Help, my 12 year old hates practicing!

January 29, 2011 at 05:22 PM ·

My 12 year old daughter is a wonderful violinist - yet she hates to practice. She's been playing for 7 years, but still needs incentives to practice for even 45 minutes daily.  She is in a youth orchestra which motivates her until she knows the music. She has a daily schedule and sticks to it mostly, but she just dosen't like to practice and therefore dosen't practice well. She says she does not want to quit - she likes playing, just not practicing!  Does anyone have any suggestion besides bribery, money, sticker charts etc. to get her to like practicing. 

Replies (56)

January 29, 2011 at 05:39 PM ·

Hi!  I totally feel for you.  I have an 8-year old daughter who hates to practice piano.  We are still at the stage that some bribery works.  I am in no way to offer any help.  However, we know a few professional musicians who started music when they were young.  They were pushed in the beginning until about your daughter's age.  They quit for a while and finally decided that music is what they want in their lives.  They then started again, fully motivated!!  Good luck!

January 29, 2011 at 06:12 PM ·

Most children aren't motivated for home work either. I have no good suggestion for the motivation part , but our kids just had to do 30 minutes each day ( more or less ) . My parents told us just as we had to learn math, reading and writing we had to learn an instrument and we subjected our kids to the same. They could quit when turning 16 and only 1 out of the 4 did, and he started again playing later.

January 29, 2011 at 06:19 PM ·

Hi, kids do not always like the same things as their parents and don't always want to be as serious with them as the parents would wish.  One has to respect this of course once all attempts have been tried to get the kid interested...

But perhaps an idea could be to bring her to fun concert of very advanced students and/or professionnal musicians.  (if you don't already do)

Sometimes kids just miss role modals and once they've seen how cool it can be to be a good violinist, they want to devote themselves the best they can.  (even if it's not going to put them as good as Mr or Mrs x... but that they'll discover later on and if they truely love the instrument they'll stick with it and won't bother about being as good as Mrs or Mr x...)    If they hate it, then they'll quit without your permission all by their own!  

I have for my saying that seeing more advanced musicians gives that wonderful "kick in the ..." we all need! 

Maybe it's just my opinion?

Anyway can always try.

Good luck!


January 29, 2011 at 06:35 PM ·

From your description, is it possible that your daughter likes challenges and gets bored with repetition?  If so, ask her teacher to present a series of "mini-challenges" within her current lessons, for example, different expression of some passage, smoother bowing, better sound in soft sections, etc. It may also work to have short exercises/etude sections that present challenges she can conquer in a few weeks of practice.  If so, get a steady stream of them going.

Also, ask her what she likes about performing that she doesn't get in practicing and figure out with her teacher how to do more of that.  Possibly she is a "natural born performer" and would like more opportunities to get in front of an audience.  If so, there are numerous performing opportunities at retirement homes, pre-schools, churches, etc. Possibly she would respond with more practice (or easier start-up of practice) to get short pieces ready for these performances.  She is getting to an age where she needs to see some personal motivation to put out the effort and hence get the rewards.

Lastly, if you've kept her going 7 years, feel good.  The child's work is practicing; the parent's work is reminding them to practice.  Its just the nature of the arrangement.

January 29, 2011 at 06:37 PM ·

Don't we all hate practising?

I find it hard to put the work in even now.

January 29, 2011 at 06:38 PM ·

 I'm 16 and until a couple of years ago I hated practising, despite loving the violin very much. I started playing when I was 9 and for the first year, loved practising. As I became more advanced, I just hated it. 

Just over a year ago, I suddenly had the biggest urge to start really knuckling down and practising (despite not having a teacher due to certain circumstances) and nobody can prise me away from the instrument now! 

From my experience and knowing other people who've had similar experiences, I would put my bet on it that she'll get the urge sooner or later. In the meantime, encourage her but don't nag her endlessly about it (something various people tried on me, eventually making me more stubborn and not liking practising). 

Good luck!

January 29, 2011 at 06:40 PM ·

Twelve-year-olds are very sensitive to any interference by parents and I think this often makes practice a battleground.  Acting bored or unenthusiastic is a passive way of fighting parental interference.   So I think this is the time when the challenge lies in helping a child take charge of their own practice and to take ownership over their musical adventure.  

It can be hard to give up the old role as the "practice parent" because it is difficult to imagine that they will practice accurately and efficiently on their own, but in my opinion it is really important to release the control to them.  However, I think it is important to continue to attend the lessons, recording them or taking notes or at least paying careful attention.  

Here are some suggestions:

1)  Help them make their own practice plan for the week, working together from the notes from the lesson.  I would let my son dictate as I typed the check-off list.  

2) Work with other families to form a quartet or other small chamber ensemble and to hire a coach.  There are so many reasons why this is a very, very good thing to do, not the least of which is that it is really fun, and can eventually be a source of a little money as they play weddings etc...

3)  Think about whether this might be the time for a big challenge:  a competition, or a summer music institute.

4) Twelve is an age where some students are ready to take off musically and technically.  It can mean you are ready for a new teacher or a new level of intensity in practice.  This can be stressful for all concerned, and the symptoms of this itchiness can be misinterpreted as boredom or resistance.  I think it is really helpful for the child to have a concrete map of what they need to do in the next few years.  For instance, "if you want to go on to study music in college, you will need to get through X by this time next year, X by the following, and you can expect to be playing at X level by your first year in high school."  Sometimes you just need to know where you are going and have a map of how to get there, or it can all seem aimless.  So perhaps it would be useful to have a lesson with a professor at the closest conservatory or at the music school of the nearest college for an evaluation and advice.





January 29, 2011 at 07:09 PM ·

Hi Charlotte. I have to admit that I do the same thing as your daughter. Once I know a piece we are performing well, I stop rehearsing it. I just get too bored. I work on a few passages that I know I could do a better job on, but I get bored fast. That is when I start rehearsing things I find just outside my reach. For example, The Rode Caprices (way way outside my reach). Also, I play duets with a friend and so I start to rehearse the things we are learning together. She needs another challenge. She sounds bored. I totally understand her point of view and I've been playing for 45 years! It happens to me too sometimes.

