Talented teen will not practice!

December 2, 2013 at 12:32 AM · My very talented 15 year old hates to practice. She can get away with not practicing for her school orchestra and even her youth symphony (she sits first chair!). She has a lot of natural talent and a great ear. She is finishing up book 9 Suzuki. Her teacher is getting frustrated with her and I have tried everything to get her to practice. My husband says "What's the fuss? Isn't she good enough? She's having fun playing, why ruin it with practicing if no one except her teacher notices." Maybe he is right. She does not want to be a violinist when she grows up, and she is picking up her violin every day for rehearsals. But I hate to see her not working up to her potential. She loves playing her violin and does not want to quit, she just hates to practice! Is this a phase? Did any of you go through this when you were young? Any suggestions to help her want to practice?


December 2, 2013 at 05:35 AM · It sounds as though you and your husband did quite a lot right to get her to this point- now, if I were you, I'd declare victory and move on. She's 15, she's playing in orchestra, doing very well, and there's probably no way you can put any more pressure on her without turning her against violin altogether. From 15 on, she's going to do what she's going to do- trust her and support her and she'll do fine (with normal ups and downs). The teen years are great for teaching parents to let go. You can give her guidance, but you have to do it in a way that she can hear it, but still make her own decisions.

December 2, 2013 at 06:01 AM · A friend of mine had three teenagers that went through the teenage years, one right after another. They all did the exact same thing and never practiced. I believe it's a phase, but at 15, you really can't hold the violin and bow for her. Good Luck!

December 2, 2013 at 08:11 AM · What Tom said. It seems she has reached a good balance to keep the violin in her life - you run the danger of tipping that to quitting.

Sorry to be a bit brutal, but ask yourself what the goal is in making her play more - is it really for her future or is it to satisfy your own ambitions through her?

December 2, 2013 at 12:56 PM · I agree with the previous posters. I think Elise has asked the right question. Your daughter needs to be making her own decisions about her life at this point and deal with the consequences. Good luck!

December 2, 2013 at 01:49 PM · All of us have wasted talents. It's part of life. You can only do so many things, regardless of how many of them you're good at.

There are some things that are responsibilities. For instance, since your daughter is the concertmaster, she has a responsibility to learn that music solidly, to work out bowings with the other string-section leaders, etc. That she shouldn't shirk, or she should give up the duty to someone who wants it.

Similarly, if you're going to pay for violin-lessons, she needs to practice enough to make them worthwhile. So when you say that she doesn't practice, do you mean that she literally doesn't pick up the violin at home, or only practices a few times a week, or only practices for a short time, or doesn't make effective use of practice-time?

Much like your daughter, I loved orchestra playing, but I never enjoyed practicing as a child, because I regarded it as a rote, repetitive activity. Until, when I was 16, a new teacher completely changed my perspective by teaching me how to practice far more effectively -- how to regard practicing as a problem-solving activity.

Rather than attacking something over and over again trying to get it right, he taught me how to systematically figure out what I was doing wrong, and then work on correcting it -- to regard the problem as an intellectual one rather than brute physical training.

It was totally the opposite canard from classic Suzuki training, for instance, where you're often told things like "repeat this 10 times in a row correctly" (the penny trick, etc.), because this generally forces you to get it right by luck, as if raw repetition created miracles. In reality, for every wrong time you do it, you've got to do it a bunch more times right, as well. The whole notion of how to practice effectively -- how to figure out why it's wrong and what practice-approach to apply to fix it -- eliminates much of the boredom in practicing.

I also think it's useful to have a goal. Given that your daughter doesn't sound especially advanced for her age, I'm guessing that the standard of playing for high-school kids in your area is quite low. So there's nothing obvious for her to strive for. Having that might help. (For instance, where I live, I'm not sure that Suzuki book 9 -- Mozart concerto level -- would necessarily even get a high schooler into the youth symphony here, at all.)

December 2, 2013 at 02:01 PM · I agree with what the others have said.

Something else to consider is talking with her--not judgementally, but informationally--about the consequences of not practicing. Should she continue with lessons? (her teacher may prefer to offer the time/energy to a more 'working' student,if s/he finds working with your daughter frustrating). If she does stop lessons, how long will she maintain her first chair? does that matter to her? If it does matter (and I'd bet it's part of her identity, though she may be taking it more or less for granted), she needs to become responsible; if not, maybe someone else would like it (like, duh).

{At 15 I had no intention of continuing in music past high school, but at 16, I'd suddenly decided to major in it, and regretted my several years skating on my talent, memory, and, frankly, youthful ability to do whatever I wanted. No one had asked me anything about my choices, or what they meant; I had a lot of fast catch-up to do! because I had discovered, don't ask me how, that playing was an integral part of my identity.}

December 2, 2013 at 06:13 PM · I also have a 15-yo and a 14-yo (and a nearly 7-yo to boot), and yeah, practicing has often been an issue though there have been ups and downs throughout.

My kids (and I) started later than most Suzuki kids and are not quite as far along as yours. Their teacher isn't the very strict Suzuki type and is multi-talented and highly experienced, so they've been branching off into different things, including a bit of voice training (w/ currently emerging Suzuki training), to help keep them interested. They're currently doing a bit of viola and voice on top of violin though violin still remains their main thing. They tend to add supplemental solo pieces of their choices (not officially Suzuki repertoire) as they go since reaching middle of Suzuki Book 5, and usually perform them for their solo recitals instead of standard Suzuki pieces, eg. Meditation from Thais, Monti's Czardas, Kriesler's Liebeslied and Praeludium & Allegro, Rachmaninov's Vocalise, Tchaikovsky's Canzonetta movement, Vivaldi's Spring 1st movement and Winter in abridged form, etc. They've also been doing both youth orchestra and chamber music (mostly quartets) and sometimes on viola.

