any other parent reading this is read Suzuki's Nurtured by Love, persist but do it with love.

Mr Googly Eyed Moustache

violin with googly eyes stickers

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  • Get her custom ear plugs (more comfortable, sound better). Violins are loud. Much louder than they seem. A full sized violin easily measures 80dB at 3 feet away when you can properly sound a QUIET note. Let alone when you are trying to force a loud one. And wear them in both ears. Not just the one that is closest to the instrument. Like I mentioned, 80+dB at 3 feet away. It's also just good habit to carry a pair around on her keychain when she grows up.
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 11 at 19:19

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