4-year old violin student can't stay still

May 3, 2016 at 08:16 PM · I have a 4 and a half year old violin student who cannot stay still for literally a second. In school he is constantly getting in trouble, and in lessons he is all over the place- most of the lesson is just a struggle trying to have him take out his violin and not get distracted every second.

We have an end of the year recital approaching and I am not sure how he will behave on stage. His mother is complacent and very overprotective; if he acts out I'm sure it will blamed as my fault. What can I do, if anything? I feel like a different teacher might have more success.

Replies (32)

May 3, 2016 at 08:54 PM · Put him in the recital, and have listeners score the performances. If he doesn't score well, perhaps he'll learn something from that. And the parents too.

On the other hand, maybe the young feller is naturally better suited to a more frenetic activity, and trying to make him into a violinist isn't the most productive path.

May 3, 2016 at 09:16 PM · This does not sound like a child who is ready for violin lessons, in my opinion.

May 3, 2016 at 09:25 PM · Also rule out ADHD and parental forcing. If neither of those appear to be the issue then maybe request that he come back in a year for reevaluation. If the family is too difficult all around and nothing seems to get through to this helicopter mom about blaming you for her son's actions, then you might have to drop him.

May 3, 2016 at 10:21 PM · I started lessons at 4-1/2, but I was a good kid. However, based on the progress I made in those earliest years, and my later experience as a father I vowed never to take a string student younger than 6. However I did take one a 5, having known her since birth while teaching her two older brothers. She had been so anxious to play that I had even brought her a cardboard VSO when she was 2 so she could be "like" her brothers.

She made pretty good and continuous progress as a student.

I have been know to "fire" students for lack of progress as demonstrated at their lessons. No point wasting my time or theirs. I did not "kick them out" I suggested to their parents that they were either too young or should try some other instrument.


May 3, 2016 at 11:11 PM · There comes a time as a teacher where you have to put on your expertise hat. This mum isn't an expert in teaching the violin, that's why she brought the child to you. Now you as an expert have to give her the respect to say "Its not time for him to be learning this instrument yet. I'm not willing to damage his enjoyment of learning an instrument in the future by forcing him to do something he is not developmentally ready for now".

And then I would encouragingly suggest music and movement classes for preschoolers. And encourage them back when he has started school, if he is still keen to learn the violin.

May 4, 2016 at 12:56 AM ·

It takes a village to raise a child. Some children at this age need more play time with other children than to try and make them focus. It's not his time or a different approach is required: he is not connecting with you and it may be beyond your control.

May 4, 2016 at 03:06 PM · The mother’s complacency and over-protectiveness are red flags. If I were a teacher, the first thing I’d want to know -- especially with an instrument like violin:

Was it the kid’s idea to start lessons -- or the parent’s idea?

If the latter, I would definitely limit these lessons to a trial period -- and I would tell the parent so. If she is also the pushy stage-mom type, which I suspect but can’t quite tell from your post, then you’re really going to have to put your foot down.

My parents enrolled me in beginning piano lessons on a trial basis when I was 7 y/o. They believed I had musical ability and wanted to see what might develop. I was already in elementary school and could read, write, and do things in structured settings.

I didn’t get far in piano -- not because I got distracted every second or didn’t want to make music, but because the violin muse grabbed me. Now I’d found the instrument that I felt was right for me. Fortunately, I could already count time and read notes. Bottom line: I was self-motivated -- as opposed to parent-motivated.

May 4, 2016 at 03:51 PM · Let him go and come back in 6 months or 1 year, even 2 years.

Why the rush? Making another prodigy? Proving something?

This is not about your reputation or parent's ego; this is about the well-being of a child.

May 4, 2016 at 04:02 PM · Could you have "home concerts" so the mother can see that her little darling is just not ready for a public concert? Hyperactive children need help, but they can wreck our work with other families

May 4, 2016 at 04:42 PM · If I could "fire" the student I would, but this unfortunately is not a private lesson setting but in a school. I am not allowed to fire students and losing a student is considered my fault, no matter the circumstances. In any case I am pretty much forced to have this child perform very soon...

I have not ruled out ADHD, and it is most definitely the parents' idea to start violin. I think the kid enjoys it but he simply cannot focus his attention or stop moving.

May 4, 2016 at 05:47 PM · You could put a masking tape square on the floor that is just big enough - perhaps 12 inches square - that he could try to stay inside facing you. Or the "violin feet" footprints...

