Parents of a 10 y.o. talented violinist desperate for help with practice!!

June 5, 2012 at 07:07 PM · Disclaimer: Please no snarky/flame posts about Tiger Parents. We are not Tiger Parents but we are not of the school of thought that says you give up on a child with the violin if they are not bursting with completely self-generated and boundless enthusiasm to practice. We have a 10-year old who loves to perform and to participate in his youth orchestra but he hates to practice (he started around his fifth birthday). If you put children (by pure nature) on a spectrum with one end being the naturally indolent child who has to be cajoled for every responsibility (chores, homework, etc.) and the other end is the child (admittedly rare) who, by nature, wants to be neat and tidy and is diligent about homework and practice, our son is pretty far to the first end (but we love him dearly all the same). He is this way with tennis as well (a sport he absolutely loves (and for which it’s certainly easier to get him going than with violin) but he has to be cajoled and prodded to do anything requiring discipline). Here’s the question: We desperately want to change the dynamic in the violin part of the relationship where he constantly has to be prodded to practice. The responsibility is (currently) 100% on our side or else he would never practice. We are at our wit’s end because if we say to him, “Look, if you don’t want to play the violin, no one is forcing you. You’ve got to meet us part-way. You are free to quit if you want.”, he becomes melodramatic and even cries at the thought of having to give up the orchestra and all the progress he has made (which he is genuinely proud of and values). So it feels like a terrible Catch-22. I realize we could take the tough-love approach and simply allow natural consequences (which would mean he wouldn’t practice at all and then he would show up for his lessons without having practiced and for orchestra without having practiced (which, besides being a waste of money, doesn’t feel fair to his orchestra unless he were to simply quit). We are desperately seeking help (tips, guidance, words of advice) as to how we can motivate him as well as to shift things more to his own personal responsibility for the violin if he truly wants to enjoy the fruits of playing violin.

Thanks, all!

Replies (28)

June 5, 2012 at 07:11 PM · Hi there! Maybe he already practices every day, but here is what I tell parents when a student is falling off the practice wagon: Do the 21-day thing. (Click and the article explains it).

June 5, 2012 at 08:21 PM · You're too nice ;)

Instead of a Tiger Parent, I'm a Tiger Sister, the one that make sure everything function correctly in the whole house since my mom and aunts and uncles is so lax. I was the one who lock the door and make sure all of my cousin aka, " so close that I consider them brothers and sisters" practice/se their instrument everyday for at least 30 minutes. Thanks god 2 of them take violins or else I'd never get time to myself. My trick? Do the reverse psychology for kid like that. Take the violin away for a month and force them to watch how much the other improved without them (This only work if they're in the high rank and have competition from friends, if not, consider me out). It work for me and the 6 mini-devils. Don't know about your kid though.

Laurie idea is awesome too, I read her thread about 1/2 a year ago and actually got addicted to practising(although nowaday Chemistry,Physics and Biology have more of my attentions) I-AM-SO-MEAN!! *MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA*

June 5, 2012 at 09:31 PM · I think a possibility can be to set a practice goal with the child, and then set a reward. The greater the reward, the more ambitious you can get with your child as far as goals. The idea is for practice to be seen as enjoyable in itself, but it may take a bit for that to sink in. You can possibly encourage the child to experiment and show you what he learns by just messing around with different sounds and ideas - maybe improvisation if he is so inclined. If your child does come up with something, then that will be a great way for him to change his perspective, seeing the practice room as a sort of laboratory.

You should take a good look at what incentivizes your child about orchestra and try and apply similar incentives towards practicing where it is possible. It's possible that peer pressure could be a big factor. Maybe there are some friends in the orchestra that practice a lot, so they could be used as examples. Personally, I like dark chocolate, so when I wanted to get in the habit of doing my scales daily, I would break a piece off and eat it immediately after finishing my scales.

June 5, 2012 at 10:30 PM · Sounds like it's time for a 100 day challenge...:)

June 5, 2012 at 10:33 PM · Be like Heifetz's parents. Hold his violin up and watch him practice til he was 20 years old. Look how great he turned out!

..... I joke of course.

Maybe he has other interests as well? after all, he's only 10

June 5, 2012 at 10:53 PM · Do you want him to practice to his 10-year-old standards or to yours?

He may be a little young yet to do it the way YOU think he ought. It might be worth letting him have a go at doing it his way, without input from you. Set a trial period, tell his teacher what is going on, then stand back and keep quiet. After the trial period, sit down with your child and his teacher and discuss. The teacher can chew him out, the orchestra can move him back several seats. Those consequences will mean more to him than your nagging does.

