Need Help in Guiding My Advanced 12 Year Old

February 6, 2007 at 05:29 AM · My soon to be 13 year old son has been playing violin for 6 1/2 years. He's a Suzuki student in book 10. He's been playing with his teacher's strings ensemble for about 5 years. Last fall, he auditioned for the University of San Diego Symphony Orchestra and made it as a first violinist. They are comprised of college students, community members including ex-San Diego Symphony members, and advanced high school students. My son is the only young violinist. This semester, they're playing lots of difficult Beethoven which he's never done. His teacher is very experienced but I still get the feeling he could be doing better with a traditional teacher now. He, however, is adamant about not changing teachers. What do I do? The music for the USD Symphony is fast and he's concerned about keeping up the tempo. He's also not great at theory (music reading), though he's learning quickly I guess! He needs to practice more and I did ask the director specifically what he needs to work on (she said work with a metronome) because he came to the first rehearsal woefully underprepared.

Well, any advice on what to do with my son would be really appreciated. How do I guide him? How do I encourage him? How do we change teachers when neither he nor his teacher thinks he need to change?

I have about a hundred more questions but that's all I have time for now! :-) Thank-you!

Replies (30)

February 6, 2007 at 05:30 AM · I wouldn't change teachers if your son is opposed to it. Motivation is a huge, huge factor in whether or not your son will be successful on the violin.

If you really and truly feel like your teacher has nothing left for you, then your teacher would know this, too, and you can talk together about where to go next.

But if your son likes his teacher, trusts his teacher, makes good progress with his teacher, feels motivated to take tough auditions and try really hard music with his teacher.....is sounds like things are working!

The only great way I know of to learn orchestra playing is by playing in orchestras. It's not easy for the newcomer! So don't be too alarmed. In some ways, one cannot prepare for the experience of reading music quickly and keeping with the rest of the orchestra, one just has to DO it a lot.

February 6, 2007 at 05:39 AM · You may wish to supplement the teacher with a monthly lesson based on 'very' specific needs with another teacher. I know that can ouch the pocket book.

But also, the things you outlined--can they be handled with the existing teacher?

February 6, 2007 at 05:58 AM · Greetings,

Albert, that is not usually a very good idea, although the thought is well meant as usual. There is no such thing a s special needs existing independently of the overall development of a violnist- a teacher is either offfering an adequate package or they are not. Twp teahcers =almost- always leads to conflcit rapidly (even if only in the child`s mind) a sthere are so many ways to do even the simplest thing on the isntrument, or rather there are so many ways of teaching the same thing. If a student did this to me I would ask them to sdesist immediatley or change teacher. I am not deliberatelly being unkind. its in the child and my interest to have only one teacher. I have taught a child studying with a top American teacher who wa stemporarily resifg in Japan. It was a minefiled I trod with great care and managed to do , I think, no harm, by continually asking what the other teahcer said and did and then simply reinfircing or reminding the child of that. But it wa ssomething of a nightmare and I don@t think I would do it again.

Cheers,

Buri

I am assuming you mean something to do with the isntrument rather than just music theory or paino here by the wya. That of cours eis more than necesarry but it on`t help with the orchestra situation. As Laurie says, one learns ot cope with orchestra by playing in orchestra!

February 6, 2007 at 06:38 AM · Rebecca,

I was in your son's position at about the same age when I was granted 1st chair (viola) in the UTC Orchestra (Chattanooga, TN) almost 30 years ago. At the time I was taking lessons from an adjunct professor at the university. I can only give you my experience.

My parents encouraged me to practice, but not in a pushy way. My father would play with me on his accordian (we are a family of odd-ball instruments). I recieved encouragement from the rest of my section and the conductor. I remember only one piece that we were playing at the time - Flight of the Bumble Bee. LOL I never knew music could be so fast! I only took things semi-seriously, nothing was that serious at that age. But with gentle pressure and encouragement from my family and teacher, I made it through several seasons wihtout major embarassment. The next year I was accepted into the Sewanee Music Camp. I only discovered a few months ago how difficult that was.

