Refusing pupils -- problem parents?

June 15, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

First, I'm not a teacher; I've never felt this was my calling.  Still, what the teachers on this board have to say always grabs and holds my attention.

What I'm sure would put me off most in this occupation isn't the students but -- you guessed it -- some of the pushy stage-moms and stage-dads.

So how do you deal with this?  Do you refuse to take certain kids when you run into this challenge?  Or do you agree to take them -- provided that the parents keep away and let you run the show?

Replies (61)

June 15, 2011 at 10:07 PM ·

Interesting question.  I don't think of myself as pushy, but I'm sure that some teachers might view me as an obstacle to teaching my son, especially since I am a violinist.  We are in the process of finding a new teacher, and when I contact prospective teachers, I don't even mention that I play violin.  I can see how some teachers might be insecure offering violin instruction when a parent violinist is present.  I'd be interested to hear feedback from teachers about that as well.  Do you like it, or dread it, when one of the parents is a violinist?

June 15, 2011 at 10:15 PM ·

I find people are pushy when they think they know more than you , or they don't think you know what you are doing. They will back off if you are confident.

How did Paul handle Yoko?

June 16, 2011 at 01:11 AM ·

Charles, isn't the answer, "By disbanding the biggest pop act ever!" ??

June 16, 2011 at 04:34 AM ·

As a full-time teacher with currently about 50 private students, I will say that when I get a request for lessons, after some basic initial screening by phone if it seems we might be a good fit, then I set up a (free) audition/interview in person at my studio.  If the prospective student is a child, I ask that one or both parents come as well.  After initial introductions and some playing (or they can choose to do this last - I will also play a short selection, their request, for them), I ask them several carefully crafted questions to try to determine things like whether they would be punctual, whether I am dealing with a "festival mom," whether there is a creative spark there.  I ask if they have questions for me and give them an overview of the salient points of my teaching policy, including stating that perks in my studio such as performance opportunities and scheduling preferences for next year, are based on doing well, not seniority.  (Now is a great time to be strict, when they're anxious to please!  Then I have the pleasure of being nicer than my policy the rest of our working relationship, while also having a legitimate out if necessary!) I send them home with a CV and policy copy to take home and read.  Then we both take a week or so to think it over before reaching a final decision, at which point I phone them.

I don't hesitate to turn away students where for any reason (including family) the situation seems like it would not be enjoyable or profitable (the caveat being that, as a Christian, sometimes a situation that would not immediately appeal to me as overtly super pleasant may still clearly be something I should accept in order to help that student in other ways, in which case I will accept and then invariably find a lot of joy in the process!) - after all, this is my chance to choose the equivalent of my continual passenger for a very long road trip!  I do as much as possible help set up those I turn away (more than half) with other teachers, and usually I have had subsequent reason to be glad I didn't take them.  I know all the other teachers in town, so can usually judge who might be a good fit - and other teachers appreciate the referrals (with any background information) as well, helping rapport.

Also with existing students, if something is not going well (parents or otherwise), after having allowed my own internal minimum of three months to try to  "find the handle" and if appropriate discuss the problem (to me open honesty is vital!), I will warn them verbally.  If this doesn't help then I have sometimes warned again in writing, but after that it is certainly dismissal and I return their cheques and take someone new.  (I do 10 equal post-dated cheques and request or give four weeks' notice).  In every case so far, when we see each other at the grocery store or elsewhere after I have dismissed someone, we have still had a friendly relationship, plus the cleanness of having resolved a situation where we were not a good fit; and I absolutely love the students I have now!  It hasn't hurt my reputation or demand at all to take this approach, but rather significantly helped; and it has also not hurt but helped the students who were dismissed; so I think it's been a win-win situation.

Sorry this is so long!  As Hemingway once wrote in a letter to a friend, "I don't have time to make it shorter!"

June 16, 2011 at 04:38 AM ·

P.S.  I make clear to parents at the outset that they are invited to attend lessons for younger students and be very involved in home practice, but that the lesson is my time to teach - they have the rest of the week, so need to only observe while at my place.  If they repeatedly don't, I ask them not to be present, explaining it will be better for their child.  So far they have all respected that. 

I have definitely had the sad situation of letting a student go because of a prickly parent, even though I could have worked with the student ok.

June 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM ·

My mother had a teaching diploma in violin, piano and cello, and my father was a talented amateur concert pianist. When I was a lad their approach was that someone else should teach me (piano and cello), and their role was not to interfere with the teacher's method but to ensure that I "did my practice". 

June 16, 2011 at 12:09 PM ·

On a humorless note, my teacher teaches just about any instrument and this year he had a 15 year old girl student from a previously disadvantaged community taking guitar lessons, and this he told me was the usual conversation when they started the lessons;

Teacher;  Did you practice your home work?

Girl         ;  What has it got to with you!

Teacher;  Will you do what I tell you?

Girl         :  Why?

Teacher : I will slap you, you little so-and-so

Girl          : I will call the police if you touch me.

Needless to say she never  practiced, she could not read a note of music after three months, she cheeked the teacher left right and center and he still does not know why she took guitar lessons.

The "slap'  comment was of course just  in jest, but it can show to what extent a recalcitrant  pupil can push you. I doubt if there are any such pupils in America. 

My teacher is not on v-com so this should not reach him.



June 16, 2011 at 12:19 PM ·

 Lynae: thanks for the detailed post - you sound like a wonderful, caring violin teacher.  Wish I had has such when I needed it - could have been quite a different career path....

June 16, 2011 at 01:38 PM ·

 if we as humans all have faults, then i presume this thread is about close to perfect teachers encountering much less than perfect parents, like me and many others, including possibly op, assuming he has mated and produced some juniors.

i think close to perfect teachers have a lot to learn from problem parents who help to mop the music floors behind the scenes.  an expert or specialist does not get there until he is challenged with tough cases.

problem parents to many means parents who are overbearing and pushy, possibly disruptive to the teacher's teaching.  but problem parents can also be those whose only duty is to pay the tuition and think that that is all it takes to have a child learning an instrument.  just give the money, provide transportation and nothing more.  further, problem parents can also be the interesting breed that holds the secret wish that their kids will stop playing the violin soon, the sooner the better.  

imo, it is much easier to set guidelines for those eager or overly eager parents.   they want to help but do not know how to best help so the teacher shows how and why so.  that is what teaching is about, isn't it?  a person who ENJOYS interacting with different folks, ENJOYS influencing them and ENJOYS problem solving?  

however,  it is much harder to motivate apathetic parents.  a good teacher always need to motivate both the students and their parents.  show me a kid that has gone far in any field with a good teacher and an apathetic parental environment. you can't.  so how about a good teacher with a "problem" parent?  you know, funny things can happen!  isn't it interesting that behind EVERY SINGLE successful violinist is a strong family support system, and yet, the "strong" parents to some will inevitably come off as being a "problem"???

further, we all have different personalities and senses of power play during interactions with others in different settings.  we act differently depending on whether we are in the driver seat or not.   as teachers, some are more easy going; others are more controlling. 

because of that, the same parents can be viewed differently among different teachers, ranging from helpful to too helpful to the point of being not helpful.  but the bottom line is this: it is not a problem until one thinks it is a problem.  everyone has a different problem threshold.

if a problem parent remains to be a problem parent under the teacher's watch,  it says as much about the parent as about the teacher's ability in establishing proper control of his/her own environment.   to get rid of the student -thus the parent- is one way out.  stop the child's learning for that is the price to pay for the parent's behavior. often, that leads to less short term headaches but possibly the teacher's own stunted growth.  similar challenges will continue to confront the teacher outside the music studio.  

a teacher caring if the parent knows violin or not, in an unhealthy way, is one who is insecure and immature. it is like looking at a pic of a supermodel and then quickly running to a mirror.

everyone finds it easy to teach the best student with the most compliant parent.  the test of a well rounded teacher is on the rest of the class, esp the bottom tier.