Can he actually play anything?

May 4, 2016 at 07:09 PM · ?!

May 4, 2016 at 07:41 PM · If this is a school setting, would it be possible for you to enlist the child's classroom teacher, counselor, or administrator to help with approaching the parents? The current situation sounds untenable, and the parents are risking turning their child off music (or at least off the violin) forever.

May 4, 2016 at 08:39 PM · My wife, who specializes in working with very young children on the violin, has kids who are ready to start learning at age 3, and others who aren't ready until they are 6 or 7. It just sounds to me like the child isn't ready to deal with formal instruction yet. There is developmentally-appropriate material for students who want to learn about music but aren't ready to stand there and hold a bow and a violin yet.

May 4, 2016 at 09:30 PM · What sort of school insists on formal musical instrument lessons at 4 years old! Rhetorical question. So crappy school notwithstanding, you now have to incorporate this kid into the concert. You may need to pull the concert equivalent of playing the part of the tree in the school play - help conduct, drum the rhythm on a gym ball in a box? Don't rosin his bow. Play the closing tambourine flourish.

May 4, 2016 at 09:47 PM ·

Are you teaching in North Korea? Or it just feels like it

May 4, 2016 at 10:09 PM · ...just as an aside...it's a rare 4-year old that WANTS to play a musical instrument...with 'real' lessons, etc. and take it seriously.

So - nothing wrong with parents pushing a child (within reason) a bit in that direction, provided the child doesn't hate the whole thing.

I started my daughter on piano at 4...

She just turned 24...she still plays. Although right now she's self-teaching herself trumpet...lol.

At any rate, my goal was to have her enjoy music, and have at least one instrument she was proficient at. Met that goal...

May 5, 2016 at 12:56 AM · Please be sure to admonish him "You are acting just like a child!"

Because, of course, that's exactly what he is doing.

May 5, 2016 at 02:20 AM · NA Mohr wrote, "it's a rare 4-year old that WANTS to play a musical instrument...with 'real' lessons, etc."

The exception, which is not that uncommon, is if they have older siblings that play. Even in that case, though, often they don't know what they're getting into. I started piano lessons very young but my first teacher was my dad so it was not really the same kind of situation.

I suspect that the "end of the year recital" that is approaching may be a group concert. If so, then having an ill-behaved child as part of the group ruins it for others. I agree with the others who have indicated that this student is not ready for musical education.

If you don't want to "fire" the student outright, then I suggest having a test -- tell the student that if he can get out his violin quietly, stand and bow, and play his piece all the way through, and then bow again without getting distracted, then he can play in the performance. Otherwise, sorry, he needs to sit this one out.

May 5, 2016 at 09:00 AM · Suzuki lessons include the little rituals similar to those of the martial arts. Standing straight ("to concentrate"), bowing ("to show we are ready"), feet placement for playing etc. The teacher congratulates these elements just as eagerly as the notes themselves. The parents must do the same at home every day. Four year olds were never "designed" to "stay still"!

May 5, 2016 at 09:12 AM · Look out for THIS.

At least it would be memorable.

May 31, 2016 at 07:38 PM · I've had a few students who couldn't stand still...not many, thank goodness! A good thing to do is have them burn off some of that excess energy. 10 pushups and 10 jumping jacks usually do the job. I have one little girl who just has to wiggle. Her mother instinctively holds her gently by the waist when it gets bad, as a reminder. I encourage her to move with the music when she's performing. (She takes ballet, and looks great!) Thank goodness they usually outgrow this stage.

May 31, 2016 at 09:29 PM · I can certainly sympathize. I started begging for a violin when I was 3, but my parents were afraid that I would destroy one at that age (and rightfully so). I started private piano lessons at the age of 5, but it was traditional method in my living room, reading notation, the whole bit. I wasn't 100% ready to be reading English at that point, let alone sheet music. So I quit a year later and started Suzuki violin. I was the kid that would walk into the studio and run laps around the circular rug before my lesson. While my mother was filling out the paperwork to rent my first violin, I was going through my teachers stuff and spreading her sheet music all over the floor. The funny thing? I now teach for her, have led groups on that exact same rug, and have taught many of the same arrangements I foraged through as a little kid. So in many cases there is hope for the "problem child." I still have to face the wall or close the blinds when having a lesson and I still have to consciously work to not get distracted in studio and on stage. But, having been a high-energy student myself, I can personally relate to my own students when they are having trouble paying attention or staying on task.