I never became a professional nor majored in music, but it is still a major part of my life. If my parents had suggested that I change teachers at that time, I probably would have dropped viola all together. It had taken a long time for me to feel comfortable with the teacher that I had and be able to listen to and accept constructive criticism. Good relationships with adults in a student/teacher way is difficult as a teenager (or pre-teen).

I wish you both luck!

February 6, 2007 at 07:13 AM · Rebecca,I think the most important point to consider is what type of study material other than Suzuki is your sons teacher covering.Is he ,as he now should be,getting an adequate diet of scales and studies?Has he been studying supplementary material since the early Suzuki books? If his sight reading abilities are poor it could be that this aspect has been neglegted and need to be remedied.Playing in an orchestra requires the ability to sight read.Maybe you should first have a chat with his present teacher to see what her study programme for the future is.

February 6, 2007 at 07:13 AM · I was talking about the theory and timing parts in the spirit of a vitamin rather than a change--when one goes to camp or master class, is it any different?

February 6, 2007 at 09:26 AM · Greetings,

sorry Albert. With you now. These things should be studied indeendently of the violin lesson. But anythign to do with the instrument is a differnet ball game. Masterclasses and camps are not the same in my opinion. Usuaullly they are done with the blessing and advice of the regular teacher. Its an interesting point you raise though. I think the major differnecve is in some ways psychologicalk/ethical (or whatever. ) That is, the teachers at the summer camp are not saying I am in any snese you regualr teacher. You are taking lessons from me but this is not formal study with the comittment that implies . A teacher at a master class will rarely touch on anything that involves a radical shift in tehcnique. that s diffenret from a useful pointer.

Cheers,

Buri

February 6, 2007 at 11:28 AM · I would agree with Janet. A student must be exposed to all genres of music, given opportunities to play and perform as a soloist, and have basic techniques under his belt (from playing etudes and scales).

When I was eleven I was in the same boat as your son. I remember loving my own Suzuki teacher. But I realized that I was too comfortable and I needed to be pushed to my limits, much further than my teacher could push. Fortunately my teacher came to that conclusion before I did =) so I she recommended a change. For an eleven-yr-old to go from a nice woman teacher to a strict man was no less than terrifying. But, after the first year, I started warming up to him and now he's one of my best friends, although he is always hard to please and he holds me to very high standards.

Also something that has helped me loads is theory lessons. They're not always the most interesting thing in the world, but they really pay off...especially when it comes to sight-reading and playing in an orchestra.

I'm only seventeen, so I haven't been as far as most people on this site have but now I'm extremely glad I made the switch...

Good luck to you!

February 6, 2007 at 03:00 PM · Ok...yes.. I can TOTALLY relate to this question.

I too have an 11 yo daughter who has is a gifted player and has gone thru suzuki and has also auditioned and got into a University orchestra as well.

At their first concert they played Dvorak 9... I thought to myself... is she faking.. but she wasnt and soon had the respect of the professors and students there.

Is your son still taking Suzuki lessons? How long has he been reading music? Does he take private lessons with a professor at the University?

My advice to you one that has been giving to me as well... if you can enroll him into the University as a concurrent student.. then he will be able to take music theory and ear training classes.

My daughter's teacher is currently teaching her sol fege (excuse the spelling) do.. re.. mi.. etc

It sounds like your son is doing really well, but he does need some theory if this is what he is going to persue.

Also I cannot stress how important this is: he needs to be in performing groups with kids his own age. My daughter is in her school orchestra with kids who have only been playing for 2 years.. yes it is "hot cross buns" but this is her opportunity to not only be with kids her age, but to be a leader. The other kids ask and want her help.

As it stands, right now, the University that my daughter attends for orchestra and lessons, only excepts students who are in 8th grade, so we cannot enroll. But you may have better luck with that.

Here I thought my daughter was about the only one in this situtation.. please feel free to email me, I think we share something in common.