January 29, 2011 at 07:21 PM ·

Lots of great observations here.  With my violinist daughter, now 15, I began as a practice parent, attending twice-weekly lessons and practices (as requested by her teacher). By age 12, though, I withdrew from the lessons and sometime after that the practices (also as guided by her teacher).  She still calls me in from time to time to check on memorization, to be an audience, that sort of thing.  I'm pretty sure she doesn't always love practicing, but she definitely llikes it MUCH more than when she was 12, she doesn't  complain about it , and she does practice daily (about three hours, more if there are juries, masterclasses, competitions, or performances coming up,,,and as she's grown older, there always seems to be something going on). So I think all of those things are really helpful in providing goal posts  to work toward.  Also, I think the way my daughter practices now is worlds different from how she practiced when she was 12, and even last year, come to think of it.  She is much more focused on getting at the specific areas that need attention.  She really owns her practices, and plans them.  She's  always going over her lesson tapes, recording herself and checking things, etc.  Practices for her are much more productive now than they were at age 12.  And, I suspect, more interesting for her as well.   So maybe it's partly a developmental/maturation thing.   I don't have very much advice to offer, I'm afraid, but perhaps looking closely at how your daughter practices could be the key -- planning out what is to be done, setting specific and achievable short- and long-term goals, and approaching every aspect of a practice with an eye toward avoiding the kind of mindless repetition that's so easy to slip into for everyone.  ...I think that's what can make practice aimless, unproductive, and therefore boring.  There's a book that I got for her (I think recommended from someone on this website) that was very helpful called "Practicing for Artistic Success" by Burton Kaplan.   Could be worth a shot.

January 29, 2011 at 07:51 PM · I agree with what several have mentioned, that how you approach practice is often the issue. If it's about putting in the time, it can get boring really fast. If it's about accomplishment it can be exhilarating. A lot of times the teacher can facilitate this-help define goals and how to approach them, help her raise her own expectation of what good violin playing is and how she can rise to that level. And it may or may not be a point for a new teacher. I can do that for my beginning/intermediate kids, but after a certain point I have to pass them on to somebody else who can give them a better vision and guidance for advancing repertoire and performance. It's worth considering whether that may be the case.

January 29, 2011 at 09:49 PM ·

Hi, Charlotte!

When I was getting my performance degree at Wheaton, I did a survey of others in the Conservatory who had their sights set on a career as professional musicians.  All, without exception, had wanted to quit sometime between ages 11 and 14.  When asked what kept them going, there were two recurring themes in their answers:  a) being able to play in a group (fun), and/or b) their parents simply made them.

It sounds like your daughter already plays in a youth orchestra.  As a teacher of some 40 students now myself, I can see the validity of what others here have suggested, such as bigger/more frequent challenges, an understanding of the road map, or perhaps even a change such as a new teacher, if you have that option.  Who knows - maybe she would enjoy something fun and different like playing with an old time fiddler's club for a year or two. 

But ultimately, old-fashioned though I may sound, I believe the best motivation lies in the answer, "My parents made me."  My five younger sisters and I were raised in the isolated north of Canada (~50 neighbors, no electricity or running water, three hours from the nearest small town), with very few opportunities to hear or play with others, and our mother as our teacher; but we were required to practice piano as long as we lived at home and did not consider it an option to question the rules of the house.  All of us play proficiently today, and most also play at least a second or third instrument.  All of us are so thankful for this now!  I believe many children's restlessness under such rules nowadays comes because they know or suspect there may be an option.  Growing up as my sisters and I did, we were happy and secure - and busy (smile) - and love our parents at least as dearly now as we did all along.

Who was it who said, "Do something until you learn to love it"?

January 29, 2011 at 10:01 PM ·

Maybe it's just that a 12 year old is starting to ask herself, "Why am I doing this?" and the standard answer of "to make the adults around me happy" isn't cutting it anymore.  She is looking for her own reason and starting to just wonder what the point is.  Expose her to more forms of music.  Good classical music and professional renditions of what she's playing help -- live ones.  When you think you have a piece of music down and then see what a really good player can do with it, it can help you realize that there is still a long way to go.

Also, expose her to non-classical as well.  I think the rock and fiddle string camps are great for that.  They really seem to give kids at that age a kick in the pants regards what's really possible on a stringed instrument and that it's more than just "get the notes right and make my mom and the teacher happy."  Take her to YouTube and expose her to Earthen Grave (Rachel Barton Pine's sort-of-death-metal band), Mark Wood, and Bobby Yang.

The issue with "until you learn to love it" is that this process can take decades.  I didn't figure out why to "love" piano thirty years or so after starting studying it.  This is a process that could have been accelerated had music been more than "get the notes right."  Illustrate to her that it can be that ... but it can be more than that as well.  Encourage her to find her own reasons now so that she doesn't end up taking thirty years to do so.  Some people are fortunate enough to take only a couple years of finding their reasons, such that they never stop playing and catch on to doing it for themselves by the time that they are 17 or so, and they never have a gap in playing.

Others look for their own reasons and don't find them until they have a ten-year-or-more gap in playing to backfill.  Your job now is to encourage her to find those reasons earlier such that she's not stuck with a gap later on.  Exposure to multiple forms of music to show her that she can do more than "get the notes right" will help.  Even if she doesn't care for that sort of music, the new-and-shiny aspect can be interesting enough to keep her motivated and encourage her to start that process of looking for her own reasons.  In the meantime, she'll still be playing.

January 29, 2011 at 11:09 PM ·

In addition to agreeing with a lot of what's already been said, I don't think she knows where she wants to go with it.  You can make her practice, but there comes a point when she'll have to get serious about the violin -- or not -- herself.

I think Jennifer is spot on about "parental interference."  You may have to exercise some reverse psychology, with the goal of leaving her thinking that whatever you wanted her to do was actually her own idea.

