So Your Child Wants to Quit Violin Lessons….

So we’ve been slacking a little bit on the blog this week.  Mary-Hall, as you all know, has been busy with her first week of being a mom of TWO sweet boys, (if you missed the big news, check it out here!) and I don’t really have an excuse.  I’ve just been lazy.  So today I’m doing something that we never really do….I’m re-posting a blog that was originally posted on my music website, www.bethanybordeaux.com.  But I really love this particular post because my mom has some great words of wisdom.  So here you go!  I hope you enjoy the read….and the bonus picture of me playing the violin as a tiny munchkin.

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I love getting to meet people on the road and talk and hear their stories and questions.  Often times I get asked how I started playing violin as a career, my stance on music education, etc.  But then sometimes I meet moms of tiny violinists and the question comes up…“If my child isn’t as excited about lessons as they used to be, do I make them keep going? Do I let them quit?”  I always share my experience as best I can to encourage them.

Then a few weeks ago, a mom sent me a message on Facebook.  I’d met them at an event a few years ago and we had talked…I’d encouraged her that violin could be a great thing for her then 6 year old daughter and she and her husband had felt that it might be exactly what the Lord had for them and their little girl.  And apparently the little girl had the same idea.  Lessons were begun with a beloved teacher and it was a great experience all around.  Well, for a while.  Then she’d been moved to write me a letter.  Her daughter is now on the verge of turning 12 and they feel at a crossroads.  To quote her letter, “She has a natural gifting so there’s not that desire to practice, which I’m sure that’s totally normal for her age. But we aren’t going to let her quit because at this point we feel like we’d be letting her out of what we know God spoke. But I don’t want it to be miserable for her!!!  My question is, did you ever go through that? How did your parents encourage you to stay the course? What could I be doing to really make the violin something she loves?”

I felt a tiny bit at a loss. I can cheer-lead for music education all day long as I’ve been both a student and a teacher.  I know the impact it’s made on my life.  But there was a key element missing here as I’ve never parented a child at ALL, let alone through the decision to persevere or call it quits with an activity.  But fortunately, I DID know someone who had been through this, not only with violin lessons, but with a myriad of extra curricular activities that I chose to be a part of as a child, adolescent and young adult.  My own mom.  So I emailed her asking if she’d be willing to sit down and write a response.  Fortunately not only was she willing, but the letter she wrote was excellent.  So excellent that it seemed a shame not to share it with you all.

Dear Fellow “Violin Mom”,
I’m Bethany’s Mom.  Bethany passed your message on to me, thinking that perhaps I could give you some feedback from the point of view of a Mom whose “been there, done that.”

Now, believe me, I’m not claiming to possess the wisdom of the ages, just a little bit that comes from experience.  Here are some things I’d consider, although you may already be aware of all these:

  1. Is your daughter actually asking to quit, or is she just at the stage where the novelty of playing violin has worn a little thin?  Maybe her playing needs a little “new life” breathed into it through attendance at a special workshop or a few lessons into a different genre of music – some bluegrass or Celtic fiddle (which is usually pretty lively, fun stuff that can expand a player’s overall ability).  If she is actually asking to quit, find out why.  Sometimes at that age, kids get teased about their activity, if it isn’t the “cool” activity of the day. Also, that is the age at which girls’ lives are really beginning to open up and they see other activities and opportunities that compete with their music.  Bethany primarily took violin and piano up until age 11, at which point her schedule began to truly burst with other interests (horseback riding, 4-H, a theater group for children that she founded, show choir, jazz ensemble, etc. etc.).  These all had merit and gave her great experiences. There were many times all the way through high school when she barely had time to practice violin, but we plugged away at lessons from week to week.  After all, a girl may play soccer for a season in her life, but music can be taken THROUGH LIFE.  If she wants to “try other things,” allow it, if you can possibly afford the time and money for it all.  Not having to choose between violin and another activity may make it easier to stick with her music, even if her progress plateaus for a while.
  2. I’m assuming she takes not just private lessons, but has the opportunity to play [music] with other kids?  If she’s not in a group class of some sort, playing violin can be an “isolating” experience, and I’d recommend a class, workshop, etc. so she can develop camaraderie with other young musicians.  Also, help her find ways to use her violin playing as a ministry – at church, at nursing homes, etc. (Bethany even “sold songs” at a church bazaar to help with the fundraiser.) Using her talent may be key to maintaining interest.
  3. It’s difficult to think of an 11-year-old going through hormonal changes, but the fact of the matter is, a girl that age is changing internally, and whether or not you can see the transformation just yet, her endocrine system is cranking up and can cause mood swings that may make her act like she’s “miserable” one minute and perfectly chipper the next.
  4. It’s difficult to know whether God was speaking about your daughter’s entire life, but she’s now had 5 or 6 years to gain a valuable musical education and all that goes with that (fine motor skills, listening skills, brain development, poise, etc.).  Just like riding a bicycle, IF she did take a break from violin, she has already benefited from the training and she could pick it up again without having lost too much – although again, sometimes we just have to plug away and maintain.
Let me share my own experience. As an 8-year old, I wanted to learn the guitar.  I was so small, and my parents unable to afford much, so they bought me a ukelele – which doesn’t sound much like a guitar.  However, I taught myself a number of chords and still desired to learn the guitar.  At age 13, I was almost tall enough to handle my aunt’s guitar, which we borrowed. But it was just a difficult age at which to start. I wanted to go out with friends, and for other reasons, I stopped lessons after only a few months.  “Life got in the way,” but in the back of my mind I still desired to learn to play the guitar, even while I learned the violin alongside my daughter (as you may know, part of the Suzuki Method is that a parent learn along with the child).  Anyway, to make a long story short, I always WISHED I had persevered with the guitar back when I was a teen, and finally, about 2 years ago – at age 60, I again took up the instrument.  I’m never going to be a “Chet Atkins,” but I sure have fun with it.  I always wonder, though, how accomplished I could be now IF I had plugged away when I began at 13.  But those chords I learned on the ukelele and during my 3 months of guitar lessons stayed with me and gave a little jumpstart.

I sure hope your daughter will hang in there – not necessarily to become a professional (that was not our goal with Bethany – just that music would be beneficial to her overall development) – but to have a skill she can enjoy throughout her whole life – and use to the Glory of God on many occasions.

Best wishes to you both!
Barbara Daniel

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About bethanybordeaux

I fiddle around a bit.

2 responses to “So Your Child Wants to Quit Violin Lessons….”

  1. Jeff says :

    Wait, you were in Jazz Band??

    • bethanybordeaux says :

      Haha. Yes, in highschool. But not for violin. Stéphane Grappelli I am not. I muddled through on the keyboard and sang vocals for two years and managed to score my phys. ed. credit sitting behind a piano. Nice.

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