June 16, 2011 at 01:45 PM ·

Like Lynae, I have meetings with prospective students and parents.  With studio policies and expectations in writing, it is an easy way to make sure everyone is on the same page. 

I've never taught a student with a stage parent.  I have taught and do teach the children of professional and amateur musicians.  Those are the folks least likely to go all Tiger Mom on you...

June 22, 2011 at 07:09 PM ·

Thank you all for your feedback on this subject.

Lynae said: "I make clear to parents at the outset that the lesson is my time to teach -- they … need to only observe while at my place.  If they repeatedly don't, I ask them not to be present, explaining it will be better for their child.  So far they have all respected that."

This sums up the way I would do things if I were a teacher.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Al said: "… overly eager parents … want to help but do not know how to best help so the teacher shows how and why so."

This is as it should be.

And: "… behind EVERY SINGLE successful violinist is a strong family support system, and yet, the 'strong' parents to some will inevitably come off as being a 'problem'???"

I had a strong family support system -- in that my parents gave me moral support, encouraged me to follow my dreams, paid for the lessons, and required me to practice.  Yet, in lessons and practice sessions, they weren't present.  I can't speak for the next person.  But for me, this method worked.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Anne said: "I have taught and do teach the children of professional and amateur musicians.  Those are the folks least likely to go all Tiger Mom on you."

Amen -- let's all keep this in mind.

June 22, 2011 at 08:35 PM ·

 "I had a strong family support system -- in that my parents gave me moral support, encouraged me to follow my dreams, paid for the lessons, and required me to practice.  Yet, in lessons and practice sessions, they weren't present.  I can't speak for the next person.  But for me, this method worked."

jim, i am not sure if you had or have any goals with your violin study. if you think your family method has worked for you, that is great. but, i have met many who cannot claim their methods worked that great, for what they have wanted out of the violin study.
one key reason is that the expectation from the student or the family is very very high to start.  to many kids, they look up to the soloists (not just another violinist) and try to be one in the future.  unfortunately, without a good mix of nature and nurture, it is next to impossible.  
i have seen many people attaining success in many other fields; no bias against late starters.  the window of opportunity is wide open.
with the violin field, or some sports, starting young with strong family support is almost the rule, not the exception.  the classical world has shaped its form and shape.

June 22, 2011 at 08:51 PM ·

Same issues pop up in all activities with children. Ask someone who has been a volunteer team coordinator or manager for softball, baseball, soccer etc. It can be nuts. Some people (parents) have a serious prima donna syndrome.


July 5, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

Al, in light of your comments, it seems that my experience as a kid was, indeed, the exception -- although I don't know how much of an exception, since I haven't done any surveys and don't have actual numbers and percentages.

With me, the free-range approach worked.  I started on piano at age 7, walking myself from school to my teacher's studio and then walking myself home afterward.  In fact, until I was in my teens, I took it for granted that other kids did it this way, too.

When the violin bug bit me, soon after I'd started on piano, my parents were willing to have me make the switch, as long as I practiced and made their investment in lessons worthwhile.  They need not have worried.  As I've said previously, you couldn't keep me from practicing -- I was a practice freak.  I still am.

But what if my parents had forced violin, "the devil of instruments," on me?  I would have rebelled.  If I'd had them sitting in on my lessons and practice sessions, I would have rebelled.  What was the old ad?  "Mother, please -- I'd rather do it myself!"  And I did.

Regarding my goals, which you touched on: At this point, as I've written elsewhere, I have no professional aims in music anymore, since I decided at 21 to steer clear of the music business; I could tell I wouldn't like it.  But playing for its own sake is something I love doing.  The goal now is to keep growing as an individual musician and keep being the best I can be -- for the love of the art.  I get more out of it now as a serious amateur than I did as a one-time aspiring pro.

July 6, 2011 at 02:04 AM ·

 jim, i enjoy reading what you have said about your situation. i hope my kid grows up enjoying the instrument like you do as an amateur.

yet, in between your case and say, a kid forced to play hard and eventually makes it as a soloist lies a whole spectrum of unique family environments and outcomes.  therefore, we cannot say for sure if you are an exception, because every case is unique.

there are kids who naturally grow into success. but there are also kids who are forced into a regimen established by others which leads to success.  the process, with time,  can turn hate/indifference into love.  structure and regimen is quite common with classical music training. it may not sound nice, but it is very typical.   of course, if the kids learn to enjoy the tough training and understand the needed sacrifices, the journey may be less stressful emotionally.  with hard work-not the kids' own idea-comes reward in terms accolade and the appreciation of the beauty of the music itself, so more hard work is poured into future projects and the cycle repeats itself and brings the kids to higher levels.   there is merit to this system.  perhaps later the kids themselves learn to work hard on their own initiative.  i have seen this phenom again and again, across fields.  

on the contrary, there is also the dark side of kids freely developing.  they love something, then they hate it, then they drop it and pick up something else, then hate it then drop it.  when they need encouragement over some obstacles, no one is around to lend a helping hand to push them over the hump.  these are the kids who later lament to their parents: why did you let me quit when i asked to quit!?

if you are born into a family with parents who insist you go through serious, regimented training, you may be touring as a violin soloist. but you are not, partly because when you were a child, you could not have pushed all the right buttons on your own.   you may hate what comes with the job requirement as a soloist, but you are on the top of your game, violin playing wise.  

currently, you love what you do with your violin playing, but you are not playing at the highest level, probably never will.  to you that may not be a big deal, but to some others it is a big deal.  one can argue it is a choice but actually it is not.  you don't have much of a choice of your family environment and other genetic/familial factors.

the least we can do is to play the hand we are dealt with as best as we can.  but while holding my own hand, i will be far reaching telling you how you should play your hand according to me.  similarly,  it is weird for me to go up to the parents of a successful violinist who has gone through the pressure cooker to proclaim that the kid could have developed on his own without their deep involvement.  that will be a philosophical stand without any empirical evidence.




July 6, 2011 at 04:29 AM ·

Funny this topic should come up when I received the weirdest phonecall tonight I think I've ever had! I'll preface the story by saying that I set up my studio the same as Lynae. Folks go through a trial process and either stay or leave. The folks that stay are all wonderful to work with.

A Mom was following up with a previous inquiry for her son to take lessons with me. I told her that her son is 2nd on my waiting list and I currently am booked up. She said "we don't need to move - we want to move - my son specifically said that if he doesn't have a music teacher then he doesn't want to move!" My answer "I'm not the only violin teacher in town!"