But what Peter said is also true; age and maturity don't necessarily change anything!  The good news is that can become focused toward solutions if the idea is to accomplish a lot but not spend a lot of time doing it.  "Progress isn't made by early risers.  It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something." - Robert Heinlein

January 29, 2011 at 11:22 PM ·

i LOVE practicing. i did not want to drop violin btw age 11-14, i loved it lots then too...

January 29, 2011 at 11:58 PM ·

At 12, I'll guess that she's getting pretty adolescent, and as several others have pointed out, her needs are different.  I'd get rid of the sticker chart, if you're using one- she's just about at the age where that becomes insulting.  The whole trick to being the parent of an adolescent is to watch like a hawk without them realizing the extent to which you're watching. 

She needs to take the responsibility for her practice.  Although we 'll all agree that daily practice is best, she may want to practice twice on Sunday to free up Saturday, or practice an hour a day several days, and only 15 minutes others.  As she gets into the teen years, friends, homework, and other activities take more of her time.  She needs to learn how to manage her time.

Can you have a confidential talk with her teacher?  If he or she has taught for any time at all, this will be a familiar problem.  Figure out what the bottom line is on it: X times a week, or Y total hours for the week, or just that her teacher says she's progressing well.  Make an agreement with her as to what she'll do, then help her live up to it.

January 30, 2011 at 02:18 AM ·

I've always enjoyed practicing when I have a definite goal in view and know (i.e. like the teacher's explained it to me) how the practice is going to get me there. But if, when practicing, I don't have anything definite in mind other than a vague "this might improve my playing" then I'll probably get bored and start improvising or playing stuff I know well just for sheer enjoyment.  Perhaps this is part of the problem with a child, and I would suggest a 12-year old is at an age at which at least some of the whys and wherefores of practicing can usefully be explained.  

January 30, 2011 at 05:31 AM ·

When I was 12, I started to lose interest in playing viola.  There wasn't a strong string program in the school and all my friends had other interests.  By the time I was 14, spending time with friends was more important that staying at home alone practicing etudes.  I quit when I was 15.

Fast forward 25 years later, I picked up viola again and found that music-making was a great way to get to know people and make new friends.  Most of those friends played continuously through high school and college.  I started wishing that my parents "just made me" practice when my priorities changed when I was a teen. 

I truly believe that a few years of being forced to practice would have gotten me over "the hump" and I'd be alot further along than I am now musically and have even more enjoyment from music than I have now.

January 30, 2011 at 08:10 AM ·

Hi have you tried writing her practice schedule out in 3 minute sections 45min will be 15 sections.  Instead of just saying practice the bach piece for 1/2 hr she could break the piece into tiny sections and practice them for 3 min each.  Use a kitchen timer to buzz you when the three minutes are up and you can work on a different idea for the section each day for example intonation, speed, bow control.  This really works with my six year old as instead of being told practice for this amount of time, shes only got 3 minutes to sort a problem and it becomes a real challenge (make sure she uses a metronome when practicing this way)

January 30, 2011 at 10:11 AM ·

Sorry this is so long!

I can't imagine forcing anyone to play an instrument. I'm horrified at the concept of forcing a 12 year old to a practice schedule, that some people are suggesting you do. The violin isn't about drudgery and enslavement. Holding a 12 year old to a practice schedule and enforcing it with punishment (even if it's to see the disapproval in your eyes) just seems to be the wrong tactic. Your daughter seems to love what she is doing, please don't turn it into something she hates. If a 12 year old, we are not talking about a 5 year old here, only wants to play in her youth orchestra and enjoys doing so, why rock the boat? Sorry, but I'm seeing people talking about forcing their children to practice and watching over them like prison guards. My Dad, who was a violinist and very strict, didn't do that. He knew I wanted to do it on my own, at my pace. When I was 12 I took sewing lessons, I was very active in 4H, started dating boys, skied every weekend, was on a swim team and diving team, the goalie in field hockey, had two horses at my house that I took care of, did my homework, and socialized and still had time on my hands to practice at least an hour a day and nobody was standing over me. If a person isn’t motivated on their own to play the violin then they are doing it only to make someone else happy and that is a recipe for failure.

I am not there, I don't know you, nor do I know your daughter. But, from what you wrote she seems to really enjoy playing in the youth orchestra and needs little practice to do a good job. I can relate to this because that was me when I was her age. Let her enjoy it. Let her maintain her level and when she's an adult she may decide to play folk music in a band or with friends, you never know. To tell you the truth, I didn't really give it a huge effort during high school since I was already one of the better violinists. I coasted a bit (in terms of practicing the pieces I was playing with the orchestra)because we were always playing the same pieces every year in the orchestra and I could play them with my eyes shut. If all she has to practice are those pieces, then I can see why she isn't into it. Give her some other reason to practice. I took lessons and did exercises and worked on fun things on my own (Celtic, Blues, solo pieces). I took a long break from the violin after college and I came back to it because I love it, and not because I play well because I was forced to practice. Now I play in a symphony orchestra. But, not everyone has to be a classical violinist or concert soloist! It's not a waste of her talents. She may simply follow another path and it's her choice. Let her play other forms of music. Have her take a few lessons with a local Celtic fiddler, for example.

I agree with what some others have been saying. Time to back off, use reverse psychology, and introduce her to other music forms. Let her enjoy playing the violin again. By the way, do you play an instrument? Maybe it would be fun for you to take lessons (say, piano lessons) and then she can help you!

January 30, 2011 at 10:24 AM ·

Remembering back to my childhood, when I reached the sort of Grade 4 level, I seemed to hit a brick wall. I seemed to be working but not improving. This is the sort of level when you're getting used to shifting and other positions, and start vibrato, and start getting the bow off the string. I wanted to give up, and it was probably only the fact that my parents had pre-paid for the lessons at school that I agreed to keep going for the rest of the year. During that, all of a sudden, all these things started to work and I was actually playing music, not just trying to play the violin. And haven't looked back since.

January 30, 2011 at 03:15 PM ·

Wow.  Lots of philosophies here.  Take it from someone who has raised 8 teenagers...

A 12 year old swinging into adolescence has a world of conflicts.  You, as a parent, have the experience and hormonal stability to serve your child by helping her make better decisions -- like whether to practice today.