Best of luck

Jodi

February 6, 2007 at 03:17 PM · Some other thoughts:

How long does your son practice? You may consider moving up the amount of time spent each day he practices.. with breaks.

Also, I agree with the statement someone made about other literature besides Suzuki books. Our teachers used Suzuki books as supplemental material. Your son, if he isn't used to shifting will have a hard time keeping up rythmically because maybe he needs a technique book to help with shifts.

But I really wouldn't worry that much about it if he has sectionals with his orchestra rehearsals... that really helps.

Is he in any school groups or orchestras? I know that here where I am some of the suzuki teachers are unwilling to send their kids to other orchestras... this is not in all cases.

Jodi

February 6, 2007 at 07:18 PM · I'm not familiar with your area, but I wonder if there is a youth orchestra, as opposed to a college or high school orchestra. The youth orchestra, if it's a good one, will play major repertoire, but the players will be at a higher level than a community or college orchestra and they will be kids (which will simply be more fun.)

As for the Suzuki teacher. Book 10 is an entire Mozart concerto (D?), if I remember correctly. At that level he should be well into etudes and a scale system. I hope that's so. What does the Suzuki teacher think. Has s/he made any noises about him moving on? Does she have any similarly advance students in her studio? It's a good rule of thumb that you should not remain in a studio where you are among the best players (unless you are Perlman and your teacher is DeLay.)

February 7, 2007 at 12:39 AM · Oh boy, I really appreciate all the responses and ideas! I have a lot to sort through. In regards to what else he is doing:

He's had Barber's scales for a couple of years but doesn't practice them much at all (even though his teacher and I encourage it). I will have another go at them again. He's not doing sol, uh, whatever you call it or more theory but it sounds like he needs it. I wouldn't say he's a poor sight reader but he could use a lot of improvement.

He's been in the strings ensemble that his teacher directs since he was 7. This is with kids his own age. It's easy and fun and he enjoys it very much. I would love to have had him audition for a youth symphony instead of the college symphony but his schedule couldn't accomodate any youth symphony as they all practice on Saturday mornings. My son is either doing chess tournaments or playing Little League on Saturdays. :-)

It sounds like there are varying opinions about whether he should switch teachers or not. His teacher has been teaching for over 30 years and has had many advanced students. She obviously gives the students ensemble music so she's comfortable with stuff other than Suzuki. My favorite things they've done with her have been Benjamin Britton's Simple Symphony and the Capricia Espanol. However, I've had advice from a number of people telling me he should switch because there's a big world out there besides Suzuki.

I do plan on having him take a theory class at the local community college, preferrably this summer so he'll be better prepared for the fall if he chooses to continue with the University of San Diego Symphony.

I appreciate the advice about not having two teachers at the same time. I'd considered it because he needed more time with a teacher but his current teacher is willing to extend his lesson time to accomodate his needs.

Thank-you so much for all the responses. Somehow, I don't necessarily think my son is all that different from a lot of young players out there but since I don't know much about music, I'm so grateful for this website!

February 7, 2007 at 01:05 AM · Greetings,

very importnat to get into the habit of praciticng scales daily while he is young. The Barber scales are excellent. I hasd a studnet start with me a yera ago who never practiced technique. Her mother is a well established piano teacher who wa svery familiar with the implications of this problem and expressed her concerns to me on the subject. I explained that my approach is to simply hear tehcnical work and scale sat the beginning of every lesson. If the stduent wa snot praciticng then they may feel uneasy. We might then spend a whole lesosn on that stuff at the expense of a piece thatt he stdunet enjoys. Obviously this cannot be done as a punishment. There is no reaosn why the teahcer cannot make praciticng scales really interesitng and rewarding. But it is up to the teahcer to give a studnet undertsanding about how and what topracitce by the structure of the lesson itself. IE if the teahce rdoesn`t ask for a scale on a weekly basis how doe sthe stdunet learn that scale sare to be practice on the same terms?

