Parents and Lessons?

August 14, 2010 at 02:46 AM ·

I was a child beginner and a traditional, non-Suzuki learner.  First, at age 7, I had elementary piano instruction.  But then the violin fascinated me.  I knew this was the instrument I wanted to play.  I began bowing and fingering tunes on a small-sized instrument several months before the first lessons.

During violin instruction, as with piano, the teacher and I were alone together.  During practice, I was totally on my own.  I feel that, for me, this was the right way.

My parents certainly kept tabs on my whereabouts and activities.  But they encouraged me to do things on my own.  Since violin was my choice, and since I was hooked on practicing, I am quite confident that the absence of direct parental involvement in my lessons and practice sessions actually allowed me to progress faster and go further in the study than I would have done otherwise.

Still, one size doesn't fit all, and I recognize that what worked fine for me can be all wrong for some others.  What are your experiences -- and what are your thoughts on the subject of parental involvement from learner and/or teacher and parent viewpoints?

Replies (16)

August 14, 2010 at 04:36 AM ·

 I think parents are helpful when the child is not motivated enough, but if the child is perceptive and motivated then I don't think parental involvement is necessary.  I started learning to play before I had parents.  I was older (out of the "cute little kid" phase) and the chance of being chosen was getting slimmer and slimmer by the year so the idea was that kids are more likely to be adopted if they can do something artistic.  I suppose it worked.  After I was adopted my parents didn't become involved in my music lessons at all, but they did find me a good teacher and let me learn at my own pace.  At first I practiced because I was lonely.  Now I practice because I love to play.  So for me motivation wasn't a problem.

August 14, 2010 at 05:06 AM ·

When our then young Daughter was in Suzuki classes we were baby sitting a Guarneri at the time for a few months. My wife had permission to take it to class one time. When the teacher asked each parent to play what their child was learning my wife, a non violinist, played twinkle with the Guarneri. The teacher congratulated my wife on her good tone and asked what the violin was. My wife pretended to look inside and said it was a Joseph Guarneri, whoever THAT was. She kept a straight face. The teacher snickered and came over to check it out and almost feinted when she saw it certainly looked real. "Where did you get this violin?"  she asked with concern. My wife said she had gotten it at a pawn shop a few days earlier and was probably going to turn it into a planter or serving dish. Did you ever see a Suzuki teacher actually get the shakes? LOL. After class we 'fessed up and told her it was indeed a real one and belonged to someone in a major orchestra we knew closely. I have pictures of our five year old playing the Guarneri. Don't panic, she was sitting on our bed and I had ahold of the scroll so no harm would come to it. Hey, had to have some fun.

August 14, 2010 at 08:13 AM ·


well, I don@t teach Suzuki style although I do respect it.  Nor do I teach below the age of five and I suspect in that case the Suzuki approach is very important.   So, in my case, i hate having parents in the room and avoid the situation as much as possible.  Japanes e parents often seem to think they have the right to butt in with comments like muzukashii,  muzukashii` (difficult) which is so fundamentally at odds with the psychological bond and confidence building I am doing with the student I very often want to -literally- kill the parent;).

I don`t think I expressed myslef that clearly but I think you may get the gist...



August 14, 2010 at 12:09 PM ·

From a parent's point of view, I sit in for my 8 year old son's violin lessons because I feel I need to know what has been taught so that I can make sure he is practising the right way when he gets home. I would dare say my son is a very bright, pretty motivated and very musical, but even after learning the violin for 4 years now, I can't say he has acquired the vital skills of effective practising.

I pretty much do all the planning for him when it comes to his practices - how much time to spend on scales, etudes, solo piece, orch/chamber, and covering everything his teacher has talked about during lesson, and mainly getting him to learn how to break problems to smaller bits, to do things slowly and carefully, to set high standards and really listen.

Because I am not a violinist myself, I have to learn all the basic things to look out for - right posture, right bow hold, relaxed shoulders, relaxed left hand, straight bow. And of course, bow distribution, contact point, bow speed, bow pressure, intonation, yadidadida..If I didn't sit in for his lessons, I wouldn't have a clue what he should or shouldn't be doing. Also, it is not that easy for a young boy to remember so many details that the teacher had covered in lesson.