Look, kids gripe all the time.  Kids often hate daily routine, like practice, taking showers, brushing their teeth, eating their vegetables, and icky stuff like that.  When they lack self-discipline, that's where a parent needs to be a parent.

Note that discipline is NOT beating the kid into submission.  The word discipline refers to a learning.  Adolescents have LOTS of learning to do, and it's not always easy -- for either of you.

I don't think it's out of line to sit down with her and say something along the lines of, "Look, you could really enjoy this later, but you have to pay your dues now.  It may seem boring sometimes, but you don't need steak at every meal.  Do you want to play well?  Well then, just go ahead and practice and stop whining.  If not, just drop the lessons and save some money.  Just realize that you may regret it later"

Just be honest and open with your child.  Ask for a clear decision and commitment on practicing, then expect your child to stick to her word.  Heh -- how many times have you heard your kid say "but you promised!"  Those promises go both ways, you know. 

The core issue here is NOT whether or not your kid practices.  It's whether or not your kid develops character.

January 30, 2011 at 03:35 PM ·

I agree there is the money issue here... A parent don't want to pay lessons for a non devoted kid.  But to pay lessons and wanting your kid to play like Hilary Hahn is maybe not realistical since just a few are as talented as that... and many couldn't play as well even if they practiced 24h per day

But I'm not telling the poster wants this btw.  I'm just talking generally!

January 30, 2011 at 04:50 PM ·

Anne-Marie: I think it might be worth an effort to pay for the classes if the student likes playing (even though she hates practicing). I don't think anybody in this forum can estimate how often such big talent as Hillary Hahn occur, its a too difficult thing to resolve with observations and is too, far too influenced by the life and surroundings. Assuming that "she probably cannot be as talented as this Famous Violinist X" is a quite dangerous way of thinking, since we really have no statistics on our side regarding the "talent factor"...and not even a measurable definition!

a) Lets do a primitive assumption that is likely to be wrong, but just to illustrate what I mean :) Lets say, that everybody with an IQ over 150 + Hillarys talent+ musicality (lets assume this makes up 0.7% of the population) have the capacity to become as great as Hillary Hahn. How many of these, do you think will make the decision to go for music? I would actually estimate, that to do purely performance, one maybe does not need 150 in IQ. I think, that majority these very smart people get interested into other fields (where I guess they will also have talent due to the analytical capacity), will not dedicate hours and hours to music, and end doing something else. Glenn Gould apparently decided to do music, but I am sure, he would have become an excellent computer scientist and created the SkyNet. And it looks like he was pretty intellectually under-stimulated most of his life. Having such a great capacity, simply opens up many opportunities, and gives you choices.

b) Now lets say, that 0.007% of all people are having an IQ between 75 and 100 + the talent and the musicality of Hillary Hahn. If the same people, maybe discover that they have difficulties with many other fields, and they are only good with violin and feel a bad confidence with all other possible intellectual subjects. Of course, if they have the right circumstances and support, I think they will most likely try to only do violin.

Considering these different scenarios, how easy can we estimate the number of super talents as Hillary? I think, a lot of people in category (a) will never be included in the statistics due to that they did not aim/stopped aiming to become major artists, even if I would guess they can make up majority of the "great talent" sample...

And here I do of course not mention other factors that matter for the a great talent to be recognized: parent support, money for paying lessons at higher level, teachers...and even the ability to focus despite problems (a broken heart should not stop you from practicing several weeks), ability to put your goals before other people's needs, etc etc...

I think, the only thing what should matter, is the ability of the parents to support the child economically (if they can afford music) and if the child is interested in it. If it is, let it be lazy, slow...but let the child play and take lessons!

January 30, 2011 at 09:07 PM ·

Hi, I didn't said my post was dirrectly adressed to the poster...  I was not talking of the poster's daughter...  But of kid/parents interactions regarding lessons...

But what you say is interesting and valuable point of vue : )

I was just telling that when parent pay for something, they are in "right", in my humble opinion, to ask for a minimum of efforts from the kid...  Not just for interest. The whole process of music learning should be fun but parhaps (in the opinion of some people as me) also an opportunity to learn, to gain persistence, self discipline and become a better person.  (of course parents should never over ask from their kids... Neither directions are "healthy")

Paying for lessons is something many families do sacrifices for.  (assuming that kids who follow lessons don't all come from top rich families...)

By paying for us, our parents make a part of the job, now we, students, must make the other part of it to be fair : )   (imho)

But I agree that interest is the major and most important element...


January 30, 2011 at 09:25 PM ·

 there's always the Chinese Tiger Mother approach...

January 30, 2011 at 09:34 PM ·

 there are many wonderful ideas already presented.  i am not sure which idea will fit the situation better since we don't know about the kid and her surroundings in depth.  

from reading this part -- "She is in a youth orchestra which motivates her until she knows the music. She has a daily schedule and sticks to it mostly, but she just dosen't like to practice and therefore dosen't practice well. She says she does not want to quit - she likes playing, just not practicing!" --i wonder if she is being challenged enough musically.  she sounds bored.

people tend to lose interest if something is too easy or too demanding.  dealing with this in children is a big, ongoing challenge for parents.

perhaps provide her with something more stimulating:  consider the prospect of going to music camps and play along better players,  or find the scores of some pieces that are considered too advanced for her but she had previously shown interest to them.  perhaps some big pieces with lots of tech challenges...the goal is not to make her learn them ahead of her time, but introduce something demanding but alluring at the same time, things that cannot be easily learned in a short time, unless one becomes inspired to do so from within.

January 31, 2011 at 06:56 AM ·

This brings to mind my dad.  He always seemed to be "encouraging" (read: nagging!  Sorry, Dad) me to promote myself more.  But I didn't have any fire under me, because there was little I desired.  The motivation didn't come until I started to want things, tangible or intangible, and to realize that I had to make the work happen in order to attain those things; it wasn't necessarily going to fall in my lap. 

