When I tell people our kids play the violin, I get mixed reactions. Most people are positive. At least at the outside. I know for a fact that some see it as overachieving, and I’m sure there are more who would agree, but not to my face.
Violin lessons for a four year old? Come on! Why not teach him algebra when you’re on it? Let the kid enjoy a childhood without extra pressure!
I wish I could explain why their violin lessons are such a blessing, in a sentence or two. But it will be more.
First there’s our Penguin. He’s 7, and starting his 4th year of violin lessons. I started searching for violin lessons because at age two, his favorite teevee show would be the classical orchestra. He would run outside, grab a stick and pretend it was his violin bow when he was back in front of the television. He was devastated he would have to wait a veryvery long time before he could start in the conventional music classes, at age 8. And than I found out about Suzuki lessons.
The more I read about Suzuki, the more I was convinced this was going to be what he needed. It is a socalled mothertongue method, in which a parent is obliged to learn how to play the violin as well, together with the child. The book we got the first lesson, was titled ‘Raised in love’. Suzuki lessons are based on respect for your children, finding their balance and teaching them a whole lot more than Twinkletwinkle little star. Moreover, it is a natural way of teaching them the instrument, like teaching them how to speak.
It wasn’t all that romantic in practise, when he started at age 3-almost-4. Our Penguin just couldn’t cope with having to fail at something. You see, he is quite a prefectionist. And he is used to getting things right from the first time. Playing the violin was the most horrible thing he could imagine, because it was something he couldn’t master right away. He wanted to quit, but I didn’t let him. Although I must admit I must have thought about quitting a
hundred thousand times, that first year, and well into the second year as well. Motivating a four year old to practise something he doesn’t like (any more), every single day, is, well, a challenge. But we didn’t quit. And I’m proud of that.
Why? Because it was the best option we had for him to experience failure in a safe and encouraging environment. And with that, getting better in overcoming his fear of failure. The younger he learned that mistakes did not mean the end of the world, the better.
Mistakes are there to learn from.
This phrase I use now as a motto in every hurdle-of-failure we come across. When I refer to the violin, he will quickly grasp the idea and try again whatever difficult thing he wasn’t yet succeeding in. The violin taught him perseverance in the most elegant way. But that doesn’t mean he enjoys practising every day, of course not.
And then there is our Panther. She has been begging to learn how to play the violin for over a year. Her big brother is her hero, she wants to be just like him. She wants to be white, she want to have a peewee, she wants to stay up late. And she wants to know all about the violin.
Yesterday she finally had her first lesson. And for the second time, I’m extremely grateful. This is not just about being taught how to play a musical instrument. It is finding out your strengths and coping with your weaker spots, without ever calling them weak. Not to forget, playing the violin is mentally healthy as well. As our Panther has some coordination issues, using her two hands in different movements is a priceless exercise.
Since a few months, she has been coping with a more extreme restriction. She has lost a big part of her eyesight, and although it came gradually, giving her time to adjust, we feel she will have to cope with disappointments in later life. Playing ball sports, learning how to read, driving a car and watching a theatre show might all be challenging for her. By offering her violin lessons now, she will learn in a motivating environment that there are ways to be creative without having to use her eyesight. Her teacher even pointed out the benefits of impaired vision on playing the violin, as she will learn to trust on her ears and fingers in a natural way. And again, like her brother, she will learn at a young age, when she is still very susceptible to it, about the power of perseverance to overcome her personal struggles.
So, am I an overachieving mum by ‘forcing’ my children to play the violin? Because yes, they do (or will) rebel against the daily lessons. The Penguin tends to hide in his iglo when it’s practise time, and I’m sure the – now still motivated – Panther will start growling at her lessons within the year.
But I just have to look at the sparkles in their eyes after each lesson, especially after a new accomplishment, to know I’m doing the right thing. I’m raising my children to be strong and self confident. And they do get to play in the mud, climb in trees, catch frogs and make stupid mistakes. They’re as innocent and playfull as any child can be. Those ten minutes of violin each day won’t change that.
I like to compare it to dragging yourself to the gym while you would rather get absorbed by the couch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who recognizes that feeling of achievement when you actually did go for that exercise. Can you picture it right now, that feeling of self-pride and instant exhilaration?
Well, that’s what the violin offers my children every single day.