I suppose my son will still be doing ok if I had just left him to his own devices. But certainly the progress will be a lot slower. Perhaps one may describe me as a "pushy parent", but I think that learning violin is hard enough that if I can help my son correct his bad habits as soon as I spot it, it'll  just make it easier for him in the long run.

That said, I do recognise that I need to slowly "let go" and allow my son to take more responsibility for his learning, but I think it will be a while yet before I can completely leave him to do it by himself.

Buri: Yes I can understand your point of view. I never question my son's violin teacher, and I believe too that if we don't label something as "hard" or "difficult" to do, the kid just does it anyway without having any mental hurdle. I did slip once though, just 2 months ago when the teacher handed a new piece to my son -  the Vitali Chaccone - my jaw just dropped and I truly couldn't imagine how my son can play it! Luckily my son thrives when challenged, so he's actually doing ok with it. I will keep my mouth shut next time ;-)



August 14, 2010 at 01:16 PM ·

Jim, my start on piano was very similar to yours.  My mom, an accomplished amateur pianist, made sure I practiced every day, but didn't hover.  She didn't sit in on lessons, but was in a waiting area behind a screen.  When I switched to violin, it was the same treatment.

That worked for me.  But violin is harder than piano, and my young students do best with someone around during the practice sessions, helping them reach specific practice goals. 

That said, there has been a change in parenting styles since I was a kid.  Kids seem less "Free Range" these days.  But just because I would have found my mother's presence bothersome doesn't mean that my students all feel the same way.  If they want and need Mom and/or Dad around, great.  Whatever works.

Interesting discussion.  I'm looking forward to reading more responses.





August 14, 2010 at 01:19 PM ·

i think parental involvement is necessary if not advantageous for kids learning the violin, suzuki or not.  shumin's post has illustrated many points on that.  if anything, it is simply practical.  violin study, esp at a faster pace, for a very young kid, is very hard.    it cannot be compared with regular school activities or most of other extracurricular activities.   parents can be totally unobstructive during lesson, simply observing/learning/note taking which is not too much to ask. (time for buri to erect a plaque in his studio:  PARENTS: SHUT UP, ARIGATO.  OR, SAYANOARA)

parents can help remember what the teacher has been teaching during the lesson and then review with the kids (unless we can make arrangement like mehuhin to have lesson everyday, yike).  to me, the higher the quality of this review process, the higher the chance that the kids are able to comprehensively follow the teachers' teaching, detail things to do and to remember,  some intuitive, others requiring reminders, for the following week's of practice.  the outcome: as in the case of shumin's kid, his son's level of play is astounding after 4 years at the age of 8 (if i am not mistaken).  the kid may have innate talent, but i think the regimen in place should take a lot of credit.  hats off to the combo of son, father and teacher. 

but to look at it another way and ask: must parents be involved for a 4 yo to learn to play chaccone by age 8?    i suppose, not.  but my opinion based on my observation is that most kids will find that very challenging.  with parental involvement, the process can be less taxing and often, more fun.

clearly there are situations where kids are more physically, chronologically, psychologically mature to handle high intensity violin lessons and practice both independently and productively.   to me, that is rare.  some posters may say, well, i did it and i did it just fine.  well, for a second imagine you are an educator, would you recommend that to the mass?

as kids grow, parents' role change.  from telling, to suggesting, to hinting, to letting go?  i think each element of this process may have a place in this violin journey at the right period of time.   through good communication among teacher, parent, kid, gauging by the kid's progress, what to do is really pretty straight forward. 

ps. i think after 3-4 years of study, many parents simply cannot keep up with the pace anymore so they have to let go by default so to speak.  happy now? :)

August 14, 2010 at 01:50 PM ·

I think that parental participation ties in with another thread on virtuosity.As teachers its easier for us to have a parent who takes control of the practice during the week so that our pupils can become competant very quickly. Thus they need to be in lessons taking notes i order to be the substitute teacher during the week. This is irespective of the method used.A diligent parent with a diligent child will make progress.However I feel sometimes children are pushed through the hoops too quickly and become very good at copying but without real understanding.One just has to listen to the thousands of very young children on youtube playing through advanced repetoire but without any real understanding or  personal interpretation.Just being in tune and being able to play fluetly is not enough.If the child is left to his own devices to work things out he will learn the material at a deeper level and with a more thorough understanding.Progress will be much slower but the result more satiosfying as its his own work,own interpretation and not the imprint of an adult.The child is the artist.