January 31, 2011 at 08:40 AM ·

What a fantastic thread - opening up the can of worms: is making a child play good or bad for them?  One of the issues is that brilliance at the violin is visible (often the case with very smart children - loved the 150 IQ point above) whereas potential brilliance at other talents may be less so.  Thus the parent focuses on the playing skill and is disappointed when the child chooses a different one (at least till that interest starts to pay off). 

This topic must resonate for every retiurner here.  Surely does me.  I quit the violin at 12-14  - my parents were disappointed but did not fight it much.  They had their time exhausted by six other siblings else who knows what might have happned?  Lets say they forced me to play at the cost of my other interests - I might now be in an orchestra somwhere.  I was probably that good - but I'm no Hilary Hahn and would not have had a soloist possibility.  On the other hand, I would not be a fairly successful scientist.   My career has permitted me to go back to the violin.  The reverse would have been very difficult indeed.  On the other hand, I might have gone into composition...

Forcing may get your child to play the violin.  But you may be interfering with their natural evolution to a career and life....

January 31, 2011 at 09:42 AM ·

@ Elise: I also have the case of a friend of mine. He probably has some IQ at least at 150. He loved playing one instrument (and is sickly good at it), but he decided to become a medical doctor ca 24 years ago and at that time entered the university. He took a few years of those studies (that were practically impossible to enter in Sweden, one needed best grade in every subject from gymnasium). As he was gifted in other things, he decided to try mathematics. Then, not finishing, he decided to continue with philosophy, languages...he is still studying without any degree or so. (He did not finish anything during these 24 years.) An amazing musician (his playing is magic), without getting any paid gigs.  And I know other such cases, all brilliant people that could not make up their mind or focus.

This is why I think, in some case, it is important for parents to at some point also teach the children to focus on a few subjects (but not only one, such as only playing the violin and full stop). One does not learn the lesson until its too late, that too much freedom in the choice of career, can actually crush you in the end...the freedom talent gives, can equally easy become a curse.

January 31, 2011 at 01:05 PM ·

Lena: is your friend happy?  Happiness is not necessarily correlated with productivity.  Who knows, perhaps your friend will generate some brilliant combination of mathematics, philosophy, sceince and flute.... 

I suspect he switches because, well, thats just what he is.  No one taught me to 'apply myself' - I did it because something became of compelling interest and I had an urge to succeed (whatever that is).  I'm certainly not going to judge your friend (who sounds a lot smarter than me anyway)....

January 31, 2011 at 04:09 PM ·

I was really fed up with playing the fiddle about 2 weeks ago as I thought it sounded awful until I realised that I had a bowing problem which had developed. I fixed that and it motivated me to play and learn lots more music.

We need to see what the problem is and then curing it makes us so happy we can't stop doing it all the time, even when I caught a bug and also had interuptions like a daughter staying. (She gave me the bug as well).


January 31, 2011 at 04:48 PM ·

@ Elise: I don't judge him myself, because me and him have already concluded we are too similar on this plane, but I see him as an example of a victim of the freedom (read: lack of responsibility) of my university.

I do my stuff, because I love it, not because of some urgent feeling of doing career. But at some point, I start feeling too insecure about my own position...when one never finishes anything, it also gives some kind of bad feeling about one self, a constant feeling of failure. As I know him, and as I know myself: one is happy, but feels unfulfilled. Even though we are individuals, we need external appreciation and support as humans. Self-confidence does also get influenced by this. For him, even though he is a very good-hearted and handsome man, he gets difficulties finding interested girls (due to the constant no job problem). I think, following this path, gives you momentary happiness, but on longer run, the society puts so much expectations on productivity  that one DOES start feeling unfulfilled...and more and more. Happy but unfulfilled and with low self-confidence.

January 31, 2011 at 05:43 PM ·

You might try exposing your daughter to artists/music like Jean-Luc Ponty, or Stephanie Grapelli. They (and others) do some pretty lively Jazz/Rock type music that she probably hasn't been exposed to.

There is a very good book from Edgar Gabriel ( He improvises on various music types, and provides what scales to use. The book comes with a CD, where it has the songs both WITH and WITHOUT the violin, so you can improvise along with the band. He did a really nice job on the whole package. The book is simple, well written, provides the scales and some "ideas".......that are not complex. Really nice way to get started in a whole new world. And if it doesn't work, you blew 25.00 (probably less than the cost of a lesson).

For me personally, purchasing a new violin helped ALOT. The new one (I guess relatively inexpensive at 2500), was a major difference audibly, that made it much more fun for me to practice. Obviously I'm unaware of your financial situation and/or how much more you want to invest here. If the Jazz/Rock has some interest, perhaps even going to an electric violin may add some diversity.......Of course with any new purchase, you run the risk of spending the money and the new item collects dust.


Good luck with solving one of life's most difficult problems.......



January 31, 2011 at 05:48 PM ·

from above- "I'd get rid of the sticker chart, if you're using one- she's just about at the age where that becomes insulting."


I don't think I'd do that just yet, even if it is insulting- letting the player put up a sticker and practicing whenever the parent acts rational and doesn't seem to controlling or hyper-emotional can gradually teach a violin-parent how to simmer down in many cases.

January 31, 2011 at 06:13 PM ·


Wonderful suggestions, observations, and support in all of these responses. And (as a psychologist who has co-authored 2 books on academic underachievement) so many of the responses and observations about the motivation of 12-year-olds ring quite true.

If you're really adventurous about this, you might want to try (at least for a couple of weeks) my "3-minute drill" idea -

Anyway, your child is at an age where lots of motivation things happen, so hang in there, and keep taking your valium.


PS. To paraphrase what a colleague of mine said about education, "If you had to be interested in everything you have to do every day to learn to play the violin, no one would ever learn to play the violin."

January 31, 2011 at 06:35 PM ·

" ... And I know other such cases, all brilliant people that could not make up their mind or focus."

