12 years old and playing Bruch

June 26, 2020, 10:29 AM · I came across this article, which stated that every average child can play Bruch violin concerto at 12, when started at 6 years old: https://murphymusicacademy.org/theblog/playingbruchby12
Having a good teacher, support from parents and dedicated practices everybody is capable to play Bruch after 6-7 years practicing.
I'm not a teacher, just a mom with a kid that loves to play violin, but to me it sounds like not true. A talented kid who works hard: yes, that one can play Bruch by 12. But the others? I don't think so. But maybe I'm completaly wrong.
I'm very quirious about your thoughts about this.

Replies (26)

Edited: June 26, 2020, 12:11 PM · A 12 year old playing Bruch in its entirely to a high standard is a prodigy that had an excellent teacher, very dedicated to only violin, and very sound parenting. Prodigies are few and far between. I read the article and see it as only a sales pitch trying to appeal to tiger moms. Why use Perlman playing Bruch as an example and not a 12 year old? Things like this do more harm then good.
June 26, 2020, 12:34 PM · That sounds quite valid to me, though some may play it far better than others.
June 26, 2020, 12:36 PM · Timothy covered it pretty well.

The guy's not wrong, per se. There's a whole constellation of factors that go into how a kid develops on violin - teacher ability, connection with teacher, aptitude and desire of the child, consistency of parent support, and all kinds of other things.

This guy is a fairly savvy marketer, in that he recognizes that appealing to parent anxiety that they are somehow doing something wrong and that him and his pedigree are the answer will scare tiger parents into dropping their current teachers. On the other hand, it's good that he seems to have standards for his students, and having a studio with that kind of consistent standard (if it's really like that in practice) will attract the most motivated kids (or at least most motivated parents).

Listening to a clip of his own playing, he sounds like a fine player. The real proof is in knowledge of how his students play, which you probably won't have much access to. He sounds a little intense, but some kids can really respond to the kind of structure and passion - Other kids might wilt.

Bruch after 6 or 7 years of consistent and skillful teaching is not crazy. Of course, every kid will play it different, and how a kid plays at 12 is only a snapshot. Some kids fiddle around and then all the sudden decide to get serious and make huge leaps in a year or two. Some kids play great and burn out completely and end up hating the instrument.

Don't let this kind of writing be a judgment on you and your parenting or your child and their intelligence or ability. Bruch is a somewhat arbitrary standard. I wager that a not insignificant amount of prodigies have some trauma at the root of their drive, not that it's a necessary ingredient by any stretch.

June 26, 2020, 12:58 PM · Digging into the details of that post, the assertion is that the average kid who gets solid teaching, and practices consistently and well, is capable of finishing the equivalent of 8 books of Suzuki in 4 to 6 years. That sounds about right to me. That places the student at a solidly intermediate level by the time they are, say, 10 years old. Then the question is how long it takes for them to solidify the intermediate technique to really play an excellent Bruch and not merely manage to get through the notes. But certainly I would say that Bruch by freshman year of high school is absolutely realistic, and Bruch by age 12 is certainly within the realm of a kid who has dedication (and good teaching) but no special "talent".

The thing is that the typical AVERAGE kid gets mediocre teaching at best, and they almost NEVER practice consistently, and even those who do almost never practice both efficiently and well.

But if you do any serious investigation of the violin studios in your area, you will find some teachers consistently turn out high-quality students who advance rapidly and well, and others are very much hit or miss. Some of this is an effect of filtering only for dedicated students who are actually going to practice consistently, of course.

June 26, 2020, 1:47 PM · I would say that that is true, if everything goes right. But you are going to need a lot of parent support and an excellent teacher, among other things.

It doesn't end up being true most of the time, though, because most kids don't have the parent support for appropriate practicing in the early years, and a huge percentage also don't have good teaching.

There is a regular public school near my house (in a relatively low income, high immigrant urban neighborhood) that is fortunate to have an El Sistema program. In this program, the kids start around age 5/6 and get daily instruction (as a group primarily) M-F for a few hours after school. That's actually pretty robust training, but very few of the kids graduating at 13/14 years old from that school are at Bruch level, because most aren't practicing at home with trained parents.

June 26, 2020, 2:07 PM · Can we please take a moment to appreciate the pure hilarity of this business? Their motto is "there is no pleasure in mediocrity." And this article starts with "Kids are smart. Or, at least, they aren’t THAT dumb."

My goodness, I had a good laugh.

Anyways, back on topic:

It seems to be a trope on here about how long it should take an average student to reach "bruch level." As someone who actually teaches average students on a daily basis and in great numbers -- and has done so for a pretty significant amount of time -- I can tell you that very few average students could even reach the Bruch level, no matter how many years they end up playing.