I try to expose them to most kinds of music, not just classical, although that's been our main thing. My son recently began HS, and his school's orchestra isn't particularly advanced, so they often play pop/rock-ish/movie soundtrack music w/ sprinkling of easy listening classical, except in certain years when they have a greater influx of talent -- hoping he'll be part of a new wave there although he has other opps in our area. Right now, they actually have him (and a couple others) playing a Mark Wood Viper electric (to ensure his solos can be heard for this kind of music and their level of orchestra).

My kids really enjoy trying different things and are generally much more willing to practice in such context, and I suspect yours would too.

Yeah, they're probably not practicing as well and thoroughly as they should to make the most of their talent, if they aspire to pursue music professionally, but that's not our goal (nor yours) anyway, not that I'm opposed to them pursuing such either.

Might be too late to help now, but I did also find learning the instrument myself (as ideal to the Suzuki philosophy) and being more actively involved in that manner to be helpful, especially during the earlier years. Even though I haven't been able to keep up w/ them in my own playing, the experience and knowledge gained has helped me even now when I discuss their music (and other topics in life that can draw analogies from music) w/ them. They also get a kick out of hassling me about my lack of practicing, and it's a good bond we have due to all this even though they do often get tired of my involvement (and frequent analogies), so I've been gradually backing off w/ that. I think my own love of music (despite lacking in prior formal training) is a key to theirs as well -- and they've come to recognize and embrace that now. It's also been helpful that I share other hobbies/interests w/ them so they don't feel like it's all just music.

Yeah, at this point, you pretty much have to give them plenty of their own space to make their own decisions while providing sensible guidance and support (and maybe some simple rules/structure) as you go, eg. agreed about discussing paying for lessons (and similar) vs amount of practice/effort (though smart/efficient practice is better than brute force), living upto responsibilities as ensemble/orchestra member (and suffering consequences as a life lesson), etc. Who knows? They may come back next school year or even next week w/ a change of heart as teenagers often do if you give them some space (as others suggested) -- I definitely see that w/ my own kids. And again, it's not like you expected her to pursue this professionally anyhow. Just make the most of it as a loving parent who wants whats actually best for her child me thinks (and also use her music training and experience as a way to nurture her for greater horizon, not just for the music itself)...


December 2, 2013 at 09:40 PM · To the OP:

"She does not want to be a violinist when she grows up" ......

Is it an absolutely bad thing?

And for who: for her, or rather for you? ..... ;)

December 3, 2013 at 07:29 AM · Make sure that she loves everything she is practising. There are tons of different music she can listen too and get inspired by. Many people are bored by the standard violinrepertoire

Some people love to transcribe music for other instruments even more people love improvisation. Maybe she prefers Jazz or other genres.

Try different things.

December 3, 2013 at 10:28 AM · Maybe it is time to change teachers. My son, age 12, went through a pretty bad spell, but his motivation seems to have improved the past few months.

A few things happened. First, we found an awesome teacher that really knows how to relate to him. Secondly, we figured out a way to bribe him into practicing -- 30 minutes of iPad time for every 30 minutes of practice. We strive for 1 hour of practice per day. For now, that strategy is working well. Finally, he joined the school orchestra and found out he was a LOT better than everyone else, even the high schoolers. So being the show off that he is, he enjoys working up showy pieces to impress his classmates. Sometimes, being a show off can be a good thing.

I generally agree with the comments of others. Yes it is her life and her choice, but now is the time to really improve. She won't get this opportunity again to improve at the rate she is. I also play violin and I was a quick learner when I was young, but now that I'm 1000 years old, my progress is like a snail's pace compared to when I was a youngster. My son is going to catch me in 2 years and we both practice 1 hour per day.

If you can motivate her to practice more, she will appreciate it later in life, so don't throw in the towel. Try to figure out a solution.

December 3, 2013 at 10:42 AM · On a side note, as Lydia pointed out above, the level of playing in the Washington DC area is staggering. By age 15, kids are playing Sibelius and Ravel Tzigane at a very polished level.

A million years ago, I was assistant concert master of the local youth orchestra (MCYO). Now, I don't know if I would even make the orchestra.

December 3, 2013 at 01:18 PM · I went through that faze. A change might be good. The teacher should be happy about trying someone new. Once a student has been taking for a few years I often request they go to someone else.

Practicing should be fun. Many students don't practice because it feels like work. The more you push it, the more it will feel like work. Just let it be. Try getting a new book. I Love the Hal Leonard Fake Books. There are over a 1000 songs in them. There is a Disney book, Pop/Rock (Called Best Fake Book), Classical, Movie Music, and many more.

December 3, 2013 at 01:27 PM · Shawn, not sure I agree with your suggestion that "practicing should be fun." It IS work, even when one can learn fast. NOT saying WORK shouldn't also be pleasurable, but if a person just goofs around, not paying attention at all when they practice, that's not practice...it's playing--and there's definitely a place for that.

December 3, 2013 at 02:34 PM · Hi Charlotte, I think it's unacceptable to take lessons and disregard what the teacher prescribes, quite apart from the issue of a student's abilities. I suppose it's up to the teacher to decide what is tolerable. On the other hand it's also up to you to decide what you're willing to spend, whether you want to pay for a very expensive baby sitter or invest in developing her character. You'll probably need a united effort to have any impact.