What helped me the most as a really energetic kid was working to channel all of my loose energy into the music. Try to emphasize emotional expression and playing with passion. Even though that can often merely equal crunch with a four-year-old, it at least builds the habit.

Try to make it a game as much as you possibly can and reward/affirm as often as you can. Try switching positions. Play standing up, sitting, sitting cris-cross apple-sauce, and lying down with your eyes closed. Marching while playing is a great way to incorporate physical movement without it turning into calisthenics. Clap the rhythms. Build musicality by playing his songs so they, "sound like different colors." Say, "let's play it like the color red this time," or blue, purple, green, etc. It seems goofy to children, but it's fun and subtly instills the concept of expressing ideas and "painting pictures" with your music.

High energy kids (and adults!) need high energy and emotionally/intellectually stimulating lessons to match their personalities. He may seem like a negligent, non-compliant, worrisome "problem" child now, but just think how much fun his students might have some day. :)

June 1, 2016 at 01:30 AM · Reminds me of the old joke, "Mummy, mummy, why do I keep going round in circles?" (Answers on Google). Could it hold the clue to your problem?

June 1, 2016 at 07:08 AM · He may be suffering from childhood... he and his mom are not ready for violin

June 1, 2016 at 08:01 PM · 4 year old can't sit still?


Wait 10 years. You won't be able to get him off the couch. He will lay there immobile for hours on end.

June 1, 2016 at 09:56 PM · My conservatory teacher made me stand on a chair to keep me from walking around or moving too much. Worked very well!

For a 4-year-old, I don't recommend that. I like Eden's reply above about suffering from childhood. Personally, I prefer to start them at 5 or 6 so they've had a year of actual school already. That way they've learned to follow directions a little better and they understand rules and procedures. Sort of. :)

June 2, 2016 at 09:09 AM · How about throwing in some high-energy traditional dancing music to soak up his energy with - something from the Appalachian folk dance repertoire, maybe, or some Irish or English jigs. These tunes are designed to keep people playing and dancing for hours, and there are some simple pieces, and some nice arrangements, that would work very well for a beginner. Some are also there in the ABRSM grades as well, in case you need to give the parents a reason for your choice. Last time I checked, you could play one traditional dance piece per grade for at least ABRSM grades 1 to 4.

I have seen plenty of high-energy teenagers at folk festivals getting a real kick out of playing traditional dance tunes as rhythmically, quickly and loudly as possible. For myself, as a high-energy child, traditional pieces were the route into a love for playing music which has stayed with me for three decades since.

Anything that lets him focus his energy on the music rather than elsewhere is good. You could even accompany him on anything you had around to build the rhythm - a drum, stamping on the floor, or just double-stopping the G and D string (even better if you have a viola to fill out the chords with). Or if this is a group teaching session, get them all playing together, him on the melody, the others on some rhythmic accompaniment. They will learn loads about music through doing it!

June 2, 2016 at 08:30 PM · Please let us know what you try and how this all turns out.

June 5, 2016 at 07:48 PM · Staples! One through each shoe. It's best to miss the foot as the parents get antsy...

Cheers Carlo

January 22, 2017 at 11:25 AM · Reviving an old thread. What I did with my then 2 year old was that, she jumped up and down 10 times and then she played for 20 seconds, or I asked her to walk a circle, or clap hands or anything that used a lot of energy in between playing the hard parts. She is one of those who wanted to start palying young herself, but one has to loose the energy and make the practise fast pace with a lot of laughs and making funny faces, lots of appraisals for every achievement. The energy transferred to the playing of the violin and she progressed well. I literally swet at times to keep the tempo and energy of the practising high.

Just saying that teaching very young kids and those that stay young longer is a full body and brain workout for the teacher as well as for the parent who hometeaches and is not an easy thing to do. And I do think that suzuki is the only method for teaching the very young or even older ones that like to keep a fast pace in the being. Teaching the very young is hardest thing there is, but it doesnt imply that it cannot be done. If the child has a lot of energy it just is very very different,

Would love to hear how the child progressed or did he change the instrument.

January 22, 2017 at 05:49 PM · My daughter who is four plays open strings for 2 to 3 minutes at a time. She starts and stops as she pleases as if the violin (and the bow) is just another toy. She has gotten used to holding the violin on her shoulder with a decent bow hold.

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