Now, before you react to that, just hear me out:

Think of what someone in the middle of the bell curve actually achieves in their lifetime. Think of how supportive the "average" parent is. Think of how many distractions the "Average" student has from peers, school, and family.

You see, when most violin teachers talk about the "Average student," they've already automatically left out the bottom 80th-90th percentile of students.

IF a student practices "well."

IF a student practices "enough."

IF a student has very supportive parents.

Do any of these sound average? No, the average kid who decides to play the violin isn't going to practice enough, they're not going to practice well, and they're not going to have supportive parents (and by supportive, I don't just mean they say "great job timmy! Keep trying!")

Having those 3 factors alone already puts a kid in the top 80th-90th percentile of students.

So what this article -- and others like it -- is actually saying is that if your child is already in the top 10th-20th percentile of kids, then they can theoretically reach the Bruch level in 6 years.

And keep in mind, that doesn't even include the luck factor of happening upon a good teacher from the outset.

AND - perhaps most importantly - why are we excluding the kids who tried for a few months and then decided it was "too hard" for them? That's like 80% of beginners right there. I think we tend to say that those kids just weren't disciplined enough, but shouldn't it be considered that, for some of them, it genuinely was too hard, and they didn't want to spend years working on something that they instinctively knew they weren't capable of doing? I've definitely taught many young/old beginners who honestly just had a level of motor skills and proprioception that made it so they had to take 10x as long to do anything on the violin. It would have been cruel to tell them that if they just tried hard enough, they could eventually succeed or play at a high level. The best I could tell them was that if they worked hard enough, they could be better than the week before. That much was true.

Anyways, to conclude, my opinion is that the only article of merit is one that reads "students who practice tend to be better each week than they were the week before."

Edited: June 26, 2020, 6:23 PM · Just remember, if your child (or you, for that matter), is not the BEST at their chosen hobby and competitive at some kind of "professional" level, then the hobby must be jettisoned for fear of embarrassment when someone else's child shows a higher level of skill than yours.

Lydia wrote, "if you do any serious investigation of the violin studios in your area, you will find some teachers consistently turn out high-quality students who advance rapidly and well..."

Yes. The studios with waiting lists.

June 26, 2020, 7:28 PM · I think "average" in this case is a kid of normal IQ, normal physiology, and upper-middle-class parents who can afford an excellent teacher and provide a home environment that is conducive to regular, structured, productive practice.

The Suzuki "Every Child Can" philosphy ought to have the implicit question after it "But is it worth it?"

You'd be amazed at how much a good teacher makes a difference in speed of progression and the quality of that progression.

June 26, 2020, 8:37 PM · Lydia, I assume by "normal IQ" you mean average IQ, correct (as in, around 100 IQ)?

And I agree with what you're stipulating about what the author is considering "average," but my point is that the factors he's listing are anything but average. Upper middle class isn't average. Structured home environment isn't average. Supportive parents aren't average. Etc...

I actually used to think these things were indeed quite normal, until I dated/knew several different people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and realized that I was very much in the privileged segment of the world, and that it's much more normal to have a shaky home life, to not have enough money, and to have many factors working against you, than it is to have the advantages that I had. I just lived in a socioeconomic bubble where everyone around me had at least as many advantages as me, so I thought my situation was pretty average.

And I'm 100% convinced of the power of a good teacher. I have gotten students from other teachers that basically had zero technique, zero knowledge, and were still stuck at an early Suzuki Book 1 level after 5 years. In fact, this problem is so common that when I am receiving a student from another teacher, I naturally assume that everything is going to be wrong, and am *very* pleasantly surprised when it's not.

Meanwhile, if a student actually does what I say (especially in terms of HOW they practice!), has supportive parents that help them with practice, owns an OK violin, and doesn't have any learning disabilities or motor impairment, their progress is quite substantial and impressive.

So the moral of the article is important, even if he's overstating what "average" is.