There is nothing wrong with playing the violin as a hobby, but if she really wants to just have fun, then she should continue with her current orchestras and stop taking lessons. If she wants to take lessons, grow as a violinist and musician, she should do the work to justify it and live up to her commitments. Either way, she needs to get to know what she wants and make a choice. Having said that, in my experience most students perched firmly on that fence at that stage in their training, i.e. at the cusp of making a significant advance, don't really know what they want, or at least don't know how to choose.

Having taught quite a few students like your daughter I can sympathize. I only wish I had had the language then to understand the underlying cause. I think most students who have been identified as having talent want to do well at heart. But whether they advance or stagnate has to do with their mindset according to Carol Dweck. It used to take on the order of months to help a student identify her goals and get her to realize what it takes to achieve them, at which point I would strongly encourage making some tough decisions (whether that meant buckling down and learning practice skills, or ceasing serious study.) While that might still be a worthwhile exercise, I suspect focusing on mindset is a much more direct and effective way to motivate change.

In short: children who are praised for what they are (smart, talented) develop fixed mindsets; children who are praised for their effort develop growth mindsets.

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck discusses her research in the context of education, the arts, sports, business, and personal relationships.

"...in the fixed mindset, both positive and negative labels can mess with your mind. When you're given a positive label, you're afraid of losing it, and when you're hit with a negative label, you're afraid of deserving it.

When people are in a growth mindset, the stereotype doesn't disrupt their performance. The growth mindset takes the teeth out of the sterotype and makes people better able to fight back. They don't believe in permanent inferiority." [Ch. 3: "The Truth About Ability and Accomplishment"] Furthermore, those with a growth mindset don't buy into the delusion of innate superiority or entitlement, and know their achievements are built on a foundation of sustained effort.

There is a difference between natural talent and potential. While a child's innate abilities may be apparent, no one can properly evaluate potential, as that includes dedication, perseverence, support, resources, exposure, and luck (being at the right place, meeting the right people at the right time) on top of given ability. And to harness abilities and maintain performance under pressure, to 'live up to one's potential' presupposes a growth mindset.

"Benjamin Bloom, an eminent educational researcher, studied 120 outstanding achievers. They were concert pianists, sculptors, Olympic swimmers, world-class tennis players, mathematicians, and research neurologists. Most were not that remarkable as children and didn't show clear talent before their training began in earnest. Even by early adolescence, you usually couldn't predict their future accomplishment from their current ability. Only their continued motivation and commitment, along with their network of support, took them to the top."

It's surprising to realize icons such as Jackson Pollock, Proust, Tolstoy, Darwin, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Lucille Ball, were considered as having no future in their eventual fields, or superstars such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Wilma Rudolph were not considered to have natural ability. There's a pervasive myth in our culture that naturals shouldn't require effort. But dig a bit underneath the surface and we see how deep their effort goes.

Mindset contains one idea, but it might just be the one that matters most. Whether your daughter pursues the violin professionally is not really important. The mindset she practices in her activities is of much more significance to her future success.

A few videos (amongst many):




P.S. 'uninspired' at 12 to 'hates to practice' at 15 seems more like a trend than a phase

December 3, 2013 at 03:28 PM · You already got a lot of good advise. Here are my 2 cents:

Nothing good will come from forcing a teenager into doing something she does not want to do. I have been there with one of my daughters and she chose floorball over the cello.....

I had a period of a few years i my youth where I played a lot - 2 or 3 orchestras, chamber music and lessons (piano in addition to the violin), but I practically never practised. Looking back I can off course be a little sad that I did not know better at the time. On the other hand those were the years where I really began to excel at sight reading :-)

The turning point for me was meeting a new teacher at a summer camp. He was not even teaching there, just visiting his girlfriend who was teaching. But he gave me a few comments after hering me playing some chamber music with a friend. After the summer holidays I "auditioned" for him. I went to him as prepared as I usually was when going to a lesson (meaning I brought the violin and the music) and played Svendsen Romance. I had played it before the summer with my previous teacher and just looked through it in the bus on the way to the audition. After my playing the teacher (who is norwegian) was silent for a minute or two and then said the only positive thing he could thing of: "I am glad you chose a norwegian piece". And then he had me playing open strings for 3 month - and I practised several hours every day!

So try to find her a teacher that can inspire her to want to practise. They are out there. And don't force her - try to just plant the idea and let her think it was her own.

December 3, 2013 at 03:52 PM · Agreed w/ most of the additional points, including the effort vs talent praising. I always encourage my kids to put in their best efforts in everything they endeavor to do and not put much emphasis on innate ability (other than to let them know they have what's needed if they put in solid effort) -- the effort they put in through these processes will shape how they approach other areas in life as they become independent and pursue their own lives ahead in adulthood.

Also, the Suzuki school of thinking (since you have a Suzuki teacher) generally adopts more specific approach to praising very specific accomplishments instead of saying vague things like "good job", eg. "love the way your straight bow is producing a good tone", "love how you're keeping that platform on bow hand for...", etc.

Some mentioned "bribing", and I'd recommend adopting a clearer philosophy/framework for rewarding solid efforts while not pandering to a sense of entitlement. Don't be too quick to give them everything they want just because you can afford it, but establish what can be sensible rewards that are meant to be helpful incentives (and possibly relevant to the overarching goals), not the actual end goals in their minds. Otherwise, the "bribing" really does become a bad thing and might even supplant their desire for the music and their need to develop good work habits, character, etc.

