Too much emphasis on violin?

October 5, 2008 at 05:37 AM · So, I read an article in the WSJ this morning entitled, "Under Pressure", about parents who put pressure on their kids to be the best. Now, my dh wasn't saying I do that with our oldest concerning violin but he still thinks I emphasize the violin too much in his life. Dh isn't into classical music and he asked if my son really needs to be taking lessons anymore.

Our son has been playing for 8 years (he's 14). He takes one lesson a week and is a member of a university orchestra, a community orchestra, as it were. He practices maybe 30 minutes to an hour a day (and never practices his orchestra pieces! Grr). However, he does keep getting opportunities to play/perform. His orchestra has at least 6 performances this fall and he'll do one solo piece with his teacher. He just did a wedding last week where he was the one in charge of the strings players that turned out nicely. He also just got an opportunity to continue teaching some elementary aged school children for pay but we're not sure if he'll be able to do it. (And he'd get a ride to and from the school) He also plays in our church youth worship group monthly and has rehearsals for that. Lastly, he plays in a paid string quartet that does maybe 3-4 events a year. (easy stuff) Lastly, he's attended a local, one week long, chamber music camp for 2 years in a row. His private lessons are mostly being paid for by a particular organzation, his orchestra is free, and the chamber camp is almost free since he's a member of the orchestra. So, our costs for violin at this point are very reasonable.

Dh and I are almost positive that our son won't be a professional musician but I still think my son could be someone who will have his job and still be a musician on the side because he loves it. I'm a mom but I've been able to be a part time jazz dancer until recently for over 20 years because it's something I love.

So, do you think I should begin to tell my son no on some of the music activities he does, particularly if he's not going to major in music? Is my dh right in that I emphasize music too much? My son has other activities (baseball and chess) but it does seem music has taken a bigger part of his life this year, or at least recently.

I'd love feedback from other parents or even other young musicians.


Replies (25)

October 5, 2008 at 06:18 AM · Well, I don't have a young to relate to in my life (yet; there's hope for my youngest grandson!), but I do want to comment on one thing.

You mentioned that when he practices, it is not on his orchestra pieces. That leads me to think he enjoys the violin, but is not classically oriented.

What type of music does DH enjoy? Most other music categories also include violin, so possibly coaxing your son to incorporate some of that genre into his practice may loosen up DH a bit. Further, even if your son does ont follow music as his career, it may be a very rewarding pursuit, and the more skilled he is, the more he has an opportinity to enjoy it. I am taking up violin much later in life, and I only wish I had more time to practice.

October 5, 2008 at 08:44 AM · We have a similar discussion in our house only regarding the 15 year old son and his horse.

I see something in terms of personal development in maintaining that level of intense involvement. Ours comes at much greater financial cost, so I have had to present it to the boy as - I will pay for as much as I can and drive as much as I can so long as he does [X] that demonstrates his own commitment to the sport. If he chooses not to do [X] that's fine, no recrimination, but he then has to pay for feed, and supplement my transport money, or sell the horse. He works at Macca's a couple of shifts a week, and essentially the cost would mean he would save nothing from that work. At 14 he was old enough to make the decision to commit to the horse, and I think at this age that was the only way to go. He chose not to stay in swim squad or with violin. Like your son with violin, he very competent but probably not going to be professional in this sport, but he indicates that he wants to pursue regional level competition, at least, through his adult hood.

I think the lack of conscensus with my husband will continue, we don't quite have that point where we agree to disagree, but its evolving.

October 5, 2008 at 08:39 AM · I think one of the most important things to consider is the following: Is it you or is it your son who is pushing himself to do these activities, and does he enjoy doing them/think that the time spent on them and in preparing them is worth it? If the iniative comes from himself and he likes playing violin and performing, let him. Having recently gone through the teenage years, one of the best things that my parents did for me was to let me choose my own activities and support me in them, without pushing for me to either take up or quit anything that I didn't want to. This left me free to explore who I am and to explore my different interests, and while at times I was doing quite a bit all at once, whenever it got to be too much of a demand, I dropped the activities I was less interested in. Your son would probably do the same - if the demands of his interest in violin get to be too much, he will pick and choose which venues he wants to keep playing in, if at all. I wouldn't worry too much either if most of his activities at the moment concern violin, as long as that is his choice. There are many possibilities and purposes for music without having it as a career, and it gives him the opportunity to continue developing a skill that will bring him satisfaction for the rest of his life.