June 26, 2020, 10:52 PM · Agree with Erik 100%.
June 27, 2020, 12:10 AM · "Average" in the article refers to average innate abilities including IQ, EQ, physical coordination, musicality, tone recognition etc. This is in contrast to environmental factors such as a good teacher and supportive parents. He argues that a child with average innate abilities can learn Bruch in 6 years given a beneficial environment. The question is how beneficial the environment needs to be. He surely believes he is a good teacher, but how much does he need from parents to make an "average" child play Bruch at 12? The article asks parents to guarantee practice time. Is that enough?
June 27, 2020, 12:40 AM · To play the Bruch at Any age is not average. About 10 % who start lessons will make it that far. 1 % will achieve professional quality.
I, for one, started lessons at 11 y.o., and was working on the Bruch at 16, but those 10ths will still trip me up.
Edited: June 27, 2020, 4:35 AM · Regardless of all the nonsense about "Bruch level", I'm a little suspicious of the Murphy Music Academy which appears to operate from two private addresses in Michigan. The faculty comprises nobody but "The Founder", Tobiah Murphy himself who seems to have difficulty signing his name and doesn't own to any teaching or playing qualifications. In his "How practicing works" blog he goes into some detail about why oil and water don't mix, and how this knowledge revolutionized how he washes dishes, which I suspect is his chief area of expertise. The following psychobabble about the subconscious mind should be enough to put any prospective client on full alert. Then you might skim "Educational Institutions should guarantee their work" which contains the following rant

"A constant theme of my writing is and will continue to be the necessity of a revolution in our higher education, particularly musical education. The current system is a malicious titan, intoxicated of ill-gotten money. He laughs in his power, oblivious to his drunken reeling. The great size with which he terrorized the populace will also be his downfall. When drunk enough, he will sway too far and crash upon the earth. Such a day should be one for rejoicing. What opportunities could grow from the soil as the great giant’s body returns to the earth? Yet, how many will be crushed by the initial impact?" etc etc

June 27, 2020, 3:14 AM · Erik, that's correct. I'm separating the notion of "talent" (inborn traits) from environment. The right environment is rare and honestly, pretty much the result of unfettered upper-middle-class privilege (or EXTREMELY determined parents).

A quick Google search shows Tobiah Murphy to have a resume on AuditionCafe: LINK

He has perfectly reasonable qualifications, including a BM from CIM, with Preucil as his teacher, and he's now getting a degree at UMich.

June 27, 2020, 4:33 AM · @Lydia - thank you, that's interesting. Murphy is taking an extreme stance against the teaching establishment, even to the extent of not declaring his own indebtedness which may be fiscal as well as musical!
June 27, 2020, 5:04 AM · Oh oh, I started a big discussion there haha. But great posts! Thank you! It was not my intention to talk about this studio. I'm just curious about the statement that an average kid can play Bruch after 6 years of practicing. Is it true or not? I know a lot of kids with the right environment, who practice every day and practice well, with great teachers who don't play Bruch at 12. But we live in Europe, and a great practice here is somewhat different than a great practice in the US or Asia. There is not a lot of pressure on kids here, so there is not a lot of pressure on practicing long hours.

A lot of you write that a great teacher makes a big differences. But how do you know if your teacher is good or not?

June 27, 2020, 10:53 AM · A great teacher produces great results, relative to the commitment of the student. Not all great teachers will produce great results at each level, which is why some teachers focused exclusively on beginners, or exclusively on students at the highest levels of artistry, etc. Teachers are particularly impressive when they can turn out great results across a variety of students.

Great teachers help students to learn to be independent -- to learn an array of practice techniques, to learn to analyze their own mistakes, etc. Great teacher do a solid job of teaching both technique and musicianship.

And great teachers are excellent communicators, though there needs to be the right match between a teacher and student in terms of learning styles.

The choice of teacher is very personal. A great teacher for you is not necessarily a great teacher for someone else. I would say that it's vital for a teacher to be able to teach solid technique, which is a foundation for everything else. I suspect that many teachers with a not-great technical set-up end up with students who have even worse set-ups.

June 27, 2020, 12:26 PM · The Suzuki "Every Child Can" philosphy ought to have the implicit question after it "But is it worth it?"

I'm not sure what's intended by that statement, but if the question is whether or not it's worth having, say, a Suzuki education that won't get you to Bruch in whatever period of time, I would respond by questioning the basis of that statement and its perspective - questioning what playing Bruch in x amount of time gets the player, and us, humanity at large.

"Listening to a clip of his own playing, he sounds like a fine player."

I like the term "fine player", and don't dispute that the teacher might rightly be considered a "fine player" by some. But honestly, I didn't really enjoy listening to him play because it didn't sound in tune to my ears. Which is not to take a potshot at him or his playing (especially when cannon balls could be fired in my direction for that), but to point out that that achievement is not really good enough to play say Bruch for the world at large. So what is that achievement, what is the level of achievement required, and is it really worth it?

Of all his students, perhaps exactly 0 will play Bruch on the world stage. At best, most would go on to find that even if they can play Bruch to some level of satisfaction, that there isn't enough of an audience willing to pay for that to make that effort "worth it".