One thing not mentioned so far. Since this has apparently been a long term, ongoing issue (and you haven't mentioned what else you've tried so far), have you tried finding more challenging opps than her current orchestras to see if that would help? Does she not participate in chamber music (or jazz ensemble, etc)? Maybe you live in an area that doesn't provide anything more challenging during the school year, but what do you do for the summers? Many parents send their teenagers away to more challenging string camps/festivals during the summer, and although the kids might be reluctant at first, they often find they love that and become inspired to work harder at their music -- and that'd be a solid opp to nurture their independent work ethic in this since they will be away from you while being immersed in music (and possibly other fun activities) and positive influence of (hopefully) conscientious, music-minded peers and coaches/teachers.

Heh... Just noticed Bo's new comment ahead of mine. Agreed there as well -- and he brought up a related good thing about summer camps.

I think we're all a tad reluctant to suggest changing teachers, but if nothing seems to work, then it may well be time to consider a change there...

Also, yeah, do try to plant some "seeds" to help her find her own way...

December 3, 2013 at 04:28 PM · I have read or scanned these excellent replies, but so far have seen no mention of ADHD. I was much like this kid except I wasn't as good (never made it to first desk, much less first chair.) Through three years of piano and then nine years of fiddle, I could never bring myself to practice scales or exercises, even with full knowledge of what that might add to my skills. I could practice the "fun" stuff (pieces) but not the nuts-and-bolts.

In hindsight, it was clear as day that I had (and still have) a textbook case of ADHD. The irony of this is that the condition often afflicts the most "talented" among us. I did not internalize the message that you can't succeed on pure talent alone until it was way too late. Having said this, I hope this doesn't lead to the child's being medicated. That stuff they try to give you for ADHD is worse than having the condition. Sander?

December 3, 2013 at 05:40 PM · Lots of good advice here. With a teenager it is hard to tell if something is a phase, an ill-advised bid for independence, or just an experiment. Why not ask her if she is satisfied with her level of achievement and would like to take a break from lessons? This may help her confront her level of commitment. If she is not practicing at all it seems fruitless to pay for lessons. If she stops lessons for awhile, no great harm done. She can continue to enjoy orchestra, and may decide that she would like to take it more seriously.

December 3, 2013 at 05:40 PM · Lots of good advice here. With a teenager it is hard to tell if something is a phase, an ill-advised bid for independence, or just an experiment. Why not ask her if she is satisfied with her level of achievement and would like to take a break from lessons? This may help her confront her level of commitment. If she is not practicing at all it seems fruitless to pay for lessons. If she stops lessons for awhile, no great harm done. She can continue to enjoy orchestra, and may decide that she would like to take it more seriously.

December 3, 2013 at 05:55 PM · Marjory, When I say practicing should be fun, I do not mean goofing around. If someone does not enjoy practicing, then nothing will be learned. I practice because I enjoy it, not because I have to get though the "work of practicing" to enjoy playing later on.

December 3, 2013 at 06:33 PM · That's a lot clearer, Shawn--and I agree; if you don't enjoy it, find another activity, but I have too many students (not in violin, but the principle is the same) who, when the going gets tough give up. "Fun" is a very dangerous word in some cases.

December 3, 2013 at 06:35 PM · Thanks for all of the advice. It is great to hear what others are doing in the same situation. To clarify, there are 3 levels of her youth symphony, she is in the middle level, not the top. I am also a musician, so it is hard for me to watch her not push herself.

December 3, 2013 at 10:57 PM · charlotte, you think this is hard?? Wait until she does half of the stuff most young women do these days! haha The stories I could tell (but won't) with 3 grown daughters...

December 4, 2013 at 03:39 AM · Marjory, I believe that Shawn was clear from the beginning if you read his post in its entirety. I understood exactly what he was saying when he said that practice should be fun. I totally agree with Shawn on this one. You should have fun and enjoy playing your instrument, even when it's time to "work" and practice.

December 4, 2013 at 02:04 PM · As a musician and a parent I would never want to force my child to do something they don't want to do. That said, I also wouldn't allow them to "sample" something at leisure. If my son was not interested in practicing his instrument then I am not interested in providing him with costly lessons. Not only because it's wasted money, but because it is an unfulfilled responsibility. If the teacher is expected practice time and my son is not practicing then he is skirting responsibility and I find that to be very disrespectful.

I would speak to the teacher, I find that sometimes teachers are so vague about "practicing" that kids don't really know what to do, therefore making it easy to skip it.

Someone who is 15 is very capable of understanding responsibility. It sounds harsh but I wouldn't want my kid sitting concertmaster of anything unless he was living up to the title. I remember when I was in Junior high and I used to look up to the concertmasters, I thought that they worked hard.

Just something to think about.

December 4, 2013 at 05:41 PM · "As a musician and a parent I would never want to force my child to do something they don't want to do."


December 4, 2013 at 08:02 PM · When our kids were a bit younger than your daughter I'd made a clear deal of sorts - they would be involved in a 'thing' that required serious commitment and training with lessons until they were 15. (as an occupational therapist we know this as serious or formal leisure & it's often a skill base you come back to in later years [as many here will attest]). After that it was open to negotiation and very much dependent on THEIR demonstration of commitment and true participation, not just liking it. So my daughter, who had quite happily gone off to tennis squad & lessons 2 days a week for 7 yrs but never ever asked to do any more than that, stopped getting lessons paid for her and I didn't drive her to competition. I didn't say she couldn't go but she had to do it off her own back.

My son, on the other hand, had from 11 started horse riding and been up at 5 am asking me to drop him off or arranging to get a lift with friends, muck out stables for 6 hrs in return for a 30 minute lesson or the chance to walk a kid on a horse for 2 hrs up a mountain. He'd kept the same pace up for 4 yrs & wanted to keep on going - guess what that negotiation turned out like?