Does his teacher think you should still be involved? How much?

June 6, 2012 at 12:34 AM · How much do you expect him to practice? I have kids how have played now for many years -- now in middle and high school who started when they were almost 4. By age 10 I think they played 30 minutes a day. I say, just keep making it part of the day, and work with your teacher to set some weekly goals. Now, they do more, but self-regulate and are both quite accomplished.

June 6, 2012 at 03:22 AM · Maybe you can make a deal with him: you stick with it until you complete a certain level (eg: Level 8) and then you can quit if you desire.

Another option is maybe he desires to play a different instrument. That wasn't the case with me, but maybe he'd like to try a woodwind, brass, or percussion instrument, plus he'll already have reading skills from playing the first instrument. I've had private students who continued to study music past high school though on a different instrument than I taught them, one did guitar and saxophone, and others have done instruments like the oboe and French horn a few years after I taught them.


June 6, 2012 at 08:27 AM · Practise in the morning before school works in our house. My son's brain is fresher and he is not tired as he is after school. You need to get him up half an hour earlier and similarly half and hour to bed earlier. This works for us.

Cheers Carlo

June 6, 2012 at 06:23 PM · Janet,

You are not alone. There is a term for the kids that love to practice and do so without prodding. They are called prodigies. Needless to say, most kids are not prodigies, my kid included.

I manage to get my 10 year old to practice 45-60 minutes a day, but I coach him. It takes quite a bit of time and effort on my part to get him started and keep him on track, but with daily prodding, he does it. I think it helps that I am a violinist, so I can give him helpful input, and demonstrate when things are not going right, and mix things up with duets, and occasional chamber music. If you or your husband sits in on the lessons and also takes an interest during practice, it might be helpful. But admittedly, it does take effort.

You didn't mention how much practice time is expected, but perhaps if you set an minimum expectation, let's say 45 minutes per day in order to continue with lessons, and be ready to cut off the lessons if he does not practice, then it might get him on track. If you stop lessons for 1-2 months, that is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

June 6, 2012 at 07:14 PM · Some good thoughts here. As a small studio teacher, I totally understand what you are running across!!! And be assured that it is very normal :) But I agree with you, especially around this age, he really should start taking ownership of his practice! If you are trying to get him to take responsibility for his own practice, motivators are good for short and long-term goals (if you practice one your own 5 days this week we will get ice cream after your lesson, type of thing). You could also work with the teacher and see if he/she has any motivators they regularly use, studio practice incentives, etc. Letting consequences happen if he doesn't do it is the flip side--i.e., not getting the ice cream, doing badly at the lesson, etc. but also, positive reinforcement when he does it is huge "Hey, thanks so much for practicing on your own today--that helps me know that you really love it, that allows me to help you enjoy it better" kind of thing.

Also, it seems like a little thing, but I've noticed having a place where students can visually log their practice really helps them take ownership. Whether it be a wall chart, a practice notebook, etc. Also, I've had good success with having students set their own practice goals (within reason/guidance, of course!) That was actually my practice contest theme this year--I didn't set the standard; each one of them, set the standard of what they thought they could manage and what they wanted to accomplish. I still have a couple minimalists in my studio, but most of my "low motivated" kids really grabbed on and began really pushing themselves to meet the goal that they chose.

Finally, getting him to fully do it on his own will be a process. You may need to help him set a routine, and at first you may need to give a reminder--but if the agreement if for him to take responsibility for it, then you can stop nagging after the reminder and let him take responsibility for fulfilling his goals or falling short.

Best to you and your son--hope you have good success!!

June 6, 2012 at 11:10 PM · Sounds as though he has developed a routine that incorporates your input - nagging and prodding. So practise at the mopment can't occur without those elements, they are part of how he has learnt.

Perhaps working out with him, when is the bet time to do 10 minutes practise, in his perspective. Then once decided, agree that you will give one reminder as that time approaches, and you will do whatever he feels you should do to help him get the instrument, music etc set up for the session, and then nothing more from you. He can put the sticker on the date or tick off the box, once finished that allotted session. Perhaps for the first week, write down what he will do in that 10 minute session - so he can cross that off as well.

What should happen is that he will gradually dissociate your nagging from his practise. He may never hang out for practise time, but he can learn to independently incorporate it inot his day.

Mind you, I say this as the parent of a once 10 year old who I did stop due to lack of practise, but I regret that decision now, would have been better to let him come to it his own way.