Another weird one - a grandma with her granddaughter went through my intro. process. Everything went well and I was frank with the grandma that if she brings the granddaughter then she will be practicing with her at home (the girl was only 4). At 7:30 in the morning the day of the first actual lesson grandma called "I won't be coming - Lily will be coming with her mother." But then when it came to lesson time - Lily came with her grandmother. The next week - illness - followed by "done". THE GRANDMOTHER WAS MEDDLING - THE GRANDDAUGHTER WAS FALSELY LED TO BELIEVE SHE WAS GETTING VIOLIN LESSONS.

OK - last one - all after school lesson times are booked. So the Mom hires a Nanny to pick the kid up from school and bring him to lessons. The kid is not practicing on his own, the parents don't make him practice, they're pulling him from school and paying for a Nanny and a violin teacher who'd prefer to be actually teaching. Of course the Mom was appalled that I wouldn't teach her son anymore...........

The strange ones stick out - but I've had 25 incredible years with amazing kids and families.

Smiles! Diane

July 10, 2011 at 07:18 PM ·

 I have had a few problem parents, (it's almost always the parents, only once or twice I kicked out a student because of the student); however, I now have a set of interview questions that seems to have really cut down on the numbers of parents who would not be a good fit, or really be suitable for any teacher I respect. ESPECIALLY if they are looking for infrequent lessons for a beginner, want me to travel to their home when it's way too far, or complain about the fees and want me to charge what a babysitter charges.


July 10, 2011 at 10:49 PM ·

 Well, I'm not a violin teacher, but one day I hope to become one in my spare time. In fact, I hope to have a whole different take on teaching, in the way that I'd help talented but disadvantaged children get the lessons and resources they need. I know all too well what it is like to go without much needed lessons and 'proper' violins and such. And I find it so sad that some people cannot have the opportunity to gain the proper skills needed in order to flourish on an instrument. This, of course, will come after I have my millions of pounds! *Grins* 

 But onto the teaching side of it... If I was a teacher, I'd want to meet the student and their parents first, ask some questions, hear them play. And because of the line I would like to go down, make judgements on how I could help not just the student, but the family, in pursuing what they need and want for the future. I'd require complete dedication and I would also require the parents to be supportive and firm, but also relaxed. I would want them to meet with me fairly regularly to just go over the progress of the student, both at home and in lessons. I would also want the parents to let me take charge and lay down rules because it'd drive me insane if they were going ahead with doing other things whilst under my instruction. 

 Most of all, I would want the family as a whole to enjoy the experience of receiving lessons and learning music. It would be interactive for everyone in that way, and something everyone can look forward to! 

July 11, 2011 at 12:13 AM ·

OTOH (on the other hand) I suspect many teachers are not being crushed by the students trying to break down the door and do not have the luxury of saying 'no you are not suitable'.  They need students for their income and survival and, hence, have to learn to cope with the difficult case - student or parent. 

July 11, 2011 at 02:46 AM · Elise, very true! I am transitioning from a school job to private studio. Have a couple difficult students that will be somehwat of a relief to leave there. Ran into one of them over the summer and happened to mention that I found out she lives near me, and then she told me that she might not be coming back to the school and might decide to take lessons with me! I just lost 6 good students to various circumstances so I could use the lesson, but...!! ;)

July 11, 2011 at 05:17 AM ·

As an adult looking for a teacher a few years ago, one had a long list of requirements, and a contract of many pages. I thought it a little over the top, then when I had a few students I understood a little more.... Maybe part of the reason of some of the contracts people use is to make sure everyone knows who is in charge in part to keep parents in line.


July 13, 2011 at 06:05 AM ·

My last teacher and I have had many talks about the difficulty of working with students when the parents' goals aren't in line with yours.

Sadly, we've both been burned when we've taught the kids anyway "because they had talent" and their parents ended up meddling (pushing them into competitions when they weren't ready, obsessing about seat-placement, and  trying to make them learn repertoire on the side that they don't even have the skills to play), then cutting ties altogether when we put the foot down and say "enough is enough...they need to walk first before they can run."

When potential families come for an interview, I straight out tell them, "if all you are looking for is to win some local competitions, or fight for seat-ranking in your school or youth orchestra, please find another teacher." I tell my students "my job is teach to how to play, how to ask questions and do research, and learn how to teach yourselves. What you do with that information and the skills you develop is your business!"

July 13, 2011 at 06:20 AM ·

Well, I have a new respect for violin teachers!  And a new sadness for all the gifted children who become tools for their parents ambitions.  I suppose its the same in many areas - in particular sports of course (remember the mother that had a contract on her rival mother - in tennis I think). The difference, however, is that in those cases it is at least in a primarily competetive pursuit - I mean thats the definition of sport whereas here its for (at least I think we all want to believe) an artistic one.  Which raises the question; to what extent is playing the violin a competetive and not an artistic pursuit?  Obviously not a subject for this topic but one we might discuss elsewhere.

The other question it raises (and this is back on topic): there are obviously a lot of hopeless cases but is it possible to educate parents to look at the violin as an artistic and not competetive instrument?

July 13, 2011 at 12:02 PM ·

i don't think we need to swing from one end of complaining about meddling parents to the other extreme of telling prospective family/students/parents... "...What you do with that information and the skills you develop is your business!"

every field or discipline worthy of pursuing will have tough cases and difficult characters to deal with.   for your headaches you get paid and many teachers may not be in the position to be that choosy.  some families can use the education and guidance more than others.  to focus on competitions and seat placements is not necessarily misguided. 

the elephants, aka violin competitions, have been sitting in the musical living room from day one.   the families should not be faulted for the core and implied message of the system.  to many families, and to a large extent to many of you, winning a big competition is a dream.  people work hard toward that dream.  it may not be as lofty and chaste as your own, but that is a major reason why many people get out of the bed in the morning,  to compete to see themselves at their best.  

people who are obscessed with competitions or being competitive may forever lose sight of the art aspect, but some through the process may see the light and develop deeper appreciation of what they do and why.  that is why a teacher who is  tolerant and open minded can be helpful in channeling the excessive energy into productive study. 

i think it is enormously satisfying to nurture students through transformations.  the bigger the change, the bigger the satisfaction.

July 13, 2011 at 07:23 PM ·

Al, I agree wholeheartedly with:

people who are obscessed with competitions or being competitive may forever lose sight of the art aspect, but some through the process may see the light and develop deeper appreciation of what they do and why.  "

In my experience in life, when it comes to creative endeavors of any kind, the difference between the good and great comes down to ego. That ego, that "look at what I can do" seems to prevent total engagement with what one is attempting to do. Engagement, complete focus on the product, seeing oneself as an instrument simply bringing what already exists somewhere into the here and now is my goal. I also believe that it is that ego that while it can push us along, creates many of the hindering anxieties. Competition in itself can be helpful, if the true goal is kept as the focus. The kind of competition that encourages a teacher or parent to threaten and demean has no good purpose. The people who I have known so very focused on achievements, this focus fueled by fear of never attaining them, can reach very high levels of technical proficiency, but still aren't creating something that moves people.