But if millions of Suzuki kids learn enough to love music enough to listen to "fine music" of their own volition and perhaps attend concerts at times, even if they play nowhere near "Bruch level", I'd argue that it would have been worth it, and that this question is relevant, especially now, in a time when an old audience cannot be expected to keep things going.

Edited: June 27, 2020, 3:58 PM · This comes back to my frequent theme of "opportunity cost. The "worth it" is, to me, a question of return on the investment of time and effort on the part of both student and parent, compared to other possible investments.

Yes, your kid could learn to play at the Bruch level with, say, an hour or two of practice daily over many years, supported by lessons etc. But what else could they be doing with that time that would be more valuable to them?

June 27, 2020, 9:14 PM · "what else could they be doing with that time that would be more valuable to them?"

Fair enough. Of course we can't answer this in a general sense as everyone's different (which brings to question again the supposed notion of an average child), so for some (or many) spending that time would make little sense. Moreover, drilling children to get to Bruch in x years would not only be a questionable goal, but would be a questionable practice unless the child is predisposed.

That said, the love and experience of music can be a gift for life, and the opportunity cost for many for a non-onerous amount of practice time would be not playing video games or watching tv, etc.. I.e. not a real cost in view of the benefits.

"how do you know if your teacher is good or not?"

I think this was largely answered earlier by Erik. If you're improving in every lesson, you're learning, and have effective teaching. What you're not improving on, whether it's intonation or ergonomics, etc., is an indication of deficiency in the teaching or learning.

Whether or not you have a "great" teacher or are progressing in an ideal fashion are, IMO, largely unanswerable. Most people don't need a great teacher, as, without pre-judging capacity, it's just not that important for them. But of course nobody should aim for low quality of teaching or playing.

June 28, 2020, 12:15 PM · I wonder what Bruch the composer would think if he learned that his violin concerto had become the gold standard for the skill of a promising 12-year-old child.
June 28, 2020, 12:44 PM · @Mikki The blogger has a youtube video on how much practice time he recommends (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppgSjjqM7kk). He suggested that a "determined" student should spend at least 2 hours per day at the Suzuki book 4–6 level. That seems quite a lot for the great majority of kids at 8 or 9. With that amount of effort plus a good teacher, I guess it may actually be possible to make an average child play Bruch in 6–8 years. But would you push that hard if you perceive your child is only average in music abilities?
Edited: June 28, 2020, 1:53 PM · I'm heartily glad that my parents didn't cherish such a futile ambition as "Bruch level" for me at that age. Even when a child has greater than average music abilities, aren't there a hundred other career options apart from (better than?) music for a fruitful and fulfilled adulthood?
June 28, 2020, 2:11 PM · David: There are certainly parents that do. I can remember parents from my childhood Suzuki program whose kids I would have considered to have "average" talent, and were pushed to practice three or four hours a day. And there were kids with no special talent who loved to play and would practice that much. Love and talent are not necessarily highly correlated. Sufficient determination can produced accomplished students. The type of parent who meticulously plots out a path to an elite college (or a scholarship at a lesser school) for their child might very well decide that musical accomplishment has to be demonstrated and therefore ensure the discipline to ensure their child finishes at a high level of accomplishment. (The parent may have no interest in either fostering the love of music or the violin being picked up after the acceptance letter from Harvard is received.) That parent is probably calculating the relative value of violin, viola or cello on the future college application, versus, say, earning trophies in fencing.
June 28, 2020, 6:11 PM · "I wonder what Bruch the composer would think if he learned that his violin concerto had become the gold standard for the skill of a promising 12-year-old child."

Ah, that might help explain the 20th century compositions that were unplayable (or at least whether or not they were playable could not be easily determined even during performance).

Edited: June 28, 2020, 10:27 PM · For better or for worse, many parents (myself included) consider music lessons "part of my children's education." Once they got to 5th grade or so, we expected an hour a day. The real truth is that you can often expect more of a younger child because they don't have anything else to do -- no homework, too young for "serious" sports (or perhaps disinclined toward that), etc. In other families, other things are emphasized. And in the end, what we will have is a diverse population with a range of skills, interests, knowledge, and so on. The worst thing you can do to education is homogenize it. That's why statewide "standards of learning" are so corrosive, in my view.

We also encouraged our kids to play board games and card games, to learn how to play checkers and chess, to read, to play soccer, to draw and paint (mostly they learned that in school as neither I nor my wife have any aptitude for that), and of course music. Now they are home-bound because of the pandemic and they have activities to stay busy (yes, including video games), both alone and together. The older one is learning how to make bread. Fortunately I hoarded yeast and flour. We are all working on our parts for the Beethoven E Flat Trio (with me on viola) and the Haydn D Major (with me on piano). I'm the weakest link by far.

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