October 5, 2008 at 12:35 PM · I don't have kids, but I teach them, but unfortunately I have had parents yank kids from violin lessons because one or both parents didn't enjoy or appreciate their child's interest in violin. It is such a shame too...

As for whether or not your son is doing "too much", as long as his grades are good, and he is having fun, and learning, and your family is able to support his activities, then there shouldn't be a problem. If he were forced to do all of these things, or felt overwhelmed, then that would be a problem.

If it makes you feel any better, one of my parents is an amateur musician, and the other is about as musical as a pair of nail clippers. But both supported my musical endeavors, and were proud of my accomplishments when I was that age. That meant the world to me at 14, and after all these years, it still does. Good luck.

October 5, 2008 at 01:28 PM · I think you should make it so your son see's how lucky he is with all those oppurtunities. I got to teach at a junior high on friday because the teacher had her baby... I felt so happy to be doing it, and the kids seemed glad to have me there. I was in the same orchestra as most of the ninth graders so they knew me and that was neat.... I also tutor these kids once a week and I really like it. Your son has so many oppurtunities and it sounds like he's not seeing that.

I dont play my orchestra music a lot either. It's too easy sometimes, and others, too boring. So he may not be practicing it because orchestral music bores him, or classical in general. Does he want to play fiddle or jazz or something?

Oh, and a half hour everyday is not an amount that he should be over-bored with. I manage to fit in 2-4 hours a day while still managing to do high school homework and take care of two little boys on a friday night and saturday. It's not that difficult and isn't stressful... So in my opinion, make sure he knows how lucky he is to be given such options.

October 5, 2008 at 02:53 PM · Wow, what a wonderfully responsible son you have. If he can juggle all these musical activities at age 14 on his own while maintaining his grades then I would say congratulations to you, you must be very proud. Being in a group that gets paid occasionally is not something most 14 years olds can claim to do and really sets him apart from most kids. It requires business sense and a sense of maturity that he may not otherwise have had without the violin.

About your son being too involved with music and not pursuing it in the long run... He's 14 so who knows what's going to happen? I didn't start playing the violin UNTIL I was 14 and went on to be a pro violinist...

My advice, let him handle this in his own stride. He probably has tons of friends involved in music and he wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't rewarding for him. Let him lose interest on his own, don't take away something that is nurturing his growth and maturity just because Dad can't sympathize with classical music.

October 5, 2008 at 05:06 PM · Marina, thank-you for the encouragement. Yes, my son has a lot of friends who are musicians. It seems that's one "world" that he's most comfortable in. It's true we can't know the future. I just assume that he'll go into physics or math and have music as a side love but I've been wrong before!

Elizabeth, you bring up some good things to think about. My son has chosen everything he does in music *except* when I made him change teachers about a year ago. He didn't want to do it but now he sees what a very good thing it was and he's glad he made the change. At the time, he thought he'd gone as far as he could and couldn't get any better and I saw him as someone who had grown too comfortable with his teacher (and she was great) and needed a change.

We definitely do let him follow his interests but we often have to reign him in because he wants to do too many things. I have always allowed him to do most/all music opportunities that come his way. Maybe saying no once in a while to an extra performance might appease my dh.

Anne, your story is funny. My poor parents were both musicians (not full time, though they were both in the Boulder Symphony in late 50s) and I rejected music early on. My sister is a part time professional musician so music is definitely in my family but I never set out to have my children play music. Both my boys chose their instruments. I have struggled more with my middle son and his cello but have allowed him to quit if he wants but he keeps plugging away. And my dh definitely doesn't understand that an artist-musician, dancer, whatever-doesn't stop needing to improve and take lessons, especially at 14. I mean, I've been dancing for almost 30 years and I still take lessons when I can find the time and money.