My other feeling , which I stres sis very subjectivbe, is that your son may be ready for a new teacher. Its just soemthing that happens. The diifculty of change is that we all , especially children get into comfort zones and doin`t like it. Its rather like having a friend taken away. Thats aside form the other dificulty of making sure where you move is the right choice...

Cheer,s

Buri

February 7, 2007 at 03:29 AM · I used to do the Barber scales--so count me as another vote in favor of them. :)

It is good to remember the proverb spoken by many wise people: "[insert hated etude system here] is like brussels sprouts. It makes you feel sick, but it's good for you."

(Of course you can substitute other nasty health foods if you actually like brussels sprouts.) :)

February 7, 2007 at 03:43 AM · Greetings,

they mad e me pass wind. Does taht count?

Cheer,s

Burp

February 7, 2007 at 04:07 AM · My daughter took lessons from the same Suzuki teacher from the time she was 4 until she went to college. Her teacher also encouraged her to join a youth orchestra, helped prepare her with auditions in all- state and summer programs,discussed basic theory, and introduced her to chamber music. Sometimes she would invite other violinists and teachers to critique her playing which gave my daughter new perspectives. It seemed to me that she was still learning things from her teacher when she was a senior in high school. If your son is still learning and is exposed to similar opportunities as my daughter was everything might be just fine. Sometimes I did wonder if it would have been better to have changed teachers, but I was worried that someone new who would be more demanding might create pressures that would affect her schooling and life as a well rounded teenager. Everything seemed to work out for the best however, for she ended up being accepted to almost all of the colleges and conservatories in which she applied.

February 7, 2007 at 04:18 AM · Greetings,

thats the other side of the coin. If it ain`t broke don`t fix it.

Cheers,

Buri

February 7, 2007 at 04:24 AM · Buri,

perhaps it's an effective way to improve flautando?

Edit: Oh god, I'm starting to sound like Buri. I spend altogether too much time here... :)

February 7, 2007 at 04:34 AM · You may leave the temple.

February 7, 2007 at 05:58 AM · You guys are helpful and funny at the same time; what a treat!

I'm encouraged to hear that it is possible for a student to stay with a particular teacher for a long time with supplementation such as camps, other music programs, and theory class. I do know my son is still learning from his teacher and they work well together, so maybe for a while, it's ok that he stays where he is. (Though I'd still love to watch a lesson of a good traditional teacher)

There's a chamber music camp in the summer that he's hoping to form a group with some other young, advanced players that he knows.

I will ask his teacher to work on scales, arpegios , and the like at his lesson. I do confess that though my son really likes playing violin (he's even decided he wants to make a cd with other young musicians that he knows), he kind of has a short attention span so practicing 2 hours a day is quite a stretch for him. At this point, I try to have him do 2 sessions of 45 minutes each. It seems with all the stuff he has to do, he could easily practice 3-4 hours a day. Umm, that won't happen anytime soon!

February 7, 2007 at 06:10 AM · Greetings,

2 times 45 minutes is ideal if its efificnet. Hour long practice sessions lead to erratic spelling later in life.

Cheers

Buri

February 7, 2007 at 11:07 AM · Lol Buri...

Hmmm, your son sounds a bit like my brother! He's a very gifted pianist but an hour is torture.

February 7, 2007 at 03:03 PM · Focus,please,people. ;) I'll repeat what I've said before on other posts - This is a 12-year-old boy. It sounds like the kid is doing great, is well-rounded with other interests, isn't throwing the violin out a window because it's "not cool". I think I'd put the idea of change out there slowly, along the lines of "Since you'll be done with the Suzuki books soon, I wonder what your teacher will suggest for you to learn next. I thought I'd buy some CD's or borrow stuff from the library for me to listen to, since I don't know enough to even recognize what your teacher names. You're welcome to use anything I get. Maybe something will grab your attention." This strategy points your son towards assessing his own needs and interests; if his Suzuki teacher really isn't up to teaching a post-S.kid, it may be revealed in context, so he makes a choice himself to ask for something else. // One practical thought. Are there any sectionals, either scheduled or impromptu, run by a section leader? If there are, I would make a sincere effort to get the kid to those. Sue

February 7, 2007 at 05:42 PM · Sue, these are great suggestions! I think my son's teacher does a Mendelson (yes, pathetically spelled wrong-sorry!) something or other after book 10. I also asked for the sheet music from one of the solos from last semester's concerts, Mozartiana, Suite No. 4 by Tschaikowsky (another misspelling, I'm sure). I loved this solo and would love to have my son learn it.