It also seems to me that  this concept of hitting a certain number of hours is similar. Fact is, things we are truly enjoying and are engaged in create more within us than things we do because we have to in order to reach some number. All the practice in the world will not get anyone to a point of true expression if all that practice is done for the sake of some ego fueled fantasy of the future.

I play because to not play is to ignore a huge part of who I am. A few years ago my best teacher had some weddings gigs and had scheduling issues, asked me if she could give them my number (was I over the moon or what), and also encouraged me to teach. The idea of making money sharing this private love of mine was attractive, dealing with bridezillas and family members, pushy pianists, some singer having a hissy fit over my use of a church music stand etc was pure hell. I don't know if it was my ego getting in the way or if it was simply my need to keep this love pure, or my fears because of lack of performing experience, but it all seemed like something I "should" be doing, not something I wanted to.

Anyone with much experience with children knows that each child will respond to different pressures differently. If only parents/teachers/children were all matched up just perfectly. Maybe it is that extremely rare combination that is what creates the greats.














July 14, 2011 at 12:42 PM ·

rebecca, thanks for your interesting response.  concur that ego or shall i say,,,superego:),,,often gets in the way of doing the right thing right way.  but we make mistakes, we reflect, we learn and we move on.  one thing you mentioned on good vs great makes me wonder how we should look at the comparison, subjectively vs others' opinions, but i digress.

i also agree with 10,000 hours thingy is meant to be a catchy phrase to sell books via one opinion.  i hope the longer we are at it the better we get, but that is not really seen often enough.  wonder why.

"Anyone with much experience with children knows that each child will respond to different pressures differently."   that is the key.  spending time with them, stimulating them, challenging them, etc will help the children to reveal themselves through time the proper setting and direction where they have the best chance to excel.


July 14, 2011 at 12:48 PM ·

Al: I also agree with 10,000 hours thingy is meant to be a catchy phrase to sell books via one opinion.  i hope the longer we are at it the better we get, but that is not really seen often enough.  wonder why.

Interesting - actually I did not know that was the case.  I find I am steadily improving in proportion to my practises.  Perhaps the reason for the opposite is that students get stuck in a particular way of practise that tends to reinforce errors rather than improve.  I think a key aspect of the 10K (or 8K or 20K, whatever) idea is that its 10k of quality work.  All over you read that its not the time you practise but how so the assumption is that the how here is optimal.

July 14, 2011 at 01:19 PM ·

elise, sorry that i did not elaborate on that.  what i meant is that often i see people working very hard but not really improving proportionally.  it is frustrating and humiliating.  of course everyone has a different story as to why, but i suspect it is a matter of a combo of psychological blocks along with working hard but not smart enough.  or, imagine doing the wrong thing with gusto.

i think learning anything should be individual based.  avoid methodology as soon as one is ready (we still need to learn ABCs) and don't be shy asking stupid questions from good mentors. 

people with know hows are usually more than happy to share;  people who need help usually are too shy to open up:)

July 14, 2011 at 04:57 PM ·

Yes to the above!  And sometimes the only thing that works is a shakeup.  A 'new broom sweeps clean' and all that - a new teacher can really stoke up new approaches and insights.

One thing I am gradually moving towards is organizing my lessons with my teacher.  While I am, of course, very open to her training - there is nothing like a trained and perceptive external guide - I am learning to recognize my own challenges and needs.  We should have a topic on this too...

July 22, 2011 at 09:09 PM ·

Some follow-up observations on this subject:

As I said in the initial post, I don't teach.  But if I did, I wouldn't refuse a pupil because of a pushy parent -- as long as having lessons was the kid's idea.  Still, I would make clear at the start that, in studio, I -- not the parent -- would be the one in charge.  In a related thread from last year, Buri said, on the matter of having parents in the room during lessons, "I … avoid the situation as much as possible."  Based on what I've heard and read so far, I'm sure I would avoid it, too.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Al, about the prospects for your daughter to grow up enjoying the instrument the way I do as an amateur: I don't know her situation; but I know what worked for me -- my own desire and the gentle art of encouragement by parents and teachers.

You mentioned the hypothetical case of telling "the parents of a successful violinist who has gone through the pressure cooker … that the kid could have developed on his own without their deep involvement … a philosophical stand without any empirical evidence."  Likewise, if someone told me that I could have had a solo career if only my parents had put me through the pressure cooker, this stand would be equally invalid.  In either case, we can't go back in time to make comparisons and see what would have happened if things had gone the other way.

Re: "... currently, you love what you do with your violin playing, but you are not playing at the highest level, probably never will": If "playing at the highest level" refers to having a solo career like Hahn or Bell has, you're definitely right -- partly because, at 21, I decisively rejected the whole idea of playing professionally in any capacity.  On the other hand, if it refers to skill level per se, then, in order to be qualified to make such a determination, you'd first need to hear and see me play.

July 23, 2011 at 02:14 AM ·

 It's really just about trust. A parent can be very interested in their child's progress, even to the point of pushiness, but if there is trust between teacher, pupil and parent,, then there's no problem. But if there is distrust about anything -- scheduling, money, discipline, personal issues, musical choices --  it won't work.

July 23, 2011 at 03:15 AM ·

 hello jim,  summer is a crazy time of the year where i go on non-stop  trips with my kids for their tournaments.  i have written couple posts when i was in san diego on this thread.  then hopped over to chicago area and glanced over here and there.  i see now you were referring to something i wrote prior to all that.  

i just went over that post you were referring to and pretty much stand by what i have written, although i cannot guarantee my mental function is intact, having been outside under the sun for many hours each day.  with dehydration, the brain shrinks and judgement becomes questionable:)

i am not trying to downplay how good you may be as a violinist. (if you think you are good, chances are you are not.)  since you claim to be a 21 yo violin amateur, i have to assume there is a big distance between you and touring soloists.  not a put down by any stretch, just a reality reference.   different ways to go about living.

i am not going to reiterate my point on how touring pros get there further.  suffices it to say with many other professions,  it cannot be achieved sorely on passion.  work ethics must be learned early on and parents play a very big role.   

if i were a teacher, i would definitely encourage parents to sit in the lessons.  i want to show the parents how to interact with a musical student, perhaps even ask if they understand where the lesson is going.  if they see i respect their opinions and presence, they will shut up and be content to be in the back seats.  the more you do not pay attention to them, the more they will seek attention.   i need to engage them for their help.  if they learn my style, they will be influenced by my style and spread the influence for me at home.  the result is that their kids will learn better and faster.  if i want to avoid all that interactions, it is an indication that i may not be cut out for the teaching profession.

July 23, 2011 at 08:06 AM ·

al, you wrote: i am not trying to downplay how good you may be as a violinist. (if you think you are good, chances are you are not.)  since you claim to be a 21 yo violin amateur, i have to assume there is a big distance between you and touring soloists.  not a put down by any stretch, just a reality reference.   different ways to go about living.

sorry but this is rather judgemental.  First, (bold italics) do you mean to say that all supertalented violinists are more likely to think they are bad than good?  I confess I have never known a super-talented violinist specifically but I do mix with a lot of supertalented individuals in different fields.  My experience is that what they usually express is that the area that they are talented in (actually often multiple areas) they find easy and even effortless and often can not understand why it is so hard for others.  Thust, they are very aware of their own talent even if also often shy about it.