Roland, funny you should ask about what he practices. For most of the summer, he was smitten with fiddle stuff but lately, he's been practicing his Vitale Chiccone a lot as his recital is a month away and he's finally sounding good. He just doesn't make time to practice the symphony stuff and he thinks he plays it well enough. (Not sure about that!) It's true that dh doesn't understand some of the songs he's learning. He thinks Bach is nice but that's about it. LOL He'd prefer my son to play Ronnie Lane. (Bet noone here has ever heard of him)

He does keep up with his grades mostly but this is something I need to keep on top of. He's taking 2 college classes (yes, one of those math/science kids) and I think he's getting A's in both classes. He does procrastinate, though, so maybe I should talk with him again to make sure he's not biting off more than he can chew.

Sharelle, I like your system of accountibility. I think this is why my son wants to teach violin because he can earn more money and support his other expense, chess.

Paul, I will definitely share what you said with my son about how fortunate he is to be able to do all he does. It's encouraging to know you practice a lot more than my son and still don't feel stressed. You sound similar except you probably manage your time better than he does.:-)

October 5, 2008 at 10:58 PM · Rebecca - your son reminds me of myself around that age, or perhaps a couple of years older (as I didn't start playing the violin til I was 12, despite always being musical.) I agree with other posters that it sounds like he has a great variety of things going on in his life musically and my response would be to ask your husband to consider your son's activities with a wider viewpoint.

Your son is not only learning and playing violin, but developing a strong sense of discipline to organise his busy schedule. He is learning basic management skills when it comes to putting together/planning his chamber music/weddings and other gigs. He obviously has great people skills in being asked to teach younger children and I presume dealing with "clients" at weddings etc and so on and so on.

These are just a few of the skills and experiences which music is providing him with and which will stand him in good stead whatever career path he chooses to follow. It sounds very much to me as if your son might find a perfect path in arts management of some kind.

I think that at this period of his life he does have the opportunity and is lucky enough to have the financial resources to do lots of things musically and that should be encouraged by his parents. Later, when exams crop up and perhaps he has more academic demands on his time, then he may have to decide which of his musical activities mean the most to him. But I'd say that it sounds like he is having a whale of a time at present and all power to him!

When it comes to putting together his resume he'll have loads of great things to list and it will be pretty impressive to any potential employer/academic institution.

October 6, 2008 at 02:39 AM · You say he is one of those math/science kids; you know they sometimes like to make music too.

If you want, I can give you a neat excel formula to calculate the MACH speed the speed of sound) at any given altitude (assuming standard temp and pressure; I can modify it if you want to input actual atmospeheric conditions).

I need music to keep my sanity; It exercises the side of my brain that work does not. If you want to help him avoid burnout, keep him involved, instead of trying to cut him off from the diversions that will keep him in balance.

October 6, 2008 at 01:26 PM · clearly this kid knows what he is doing,,,

October 6, 2008 at 07:16 PM · It sounds like you are doing a terrific job with your son! It sounds like he is busy doing things that he enjoys and is learning independence and organization as well as science, math and music. You are very lucky that he has a venue (orchestra and chamber group) where he feels he can contribute and where he has friends. The negotiation and cooperation skills that kids learn in ensembles of this sort are invaluable.

Also, I would not worry about the amount of time he devotes to his orchestra music. If he finds he needs to spend more time on his orchestral music, I am sure he will. Nobody wants to let their friends down!

As far as private lessons go, I think they are essential to his continued growth and enjoyment of the violin.

October 6, 2008 at 08:26 PM · It sounds like you have a very hard working son. This is an admirable quality in a youth today. Keep up the positive support and let him make his own decisions. The dicipline that he obviously possesses will take him far in life, no matter what he may choose to do later in life as a career. I read that he is 14. I've never met a 14 year old who really knew what they wanted to do with their life, but he has a good solid start if he want to take music as a career. He will discover many great roads in the near future, especially during college, that will lead him to where he wants to go. I wish him the best and greatest of success and luck!

October 6, 2008 at 10:15 PM · At his age most of his closest friends are probably involved in music so there is a social upside for him. He might find others with a deep interest and I find kids like this are bored by light weight activities sometimes. He probably does not practice for orchestra too much because it is more of a social thing for him and is probably easy compared to the other stuff he is doing. If he started at 6 he probably doesn't remember anything before music so it is like eating or sleeping..just part of who he is. He is fluent just like a first language so it is probably just his natural state of walking through life. I would not worry too much. Sometimes kids won't say no though so if he needs a break and turns down a gig or two don't make him regret it. Also, once he commits to a gig or performance he should not cancel.

Who knows what he will do. Most people who major in liberal arts don't get jobs in their major anyway. That is what a graduate or doctorate degree is for.

October 6, 2008 at 11:23 PM · Hi,

I don't know if this is an indication, but most of my students that are 13-15 years old at the Conservatoire practice from 2 to 4 hours a day (not including string orchestra OR orchestra rehearsals, etc.). Amounts of concerts vary. Most of them have excellent grades.


October 6, 2008 at 11:17 PM · Roland, what a great point you made about burn out. I do know when my son is stressed or is working on a problem, he picks up his guitar and plays and it relaxes him. I think that is a selling point that dh could understand. :-)

Rosalind, I think you're right in that my son is learning valuable life skills by his involvement in music. People do rely on him because he's (usually) mature enough to carry through on what needs to be done. I'd love to know more about arts management! Sounds like something you're well acquainted with. :-)

Al, he does have a pretty strong will. :-)

Jennifer, I agree with you. I think lessons are the backbone of his music and I believe he has gained much confidence in the last year because of his teacher.

Jerald, sometimes I don't see him as hard working (um, like when he's procrastinating) but I think you're right in that he's very dependable and steps up to the plate when something is required of him. I think my dh sees more of his forgetful side (like not picking up clothes!) but a gentle reminder about his dependability might be in order.

J, I like the analogy of music being his first language; it really makes sense. He says he wants to learn the pennywhistle next year. Ah yes, who knows that the future holds?

Thanks for all who encouraged me. I think I can better communicate to my husband just how much the violin has been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping my son develop so many life skills. It's so true! My son was labeled adhd when he was 6 and I think violin is probably the biggest reason he's able to focus and excel and harness his energy into productivity.

October 7, 2008 at 01:15 AM · Christian,

Yep, that sounds about right for the other 13-15 year olds we know! This is why I think my son is not on the path of professional musician. :-) On occasion, when he's rehearsing for something specific, he might practice more but generally, he's chosen (and he has plenty of time) to practice an hour or less a day. He's been told he should be practicing 2 hours a day but I leave that up to him (mostly).

October 7, 2008 at 02:21 AM · Yeah, that sounds like he may not want to pursue a career in it... If I had been playing for eight years, I would be into everything! All the concertos etc. I've been playing for over 2 years,and it sounds like I'm around the same level as him (I started Chaconne by Vitali about 5 months ago). And I've started to dig into the big concertos like Sibelius.

Some may find it sad or think he'll be just giving up his talent, and I agree, but hey, that's less competition for me in the future! Haha, just kidding:) Oh, and BTW- I also practice up to 8 hours a day on the weekend!

But none the less, tell him if he wants to be a pro, he better pick up the slack! He's got competition out there!

October 7, 2008 at 02:46 AM · Hi Paul,

Ha! You'll get no competition from him, I'm sure. He'd rather be playing chess for 8 hours on the weekend (which he does as often as his schedule will allow). :-) Chess and baseball are the main reasons he's not in a youth symphony. All the youth symphonies rehearse on Saturdays but chess comes first on Saturdays when he's not playing baseball. I've encouraged him to audition for the best youth symphony in 2 years (someone told me they think he could get in) when he's 16 and switch his chess playing to Wednesday nights. Not sure if he'll do it but I'll leave it up to him.

No, he's never expressed the idea that he wants to be a professional musician at all. He has no idea what he wants to do as he has lots of things he enjoys. You, OTOH, are clearly on the right path and know what you want. Go, Paul! :-)

October 7, 2008 at 03:37 AM · Well, I wish him luck in chess or whatever he does! Maybe he'll be the worlds next big genius, ya never know!

October 21, 2008 at 08:47 PM · Roland,

I bet my son would enjoy anything that links physics and music. He's currently taking mechanics (calc based physics) at the CC and loves all things physics. Fire away with that formula!

October 21, 2008 at 08:53 PM · P.S. My son was able to work out his schedule so that he could teach once a week. He's so excited to get $20 a week. :-) The kids were delighted to have him back. I met the woman in charge of arranging the lessons and she said how much the students enjoy my son. Apparently, there are some, how shall we say, challenging students and my son seems to know what to do. He's even teaching viola...not sure how. He played viola for one semester for some Christmas concerts but decided it wasn't for him. Guess he'll figure it out!

October 22, 2008 at 02:22 AM · Physics and music go hand in hand. He already has a jump in the acoustical physics field over his peers. :)

I'm with others that he's learning a valuable life skill, and social skills as well. Music will also have a benefit later in life - having an oftentimes social outlet after a hard day in the office.

October 22, 2008 at 04:50 PM · I'll tell you and your "dh" this, which has been my own life experience. I started violin when I was 4 (70 years ago), my interest in astronomy (when I was 10) became an interest in physics when I was just 11 (after the first A-bomb hit the news).

Except for one year (age 12 - 13) I've played violin and then cello, as well all the time. I was employed as a physicist for 34 years after college and grad school and continued in my own consulting business for another 15 years.

But all that time, music has been a major hobby, orchestra, ensembles, teaching, solos, etc. Now it's all music, and I am so grateful for the gift I was give in learning to play, and the ability to continue doing it at a level that at least some others are still willing to join with me.

All the learning your son can get at this age, will last his entire life. This is the time for him to learn, it really is, and the more professional training and coaching he can get the more he will appreciate it as he gets older.

What I experience as an old man is that the music I learned when I was young is still "in my fingers," but the music I newly learned in the past decade has to be continuously relearned to perform it. It is rather surprising to me, but that's how it is.


October 22, 2008 at 08:22 PM · Amateur musicians are very strange beings in that they work so very hard at something in order to have fun with it. Given that the work-part is usually done at home & the fun-part is often elsewhere, a parent may be seeing only half of the picture. Sounds like your son is having fun!

By the by, I agree with you that it would be great if he played in youth orchestra…the perks can be a little better. Our local youth orchestra goes on wonderful trips & they tend to have better access to professionals as soloists or sectional teachers compared to the local community & university orchestras.

October 22, 2008 at 09:11 PM · Andy,

Your experience sounds so much like my father's. He discovered physics at 9, and music at 13 (maybe it was the other way around). He went on to become a "systems engineer" for Kitt Peak Natl. Observatory for 30+ years. He also played his french horn in a professional symphony and later, was a part of a barbershop quartet made up of guys from Kitt Peak. I rememeber with great fondness many of the concerts they performed. Now, at 81, he's long since given up brass but has learned to play the recorder and flute and plays baroque music with 2 other retired musicians. Yes, music has remained a huge part of his life, even though his hearing is going. He can't listen to strings anymore but he still loves brass concerts. His group doesn't perform anymore but they rehearse weekly for 3 hours.

Christina, I agree that the perks of a youth symphony are better than a community orchestra. Now, I will say that my son got his teaching opportunity through his symphony and he did tour to Pittsburgh with them last year. They're going to Quito, Ecuador this year but we said no to that since we couldn't afford to go with him and would not allow him to go with this adult group without us.

I did see that there are particular opportunities for the best of the San Diego Youth Symphony members. My son's teacher is considered one of the best in town but I do think my son should at least audition one year for the San Diego Youth Symphony just to see what it's all about.

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