Flora and the Violin: A Love/Hate Relationship

Last year, Flora asked if she could start violin lessons.

Dan and I talked, and decided first grade was too young for her. We wanted to get her settled into a new school routine, see what homework would be like and so on. If she was still interested, there was no reason she couldn’t start in second grade.

It was the right decision.

Dan was ecstatic that she was interested in violin. If there is a true musical aficionado in my house, it’s Dan, not me. He has very specific and classic tastes (not being snarky here, he really does). And he loves classic music.

I had misgivings about Flora starting an instrument, but the school the girls attend makes it very easy. Classes are during the school day, twice a week; violin rental is a breeze because you just send the teacher a check and he does the actual legwork; and most everything else comes home from the school as well.

The only obstacle — and I know you can see it coming because we’ve talked about Flora’s attention issues before — is practice.

It’s very simple: Flora needs to come home from school and practice violin for 15 minutes.

That’s it. That’s the rule. I’ve been giving her a pass on Fridays and weekends, but I’m going to change that.

She tries to negotiate with me about it. Can she eat dinner first? No. It’s 15 minutes. Can she play with Kate or Michael? No. Go practice. It’s 15 minutes. If she goes to the bathroom in the middle of it, I stop the timer. She has to play her violin for 15 minutes.

Flora and I have had several go-rounds about this topic. And ultimately here are the two issues for me:

1. It’s 15 minutes. She has to be responsible enough to do it when I tell her to do it. I can’t be up in her business about it — I’ve got dinner to get on the table and two other children to manage when we get home. I tell her to hang up her coat and go practice her violin (usually in her room). I will probably continue to give her a pass on Friday (I’m such a softie), but I’ve told her from here on out she has to practice one day on a weekend.

2. (This is the real red flag for me.) When we have had these go-rounds — and we just had one on Monday — I have said to her: You either practice, or you’re quitting violin. It makes no difference to me (although quitting would save me a semi-weekly argument, and a bit of cash). If she is going to stop playing, she has to tell her father and tell the violin teacher.

Flora is afraid to tell her father (and/or the violin teacher; I’m sure the violin teacher at the school has seen his share of students who’ve quit). She doesn’t want to disappoint him (or them).

I am uncomfortable with this. Flora is a born people pleaser, which is fine to an extent. (Oh, and I’m the exception. It’s not that Flora doesn’t want to please me, she just wants to do it in the easiest, quickest way possible, which is why she tries to negotiate with me so often.) But now her desire to please her father is conflicting with her desire to be committed to violin.

I don’t know how to help her resolve this conflict. I don’t even know that I should. She has “quit” about three times already — until she talks to Dan. Then she recommits. Then about two weeks (or two days, or 10 days, or however long it takes Flora to decide that 15 minutes is JUST TOO LONG!), Flora and I argue about practice again.

I flipping hate it.

I don’t know if anyone has suggestions or wants to give me encouragement or whatnot. This is kind of one of those posts that I just had to write because it’s a parenting issue driving me bonkers. Please, don’t suggest a chore chart or reward system. I have so many gd chore charts and reward systems started in my house. I never keep up with any of them. Flora’s not the only one with commitment issues.

And yes, Dan and I have talked about this too. I don’t know that we are on the same page here. For all I know, he is promising to buy her a pony (hyperbole alert) if she sticks with the violin. He knows my position.

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14 thoughts on “Flora and the Violin: A Love/Hate Relationship

  1. I asked to take the piano starting in 2nd grade. My dad used reverse psychology on me. They didn’t get me a piano for 2 years, so I had to practice at a neighbor’s house. And the whole time he kept saying “you’re going to quit anyway” (hence not buying me a piano. although to be fair, a piano is more of an investment than renting a violin). When they finally did, his wanted ad said “she’ll probably quit anyway”, and they bought it 3rd or 4th hand for cheap. My personality is such that I dug in my heels and said “I’LL SHOW HIM” and took my last piano lesson the day before I left for college. The stubborn. It runs deep and strong in me. My dad used that effectively. I guess you just have to figure out what makes Flora tick.

    I also didn’t have any mandatory practice time, as far as I know. I practiced because I liked to (and I practiced in front of my parents because I’LL SHOW YOU!!!!). My dad would then cheer and demand, “When will you learn ‘The Ballad of One-Balled Riley'”? because Kurtz’s Are Klassy.

    • Flora doesn’t have the stubborn; Flora has the worst traits of her parents: lack of attention, laziness, and the ability to see reverse psychology coming a mile away. ;)

      I’m just gonna keep making her do it. See below!

  2. This problem that you’re having with Flora’s lack of discipline or follow-through, or what have you, this is what all the experts are talking about when they talk about the difference that the Arts and Art Education make in the development of kids. Super-talented, super-motivated Tiger-mothered diva powerhouses – that’s not who the Arts are serving. I’ve taught my share of prodigies — those freaks would end up doing it all anyway. Violin lessons are essential for kids like Flora. Supporting her (read: insisting) that she play everyday for 15 min. rain or shine, happy or sad, is the thing that’s gonna treat the very thing that needs to be treated.

