V.com weekend vote: Did your parents force you to practice?

October 22, 2022, 5:45 PM · As a violin teacher with very young students, I definitely see a role for parents, when it comes to getting a child to practice.

practice girl

For example, if a child is younger than about nine years old, it's definitely up to the parents to help the child form a practice habit. If they are six or younger, parents likely will need to supervise - to help kids stay on target with their assignments as well.

In my own case, I started learning to play the violin just a few days before my ninth birthday. I'd insisted upon doing it, not my parents, and since I started at my public school, my parents did not have any great stakes in my sticking with it. But I did, and pretty soon they were paying for private lessons, but they did not force me to practice.

I do remember one time when I was quite young - I was lying down on the floor, and my mother observed, "I don't think you are supposed to lie on the floor to practice..." This was the extent of her intervention in my practicing!

Would I have practiced more, had my parents pestered me to practice? Good question. I might have rebelled! As it was, I took responsibility for the whole violin adventure, and I knew it was up to me to either get good at it or not. So I practiced without supervision or being asked to do so!

What was your story? Did your parents make you practice? Did either parent supervise your practice? Maybe you started as an adult, so your parents were not involved at all? Do you wish there had been more, or less parent involvement? Please choose the answer that is closest to your situation and then tell us all about it in the comments.

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October 22, 2022 at 11:00 PM · Now this is a tough one, because I can honestly answer two of the choices. In 1958, my elementary school offered free, once a week violin classes. My mom signed me up. She had the violin from her youth - an old 4/4 violin that was way too big for me. I went to lessons for the simple reason of getting out of 4th grade for an hour. Let's face it - my heart wasn't in it, and I feel for the poor guy who had to teach us.

We had an end of the year concert. I sat in the back row hiding behind the music stand. My teacher came up to me and whispered, "Michael, just move your arm in the same direction as the others, and never let you bow touch the strings. Can you do that?" I was thrilled. "Yes!" After the concert, everyone - my teacher, mom, and dad, agreed. The violin went back in its case.

59 years later, just before I hit 68, I decided to learn violin, I still have mom's old fiddle. I've been playing for 5 1/2 years, I practice daily, and I don't regret quitting all those years ago. If I hadn't quit, I may have missed out on acting, directing, writing, teaching, and photography.

All's well that ends well.

October 22, 2022 at 11:14 PM · I fit between answers with regard to string instruments, because I started self-teaching as a high school senior -- not quite an adult but close.

But I did take piano lessons for 12 years growing up, and also played low brass in school bands. I was never forced to practice, or supervised at all, because my parents were so non-musical that they didn't even listen to music at all. (I listened to classical and jazz on radio, and my sister listened to punk rock, and both were equally noise to my parents.) They were willing to pay for piano lessons based on the abstract idea that some people enjoy music, and the idea that being "well-rounded" would help with college applications. But as soon as I was old enough that they felt comfortable leaving me home alone, they asked me to try to practice only when they weren't home, except in the final weeks before a competition or exam. It was essentially the same for every instrument I played before I left for college.

A lot of my motivation to learn music was in fact teenage rebellion, more or less.

October 23, 2022 at 12:39 AM · Self-motivated here. Violin lessons were my idea. I was a practice geek and had a fascination with etudes and method books right from the first year. My parents, however, didn’t want me to go at it too late in the evening - e.g., with bedtime coming up, school the next day, and all of us needing to get a decent night’s sleep. Only very rarely, brother or sister would ask me if I could wrap it up for the evening so that they could get to sleep.

My parents weren’t string players; and, thank goodness, they were NOT the stage-mom and stage-dad. They involved themselves in my musical life only to the extent of paying for lessons and requiring that I practice. If I had habitually slacked off, they and my teacher would no doubt have said: “No more lessons.”

Some background: Piano was my first instrument. My parents suspected that I had musical ability, because I was already listening, very young and on my own, to classical music albums from their collection. They enrolled me in beginning piano lessons on a trial basis when I was 7 y/o. Soon afterward, the violin muse got hold of me, and I switched to violin. I actually started fingering and bowing familiar melodies on a half-sized fiddle before I had my first lessons. Thanks to piano instruction, I could already read music and soon started on my first violin instruction book, having observed two other kids playing from the same book.

October 23, 2022 at 06:13 AM · My first music experience was 6 weeks of free accordion that my mother signed me and my siblings up for. I liked it, practiced, and wanted to continue, but my parents didn't want to pay for lessons so it stopped.

Myself I chose violin and started in public school at age 14. I needed no motivation to practice as I chose this. I would have started earlier if I could, but prior to this I was in parochial schools which had no instrumental program whatsoever.

October 23, 2022 at 08:40 AM · I started through school when I was 10 with our local music service. My parents didn't make me practise. They just sort of left me to get on with it, or in my case, not get on with it. I wish they had made me practise more when I was younger, I may then be further ahead than I am currently.