At 15? Your daughter can hear that this semester is the last one you'll be paying for lessons unless you see a change in practise and commitment. What happens in orchestra is out of your hands and to a degree out of hers since know one knows who is lurking behind. Let her know what other options there might be to extend her playing opportunities - chamber / trio or quartet group for a busking or nursing home or paying gigs perhaps?

December 4, 2013 at 08:11 PM · Greetings,

Not much to add but I agree with Sharelle,, Jeewon et al. In that it isn't really a time to just let this go and let your daughter work it out for herself. Rather I see it as a marvelous learning oportunity, not just for understanding that being adult means learning to take responsibility but also to show sensible and loving parenting as a future model for her offspring.

The point Jeewon mentions about praise is being recognized as highly significant in education these days. Children w

Ho are praised for being smart become afraid to fail and demotivated whereas praise for effort proves highly efficacious.



December 5, 2013 at 12:37 PM · "Really?"

I'll clarify: in terms of playing an instrument, I don't want to force my child to do anything he doesn't want to do. I force him to do all sorts of things such as brush his teeth, wear his mittens, etc. But he has no obligation to me to play the violin if he doesn't want to. Should he want to though, it requires a certain amount of responsibility. You want lessons? then you have to practice. You want to play concertmaster? Then you have to set an example to your section. You can't just pick and choose the bits that are fun for you and ignore the bits that you don't like, you have to put in the work.

December 6, 2013 at 02:21 AM · This is some really good stuff here! I have really been struggling with the idea of letting her swim along and just enjoy making music without the responsibility, and making her work. I don't think she will quit if I give her an ultimatum, she truly loves playing her violin.

And if she does stop playing, then her music must not be that important to her. Thank you all for the great advice!

December 6, 2013 at 03:38 PM · There is lots of advice here on what the parent is to do, but only a few posters touched on what the TEACHER should be doing.

To repeat (and I'll add to what other have mentioned):

-Have concrete goals. I'm now doing 2 yearly recitals for my students.

-Introduce the student to repertoire. It's easy for experienced musicians to forget that kids have very little knowledge of what's out there.

Here's one very embarrassing example: At conservatory, a student played the Brahms D-minor Sonata in a masterclass. Afterwards, I asked my teacher "what was that?" I was 22, and had never heard it before!

At the age of 15, a student will, I believe, be motivated to continue by the REPERTOIRE. If they are not in love with the great violin music--Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and all the rest, there is NO point for them to be badgered about it.

I became a musician because I loved the repertoire. The only reason I still get up early in the morning at the age of 49 is that I have something I want to play. And I'm still discovering new repertoire that I'll never have time to master. In fact, if I told everyone what works I'm even now just discovering, I'd be even more embarrassed...

December 9, 2013 at 04:10 AM · Marina, I realize my comment may have seemed pure snark, but here is where the two end of the number line meet. You make your child go to school, yes? That is one way to view musical instrument study ... an indispensable part of the child's education. Many families have compulsory foreign language education too.

But I also agree with Scott... what is the teacher doing?

December 10, 2013 at 07:17 AM · So she's not planning on becoming a professional violinist. What is the problem again?

December 10, 2013 at 09:49 AM · Greetings,

this thread identified a number of problems, all of which were discussed from a variety of interesting perspectives.

One of the problems is that typically faced by every parent of someone who has some talent but is not using it to the full. If one adopts the `let her be, she doesnZ`t want to be a pro,` that still leaves the distinct possibility that somewhere down the line she will return to the instrument or want to do it semi seriously and be saying `I wish I had worked harder when I was a kid.` The problem is we live in a world of many distractions where lack of commitment to anything is becoming more and more the norm. For a teenager this is especially difficult and it may well come under the heading of `parental responsibility` to use some reasonable strictness where the child is unable to do it for herslef. At the time this may seem unreasonable but down the line the person may well be saying @I will always be grateful to my parents for pushing me just a little to do my best.`

Then there is the problem/issue of taking a position that involves responsibilty and not giving it one hundred percent. Is this a good lesson i life for a young person? Only the people directly involved can really way up all the factors.

In a similar vein ther e was the point about taking paid lessons and not giving anything back. Again, is this a good lesson for adulthood? Or is the money paid as a gift of love with no strings attached and the child concerned is in all other areas of her life more aware of these things so it is really not so important? We actually pay for quite a lot of stuff when you think about it that children don always utilize to the full, sometimes with good reason. What if the parent is paying the money to gratify their desire to produce a result proving they are a good parent or to satisfy an unsatisfied urge form their past? In such a case does the `obligation` to work for what is being paid for diminish to a degree?

Then there was the problem of the teahcer herself. If the teacher is the cause of demotivation by something they are either doing or not doing then one may even be looking in the wrong to place to begin with.

So, all in all, dismissing the whole thing out of hand as `well where is the problem if she doesnt want to be a pro,` solves absolutely nothing. It is merely one (re) statement of one position on the issue. Perfectly valid in of itself but not likely to get one anywhere unless examined within the context of all the other issues, even if it is the conclusion one ultimately comes to.



December 10, 2013 at 11:47 PM · I've wondered about the idea of wishing you worked harder as a kid. You're looking at the same work now, usually still with plenty of time to master it. Perhaps it's just easier to wish that workload on your past self than deal with it currently? Or perhaps its a monetary thing, wishing you could be making money with your violin now that you're independent.

The way it seems to me is, you weren't interested in putting work into before. You're either serious or not about putting work into it now. And if you are serious, then clearly now is a better time to work on it than when you didn't want to.