    These are the lessons that we learn with music or dance or drama or sculpture: that practice pays off, that you have to push yourself to overcome laziness or boredom, that you make the commitment with the enthusiasm of August so that it’s there as the structure that pulls you through the doldrums of February, that you have to fake it until you make it.

    I understand your conflict. It’s not uncommon for one parent to be more gung-ho about an extra-curricular. However, deciding to stick with something (like violin lessons) that you’re not so much in love with all the time in order to not disappoint someone you respect (Dad, teacher) is a perfectly valid and appropriate reason for sticking with something. As long as that something is a good thing. It builds character. I think letting her off of this hook would set a crucial precedent.

    Music lessons, whether or not they blossom into a lifetime vocation or avocation, are nothing but goodness. Study after study proves that they support critical thinking, math and literacy skills, not to mention confidence, self-expression, patience, self-discipline and probably the Seven Cardinal Virtues.

    • Okay, then, this is what I need: a way to remember to get Flora to practice (especially on the weekends). I must have told her 15 times over the weekend: “Flora, you have to go practice your violin.” She would agree. And not go practice her violin. And then I would get distracted by one of the other rug rats or the fact that dinner needed to be made.

      Flora did not practice violin. It was a real lost opportunity because Dan was home. I could’ve had her play for HIM. Gotta get on that.

  3. Hello, I am not a parent – however I did play viola and my mom made me practice. I remember I didn’t want to, and she had to set the timer to make me do it – my time was 30 minutes a day. I do remember that my mind would wander and I would sometimes just make noise or play out of habit – only so many times you can play one song in 30 minutes! I started in fifth grade, and played through college and even at church and weddings into my adulthood. I only remember the timer in grade school, prior to say 8th grade or so… but I would not have stuck with it had it not been for my mom making me practice. I am sure I had the choice to quit too, but never did. I haven’t played in years, but I miss it sometimes. I really enjoyed it after those grade school years, and still have my instrument. I also had some great experiences with the orchestra, and I was not into sports so at least I had *something.* I imagine it is SO TOUGH to make her do it, but I agree with the comments above that it is valuable to continue your insistence. I am still thankful that my mom ‘made me do it.’ So hopefully that helps you – she might be 30 before she thanks you but I think she will be grateful too.

    • Thank you for your POV! It’s valuable to me. As a beginner, Flora hardly has 15 minutes of material yet. I made her play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over for 2 minutes last night just to get her to the end of her time. I am going to make her keep doing it. I may even make her take it up again next year (in school). We’ll go from there.

    • And I’m no parent either, but maybe a trip to the symphony once a year… or some awesome movie about playing the violin??? (going blank here) would remind her of what she liked about it or how cool it would be to be able to play that well. That would probably last for a day-and-a-half, right?

      • Actually, that is a very good idea. Dan loves the symphony, so it can be another way for him to share his aspirations with you. I think it could stick for a week!

        Isn’t there a movie out there called The Red Violin or something like that? Not sure it would have the same message.

        Gotta get on that children’s book thing.

  4. Yeah the violin movies I thought of are mostly for adults or older kids. Although, I’m sure she’d love Fiddler on the Roof. However, there’s gotta be some YoYoMa and the Muppets collaborations, surely? Not too much of a stretch with a cello. I have only two other practical suggestions, one being that you set a time like MWF 5pm, TH 6pm, whatever, so you’re not even saying “go practice your violin,” you’re saying “Hey – it’s 6.” And the other would be to have Kate record her with a cell or v-cam weekly. She might like seeing herself improve. Or wearing a silly costume while playing. And Kate is clearly a director.

    • Recording her is a great idea. She likes to play for us, but so often I’m running around making dinner, etc., that I don’t really get to listen. Plus kate would have something concrete to do!

      Of course, it could end in disaster too. Either way, Funniest Home Videos! Here we come!

  5. My son Kenzie is a great musician and would have been even better if he’d practiced more. He started with guitar and was a natural, and loved his lessons. You had to remind him to practice but he always sounded musical so it was okay. In 5th grade he decided he wanted to be in band, which didn’t have guitar so he went on to drums for one year and then saxophone and he is in both jazz and regular band. He was drum major for the last two years. He will be applying for a college scholarship in a few weeks. Sure we had to bug him, and he didn’t practice as much as we would have liked, but that’s true of his father and I when we were a kid and probably true of Kenny G and his parents too. You have to focus on the long view. She may not stick with violin; I started with guitar then went to piano and it wasn’t until I went to flute that I really wanted to practice. Kenzie practices more in groups than on his own and did wonderful work in combos because he’s much more social than his dad or I.
    He’s the only one of our three that stuck with music but I’m glad all of them tried it for a few years. Music lessons improve the brain’s ability to interact between the left and right pre-frontal cortex, improve general language ability, increase visual spatial memory and neuroplasticity and is associated with message related cognitive decline in old age. You may get frustrated having to remind her, but the first time she says Christmas carols for her grandparents or does a hymn at church, it’s worth it. And in between, just remind yourself you’re saving her from Alzheimer’s.

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