Second; you seem to work on the assumption that every person with a super-talent will choose to follow that to its end.  I don't know the numbers on this but it is very unlikely to be true - for two reasons.  First, having a super-talent in an area does not necessarily mean that the person likes it - and I think thats what Jim is stating: that he had the potential to be a professional violinist but elected not to.  And second, as above, super-talented people are often so in multiple areas - a lot of challenges are easy for them.  Someone may elect to go into another of their skills.  And here I can relate - even though I was not super-talented in any shape or form (lets call me moderate-talented), I was told I had the potential to be a career violinist - but took a path into science. 

I think this falls into the catagory of 'do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes', or in this case played a bach partita on his violin :D 

[Sorry to stray off topic]

To bring it back, if I was a violin teacher I would be happy have the parents in the room while the student is in the early formative stage - it helps build family support and the parents can help with the early learning.  However soon after I would want them out of the room.  The point is to establish a teaching relationship and trust with the student.  This is particularly important if the parents start to be an impediment to progress - where they are too interfering.  Frankly, I would have hated having my parents present when I took lessons - for me that would have been like I could not be trusted and would have undermined my strivings for personal achievement.

July 23, 2011 at 01:02 PM ·

 elise, you call into question my judgement and so did/do i. :)   but being judgmental is just that; it is an opinion and does not connote something negative.

going by the numbers and odds, ANYONE going for solo career will find it harder than hitting the lottery, so regardless of jim's story or background, it is highly unlikely that he will make it just because he was interested as a child to pursue that route, and nearly impossible without strong parental support.  the main thrust on this thread is about the parental role and my thesis has been, without "difficult" parents, many current touring pros would not have made it.  strong parental support is instrumental in fulfilling some rare dreams. 

concur that as the students get older and more organized, it is common sense that they learn to become more independent and responsible in finding ways to "record" the important aspects of the lessons.  until then, the parents basically serve as secretaries, sitting in in order to help out in the process.  at its core, music teachers are in the people business.  i find it odd that people will have a policy to disallow all parents from the very beginning, turning away help.

since not 2 teachers think exactly alike on issues and methods, why should yet to be informed parents be naturally in line?  isn't the case when you influence the students you influence the whole family and if so, why not directly influence the whole family, so everyone works toward the single goal of maximizing the students' potential?

July 23, 2011 at 03:48 PM ·

I suppose it really depends on the student.  I wonder where the tragedy is greater: students who do not reach their potential in music because their parents were disinterested or students who's interest was crushed by well-meaning parents from whom they rebelled (such as the tiger-mom)!  I think the latter is much more common that one might at first guess. 

But my point was deeper - a private lesson is (can be) an opportunity for growth as an individual, its not just about the instrument itself.  The on-on-one work-relationship is an opportunity to deveop trust and respect for both - which is why so many students eventually venerate their special teachers (in all fields) who become mentors and eventually evenfriends.  Such relationships simply cannot develop if the parent is always there.  I also think a parent attending every lesson is a declaratin of lack of trust in the student - as if they are unable to learn by themselves but have to have a parental backup (with the caveat above of a post-beginner student).  It can undermine the student's self esteem.

But you have a test case in hand: if you gave your daughter the choice of having you attend every lesson or not, which would she choose?

July 23, 2011 at 04:15 PM ·

Bull. You make this up about "tiger moms" being more common than we think. Without a doubt the bigger problem is parents not supporting their children's passions. WTH?! Look at the problem of "disadvantaged" (re: poor) kids achievement. Duh.

July 23, 2011 at 05:25 PM ·

Bill Platt: "Bull. You make this up about "tiger moms" being more common than we think. Without a doubt the bigger problem is parents not supporting their children's passions. WTH?! Look at the problem of "disadvantaged" (re: poor) kids achievement. Duh."

Love to read your posts Bill :)

Tiger moms are just an example and IMO the very thin edge of the wedge.  Parents who live through their childs performance/talent or become just moderately pervasive in a childs life are not uncommon and can influence where that child puts its energy and future.  I can remember avoiding my father re practising the violin because he insisted hew knew more than my teacher - his argument was that he learned from the Archbishop of Canterbury (true story; he lived in the dioces) and who was more likely to be correct - my school (ex orchestra) teacher or the Archbishop?  It didn't stop me playing exactly but it certainly put a damper on playing at home. 

I posed the question as to which might be more common (I have an opinion but did not declare on one side or the other since I don't know the answer.  You may well be right perhaps we will get input from those that teach for a profession (I don't know if you do) and see both sides.... 

July 23, 2011 at 05:29 PM ·

 good question, elise!  so i just asked:

Me: hey, here is a question.  if you have a choice, would you prefer me to sit in your violin class like the way we have been doing, or do you want to have the lesson with the teacher alone?

Her: obviously i prefer to have you not there, but since you take good notes, i get better faster.

Me: but why don't want me there then?

Her: well,,in the middle of the class you asked too many questions...

Me: oh come on now.  i always ask good questions and everyone has a good time!

Her: and you sometimes put your feet on her furniture!  

Me: what??? 

Her: yup, F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E!

July 23, 2011 at 05:51 PM ·

al LOL!! 

Your daughter is a winner.  And the score is Al: 1; elise 0

:D :D

PS and if you visit me - KEEP YOUR FEET OFF THE FURNITURE! (please)

July 23, 2011 at 06:23 PM ·

 if a parent is viewed as a nuisance,  even carpet and hardwood floor are considered furniture.  in other words, levitate, get out, don't touch anything:)

thanks to elise's prompt, i get to appreciate my kid's feeling on my presence in the class.  perhaps i will save the questions till the end, but you know if i don't catch the question right there and then, i usually cannot remember clearly later, across the room, my feet on something, with no formal music training, rendering me even more useless.  i have been working with the teacher better of late.  she will call out a bar number of importance aloud, meant for me, yeah:)   i think it is a good team effort.  

i always consider myself as a beggar of musical info, the yes-dad.  there is absolutely no misconception that i will possibly posture as a tiger dad.  

July 23, 2011 at 08:29 PM ·

You sound absolutely delightful. My dad is, as they say, no longer with us so can I adopt you?  You will have to come to my lessons though....

July 23, 2011 at 08:43 PM ·

Al, your input is thought provoking, indeed.  And it gets me thinking outside the accustomed box -- e.g., "… when you influence the students you influence the whole family and if so, why not directly influence the whole family, so everyone works toward the single goal of maximizing the students' potential?"

Two minor points:

"… since you claim to be a 21 yo violin amateur …."

What I actually wrote: "… at 21, I decisively rejected [past tense] the whole idea of playing professionally …."  I'm past 21 now -- full-time worker since finishing school and a full-time entrepreneur for the last 15 years.

BTW, isn't "claim to be" a rather a loaded phrase?  In this context, wouldn't a phrase like "state that you are" or "report that you are" be more suitable?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I completed a degree in performance, so I was headed in the pro direction; but at 21, after a few years of heavy-duty symphonic training, I finally realized that this wasn't the life I wanted after all.  So I pulled out.  Then, too, a solo career was never on my mind.  First, I know I could never hack the hours and travel arrangements.  Again, since teaching isn't my calling, I'll have to leave that line of work to others.