December 11, 2013 at 12:12 AM · As far as the violinist in question goes, maybe being the concert master without having to practice is part of the problem. In her world, she's as accomplished as you can get and it scarcely took any effort.

Others have mentioned that being the concert master makes her responsible for knowing her parts and such. But perhaps she does, and it's just too easy for her.

December 11, 2013 at 02:29 AM · You didn't imply that the teacher could be the problem, but several people have commented on that. I htink it's okay to leave a teacher when the teacher/student relationship has stagnated. A new teacher with a fresh approach is a great way to help with boredom. And that's no knock on the teacher- I personally am not sure that anyone should stay with a teacher for longer than 2 years. Shorter once they start to repeat themselves ;)

December 11, 2013 at 05:03 AM · Mathew, some things are earlier to learn as a child. Violin is one of those things. It's not impossible later, of course, but childhood is easier. And you have more time as a child, versus most adults who live pretty compressed lives with insufficient free time. The better you become as a child, the more free you are to enjoy playing as an adult with less of a struggle, IMHO.

I somewhat regret not having put more time into the violin as a child. But I don't regret having dropped other things my parents wanted me to do, like play the piano. (I had a brief pang of regret for my neglected piano lessons when I had to put time into re-learning how to play sufficiently in order to pass a piano proficiency test in college, though.)

December 11, 2013 at 03:01 PM · It's difficult to predict whether or not someone will regret not practicing, so I'm not sure the idea "practice now or you'll regret it when you're 30" is a good enough reason. Maybe they'll regret it, maybe not. Maybe they'll regret being made to practice at the cost of something else they really wanted to do.

Especially in light of the fact that being good on the violin is VERY time-consuming. Just because the student is already "pretty good without even practicing" is neither here nor there. That last 5% is gained at a tremendous cost to all of us, no matter how talented.

There are many, many interesting things to do in life besides practice the violin, and the world has no shortage of violinists.

December 11, 2013 at 06:06 PM · Greetings,

well, thats where balance and rationality comes in. If more efofrt is made and it becomes clear that it is causing more unhappines than anything else thenre evaluation is called for. A question of communication.



December 11, 2013 at 07:41 PM · Lydia,

What made you decide that it's easier to learn violin in childhood?

I spent a long time not picking violin back up for multiple reasons, but in part because I thought I needed to start young and keep up with it in order to ever reach a professional level. But now I think that's probably a mythical idea, and find that I'm progressing just as easily (probably more easily in fact) than I did at 11.

As far as adults living compressed life and not having time goes, that sounds like code for they have other things they'd rather be doing / chose to fill their time with. Much like the child who doesn't want to practice.

December 12, 2013 at 01:08 AM · Hello! This is my first post on this website!

I couldn't help but click on this thread, and I, like Scott, didn't see much mention of ADHD. Please take a moment to read my 2 cents' worth -- I've found that there is an almost universal misunderstanding of ADHD, and I want to put a tiny dent in it. I'll get to violin-specific advice in just a minute.

When most people hear "ADHD," they think of hyperactive "bad" kids. That is only one manifestation of the condition. A lesser known condition is the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD, which could be absolutely invisible to teachers and parents as well as to the person himself, whether adult or child.

One of the three main components of ADHD is "activation" deficit. In essence, it is the inability to get started on an activity, because trying to start something overwhelms your brain with so many decisions and options and obstacles to overcome that it actually is *painful* to think or concentrate enough to start something. Studies show that when an ADHD person tries to start something, the pain centers of the brain actually light up (not literally, but you know what I mean).

A successful ADHD adult has spent his life figuring out strategies to get past that painful "activation" stage, whether in academics, music, sports, work, housework, or some or all of the above, even though he doesn't realize the cause of his difficulties and may blame himself for "personality flaws" such as laziness, procrastination, lack of motivation, etc.

There's so much more to this topic that I'd like to share, but I'll just list one of my favorite books on this topic and then get to my practical idea for getting a violin student to practice.

My favorite book, although targeted toward women, has a great overview of inattentive ADHD and explains how so many people with it fly under the radar, with more or less success. It is called "Women with Attention Deficit Disorder" by Sari Solden, and if you look it up on Amazon, you will see plenty of reviews as well as recommendations for other books on the topic, that can give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

Okay, so for someone who has a hard time motivating himself to practice violin, or to answer long overdue emails, or pay bills, or study, or catch up on work, a very good solution is to get out of the house! For a couple reasons:

1. Assigning yourself a date, time and external location in which you have to do something, especially if it's a public place and/or someone is expecting you to show up, isolates all the elements of that task from the rest of the clutter in your mind, packages them up in the simple thought "go to coffee shop and bring the bills," or "go to grandma's house and bring violin," which is much easier for your mind to cope with than juggling all the details separately. Once you get there, you may find yourself in:

2. Hyperfocus: To go with the coffee shop example, the sights, smells, sounds and general sensory overload can actually help people with ADHD to focus, and it also makes it easier to get started on something complicated without noticing "brain pain." And once you're started, you are very focused and can remain so for a very long time! If any of you readers have ADHD, you may have experienced this hyperfocus but may not know what triggered it or how to get it back. For me, being in public also stimulates me to higher alertness and cognitive functioning than when I'm alone and comfortable in my pajamas in my house. And "stimulate" is the correct word here... you've heard that ADHD medications are stimulants, and it seems counterintuitive to give a stimulant to an already hyper child, but the drug actually stimulates the part of the brain that allows sustained focus, so it really does make sense. (I'm not promoting drugs; that's a very personal choice and very dependent on your situation.)