October 23, 2022 at 01:28 PM · I was about 10 years old when I started. The deal was that my mother would prepare supper and that dad and I would clear away, wash and dry the dishes, set the table for breakfast and so on. If I agreed to practise, I was excused the chores, which dad dragged out for ages until I had done my routine: open strings, single octave scales and arpeggios, "Twinkle twinkle" "Baa baa black sheep" and so on. He was a wily old bird and by the time I was 11, the bug had bitten and bribes were no longer needed. All 60 years ago!

October 23, 2022 at 04:39 PM · I'd be curious to see the answers from different age groups. For example, when I was learning as a child there were few methods other than the old methods we all know. We didn't have Suzuki as an option. I think the parents are more involved these days, but I could be wrong. I learned in public school to start off with, as long as having private lessons. I was terribly motivated. Although I don't remember my parents telling me to stop practicing, I do remember them calling me down to dinner and it had been hours since I started. I lost track of time and have always been that way. I love the violin. I didn't become a professional because I have physical limitations (genetic disease) but I did become a high level amateur. It's been 57 years and I've slowed down a lot but I was still taking lessons up until two years ago. The practice never ended. I no longer play since my physical limitations do not allow me, but I played until I was 63 yrs old, which is miraculous. It was all that practicing I think!

October 23, 2022 at 04:40 PM · I voted "something else" because yes, I was self-motivated, but my Mom helped with practice when I was young and she did remind me but never forced me per se.

October 23, 2022 at 05:07 PM · I took lessons with my fifth grade music teacher Ms. Wilkes. I don’t remember what book she was teaching from. It was more traditional at the time and started with pizzicato. I practiced for a while but pizzicato seemed the only place I was going & I soon lost interest.

My parents called it quits not wanting to pay for a rental I was not using. I started taking lessons again when I was 35. It’s been 14 years now. My second violin teacher used Suzuki books to teach me, though she was not an official Suzuki teacher. Playing actual songs with the bow from almost the beginning, made a HUGE difference. If I had Suzuki lessons back in fifth grade, I would have kept with it.

I don’t blame anyone. I am the master of my own violin destiny. If I don’t do the work, I won’t progress. But having good tools, I.g. a decent instrument & materials for instruction, always helps.

October 23, 2022 at 05:28 PM · I picked "Something Else" because my parents did not force me to practice, but if I'm honest, I can't call myself "self-motivated" either. I didn't practice very much as a child, period. I did enough to get by and succeed in orchestra, and I had little understanding of what constituted good or focused practice. I had performance anxiety and virtually no interest in solo performance, so I was unmotivated to practice solo pieces. I had undiagnosed ADHD, which probably contributed as well. It might have helped me to have someone supervising my practice, but my father was too busy with his job and claimed to be unmusical, and my mother had the same ADHD issues that I did--it's genetic.

Instead I had what I've come to regard in adulthood as the "curse of the moderately talented." I could coast a little ways on talent but was no genius, and it wasn't until after I quit for 8 years and came back to it as an adult that I finally started to understand how to practice, use the time efficiently, and be at least moderately focused. As a result by about 6 months in, I had gotten back everything that I had forgotten, and over time I achieved a higher level of playing as an adult than I ever did as a child; there was no lamenting any "lost" skills of my misspent youth.

I did wonder what might have been if I had had practice supervision as a child, since I had been able to make good progress with focused practice as an adult. So when my kids took instruments I tried to supervise their practice, as recommended by virtually everyone and their brother. This was overall ineffective and ended up mostly damaging the relationship between me and my kids. The one thing that did work was playing together with them (NOT practicing with them or supervising their practice). We played at the farmers' market and we played together in informal and more formal pick-up groups for the fun of it, and we still do that. I can only say that for some people, parental supervision of practice just doesn't seem to work. Or at least I have not been able to make it work, either as a child or a parent.

October 23, 2022 at 05:40 PM · I began studying violin in the 4th grade at weekly school lessons. I had to turn in my book to the teacher showing my mom's signature that I had practiced 30 minutes each day. So my mom did ask each day if I had practiced. And usually, I had. I can't say I ever loved practicing - still don't - but I'm glad my mom "made" me practice. I do enjoy playing, 60+ years later. Thanks, Mom.

October 23, 2022 at 08:15 PM · I didn't play violin or viola until way after I left home. My instrument as a child was the piano. I began in 2nd grade. My mother years later told me that she has perfect (absolute) pitch and would correct me (always from another room in our house) if I played a wrong note and tell me what note I should be playing. I had a vague memory of that. Of any other practicing enforcement, I have no memory. But when I entered my teens, it was my own desire to learn that motivated my practicing and I stopped lessons when I lost the motivation. I learned my current practice discipline from articles, mostly on v.com.