Sometimes I think the single most important ingredient to be "great" at anything is to suck at everything else.  It's not really hard to be great at something honestly, but it's impossible if you have more than one overwhelming interest.  I'm speaking as someone who picks up accents and languages like most people pick up colds, has an MS in physics, takes down terrifying mathematics like water, has sold significant pieces of artwork, designs craft patterns, plays piano, writes music, and now studies viola.  I do believe quite firmly that I could be "great" at any of them ... if I could amputate the rest.  I can't.  I deal.  No, it's not pleasant.

January 31, 2011 at 07:51 PM ·

@ Janis: that is exactly what I am pointing at. That is why I claim, that having many talents does not necessarily lead to the recognition of the great talent. At least, the older we get, the less people are interested in indications and are more interested into seeing results of it before they state its existence. This kind of super people people, I bet there are many, I think could easily be as talented as lets say Hillary Hahn (as used in the example above). But many people don't include them in the sample, because they have not proven this talent, and we get claims that they are very rare, which I think is not the case, since many super talents probably simply "never get there".

And of course, having other interests takes away focus. Yet, I think it is important to know, that we cannot rely only on talent and interest in the long run, and I think an important gift from parents is to teach them how to finish things, no matter how interesting other things around are...

Well, actually I think you are right. It is usually the case for many extreme geniuses in all fields... :) (About sucking in everything else.)

Ah, if somebody wonders about my quantum mechanical nature while posting, this is because my general idea a bit tricky to explain. While I think one absolutely must consider all talents of a child before forcing it into practice 10 h daily and I think there are many very talented people who don't get included in the "great talent" sample, I also think one should teach a child how to nurture the talents he/she wishes to grow in such a way that the he/she can fulfill his/her dreams, and not crashing due to bad focus.

Its enough to get some physical disease, have a love affair with a very wrong person, in order not to be able to control many interests at the same time. Once you crash, its very, very, very difficult to get up again. Especially if it happens a second time, Trying to remember "Once upon a time, my IQ was measured to be 156, I spoke Chinese, French, English, Italian and Arabic fluently at age of 15, I was the best painter in the whole school, had great analytical capacity, won five poetry competitions, and I probably would have been a great violinist if I wished to." does not help if one crashes. If long time passes without success of recovering, these memories will just fade away. Not amputating, but prioritizing.

January 31, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·

Lena: the main problem I have is that all of them are interconnected.  I don't see a significant difference at all between math and languages, so I can't do "only one."  Music is the same way, but I think I'm starting to find ways in which that at least can subsume both words and numbers in ways that will allow me to pursue composing with some exclusivity.

Crafting can't be cut off either, since that's the exact same nonlinear structuring that the words and numbers ... and music ... all comprise, plus the making-by-hand aspect of thing.

At bottom, I can't do only one thing because ... there isn't "only one thing" to do.  My brain does not compartmentalize the way most peoples' do.  The only reason I can suddenly start composing music at 44 is precisely because I suddenly found a way to make it identical to mathematics and learning a language.  Had I been able to cut any off from the others, I couldn't have done it.  And yet here I am, doing what is supposed to be "impossible" at middle age ... for precisely the same reason that I ended up waiting until middle age to do it.

This is a totally different topic from the original one, though.  I'm just more than slightly flabbergasted to hear someone else talk about this thing that's been the bane of my existence in these terms, though.

January 31, 2011 at 10:23 PM ·

Lena and Janis, I see very well your point about potential talent that is not taken into account...

But we must not forget that to be a great artist, it requires more than talent... It requires context and luck of being at the good place at the good time.  Not to forget financial support of some sort etc. 

So when I was saying that expecting a kid to become a "Hilary Hahn" is maybe too risky because it's rare, it was true in a way...  (becoming one of these artists takes many things.  Talent being just one of them)

And yes, perhaps a talented kid could practice 10 hours a day, become just as good and still not make it because of all the other things that must also be there (context, luck, financial support etc)

It's not a "simple" issue, I admit!


January 31, 2011 at 11:04 PM ·

Also, Jannis and Lena, you are lucky to work the way you do for many aspects.  Everything has pros and cons.

I am the opposite of you...  In this 2010 era where people do 36 000 things at the same time, I only do two (except survival ones as eating, sleeping etc) :  studying and violin... (one for my survival and the other for my heart/soul ; )  I would choose just violin if I had the choice!

I so often think I'm an alien because of this and, sure it does make me suck in so many things others are good at (as technology...) because I just give attention to these two things!  I'll save you from the list of things I suck in ; )  

I have always had that "faithful' component.  Even when I was young, I never wanted to do many thing but always the same thing and become good.  (though, I unfourtunately learned later on that becoming good asks for more than hard work, good training and dedication.  It takes a certain ammount of natural talent) 

Before discovering music,  I wanted to be an athlete because I had discipline, liked to move and could support a very boring life with repetitive training routine.  I have a great will to improve. I did skating for a few years, then swimming, then skiing and finally running.  But the others that were way more lazy than me were always so much better.  I then understood that I didn't have the spotive natural physical abilities they had and quited.  

Then, I tried music and as always with great focus taking only that as a hobby.  7 years after (now), I can tell that it has worked fairly better than sports but it's still that "damn" sportive aspect or component of music that blocks me from progressing very much.  (coordination, quickness of reflexes and even my conformation!)  Though I know it's still my best thing so far, I have reach up with the average kids who started much younger than me and at 22, as Lena pointed out so well, one has to stick with their things and spread results (even though it's just competing against myself or do the little exams and concerts I can do etc).  Starting a new hobby would "kill me" and "depress me" because the beginning stage is (imho) the most difficult to survive and go through.  

Doing just a few things and working hard will make anyone, really anyone improve (I'm a living proof... : )  but when you're not doing these things, you feel pretty odd compared with others.   (a bit of a misfit or not easy to blend in due to not ennough common interests and don't live in the same "reality").  I really understand that viscious circle that have described many great artists even if I'm not one.  The more you do violin, the less other things you do, the more you become different from the others so you search "comfort" and "normality" in playing even more violin because you feel odd in the outer world.

So I guess, one has to be careful...  Not doing too much things because you'll never finish anything, but not doing not ennough things to become a real alien!!!   

Fortunately, I'm aware of this and don't want to sink in that boat...  So I do efforts to find other interests from time to time and not neglect my friends for the violin. 