This is the reason that many people who work "from home" actually take their laptops to the local Starbucks. Unfortunately, it may not be so easy to practice violin at Starbucks! So you may need to look for other solutions, such as reserving a practice room at a music store or university or recording studio or something similar. Going to grandma's house might work, or even finding a quiet corner of a public park if the weather's nice. My local library allows people to reserve "study rooms" free of charge. I emailed them to ask if I could practice violin there (with a heavy mute), and they said no... quiet study only. But I'll bet if I hadn't asked first, no one would have noticed or complained, for the simple reason that public libraries are underutilized and the surrounding study rooms would probably be empty anyhow!

Okay, well, I've typed too much as usual, and I don't think I need to explain any further, since I'm guessing that frequenters of violinist.com are probably a little above the average intelligence level usually found on the internet! So I apologize for making this as long as it is; and I hope this information may help someone with undiagnosed ADHD. It's easy, drug-free, and worth a try!

December 12, 2013 at 04:55 AM · Diagnosing a teen that won't practice with ADHD is silly. 99% of students don't like to practice. That's the NORM.

December 12, 2013 at 10:12 AM · Regardless of whether there is undiagnosed ADHD, all of the strategies above are completely reasonable, being a good mix of clear behavioural expectations/ contracts, personal responsibilitie & goals that can be identified and achieved off by the kiddo, personal motivators and negotiation and modification around the task. You look at any book on helping a teen who has ADHD and it's going to give you the same advice, but it's not exclusive.

December 13, 2013 at 01:43 PM · Interesting (and passionate) comments.

As a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, I feel the need to add my two cents worth (and that may be the limit of its value...).

While individual opinions based on experience, knowledge, and expertise are fine.....

Professionally, no matter how much written opinion and description there is, a professional (psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist) should not really make a firm diagnostic judgment without actually interviewing and assessing the person directly. That is, those of us in the healthcare professions shouldn't diagnose from comments on a website (or an email or a phone call).

That being said, there are many personality developmental issues that affect achievement motivation at every stage of development through childhood, adolescence, and (yes) adulthood. Add the fact that in addition to any of us being dropped into one category or another, the other side of the story is that each person is a unique individual in a unique situation.

Hope that adds a perspective.

Happy Holidays.



December 13, 2013 at 03:56 PM · "...should not really make a firm diagnostic judgment without actually interviewing and assessing the person directly. That is, those of us in the healthcare professions shouldn't diagnose from comments on a website..."

Then...what's the point of the internet?

December 13, 2013 at 06:58 PM · Good question. Offering an opinion is one thing; but for a licensed professional to make a professional psychological or medical judgment (or diagnosis) about about a specific individual from comments on the Internet is another piece of business.

To give a professional opinion in other areas is perfectly fine and proper, and can of course be dead-on accurate. But in my field, even if I'm certain about what has been described, there are professional guidelines and laws (the state's Mental Health Code, for example) that stipulate things like this. And if one violates them, one can be subject to legal consequences.



December 13, 2013 at 08:30 PM · Sorry. I'm not a professional and I wasn't trying to diagnose anyone. Just offering a suggestion for people who find it hard to make themselves practice violin or do other tasks. Many people with inattentive ADHD use this method with great success.

December 13, 2013 at 09:21 PM · Tara: I'm not criticizing; you're entitled, and I'm not questioning yours or anyone else's judgment. I'm just saying that you can opine anything you want - I can't. Otherwise, I'd love to weigh in on this discussion, because it's in my field (Not to be too self-serving, but I've co-authored 2 books on academic underachievement and motivation).

Happy holidays,


December 13, 2013 at 09:25 PM · "but I've co-authored 2 books on academic underachievement and motivation)."

How could you have written two books and not interviewed me? I'm the poster child of underachievement. I've got serious doubts about your credibility Sandy.

December 14, 2013 at 01:44 PM · I'm enjoying this thread. Good discussion.

True, there are many complex reasons why a person becomes motivated or remains unmotivated. What serves as a solution for one may not work for another. That is where the interpersonal gifts of the teacher come into play. To know how to reach a particular person to help them become self motivating has to do (I think) with deep aspects of the person's personality which often seem unrelated to their violin work.

Recently, I offered advice to a colleague after hearing one of her very gifted, but somewhat undeveloped college students play. My colleague was searching for a way "in" to the student's motivation and was drawing a blank.

In a flash of inspiration (or perhaps "eccentricity"), I reminded her that this student had a French saying tatooed on the back of her neck (usually covered by her hair). If the teacher would translate the saying, she would probably find a way "in" to the student's inner world by finding out something that was extremely dear to her. (It must be so if someone inks it onto their body permanently)... I thought she might gain insight into what this student holds dear, and use it to inspire her to work harder---and with meaning.

I do not know if my advice was followed-- but I am fascinated by the possibility.

Anyway, I offer this anecdote to support the idea that every student is an individual with any number of things that can motivate them. We sometimes have to simply wait for the information to come along. They will usually provide it one way or another.

In the meantime, I am a proponent of establishing a structure and a schedule for a young (or teenaged) student---whether they like it or not. They need help in forming habits, and if they enter into partnership with us to develop their talents, they must commit to the "rules". Otherwise--we end up wanting it more than they do. That is completely backwards and generally does not end with a good result.

The same goes for parenting.

December 14, 2013 at 06:57 PM · LOL @ Smiley - I should also have been a subject! Maybe Sander should do a new book on underachieving violinists....

December 14, 2013 at 08:39 PM · Greetings,

could someone explain something to me that was puzzling in the original post concerning ADHD?