October 24, 2022 at 02:35 PM · My parents didn't force me to practise, but they strongly REINforced the habit. My father would get me up half an hour before breakfast to practise (the spelling I was taught in school was that the verb is -se and the noun is -ce), and I did it. I practised in the Living Room, and neither parent was at all inhibited when it came to making an input when they felt it was called for (mum exhorting me to stop improvising my "cadenza" and get on with the notes, or telling me that when Kreisler played that long bottom A in Mozart 3, he made the whole audience gasp, and I should do similarly (I think my INSTRUMENT was capable of it!). Dad had taught me up to Grade V, then Bach Amin&Emaj then Mozart 4, all with vibrato, before he passed me on to his former teacher, who then took me back to Vivaldi G-minor and bowing excercises - OF COURSE he continued to provide input).

Envy me my parents? You may well do, but don't envy me my attitudes or my left wrist!

October 26, 2022 at 03:26 PM · I answered something else: No and I didn't.

Problem was that my father had played the violin as a child - and because he took lessons from the Archbishop of Canterbury (true story) he presumed that he knew better than my teacher at school. So to avoid the conflict I only practiced when I had a spare period at school... [and I quit a few years later....]

October 26, 2022 at 03:29 PM · Hi,

my parents, both pianists with Eastern European background where there was a sort of professional music education from elementary school on, have always had a sort of professional attitude about music making. I have no idea why I started with the violin at age five, I never felt a special bond for stringed instruments. Probably, my parents thought, that besides the piano, violin is the instrument with the most versatile high quality music AND you can get a job in an orchestra with it. They say they don’t remember, or my mother says something blurry like “we asked you if you wanted to play the violin, and you said yes “.

What I know is that I always wanted to please them, so I might have said yes, for that reason.

We went to lots of concerts, listened to classical music, on the radio, and when I was 8, I got piano lessons, too, because you need to play the piano as a mandatory side instrument at college.

When I was asked what I wanted to do for a living, later, a musician was never among my answers. But I didn’t feel that there was a REAL choice. They took care I didn’t practice without concentrating and that I didn’t miss out important aspects. This was sometimes very destructive: As pianists, they thought intonation was the most difficult and important part of the violin. When I was focusing on bowing exercises, they called from the next room that I had not listened well enough to the intonation. When I explained to them, that I was focusing on the bow, exclusively, right now, to get that right, they argued back that all of that made no sense if all the notes were wrong. After all, I blame my parents’ well meant but string technique ignorant comments for some of my life long struggles with getting too tense, too often.

This all sounds pretty technical when reading it, but interestingly, I have at the same time always had some artistic talent. When I listen to my recordings from childhood, I must say I never played perfect, but always with great expression. Maybe this is a talent of mine that my parents realized and made sure to give it the best education, they could find. This still remains the paradox of my life: When I have to play, I love the music and to communicate with it to other players and the audience. It is really emotionally great. But when there is nothing on my schedule (longest period: Covid), I don’t miss music, at all. Had I not done it, professionally, I doubt that I had ever touched the violin, again.

The violin is like my voice to me: I use it, and don’t ask myself if I like it.

October 29, 2022 at 01:29 PM · Would be interesting to know how many of the respondents to the survey are professional violin players.

I am the mother of three violinists (7,10 and 12 years old) and I have been schlepping violins around for 7 years now. My two oldest are under full scholarship at the state conservatory of music where we live. In other words, we are lucky and yes they have talent too. But I am still expected to be present at their weekly lessons and make sure they practice for 1 1/2 hours every day. With my 7 years old I am expected to be at his lessons of course but also practice with him every day for at least 1/2 hour.

Although they love the violin, I don't see how they could have gone that far without that kind of investment from me (and my dear husband indirectly). I do have to fight with them sometimes to practice and argue about the quality of their practice but they do understand that they need that kind of intervention.

When my oldest first started playing, I didn't know what I was getting into. But soon I learned that if that kind of investment is expected from me, him and our financials too, then I decided that he would play in the range of excellent to extraordinary. In time, I also made the decision that this was as important as school and should be treated as such, meaning that we were in this for the long run, at least until they finish high school. People ask me if I have the intention to push them into being professional musicians. Well, I don't. I wish it for them because there are such great benefits to it and a great deal of amazing and good humans as colleagues in the profession. I just want them to aim for excellence in everything they invest in and make sure they feel that we believe in them too. I want them to feel that they are musicians and own the music too, not just as guests.

Worst case, as surgeons they will be able to play in the hospital's orchestra ;-)

October 29, 2022 at 09:09 PM · @Eden Sitbon: Re “Would be interesting to know how many of the respondents to the survey are professional violin players”:

It would be. I was one of those aspiring pros who changed their minds. I started playing in elementary school and went on to complete a degree in violin performance - although, at 21 y/o, nearing the end of the program, I was quite sure I wasn’t going to like the music business and never went into it after graduation.

Still, I went from preadolescence to the end of a degree program without my parents being any more involved in my musical life than paying for lessons and requiring that I practice. From the start, during lessons, my teacher and I were on our own. In practice sessions during the week, I was on my own. Again, violin lessons were my idea. My parents weren’t string players and knew little to nothing about stringed instruments. If they had been part of my lessons or practice sessions, I would undoubtedly have balked, knowing what I do about my own individualistic, free-spirited personality.

So while some kids may well benefit from greater parental involvement, not all of them will.

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