June 7, 2012 at 03:13 AM · Habit is the key. A bad habit (avoiding practice) can be replaced by a good one (daily practice) by trying what Laurie suggested. Parents can help here a lot.

We don't like to practice because we don't get it. Teachers should to do whatever they can to help students to understand how to practice so that students will see how sweet practice itself is.

June 7, 2012 at 06:12 AM · I think we parents are way too quick to pull the plug on activities like this. You've asked your son about quitting and he apparently didn't take to that idea at all. I would stick with it and not mention quitting again. The natural process of learning a skill for children is to burst forward in their ability and then stagnate or even seem to regress before another sudden burst. I say seem to regress because if you're playing everyday then it's not likely that you're getting worse, but your standards may be improving faster than your abilities so it feels like moving backwards. Anybody who remembers learning an instrument knows how it feels when you hit a plateau. It's frustrating and demoralizing. It doesn't make you want to quit, but it sure makes you want to avoid practicing. Are you wasting your money on lessons? I don't think so. Even if you don't see improvement for a period of weeks, there are things happening there that are necessary for learning to take place. I can relate to your situation by the way. My daughter is 10, began at 5 and she'll only practice on her own if I'm not at home. If I'm there, we practice together. Usually this isn't a problem because she EXPECTS to practice every day. We know we have that time in the evenings, but sometimes I can sense that she (or I) won't be into it later, and I'll pop up at the first opportunity and say, "Let's play." Pick moments that precede periods of boredom. It's hard to motivate a bored child, but one who is on the cusp of boredom is usually game for anything. On the days when she'll flop down on the couch at the mention of practicing, I'll say, "That's okay, we can just review a little today."

This is where my attitude makes all the difference. I'll lead with a, "my fingers are old and not as limber as yours, do mind if we play a few scales (or exercises) to warm up?" She doesn't mind, because it's to help me-I should mention that when she started playing I rented a violin for myself. We'll review pieces going back even to Suzuki Vol. 1. There is nothing here to frustrate her so I can easily have us take turns choosing a song or just start playing and have the other join in as quickly as possible. Before long, I'm leading her to practice songs that reinforce the technique she is working on now. For example the Country Dance in book 5 has all that up bow staccato, so we'll review the Beethoven minuet from book 2, or we'll see how much of perpetual motion we can do using only up bows. About 20 minutes have gone by and by this point she has mentally come into a practice mode and I can usually get away with suggesting that we just play the piece she's working on currently for a bit to make sure that it doesn't get rusty.

Yes, it's a lot of me leading the practice, but this is sort of what I expected when we began lessons in a Suzuki program. She also feels a sense of responsibility to her school program, so a half-hearted suggestion to look at that music is all that is really needed. Sometimes I feel a bit like Columbo: "Just one more thing..." It has never been my goal to make her into a professional musician, so I feel free to enjoy our time making music together. Hopefully she will someday cherish these memories as much as I will.

June 7, 2012 at 06:30 AM · I got on a role and forgot what my point was. What led me to begin by saying not to talk about quitting was your mentioning that homework, chores, etc. also take quite a bit of prodding. It would never occur to us that our kids can just quit homework. You see where I'm going with this? A lot of people like rewards (ice cream, a new book, etc.) and they seem to work. I personally try to limit the rewards because it's my hope that the progress on violin will be it's own reward. I've got to remind my child of the times that we used to listen to Vivaldi and think it would be impossible to learn, but then by the time we got there, it was just the next piece in a sequence. Long, sure but very learnable. This is evidence for that daily practice has results, even if it's hard to see them in the short term.

June 7, 2012 at 02:33 PM · Not trying to be contrary, but maybe being a Tiger Parent isn't such a bad idea. I used to be like your child, and my parent would actually watch me and make me practise (and do the Spartan method of education, but that's another story).

I think the reason why the children don't practise is because it's so boring; at least, that was my reason. When you can play a certain level, it's fun to practise because you already have the technique, but when you don't, it just looks like repeating the same steps over and over in what seems to be a futile hope for different results. It is NOT fun playing Lully's Gavotte, as opposed to much more advanced repertoire. Throw in scratchy saw noises and wobbly intonation and boring repetition that seems to get you nowhere and it's a recipe for boredom.

A lot of violinists' parents were Tiger parents, so I'm guessing their methods were rather successful in producing good musicians. It might make your child's life look hellish for a few years, but they'll probably appreciate it when they're in their twenties and get all the yummy parts in a quartet or an orchestra.