In my work situation I Frequently come across two -different- kinds of `problem` student. One is ADD and the other ADHD. Whereas the former has the characteristics described above and in other threads an ADHD student is somewhat different. These students are so deeply frustrated by their ability to participate or be like everyone else they respond with violent and destructive behavior. When teaching such students there has almost always been at least one support teacher present who tries to prevent the desk that is being thrown from hitting other students or mops up the water from the flower vase that was poured on the floor. Is this distinction no longer relevant or is it just used in Japan?

Since my early days in teaching profession when the staff rooms had one small book on ADD and one on ADHD the bookshelves

are lined with books not only on those two `problems` but on a plethora of very similar sets of behaviors with equally confusing acronyms on the spine.

My own two cents is that if kids ate real food for breakfast instead of white bread with chocolate cream or riceballs bought from convenience stores that have a minimum of 11 additives s and preservatives an awful lot of these problems would go away anyway......



PS Scott, the point of the Internet is for Amazon to make money and for the NSA to know the color of your underwear.

December 15, 2013 at 02:04 AM · I think a lot a people believe poor diet is the main culprit in most ADD and ADHD cases.

Poor diet can also be a main contributor for lack of motivation.

Diet is the most important part of my practice regime, and I put it first. If I don't eat well, I'm not exercising. If I'm not exercising, I'm not practicing.

December 15, 2013 at 03:05 AM · The responses so far seem to vover everything.

My thoughts; forget what YOU are thinking, whatever it is, and think about what is inside her head. That is what will carry her forward, no matter what.

There seems to be a mixed thoughts on if playing should be fun or work. I believe that if it is 'work with no reward', then it will not be continued when there is no external motivation. Work can have rewards, so can fun. Forget that divisive approach, and evaluate the reward she gets.

Some people believe that 'adult pursuits' need to be work, some believe that it needs to still be fun. No matter what, it needs to fit into the person's core values. If she can focus and deeply invest in fun things that are a challenge, with a passion for excelling, DON'T MESS IT UP BY REQUIRING HER TO CALL IT WORK. If she is task oriented, and needs to have a challenge that is difficult and requires strong internal motivation to reach difficult goals, DONT MESS IT UP BY REQUIRING HER TO HAVE FUN IN THE PROCESS.

Find what gets her going (not what you WANT to get her going), and find how to keep the violin in her life.

December 22, 2013 at 07:34 PM · Some fascinating (as well as humorous) points since I last checked this thread.

Makes me wonder again if I (and maybe one or two of my kids) don't have ADD (at least a mild case anyway). Never felt literal pain though about getting to things I need to instead of procrastinating by doing something else I feel compelled to -- my mother just thinks I'm lazy even though I'm constantly doing (or thinking about) something. Never had the opp to learn an instrument (or develop my artistic desires much) growing up though, but chose computer science as a sort of compromise between pursuing medicine (as too many parents desire too much) and art. Nowadays, I take up hobbies that provide the artistic outlet that I couldn't have growing up... and do my best to afford the opps for my own kids (and also became a buffer for my little sis, who pursued photography before deciding she didn't like it as a profession)...

And yeah, even w/ things I love to do, I don't always have enough desire to see them all the way through to completion despite spending loads of time on them in some cases... Yeah, I can spend hours at a time working/practicing on the violin (or viola) and yet not be very disciplined in terms of regular, daily practice. Then again, I've been surprisingly persistent at practicing w/ my youngest (in the Suzuki way) even though not perfectly so -- yeah, I've been challenged to keep up w/ it (and not because one might find Twinkle, the basics, et al. boring after doing this w/ our 3rd child now)...

Ditto the points about food particular in today's generation. Makes me wonder about whether the rampant food allergies aren't also a product of our overall environment, including the food source. Incredible how so many kids are allergic to nuts, etc. In my parent culture, it's unthinkable to be allergic to peanuts -- neither I nor my wife nor any of our older relatives are -- and yet, so many, including our own kids, are allergic to them and various other traditional staples...


December 23, 2013 at 02:46 PM · I think ADD has always been around. I've read a lot (I mean a LOT) of novels written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and I often find that the bad or shiftless or poor or stupid or villainous characters have a lot of ADD traits. It just wasn't thought of as a disorder. It was just a personality trait.

I think that the industrial revolution brought the problem more into focus as jobs became more specialized. I've always thought I would have been a successful, content farmhand. The daily routine of waking before sunrise, feeding chickens and milking cows before breakfast, then working the crops till sunset, (then playing music on the front porch till bedtime) would have been an ideal lifestyle for me. The structure, the unchanging routine would guide me through the day and keep me from feeling overwhelmed by indecision. The hungry animals would keep me from procrastinating. The repetition and simplicity of the tasks would have made my restless hands and wandering mind very happy. Even from early childhood, I fantasized about having a repetitive and "boring" job, like screwing lids on tubes in a toothpaste factory!

Back to the novels, it seemed that the ADD villains were usually in an urban setting, with lots of commotion and variety and opportunities to mess up. Any rural folks with ADD would have been the "slow" farmhands that were too "lazy" or "stupid" to make it as farmers themselves.

Again, I'm mostly talking about the inattentive-type ADHD people. The physically hyperactive type would have been the active, devious troublemakers and wrongdoers and pranksters, not the lazy farmhands.

December 23, 2013 at 06:39 PM · Tara, there's a "theory" that ADD-type genes were most valuable in early societies that hunted "Hunters" and with warriors. Later in history, after people learned to grow grain, organized agriculture ("Farmers") led to the ascendancy of the "linear" genotype being more valuable than the "hunter" types. Certainly the industrial revolution and modern schools, etc. have accelerated this trend. All that to suggest you may want to look back further for your ideal life...

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