February 1, 2011 at 10:27 AM ·

Ann-Marie: "Though I know it's still my best thing so far, I have reach up with the average kids who started much younger than me and at 22, as Lena pointed out so well, one has to stick with their things and spread results (even though it's just competing against myself or do the little exams and concerts I can do etc).  Starting a new hobby would "kill me" and "depress me" because the beginning stage is (imho) the most difficult to survive and go through."

22 and you are worried about starting new things?  Maybe 72...  I've started new things all my life and some worked and some did not.  I wanted to be a chess champion once, got good at it and discovered that I could not get past the good stage (as you).  Ink painting, photography, poetry - you name it (they streamed through so fast my ex used to call it my 'hobby du jour').  I've taken up two new serious interests - I can't call them hobbies, they mean too much  (dancing, violin, well returned) - in the past 10 years and they work better for me than any of the ones I tried at age 20.  I know when you are in your early 20s it feels like you've reached a point of no return - that you are now too old to take up something that will make you competetive on any scale.  However, it really is never too late to start a new passion - because passions are about your involvement in them not about your actual achievements. 

February 1, 2011 at 03:34 PM ·

 i also favor the style of broadening a kid's perspective by exposing the kid to a variety of activities.  there are a lot of evidence out there suggesting that while the nervous system matures in youth, to implant experiences early in life may have life changing implications later.  i think a kid should be exposed to different arms of art, be challenged physically and mentally in sports and to make life easier in school?  be good in math as early as possible.  a broad education naturally develops a kid's confidence when pursuing a new activity and later in life.  it helps to desensitize the kid when being confronted with stressful situations later.  

therefore, learning violin can be challenging because it requires more practice hours than most people like or have, almost to the point of being exclusive, to get to the 10,000 hr as soon as possible.  is the most direct, uninterrupted route really the most optimal for most kids of average potential?  i doubt it.  i feel that unless the kid is absolutely crazy about playing the violin--i have heard of a few but never met one--easy does it is the best policy.  there is always tomorrow when you are better rested and more ready.  

to have a musical extremist turn a younger kid into another  musical extremist should be illegal:)

February 1, 2011 at 06:00 PM ·

Hi, I hope you don't think I'm a music extremist?   If I just do music when I'm not studying, it's because I like it more than anything else.  At my age, it's not my mom and dad who tell me to practice... : )  They never did.

One can be a violin crazy by themselves... and as I said, I have to be careful to do other things once in a while! 

I would never tell to anyone else to practice like crazy.  One should never force the others to act like them! And what I call crazy practicing is to just do violin when your compulsory stuff is done. ie. when you have free time.  Perhaps the better term would be "violin obsessives" ; )

Elise, yes I have stongly felt that point of non return.  It's very tough to turn 20 and over.  I really felt people look at me differently.  People are not impressed with your progress in anything when you are an adult. It's a shame that our efforts and progress are taken for granted.  Surely, the only thing left is our passion.  Also you're sitting between two chairs.  Society doesn't consider you experienced or qualified for anything, yet you're too old for the young stuff.  It's a bit like not existing.  (see you when you'll have a diploma...  we don't want to bother with you in the meantime)

But, sure, I know that it's never too late to start a new passion later on!  On the contrary, it's admirable. Bravo to you to have tried so many things!   Just that I have started so many that never ended to anything that I want to stick with violin this time ; )  As Lena said, the feeling that, "now you have to stick with your things to improve" is rigning!

Interesting discussion! 


February 1, 2011 at 06:22 PM ·

in order to qualify as a music extremist, you have to be a parent first:)



February 1, 2011 at 07:19 PM ·

few that means... I'm not : )

February 2, 2011 at 12:43 AM ·

Good point about the importance of a broad education, I think!

February 4, 2011 at 09:21 AM ·

Lots of great ideas here! I agree with the "get her interested in practicing the violin again" group. If all she's seeing is what she plays in the school orchestra then it's no surprise she isn't into practicing. There's a lot of really fun music out there!

February 4, 2011 at 03:19 PM ·

I didn't read all this thread - but does she take private lessons? Nothing motivates practice like the "put up or shut up" of next week's lesson - except having to prepare for the recitals that may be part of the lesson agenda. If it makes that much difference to the parents - make it the kid's job and pay her money for the time she spends practicing. I can't imagine stickers doing it for a 12 year old. What I don't hear is the goal of all this practice - other than improvement in the far future.

On the other hand, if she is satisfied to play in the orchestra and just do what is necessary - why not let her do that?

I quit violin lessons and playing (after 8 years of lessons) when I was 12. Played once 6 months later and then resumed regular playing and practice 6 months after that and have not stopped in the past 63 years - even added serious cello lessons as a teen. Those cello lessons were very motivating and I regretted having to stop my daily  practicing to go to school. For me the rewards at that age were the really significant music I was practicing to be able to play - major concertos and vastly-loved pieces like The Swan, the Bach suites, Kol Nidrei, etc. Another big motivator was that I was asked to play solos around the county on both violin and cello - and you ahve to pratice to keep that up.

I played in 2 orchestras through high school and have continued ensemble playing throughout my life. Playing music has remained one of the most significant factors in my life.

I got no static from my parents when I finally got the courage to announce that I wanted to stop lessons. I knew I had a skill I could return to.


February 5, 2011 at 11:26 AM ·


I posted a blog talking about the same issue..suggesting some solutions..

by the way,I was like your daughter in her age..I hated practicing too..but My brother told me that I will love it later..and he was correct... 

February 5, 2011 at 05:55 PM ·

As a psychologist who has co-authored 2 books on academic underachievement, I think I ought to weigh in a little more here. There is a normal development issue relevant here. In general, we tend to motivate very young children through interest and enthusiasm (i.e., the Sesame Street approach).

However, in the adult world, "interest" has little relevance as a motivator for our jobs on a daily basis. Can you imagine walking up to your boss at work and saying, "I know it's only 1:00 and that I should be working until 5:00, but I've kind of lost interest for the day, and this is really boring and I hate the routine." You're boss isn't going to think, "How can I help this person get more interested in doing the job?" Your boss is probably going to fire you.