August 14, 2010 at 06:11 PM ·

i am not sure if janet's post is meant for fellow teachers or parents.  i hope it is meant for fellow teachers.  i think teachers should get your act together and develop some sort of consensus before presenting conflicting styles to the public  and misleading the next generation:)   we as parents would like to spend the money to buy the real thing, instead of being victimized as casualties of war, shot in all directions by teachers holding different ideals.  you guys are killing us.

perhaps i am not sure what janet meant by being an "artist".  to me, anyone who does anything artistic is to some degree an artist.  i would go as far as to suggest that anyone who feels artistic but does nothing is still an artist!:)  some are more advanced, more developed, others more rudimentary or elementary.  some shoot straight up in the sky, some remain hidden under the rock, like me. :)

IF a fellow teacher gives a large piece to a beginner who is considered too premature by other teachers, and IF the child gives his best but plays the piece at a poor level, due to lack of skills, lack of understranding, lack of musical appreciation at the apprpriate level, much to the dismay of other teachers, my question is: does that make whatever the child did not artistic?

i don't think so.   to me, the teacher might have erred or had other ideas, but as long as the child enjoys the process, that is the only thing that matters at that age.   the enjoyment itself is art.  the process of fumbling through the piece in search of beauty is art.   to be able to recognize and hit couple right intonation spots while messing up the entire rest is, dearly, art.   any child who enjoys playing the violin is an artist, be it the one who is on youtube or the one locked up in the basement. 

we have no way to tell how the young performers feel inside, artistically, and therefore to coin labels on them on artistry is too heavy handed.   it takes years to develop full command of artistic expression.  please learn to appreciate and understand accordingly.   violin playing, as you know, is more than rocket science,  so easy does it.  if it takes you adult pro musicians years to figure things out, with trials and errors,  with continued musical education, what do you expect kids to deliver?  whatever they have got, right?  and if some of them bother to imitate or copy you adult pro musicians as one way to get to know the music,  i would be thrilled at their initiative, wouldn't you?  isn't that a good opportunity for some comparative learning?  so, how do you like that, my little one? in what way does this version sound different from the other?  

how else do we grow? 

granted, some kids can perform better than others and exhibit more artistic flair than others. but they are all artists.

then there is this connotation that these days we have only prodigies and virtuosos and the good old days had artists.  i am not sure about that either, like i am not sure about generalizations in general.

August 14, 2010 at 10:17 PM ·

@Al, Fair and interesting comments as usual.

@Shumin, is your son playing the Chaconne at age 8?  There are those who do not believe in the word "talent" (see this thread).  If he is playing the Chaconne, then I say, he's a heck of a lot more talented than I am :-)

As for parent involvement.  I am a relatively proficient amateur violinist and I coach my 8 year old during all his practice time.  I would like to think that I bring something to the table as far as offering practice tips.  I have been there and done that, and I realize what it takes to polish a piece of music, not that my own playing is all that polished mind you.  But I do have a general understanding of what it takes and have a discriminating ear and can offer suggestions as well as demonstrate how things should be played.  At least for the next few years, until he surpasses me, I think my involvement will have an enormous impact on his musical development. 

One thing I have to be careful about is overstepping my bounds as a coach and not taking on the role of teacher.  He has a private teacher and she is clearly the teacher and I am just a coach who ensures that her directions are followed.  She decides his repertoire, and gives instruction on technique.  I ensure that her instructions are followed, even if I do not agree with them.  This has been a source of tension between his teacher and me, so it is something that any parent has to be mindful of, especially those with a musical background.