The reason why "ASIANS ARE AWESOME AT INSTRUMENTS" is, contrary to popular belief, not because we have extra hands that help with the left hand pizz. I attribute their/our success to parents who constantly nag their children to practise. Of course, that's also sacrifice on your part - your relationship with your child certainly won't be a sunny rainbow and you'd be sacrificing your time to watch him - but I, at least, am thankful that my parent did it.

June 7, 2012 at 05:28 PM · Momoko, I think you may have a point, with the very important caveat that the personality of the child is key. That sort of thing didn't work for me. I actually shut down and liked playing less and less, and my playing never progressed. I've encountered a number of other people that burned out similarly because wrath was not the right incentive for them. It wasn't until I was allowed to quit that I became interested in it and came back to playing on my own terms. Now I can't get enough, but I'm personally more partial to Sharelle's methods. For those kids that don't handle that kind of pressure well, you have to be careful to not build up negative associations with practice, including nagging or yelling.

June 7, 2012 at 05:43 PM · I am 13 years old, and never need reminding to practice. I have always been well-behaved and know what's good for me. Why? My parents are not "Tiger Parents" but they are not slack, either. They have understanding and have also made me understand why I should do as they say (most of the times). They have reasonable expectations and almost never use the sort of "practice for two hours or you get grounded" sort of thing. Also I don't do chores or have allowance money, on account of the vast amount of time I spend on academics, but when I want to buy something they genuinely consider whether my request is understandable or if it will be worth the money. My parents are awesome.

June 7, 2012 at 09:02 PM · Take him to lots of good concerts and listen to much classical music! That will enlighten the fire in himself to be a musician. If not, he should maybe really take a break. But there are times, where parents will is more important than the pupils will.

When I am asked about the role of parents I always tell a story wich I heard some years ago:

One very talented boy wants to play for a Professor who usually just teaches adults and doesn't want to listen to young "prodigies". After it was confirmed to the professor that this boy is really outstanding, he in the end listens to his play.

After the boy finished the professor sais: "you played good. But be very honest to me now: Do you want to play the violin or do your parents want you to do it?" The boy was scared by the authority of the teacher and couldn't lie. So he said: "My parents want me to play".

The teacher answers: "Ok, I'll take you!"

:D Thats realism!

June 7, 2012 at 10:15 PM · Interesting story, Simon, but I've got a case here is rather the opposite. A daughter of one of my best friends is about 6 years old and she loves to practice so much that her parents never have to remind her about practice. Rather the opposite, her parents have to keep dragging her away from violin by movies, parties and all sorts of treats, as they don’t really want her to be professional musician but only be well-cultivated in music, among other things. This reminds me when I was a young girl... Unlike adults, without parents’ full-on support, kids can’t get very far no matter how much they want to. What can you do to convince the parents not to discourage such passion in kids?

June 7, 2012 at 10:22 PM · I don't think the story is even true, ;) but it makes a point against all this storys from parents: "What should we do if he doesn't want to practice?" or worse not even thinking about their responsibility and if asked if their children practice: "Sometimes he doesn't want to practice and takes the violin out just once a week" and then they look at their children like they are mad "you little sneaky boy.... oh isnt he cute..."

At that point I tell them the story. :D

June 7, 2012 at 10:31 PM · My parents insisted that I practice when I was younger. They understood, as more experienced adults, that children need guidance and will not always understand the long-term consequences of their actions. There wasn't any compromise on their part, and no silly rewards like candy or money to practice. Studying music was treated exactly the same like Math, Science, Language, etc. You do it, and do it well because it is part of your life, and nothing is fun until you invest the time and energy to not suck at it.

Today, I appreciate what my parents did for me more than I can express in words.

June 8, 2012 at 01:16 AM · What has worked for us is to make music practice routine, like dinner, brushing teeth etc. It's easier on weekdays where routine is more fixed. They take it for granted that what happens is get in, have a snack, one plays piano the other violin, they swap on piano and the older one does flute, then dinner, then homework. Television, computer games, recreational reading, YouTube etc only happens if there is time left over.

My two have music scholarships at high school (in Australia high school runs from age 12-18) so they don't now have the option of giving up music and it is something they just have to do like homework now. When they were younger just having this routine reduced the arguments. It was just something they did. They still need reminding and sometimes moan, but they got enough out of the music for its own sake to keep on.

And until the committment it music scholarships, they have always had the option of quitting music (as long as they find something useful to do with their time). But neither of them has wanted to do so.