They have sectional rehearsals if you mean strings only, but they don't just have first violinist rehearsals. Is that something that most orchestras have?

Whew, what a cool place Violinist.com is! Thanks again to all who responded.

February 8, 2007 at 03:05 PM · I am not a big fan of having a violin teacher for a long span of time, because I think it is great to have other opinions. And I have found out that another teacher may see some "bad habit" that another can't see.If you keep the suzuki teacher then I would perhaps let your son go to a music camp so that he can experience other teachers and other opinions as well.

I didn't have a great experience with suzuki.. the teacher didn't teach note reading.. so I moved on when I saw that high school kids couldn't read music.

The best bet is to stay on top of things, which you are doing and feel it out for your son.

As far a practicing goes.. 45 minutes twice a day is fine.. what you will see is that he can accomplish things faster so he may not need to practice for lengths of time.

My daughters goal is 3 hours a day.. which is broken down to an hour and a half sessions.. with breaks.

It sounds like he is doing other things which is great, my daughter is in the Quiz bowl acedemic team.

February 8, 2007 at 05:54 PM · First, I have to ask what the Quiz bowl is. It sounds fun!!

Second, I think you're right about exposing my son to other teachers. When he recently bought a new bow to go with his new full size violin, the woman who sold it to him-a professional violist and teacher-said he was very good but also said he had a terrible bow hold. I wish I'd been able to see them trying the bows together so I could have seen what she thought was a good bow hold. (I was occupied with my other children) I did tell his teacher what she said, though.

Also, when he reauditioned for the symphony-orchestra, the director had some specific critiques for him which his teacher has never given him. She said he needed to be working with a metronome and she tapped him on the back to give him a sense of timing and danceability as he played a gigue.

He's been to Suzuki camp for 4-5 years and had various teachers but this year, I am almost sure he'll go to the chamber music camp and he'll have lots of opportunity to work with other teachers.

February 8, 2007 at 06:03 PM · PS. The Mark O'Connor fiddling camp has been in San Diego for a number of years and has received rave reviews from various friends but my son never wanted to go. Even though he does a good bit of fiddling in his strings ensemble group, he really prefers classical. I think the camp would have been a great experience for him but oh well!

February 8, 2007 at 07:31 PM · The problem with staying with a teacher for a long time is that everyone becomes comfortable and it is difficult to get the job done.

If someone said that your son has a terrible bow-hold, then you need to ask his teacher about it. You don't necessarily have to mention who or what happened, but you do need to ask her.

I am a private teacher and know that suzuki kids hold their bow differenty in the beginning, but eventually graduate to a tradional bow-hold. Since he is so advanced, this should have been done. But definitely now that he has a full size violin. There are many things that will not improve in a students playing until they have the proper technique and fundamentals.

I would suggest theory lessons. I would keep him with his teacher as long as you and your son still feel like he is progressing. Just do the theory lessons with someone else. This way the teacher will be new and your son will work hard. Since there will not be any playing in the theory lesson, it won't be a difficult task.

February 9, 2007 at 05:33 PM · How would I go about finding a music theory teacher? We live in a large city-San Diego-but I don't know how to search for teachers...

February 12, 2007 at 07:03 PM · You can ask at some of the local colleges. A music theory professor may teach privately or there may be a student with enough knowledge.

You could also just find another violin teacher and just take theory lessons from them. This way your son is taking with someone who knows theory well and also relates with the violin.

Good Luck!

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