In the adult world, there are many things we need to do on a daily basis, and being interested and enthusiastic are simply not relevant as motivators. Somewhere in late childhood through adolescence, we learn (hopefully) to make this psychological shift from "interest" being a necessary motivator to being motivated by taking responsibility, making the decision to work, and following through because of the ultimate objective (to get a good grade, to play the violin well, to make money, etc.). If liking what we do happens to be there, that's great - but it shouldn't have to be an absolute necessity if we really need to put in the daily effort. We need another motivator that we can rely on.

Making that shift in motivation - from "liking to practice" to "taking the responsibility to practice in order to play well" - may or may not occur at any given age through childhood and indeed adulthood. But to expect an activity such as learning to play the violin (which requires an enormous daily commitment and constant attention to detail) to be "interesting" on an everyday basis is I think not reasonable or even possible. Somewhere along the line, we have to learn to work because it is necessary in order to master the instrument. No one can afford to rely on "interest" as a daily motivator. What happens if you lose interest for the day? Or the week? or the month? Or a year or two?

Sure, we want to make learning the violin as interesting, exciting, and enjoyable as possible, However, the challenge is, how do we help very, very young children develop the motivation that rightly belongs to a way of thinking that is much more appropriate to someone older? And it is a challenge indeed, especially in the generations following the Sesame Street approach.

The question for the 12-year-old who hates to practice is, "What are your goals? How good a violinist do you really want to become? Do you want to be just 'good enough'? Or do you want to play better than that?" If the child can get in touch with a real, tangible goal, and link that goal to the need for daily practice, then the motivation to practice is much more likely to be there, without the necessity for the usual rewards and punishments. It's one aspect of maturity, and fostering maturity in our children is really what most of us are trying to accomplish as parents.


February 5, 2011 at 07:08 PM ·

There's definitely parallels between doing a job, but you can only take that analogy so far.  No one will talk about having a "creative block" on their job as a librarian, and a clerical worker doesn't have to practice clerical work during her off hours.  There are definitely personal motivations and interest levels that need to be maintained in a creative profession, especially one that requires hours and hours of unpaid labor in one's free time to simply maintain ability levels.  The issue here is I think that kids do things to make adults happy, and when they hit adolescence, they need to find intrinsic, internal reasons for doing them.  Getting a sticker from teacher doesn't cut it any more.  I don't play the piano or practice viola to get stickers.  I've found internal reasons for doing it, and a 12 year old is at that stage where she needs to find her own reasons, because she's starting to ask herself, "Why should I care about some dumb sticker?"

In a way, it's the opposite of what you've said -- she'd better find a way to nurture her own enthusiasm instead of doing it to make the grownups around her happy.  If she's lucky, she will cast around for the next year or so and find it such that she has no gap in her playing.  If she's not, she will not find that internal reason for over a decade and will have a gap that she regrets.

In a way, she has already been doing it only to make "the boss" happy, and now she needs to find a way to do it to make herself happy.  Creative pursuits have a level of self-investment that a mere job does not entail.  We can all, if we're lucky, leave our jobs behind at 6pm, and it's understood that finding a "work life balance" is part and parcel of a healthy life.  A musician never does that, and will never be able to, and most of us talk about how NOT to have distance from our music, that it is a lifestyle and a vocation in a completely different way from being a project manager or an app developer.

She's got to find her own reasons to keep doing this.

February 5, 2011 at 07:14 PM ·

Janis: I agree completely. Read what I said again - it's not the opposite. Any of us have to develop our own goals if we're really going to be motivated to do the many things we need to do to reach them. The bigger the goals, the greater the effort and the more time it takes. And of course it's got to be one's own internal goals ultimately. And there is an enjoyment of working hard to master something difficult (And what is more difficult to master in this world than playing the violin?).

Children are so used to have us adults set the goals for them, that we fail often to stop and ask them what their goals really are. And the discussion is often best when it's about what their goals are, rather than what our expectations are.

Thanks for the comments.

February 11, 2011 at 01:05 PM ·

I'm a big believer in games.  We're in a world now where music practise is competing with DS consoles, X-boxes, playstations, Wii consoles etc.  Music practise can seem so boring compared with these.

Try something like Jen's Musikopoly (found here:  You can set the terms - whether it be number of minutes practised earns Bach Bucks, or number of pieces played correctly.  Have a reward at the end - whether it be going somewhere special, or earning a book etc.

She might be too old for this 'Over the Rainbow' chart, but the Tar Pits might work.  You need a plastic dinosaur or lizard.  Student needs to practise a particular passage correctly 3 times in order to move the 'trapped' lizard out of the tar pit.  Found here:  It might seem like a silly idea, but even my older teen students have said the like to see the visual 'moving along' of the thing that represents them getting better.

A couple of ideas on my own website with Abe Cytrynowski's helps for practising scales.  Found here: 

I know you said 'besides bribery and sticker charts' but I have found that at that age (the pre-teen stage) they can be a little difficult and just need that extra excitement and something a little different to get that inner motivation happening again.  Worked brilliantly for some of my students who otherwise would have quit.

Hope that helps a little, and good luck :D


February 11, 2011 at 04:59 PM ·

Just took my kids to see the La Brea tarpits.  I will definitely be trying this method.


February 11, 2011 at 07:45 PM ·

 Change genres.  Send her to a fiddle camp.  Believe it or not, fiddling is difficult and plenty challenging at any age or skill level.  There are many many insanely talented kids out there.  Get her to see what they are doing.  I encourage my students to do this all the time.  They get the "big fish in the small pond" syndrome and can see no point to practicing because they are already so far superior to their peers.

February 12, 2011 at 02:48 AM ·

 I ,personally, do not push my son to practice.  I would prefer he love the violin and be a bad player than be a great player and hate the violin.  Sometimes just getting them a new piece of equipment can induce practice.  My son loves to watch a computer program called Syaku8 that shows how close he is to the pure note when he does practice.  Helps his intonation too.

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