I'm sure we can all agree, regarding parental presence, that one arrangement won't fit all.  Whereas I was the type who thrived well on the free-range approach, yet, in my teens, I knew some kids in the same family who had both parents at their lessons.  They seemed to like it that way.

July 23, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·

 So Al, how will you know that its really time to stop sitting in? Your daughter's no dope, and she has an extraordinary memory, maybe she could learn better slower and take notes herself. 

I think there is a different culture locally, when I asked my violin instructing friends about parents and lessons (none of them are suzuki), none had parents actually sitting in, they may chat before or after lesson, or mid week. 

I think we have an attitude (you know that laid back aussie thing) - the kid will improve and develop at the rate that suits.  I felt a bit of a bristle in fact when I read the line about maximising potential - not that I think its WRONG just different, the idea here is more aligned that the child will find its own potential by doing things independently, its not parents that choose or push that potential (well, there are parents that do, but they stand out like a sore thumb rather than typical).  Of course, many people may not reach the potential they potentially had under such circumstances, but the ones that do reach some level of achievement are maybe more able to manage it.

July 23, 2011 at 11:03 PM ·

hello elise, i must refrain from impulsive adopting ideas given my past adventures:)

hello jim,  please don't take the writing of a literary midget too seriously or read too much into it.  you must learn to appreciate the positives brought onto the table and forget the rest:)   be selective and always give me the benefit of doubts, haha.  i hope you can play brilliantly.

i think it is wise of you to walk away from a pro music career after you have decided to pursue something else.  it is a hard decision for  many others.  wish you all the luck with your pursuit.

 hello sharelle,  i think my kid has many good qualities.  good ears, good hands, good memory, good physical stamina, but missing something else which is a big deal.  she lacks interest.

nothing in life can replace passion and interest.  a great computer does not do much unless it is powered.

so i am facing a dilemma of an astronomical size.  what to do with this combo of good qualities when she has no interest to take the learning process seriously.  doesn't help since the dad is seriously dopey:)   i mean, i wish i can be more dynamic in telling my kid that unless she practices this way and that or there is no bathroom break or dinner.  i am no softy but somehow i have been brainwashed along the way to go with humane treatment of kids and not leave any everlasting emotional scars...

as far as my kid goes, i think i will sit in the lesson until the day when  the teacher asks me to not to show up.  i am no musician, but i find the sitting in fun!  a lot of stuff is covered in that hour of lesson.  i really think i play an important role as a team player:)



July 24, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

but al - to what end?  Don't you worry that the reason your kid lacks direction is partly because, well, you've always provided it and she has never been challenged to make her own.  Eventually it will happen - because of distance, estrangement, boyfriends, time or illness - she will have to make her own way.  But is she prepared for that?  Is it possible that by providing her with direction consistently you satisfying an immediate need but creating a growing problem.

I know of what I speak because my son was very much the same - he could do anything (very bright and talented) but he really did not care to.  Eventually he went to LA to become an actor and only then did he 'hit the wall' of a world that did not care if he failed - indeed, that was amused by the prospect.  It took him about 5 years to find his own voice and direction (I wish I could say it was solved but this is always going to be an issue for him).  Far more important than providing drive and direction now is to give her space - space to (frankly) fail - to discover what happenes to you when no one (else) is taking your helm.

July 24, 2011 at 02:04 AM ·

 " Don't you worry that the reason your kid lacks direction is partly because, well, you've always provided it and she has never been challenged to make her own.  Eventually it will happen - because of distance, estrangement, boyfriends, time or illness - she will have to make her own way.  But is she prepared for that?  Is it possible that by providing her with direction consistently you satisfying an immediate need but creating a growing problem."

that is indeed a real and ongoing concern, elise, possibly encountered more often than not by many family/parents.   each year my wife and i have been scaling back a bit, depending on her capabilities, but it is not easy to gauge the appropriate level of parental engagement.  for instance, we never interfere or help out with her school work, because to her the level in school is not challenging at all.  but violin is another story, having a 10 yo playing pieces or learning concepts that require much higher cognitive/organizational abilities and therefore she has been getting addn help in terms of what i can gather from the lesson.  

i do not have a clear idea if what i am doing is helpful or not in the long run, but at the moment, it is one way to cope with the demand of the lessons.   because of the violin load, even though the teacher has repeatedly encouraged us to participate in competitions, i have so far successfully avoided them because i think the added stress will drive us crazy and possibly turn her off even more.

but i appreciate the concept that she be given more space because whether i like it or not, she needs her space to fully grow.  i have certain standards, but in the end, they are my standards.  one thing i am still not prepared for is this, that she comes up to me one day and proposes: dad, would you accept this idea, that we do things according to my standard, lower than yours but i am happier with it?

i know i don't have much of a choice if she comes up with that.  but for now, i don't think i can give in to her ways  just yet:)   i am cool but not that cool.:)

news of that singer winehouse's passing makes me wonder if that is truly her destiny or could she have used some tiger mom or pop regimen?

July 24, 2011 at 02:19 AM ·

Too much worrying.

July 24, 2011 at 02:36 AM ·

 it is easy for you to say, bill! :)

i am paying for the lesson and want to get the most bang for the buck, man.:)

seriously, i am not the worrying type, i can let a lot of big things slide without losing sleep.  somehow, in some weird ways,  we have always encountered nice people as teachers and i find it shameful (OMG!) and embarrassing if we fail to try our very best of what the teacher asks of us.  a strange case of paranoia:)

not trying to be offensive, but going to the weekly violin lesson is like going to church for others:)  it is a big deal.  we treasure the moment where we can lay bare and speak truth to power, haha.

July 24, 2011 at 03:10 AM ·

Al, I get what you say and I am rather tongue in cheek...boy this internet writing thing is awesome for being mysterious and nebulous.

July 24, 2011 at 06:35 AM ·

Al: I see - and obviously violin is only one facet of her life,  Obviously, she has many others where she can exert her independence and make as much (or little) effort as she chooses.  In that sence violin and lessons is truly special as it is an activity that she has shared deeply with her father.  Whatever its outcome it is one of your gifts to her (not the playing so much perhaps, but the collaboration and most of all the dedication and personal time) that she will treasure life long. 

Like it or not, however, at some point she will go independent - they all do and then we can but sit back and hope that their own compass and the maps we have given them (and blind spots) will allow them to forge a path.  I had to go through that with B - unfortunately he had to go through some very tough times before finding any kind of path at all.  But thats his, or rather our, story....

July 24, 2011 at 07:38 AM ·

Hello Al and Others.

I never have contributed to a thread here in the forum, being content to learn and laugh from the experiences of others.

My own history and experience may be pertinent to this discussion so I feel a need to speak up.

My ex-wife was a surprise in that we had been married for three years when an incident occurred that opened my eyes about this very subject. We were visiting some family and there was a piano in the house. I was elsewhere in the home when I heard "Rustles of Spring" playing quite loudly and well. I followed the sound only to find that it was she sitting at the piano playing beautifully. I had no idea that she could play.