June 8, 2012 at 03:35 AM · Go back and read Raymond Liu's post three times.

I was your kid when I was 10. I showed talent but I did not want to practice. I had to practice, at that age, 45 minutes each on the violin and the piano.

What I tell my daughter is that public school is necessary (we are dual-career so home-schooling is not an option) but insufficient to a complete education. Therefore there are additional "classes" that may include an instrument, a team sport (soccer in her case), and individual sport (for a young person it is hard to beat tennis but some in our area do golf), a foreign language (not decided on that yet), plus trips to museums, expectations of writing in a journal, and so on. For some kids it includes religious education, and that's fine too. We're not tiger parents. We're parents. "Time to be a kid" does not get squeezed out. Daughter is allowed to have sleep overs, and she plays with the neighborhood kids (whose parents, fortunately, are like-minded). What gets squeezed out? TV, video games, and other junk time. A schedule of activities, at the age of 10, does not replace "being a kid". It replaces the existential nothingness and abject boredom of television.

Now let me tell you what I needed when I was 10 years old. I needed my teacher to spend a whole lesson (or two if necessary) explaining how to practice and spelling out his expectations. Hearing "practice practice" from Mom and Dad is just Mom and Dad being Mom and Dad. When your teacher says, "You've got to be putting in 75 minutes per day on your violin, and here's a practice chart that will get you started, and I'm asking your parents to enforce this because it's what you need to do to make the best of your talent," then the student WILL listen. Kids at the age of 10 are ready to shove their parents off a cliff generally, but they absolutely revere their violin teachers.

July 10, 2012 at 01:01 AM · Here is an article that might help:

Getting Kids To Practice Music — Without Tears Or Tantrums

August 26, 2012 at 04:30 AM · Wow, checking back in after an absence, I see so many wonderful suggestions. Thank you all for taking the time to thoughtfully explain your personal experiences and advice. One major shift we have taken is to change teachers. While it has only been about 6 lessons so far, I think that the pairing with my son is going to be a good one. I haven't discussed specifics about goal-setting or standards, but I feel some security in her teaching methodology (strict and consistent, yet personal and personable) and the fact that she is Russian from Russia...hope that doesn't sound too stereotyping, but she is so much more exacting than any teacher we have encountered here in Argentina so far! Have also been implementing what I call "violin bucks" that are awarded for meeting the basic goals and having a positive attitude and can "purchase" goodies from my little in-home candy store. And the flipside (the "stick" in this equation) is that he needs to accomplish some basic goals in order to keep his playtime privileges. I am seeing a little improvement in attitude, I admit. I will be looking back through all of the posts and will report back about how the different ideas work out for us.

Saludos, todos!

August 30, 2012 at 08:15 PM · Hi Janet,

There is nothing wrong with being a Tiger Parent. I look back now and wish to god my parents didn't let me quit piano at 13, when laziness and social life kicked in. I also have to prod my 8 year old to practice daily. And I will probably have to prod her to practice for a long time yet. Which is fine, because kids, left on their own, would prefer TV and games, ALWAYS! She will thank me when she's older. I let her have one day off. And her "weekly allowance" is contingent upon her practising when she's supposed to. Her "day off" is also contingent upon not BS-ing her prior practice sessions; ie, she is not guaranteed a day off. Her daily practice is only 1/2 hour/day. Unless you and your kid think he is going to be a concert violinist when he's an adult, there is no need to push for more than 1/2 hour perday: a little goes a long way. Consistency is what matters. I even shorten the practices if I can see she's putting in 100% effort and focus, because quality matters more than quantity. I have found my kid cannot stomach more than 1/2 per day of practice, so that's what our practice time is set to, so long as she puts in an honest effort. It is OK to compromise with your kids, as long as both parties are clear on the expectations. After all, 20 minutes of focused practise is better than 45 minutes of pitchy, sloppy bow-flopping....meanwhile, as a Tiger Parent, I recommend combining Happy Hour with Daily Practice. It's is awesome to listen to your kid belting out the concertos with a glass of wine. It's like having a free concert!

August 31, 2012 at 03:06 PM · Hi,

Looking at the answers, there is one thing that didn't pop up: routine. One of the easiest ways to work around not feeling like doing something is to have that activity set at the same time every day. When that time comes you start no matter how you feel. The hardest thing is to start. You cannot expect a 10 year old child to be 100% responsible for his work. But, you can help him by fixing the violin time and putting him in the room with the violin at that time. Once inside the room, the rest then is up to him.

Just an idea...


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