Grandma Diary: Violin Practice…or Not?

DSC_1184“Do you want to show me what you did with Miss Cheryl (the violin teacher) this week? I asked my grandson, who’s been taking Suzuki violin for about a year.

His violin is miniature.  He rests his chin on a kitchen sponge, cut in half. There are little stickers on the back and the front frets to remind him where to place his fingers. He knows how to prepare to play, stand, and use the bow and pluck the strings. Musically, he has a long ways to go.  But he seems to be enjoying the lessons and playing for others.

It takes a lot to divert his attention from the truck and Duplo scenarios we create on the floor. We build schools, playgrounds, parks, and libraries.  The trucks put out fires, dump concrete and collect trash.  When I ask him to play his violin he usually says yes, excited to show me what he’s learned.

Until today.

He had no interest.

Later, after his dinner, his mother asked him.

His father asked him.

Then I heard about a practice chart and stickers. And about what happens when he accumulates 100 stickers.

Still no interest in practicing.

What happens? I asked.

“He gets a new truck,” his father whispered.

Right away, I thought about how so much of parenting becomes reduced to threats and bribes. How I had begged, pleaded, cajoled and probably bribed our kids to practice piano and the variety of band and orchestra instruments they had played: Jacob: clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone. Nathan: trumpet and cello; Lydia: saxophone and oboe.

I remember my parents nagging my siblings and me to practice piano.  We were told we’d appreciate it later in life.

We do, I think, and we all still play now and then.

But forcing practicing doesn’t create a passion for music. With our kids, they began to practice when they wanted to improve.

“Just give him the truck.” I said.  “Why take the joy out of the violin by making him practice? He’s only three.”

I left, knowing I’d offered unwelcomed advice.

I just hope they give him the new truck.

So parents and grandparents: Should kids be made to practice musical instruments? Share your experiences!

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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19 Responses to Grandma Diary: Violin Practice…or Not?

  1. You’ve asked a classic question! And I don’t have the answer. I’m with you about the joy of the violin and being only three. Older kids? Hard to know. I was horrible about practicing the piano and organ. Don’t ask me why I couldn’t give it a half hour a day. I’d be temped (with older kids) to say that if they don’t practice, no more lessons. I just can’t see forcing lessons and activities. The passion should come from within the child.

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  2. I see both sides of the issue, but I allowed the kids to follow their own interests. When they wanted to quit piano, I let them. Eli took up flute and oboe for his own reasons, and Bea played clarinet. When she was ten she asked if she could take violin lessons, and of course we were delighted. I believe you are right on this issue. Not only is your grandson’s joy of violin at risk–a potential love of a lifetime–but his parents are also setting the child up for a lifetime of power struggles, digging in of heels. My mom used to say “choose your battles carefully.” We gave the kids very little to push back against, although we certainly had expectations regarding safety and courtesy. We had fun doing the things we loved, and the kids came to love the same things. If his parents were to sing and even play instruments, I bet your grandson would run for his violin to join in the fun.

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  3. Yes, if they are going to play, the must practice… however, at 3 yrs of age, there should be fun, joy. Check out Positive Parental Participation; Vivian is famous for her good advice… sought out by people all over! I like her approach. I think there are so many things pushed on our kids today, they should find some joy in what they do! If he’s just not in the mood on a given day, let him skip it. I’m not sure he should just get the truck though, either. I do think we’ve leveled out so many playing fields that there’s little real competition; many kids expect things to just be given, or come to them, and parents worry too much, I think, about not upsetting their kids. You have to know your child. Is he having a bad violin day, or has he lost interest? The people I know, who really play… practiced for years! Hated it then, are glad they did now. Tough spot for sure! We’ll see how I do, in a few years…

    An aside: time to update your “about cyclingrandma” at the end of your posts. No reference to either of your books, and I’m thinking that the grandchild came. 😉

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  4. These days it seems there’s so little time for kids to be just kids – you know what I mean?

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  5. karen r-w says:

    I didn’t enjoy playing my saxophone for many years because I sounded really bad. It wasn’t until I had been playing for a long time and finally moved up into more advanced music that I began to really enjoy playing because I was actually playing real music! I definitely needed outside motivation (i.e. parents forcing me to practice) to get over the initial couple year squeaking hurdle and make sure I practiced even when I felt tired because you only get good with consistant daily practice.

    So many kids nowadays don’t have any sense of delayed gratification (why they call this the “me” generation.) Today it’s the truck, tomorrow it’s making first chair in the philharmonics!

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  6. Patti Winker says:

    At age 3, no. I think the joy of playing ‘with’ the musical instrument should be enough. It’s too early to understand commitment. That comes at a later age. When children mature enough to understand the word ‘commitment’ then you can talk about practice and focus, etc.

    Okay, I had a different experience with this growing up. I would have loved music lessons. We had a piano in our house and I could pick out tunes by ear. My older sister, who describes herself as ‘tone deaf,’ got piano lessons… I didn’t. It was just a matter of too many kids and not enough time/resources/whatever. Poor me. Oh well. We all still tease her about singing along to her beginner piano songs… off key. {{sigh}}

    So, yeah, music lessons are a blessing to enjoy. At such a young age, I think that’s the lesson… enjoy!

    And, Grandma… kudos for speaking your mind, welcomed or not. It’s your privilege. 😀

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  7. Judy says:

    Such a tough question. I think introducing wonderful hobbies to kids is important and then be very observant as to what really appeals to them. Pushing is so apt to create resentment or dislike. Encouragement when they find an activity they love might foster their passion in the end. But it is all a gamble!!!

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  8. We started off taking tenor Sax lessons. In Maryland, they start the kids early in music. It was fun until we moved. Our school in Chattanooga did not offer saxophone so we spent money on lessons. I think he lost interest because he was not in the company of all the kids he started with. Music is passion. Roy played jazz, classical music and everything in between. I would come home and they both would be listening . He played music in the car. I slept. John listened. John loves music, he just los the passion for the sax. I think you can’t force it. Good advice. bribery never works.

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  9. Life should not be so serious at the tender age of 3. I hope he get’s his truck

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