Upon querying her I found that she had taken private lessons for 12 years, 6 days a week in studio in La Jolla, Ca. I had known that she had attended the Bishop School there but the music...???

She told me that the music had stolen her childhood and she hated it. Her mother was determined that she learn and become as good as possible. She complied but with enough resentment to "Hate" playing the piano. She said "It ruined her childhood."

I told her that her's was a gift for sharing. She could teach and make sure that this didn't happen to other children. She agreed that this was perhaps her calling. Over the years her style of teaching was focused on the student. She would encourage them but only to a point. If the "student" really wasn't into it then she would drop them even over parental objections.

She made it fun and exciting and interesting... but the "student" was her client and the "parents" paid for her guidance without interfering in any way. I have to say that I saw 5 year olds turn into 18 year olds with a heck of a lot of talent and a love of music, the ability to memorize 30 pages of classical music and a drive to be perfect. All of this was without parental interference or participation.

Perhaps you need to think of the possibility that you may be trying to live a dream of your own through your daughter. Children need guidance but they also need to follow their own dreams whatever they may be.



July 24, 2011 at 11:01 AM ·

Interesting discussion.  I am in a similar position as Al.  My 9 year old plays violin and I sit in the lessons.  Before offering my observations I have a question for Al.  I know your daughter also plays golf at a very high level.  When it comes to golf, do you have the same dynamic as with violin, ie, do you attend her lessons and coach her on her game and keep her motivated?

July 24, 2011 at 01:14 PM ·

 elise, i appreciate those sentiments,,,the pull toward wanting to help and the need to stay back and encourage independence.  the former relies more on instinct (can't help myself:) and the latter takes more impulse control and learned got none:)   coming year, people have asked her to participate in the school orchestra.  as much as i dread the "time wasting" aspect of it, i think it may offer some positive aspects that i cannot envision nor provide.  it may help in the interest building department. we will see,,,but first i need to get an unbreakable violin from ebay...

jerry,  thank you for sharing your story while boldly confessing that you could have done a better musical background check:)   looking at my level of involvement, it is easy to conclude that i may be living vicariously.  i just went up to the bathroom mirror and confronted myself with this question.  is there any truth to it?  

the reply i got is no, not to sound defensive, but your point is well taken.  my point of her playing the violin is to 1)have something to put in the college application, silly, isn't it?  and 2) if she does something, try to give the best effort. along the way, i have found 3),,,it is fun to listen to her practice--there is something profound about the sound of a violin--even when she has good ears but always speeds through her intonation errors!   

hello smiley,  since you sit in the lessons, please come to my defense asap! :)  would other lurkers-lesson sitters rise for the occasion and share with us what a wonderful experience it has been, hehe?

i think i am more involved with her golf training because i coach her (but i don't play golf myself..grew up playing soccer and tennis and consider golf slightly better than a waste of time:)

she seems to have some natural instincts for the physical aspect of the game (while many others have to take lessons for a long time with great pains).  my job is to reflect to her what i see.  i can remember her swing like a video and pick out aspects of interest and feedback to her. more importantly,  i work on her mental game.  

i think golf and violin are similar in many ways and one that stands out to me is that above certain level, it is less about moving the fingers/body and more about maintaining a proper mindset.  with a proper mindset, things tend to naturally fall into the right places, assuming we let it happen:)  

July 24, 2011 at 02:29 PM ·

Okay, Al.  Yes, I was a devoted violin lesson attendee. It all started when she was four and her teacher asked me to attend the lessons and serve as a home helper. I did as requested.  And like Al, I greatly enjoyed it and like to think I was at least minimally helpful . I took notes and tried to keep my mouth shut unless addressed by the teacher. At home, I sat in on practices with the notes I had taken.  I have to say, I loved it, and it continued for years, and eventually included two private lessons each week.  I was not unusual in this, as most of the parents at her school did exactly the same thing.  Some were tigers, or had gradations of tiger, but many weren't. 

She was in fifth  grade when the teacher said it was probably time for my daughter to take ownership of her music, and so I gradually phased myself out of lessons and practices (she calls me in from time to time to check memorization or to listen to things she's trying etc., asks my opinion, dismisses it -- mostly). 

The phasing out of dad seemed to work fine, although there was a definite period of transition (maybe it was just developmental).  At first, she would look at her teacher's lesson notes but would tell me she couldn't always remember everything he had said.  Then she began taping the lessons but from what I could tell  mostly not listening to them .  Finally, she began recording her lessons and then listening to them at home, taking detailed notes and organizing her practices appropriately. 

She is 16 now and has run her own show for years. 

July 24, 2011 at 04:34 PM ·

Jerry, well put.

July 24, 2011 at 08:48 PM ·

The teacher's role is first and foremost to help their students improve and develop to their potential.  Different kids learn differently.  Some do better with parental guidance.  Some do better without.  It all depends on the kid as well as the parent.  But, any teacher that unequivocally eliminates all parents from lessons is doing a tremendous disservice to their pupils.  By doing so, they are putting their feelings and egos ahead of their primary role, which is to help their students improve.  It is un-professional IMO, and borderline incompetent. 

I have spoken to a number of teachers lately (having recently switched to a new teacher for my son), and have found that the attitudes vary from one extreme to the other.  On the one hand, my wife has no musical training, and is completely clueless when it comes to violin.  On the other hand, I am a somewhat proficient amateur violinist.  Some teachers would actually prefer my wife to bring him to lessons, and coach him on a daily basis.  Maybe they look at me as a potential nuisance; perhaps I'll question their advice (not that I would ever do that), or maybe I play better then they do (not in this lifetime).  Whatever the case, I find it baffling that a violin teacher would not want a violinist helping their student along. 

On a personal note, my 9 year old son loves having me attend his lessons.  He also loves when I coach him during his daily practice.  If I am tired and not up to it on a given day, he begs me to help him practice violin.  A few months ago, I decided to wean myself from his daily practice.  After one week, not only was his progress slow, but his sound deteriorated greatly.  He has a bad habit of letting the bow go over the fingerboard.  But when I am there coaching him, I will make sure his bow is straight and it stays in the right spot.  When he gets sloppy, I'll have him play open strings to straighten things out to get the core back in his sound.  I also help him listen for his mistakes and intonation errors and practice efficiently.  Any teacher that does not embrace that is just (sorry to say) not a very good teacher.

They say we retain less than 10% of what we hear.  Don't teachers get tired of repeating themselves.  I know that as a violin student, I miss a lot of what my teachers say.  I remember going to quite a few lessons and the teacher would say the same thing from one week to the next and I would get one of those "Oh yea" moments -- sorry, forgot to practice that way.  When you have a diligent parent present, at least there is a chance that between the student and their parent, maybe they will retain 20%.  Surely any teacher that is worth their salt will look at that as a benefit. 

-- Smiley Hsu

July 24, 2011 at 10:08 PM ·

Smiley: great input from one 'in the thick of it'.  But there is one more important variable: age.  Your son is of an age where he wants parental involvement - don't be surprised if in 2-3 yrs he rebells against this.   Its pretty common, in particular with boys. 