August 14, 2010 at 10:20 PM ·

An awful lot of it depends on the age of the kid.  Many Suzuki teachers like to start kids as young as 2 1/2 or so, and at that age, heavy parental participation is crucial.  I started music lessons at 9, and did it with no parental involvement, other than them paying the bills and giving me a ride if the weather was too foul.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)  One of my sons started at 5, with fairly orthodox Suzuki instruction, and I attended his lessons for years.  As time went on my role shifted and diminished, until now, when I pay the bills and give him a ride . . .  Another kid of mine, who started at seven, went back and forth as to whether he wanted me to stay for his lessons or not.  His teacher was kind of Reform Suzuki, and didn't really care, although if I didn't stay, she would fill me in on a thing or two at the end of the lesson.  Any teacher will have stories about The Horned Mommy From Hell who needed to be banished from the studio at the earliest opportunity, as well as other parents who were indispensible. 

August 14, 2010 at 11:54 PM ·

Hi again!

Just to clarify, the point I was trying to make is that if a parent sits in for a kid's lesson, s/he should interfere as little as possible and if in doubt, the parent can consult the teacher without the presence of the child (like I should've done in my example).

I'm not entirely convinced by Janet's post though. I find that a lot of things can go wrong with the physical and technical aspects of my son's playing (hence my supervision), and yes, I agree with Janet that just playing in tune and fluently is not enough. But if the technique is there, he will be far more equipped to express himself more freely. Call me old fashioned, but I also think a child should be taught some basic knowledge about musical interpretation. This is up to the teacher to teach - about music history, about the musical styles etc  There needs to be some guildeline. Our teacher often gives him some options and asks what he prefers, and we will then try different things that are within the parameters. And about copying, I'm not sure if that's a bad thing either. I often get my son to listen to as many recordings as possible so he can tell me wat he likes/not like about them. Things he likes, he copies (well, tries to). And honestly, I don;t mind him copying Oistrakh!! I guess this is a bit of digression from the original question now.....

Smiley: No no no!! Not the Bach Chaconne!! Just the Vitali Chaconne. The teacher chose it because it's a great teaching piece, and my son had done quite a few etudes on the different bow strokes required so is quite nice to apply them in a piece, Talent or not, I think sometimes too much emphasis is placed on playing what repertoire at what age. To me, it's all just part of a journey. He's doing a decent job on the Vitali Chaconne now, but I would certainly hope that he would play it much better in future with even better technique then. By the way, I agree with you too about not overstepping our bounds as a practice assistant.



August 15, 2010 at 01:18 AM ·

I think it is appropriate for a parent of a young beginner to sit in on the lesson, to take written notes, and to keep quiet. It is also more appropriate for the parent to also "take the lesson" and actually learn to play. This can be very helpful for the first months of study - up to about the middle of Suzuki Book 1.

This provides a parent who is available to help the student - when asked - or to work at home with the student - if that works in their family.

Once the child has the basics down (somewhat): intonation, left and right-hand principles and position, then I think the parent needs to pull away - if that works better in their family.

I have known at least one child of such talent that entire family's lifestyle changed to support her growth to world-class virtuoso. I do not know the internal dynamics of that family, but I think each family should do what supports and encourages the child - to make it a worth growth experience.


August 15, 2010 at 02:10 AM · I love hearing from you all on this. Like Buri, I start students no younger than five, mostly bc I don't think I know how to teach to the different readinesses of a younger student, though I think it can be done. But I do require the presence of a parent in the beginning stages through first grade, and wish I could for some of my second graders too (school scheduling prevents this). I find without the parent, my young beginners have a very hard time knowing how to practice well, either technique or practicing well. They need a parent to help them learn how to practice-I can't teach that in one lesson a week. (If some of you can I would love to know how!) However I really value the opportunity to teach then to learn and practice independently as they get older, though I do communicate with parents and sometimes ask for help where needed. The two biggest things I see that parents are really needed for are when students are too young to fully process technique by themselves,and to practice well by themselves.

August 15, 2010 at 02:39 AM ·

Smiley: No no no!! Not the Bach Chaconne!! Just the Vitali Chaconne.


Sorry, my mistake; I should have read your original post more carefully.  Al mentioned the Chaconne and I immediately thought of Bach, since that is what I have been working on for the past few months.  That is still an amazing accomplishment to play the Vitali after only 4 years.  Keep up the good work; your son has a bright future in music.


August 15, 2010 at 06:38 AM ·

I do teach children under five and their parents are present in the the lessons.Those that have parents help them practice at home naturally make the most progress.Once a child starts elementary school they usually have lessons on their own often because the mother or father works and is unable to attend the lesson and they are bought by a minder.At this point the teaching becomes a two way relationship between teacher and pupil.To my mind the teachers job is not only to run through the technical aspects but to inspire the child by discussing the musical aspects.What is the music trying to say?,is there a story to be told? and how are you going to tell it?Questions that bring out the artistry in the child.If these questions aren't asked the pupil may well become a superb craftsman but not a true artist.If the pupil cant read music it is of course very difficult for him to practice by himself so for me it is a must that pupils become musically literate as early as possible.In my programme a parents role is  to make time for the children to practice, preferably at the same time each day so that it becomes an integrated part of the fdaily routine.When left to their own devices there are children who just practice the minimum (some dont practice at all) and those that practice two hours a day.There are children who after two years have made little progress and those who have storned ahead.Some potter around in childhood and are passionate at fourteen and suddenly make a massive leap forward.Whatever road these young artists take all are involved in music and get the benefits of learning an instrument but only those with a real inner passion devote a lot of time to practice.We need to build an audience for future musicians to play for and the profession is already overcrowded.

August 15, 2010 at 02:35 PM ·

 I started at 7, in public school. ( I was in 4th grade when I was 7, so most of my friends who started in the same program were 9).  My parents aren't musicians and while I know that is not a prerequisite for parental involvement, they thought it was.  They were involved in my lessons by:  1. paying for them (when I started private lessons, a couple of years later); 2. paying for the violin rental, and later, purchase; 3. driving me to lessons and orchestra rehearsals; 4. attending my concerts.  I thought that this was enough involvement from them.  More would have been uncomfortable for me and them, and I do think that their lack of music background played a role in that.  They didn't like hearing music that didn't "sound nice," and, well, I didn't always sound nice, especially when I was practicing.  Ideally I could have used some help with organizing my practice time and making it more efficient, because I wasn't very good at that myself, but my parents weren't able to help with that either.  

Now that I'm a parent with a violin-playing daughter, I'm still somewhat ambivalent about Suzuki-style parental involvement.  My daughter did a year of Suzuki instruction and didn't like it.  She didn't like her teacher (thought she was "too strict"), and I was making myself crazy trying to get to lessons and supervise practice every night.  (I work full-time outside the home, in the biomedical research field).  It became a battle of wills (between 2 willful people), my daughter would sometimes cry in lessons and in practice, and she almost quit violin altogether.  She did quit the Suzuki lessons, and for a year I did some low-key "teaching" (I put that in quotes because I am not trained as a string teacher, and had, at that point, not played my own violin at all for 8 years) with her.  I found out about the "Adventures in Violinland" method for kids on this site, bought it, and went through the first 2-3 books with her.  

Then, the following year, she started violin in public school, which went better than the Suzuki.  Having a school-based peer group was helpful and having the structure of orchestra every week was good too.  Some of what she'd learned in Suzuki and with me had rubbed off, so she found the beginning stages to be relatively smooth sailing and was one of the more advanced students in the school class, which also helped with her self-esteem (which had taken a hit from her bad Suzuki experience).  I managed to get her to practice more by practicing with her and playing duets with her.  Fortunately, her school method book (EE2000) seemed to have a number of pieces that were good for duets.  I'd tried playing duets with her using the Suzuki books, but it hadn't really caught on.  She liked the music in EE2000 better than the Suzuki pieces.  Even now, a couple of years later, she seems to have a rather eclectic taste--liking fiddle tunes better than straight classical.

A side benefit of all this turmoil with my daughter was, however, my own return to playing the violin.  I found when I was looking for resources to help my daughter when she was struggling with Suzuki.  Then I was motivated to get my old instrument out of the closet in order to demonstrate for her, and play with her.  Then I started my blog.  A year or so later I started taking lessons myself again, and joined a community orchestra.  Now I perform in church and at the local farmers' market, I am in a string quartet, and I am the concertmaster and Vice-President of the board of that community orchestra.   Beware of where parental involvement in your kids' violin lessons might lead! ;-)

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