I encouraged my son to take up the violin too and he was quite good. However, like me before him, his enthusiasm waned at about age 12-13.  To encourage him to continue I took lessons with him (that was my only object - I had no intention of picking the violin up for myself but I did play for about 2 months if I remember right).  He tollerated my participation more than welcomed it - up to the point where he put his foot down to say he was not going to continue.

July 24, 2011 at 11:31 PM ·

Al, I've been on all sides of this equation.  I started music lessons right after I turned 9.  My parents never attended a single lesson of mine, ever. Whoever had driven me would wait outside in the car, go for coffee, or go home and come back later to pick me up, whatever made the most sense. 

I couldn't have asked for more supportive parents.  They drove me to and from lessons, paid the teachers, kept me in instruments (I studied a few!), bought me strings, reeds, music books as needed.  They uncomplainingly got me to school for 7:00 AM rehearsals.  Picked me up at 10:00 PM after rehearsals.  Got me to and from music camps, contests, and clinics.  Never complained about the noise I made, even while I learned piccolo or at times when I practiced four or more hours a day for weeks on end.  They never missed a performance.  They never attended a lesson, either.  They are/were thrilled that I have kept up with music as an adult even though I decided not to pursue it professionally.

I have one kid who has had Suzuki-method teachers.  Part of the package was that I would attend every lesson and practice with him daily.  Smart young man that he is, he eventually "fired" me from this role.  He made the right decision; it was time to get my sticky little hands off his music study.  My current role is chauffeur, accountant, procurement manager, and audience member.  He started violin at 5 1/2.  At that age, of course, it was necessary for me to be much more involved, but a few years later he needed to take ownership of it.  He will be enrolling in the music department of an arts-specific high school in the fall, having auditioned to get in.

My youngest started cello when he was seven.  His teacher was Suzuki trained and influenced, but not at all orthodox.  That kid went back and forth.  Sometimes he would ask me to stay at his lessons, sometimes he would specifically ask me to leave.  I always honored his wishes.  He has never practiced as faithfully as my violinist, partially because I wasn't expected to work with him daily, but he has kept up with it.

At 10, my guess is that your daughter will start chafing at the bit pretty quickly.  You are going to have to decide what to do.  You said earlier you were unwilling to let her take it at her own, slower pace.  Would you rather she quit altogether?  How much violin do you see as necessary for college applications?  Continuing until she is 12?  16?  Presenting herself as a violinist on her application, then stuffing the tiresome violin in the back of her dorm closet the second you drive away and changing her class schedule to get rid of lessons and orchestra?

I have three sons.  This fall they will be a junior in college, a junior in high school, and a high school sophomore.  All are intensely bright, and all have varying levels of drive, perfectionism, sociability, and all the other qualities that differentiate one person from another.  I see my biggest job as a parent as helping them each discover their own strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to best play the hand they were dealt.  I have, often as not, been pleasantly surprised at the choices they are making about which paths to follow.  I can't choose for them; furthermore, I won't.  The world is full of things I know little about.  Limiting their options to what seems important to me cuts them off from finding a field or an interest that may be perfect for each of them.

The stage-mother or -father thing is alive and well.  When my violin kid was 7 we went to a Suzuki institute (boot camp).  Many of the other kids his age had hyper-competitive parents, comparing the stature of their kids' teachers, the snob-appeal of the private schools they attended, who they had studied with at which other institutes.  Yuck, yuck, yuck.  I didn't see any joy in those kids, and certainly no love for music.  It just went along with the organic vegetables.

Your daughter needs a stake of her own in this, Al.  Making music shouldn't be in the same category as finishing the lima beans and flossing the teeth.

July 25, 2011 at 01:19 AM ·

Absolutely right Elise.  Age is certainly a big factor on whether or not parental involvement is appreciated.  For now, I am still a better violinist than my son, so he looks up to me, and respects my opinion when it comes to violin.  But by 12 or 13, I am quite certain that he will be close to my level, if not better.  Add in the male hormones, and it would be presumptuous for me to believe that he will still want me around.  When that time comes (I hope it never does), I will graciously bow out and let him take the reigns.

I have a lot of respect for Al for having the patience to coach his kids in violin and golf, even more so, knowing that he is neither a violinist nor golfer.  When waiting for my son's violin lesson each week, the parents of the other kids are either non existent, or pounding away on their crack berries, demonstrating complete and utter apathy for their child's lesson.  I'm like Al in the sense that I am at every lesson.  I even take off work if I have to.  I try to pay attention to every word and take notes.  We only have a limited time each week so why not make the most of it.  Any teacher that does not welcome such a family dynamic with open arms, is not looking out for the best interest of their students.

July 25, 2011 at 03:03 AM ·

a big virtual hug and kiss to smiley for being part of the brethren:)   i tend to agree with many points raised by smiley because essentially i feel that my kid learns more and faster because of my involvement, at least so far.  i am pretty sure our teacher agrees with that.  but i also acknowledge that there may be other types of family dynamics out there that i am not familiar with, as stated by smiley and described by lisa.  i find it hard to comprehend that lisa's parents were not curious enough to know how their kid's lesson is like by sitting in,,,

i agree with  lisa that i need to be very careful in not overdoing it in the long run.  but i doubt it because one, the music is getting too advanced for me to catch up and two, my kid has a very strong personality.  i cannot push over her, it is the other way around.  

i think smiley eventually will follow sean's example, staying back at the right moment when the kid is mature enough to handle things.  but the process will take time along with other considerations.  smiley is in a great position to provide feedback.  it is always a better idea to get feedback from multiple sources.  not necessarily check and balance on the teacher, but all done in the best interest of the kid. 

my kid started violin at 3 something, with a violin that now absolutely looks like a miniature toy (hanging on the wall not far from where i sit)

in the very beginning, the teacher was literally teaching me to teach my kid.  so this teaching assistant figure has been imprinted from day one on both me and my kid.  it is a decision by choice and by default.  it will take time to change that dynamic.  

as i said earlier, i find it enjoyable to sit in lessons and helping with practice.  i am truly not trying to be a stage parent whatever that means.  i simply want my kid to do well with homework assigned by the teacher.  it is work, but enjoyable experiences, like watering plants, pulling weeds, doing laundry, helping with grocery shopping, haha.  there is a sense of accomplishment in making tiny differences, in doing what i consider the right things.

time for lesson sitters to rise up and unite for a better tomorrow, hehe.

July 27, 2011 at 05:48 PM ·

Thank you all for your added input.  Over the last few days, I've reflected on it.  For anyone who's just tuning in, a little recap:

Again, if I were a teacher, I wouldn't refuse a pupil simply because of a stage-mom or stage-dad.  And now, in light of the additional feedback, notably Smiley H's input, I wouldn't try to bar all parents from the studio but would handle each case individually:

"Different kids learn differently.  Some do better with parental guidance.  Some do better without.  It all depends on the kid as well as the parent. … On a personal note, my 9 year old son loves having me attend his lessons.  He also loves when I coach him during his daily practice."

I cite also Lisa V's input in last year's related thread:

"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 indispensable."

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition
ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program Business Directory Business Directory

AVIVA Young Artist Program

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine