Is my child doing well in music lessons?
How to determine if your child is progressing and when to talk to your teacher.
There's probably nothing more puzzling than seeing your child struggle, but when you go to the teacher and ask "How is my child doing?" and all you get is a "They're doing fine!"
Especially if you think your child is not doing fine! Can't the teacher see they're just not doing well!?
Well, speaking as a teacher, it might be that we're honestly not sure what you're talking about.
I once had a mom who pulled her child out for a few lessons and tried another teacher before bringing her back to me.
She was sure her child wasn't doing well. I said she was fine. So she went to another teacher. The other teacher said she was doing fine. So she came back to me.
But I could tell from the way that the mom spoke that something was still bothering her about her child's progress.
The student had started when she was three years old. Yet she had the best posture I had ever seen! Her bow hold was picture perfect, as was her violin hand. Her bow arm was straight, her wrist moved nimbly. She did everything I asked. She grasped technique just fine. She was memorizing her pieces and learning new technique in stride.
So WHY was the mother worried?
Turns out, the child was a bit of a perfectionist. Because the child was a perfectionist, she would hesitate and take her time. It was difficult for her to play in group settings because she couldn't control the pace of the song or would get distracted by the sound of others playing around her.
As a teacher, I knew the student's ability to play in a group setting would get better with practice and familiarity. The child's ability to take her time before starting was a breath of fresh air -- most students just want to play the violin and couldn't care less what they're posture looks like! So, I didn't worry about it.
But, for the parent, it was a bit alarming! Why was her child slower than others? Why did she take her time? Why couldn't she play in a group setting as well as everyone else? Were violin lessons not right for her?
If you're wondering whether your child is doing well in music lessons, you will want to check a few things before bringing it up with your teacher.
1. Are they practicing regularly? When I see a student not progressing, stalling or not doing well, this is the first thing I ask them. 99 times out of 100, it turns out the child simply isn't practicing.
If a child doesn't practice, there will be no progress. If there is no progress, the child will get bored and will stall.
If, however, a child is practicing regularly, they will see progress. If they see progress, they will be encouraged to keep going.
2. Are they practicing enough?
Sometimes I ask the child if they've practiced and they say they are.
Some will say very proudly, "Oh, three times a week for fifteen minutes each!"
Now, it could be this is all the child is able to do during the week. However, if you think your child is not doing well, then they need to up the amount of time they practice. Most teachers ask for daily practice. Fifteen or twenty minutes isn't generally enough. Up the amount of practice each week if you think the student is progressing too slowly.
3. Are they practicing well?
Say they are practicing daily for half an hour every day, but they still aren't doing well. It could be that they're at-home practice isn't being done well.
Are they practicing well or just rushing through the assignments? Are they doing the assignments correctly?
As a parent, it might be a tad confusing to know whether the child is practicing well. This is where being present at the lessons, taking notes and even taking video of the student's assignments is super helpful.
Be present at the child's lessons and at-home practice as much as you can, especially if they're little. Sending the child into another room and thinking they'll figure everything out on their own is probably the reason they're struggling. They often can't see or hear if they're doing anything wrong and it takes someone outside looking in to help them out.
4. Have them listen to the pieces they're learning.
This is super important in the Suzuki Method. Even if your child is not doing the Suzuki Method, this is still a very helpful and EASY strategy!
Listening is great for the parent too, because you might pick up on something the student is doing incorrectly and can correct during practice time.
If you are already doing all the above, and still think something is wrong, it might not have anything to do with the instrument itself.
Believe it or not, poor progress, stalling, or even regressing can be a sign of either a learning disability or emotional well-being.
For instance: One parent found out her child had a neurological disorder after I realized that she was having difficulty seeing tapes I had placed on her violin. Because she went to have her eyes checked, the doctor noticed something else going on.
If the child has a learning disability, it might take adjustments on the parent, child and teacher on how to best move forward. What works for most children might not work for the child with a learning disability, which is why progress seems to be stalled.
Another reason I see students struggle and regress has to do with the child's emotional well-being.
If something stressful is going on at home--even something as "simple" as the parents having an unusually hectic work schedule and aren't home--it can throw a child off balance and progress might be stalled.
Check in with your child's emotional well-being and make sure practice time isn't becoming extremely tense.
Even then, if a difficult home life (or work schedule) is not something that can be fixed, it doesn't mean the child isn't going to do well in violin. Their progress, however, will generally be very slow, so be patient!
Lastly, your child might honestly be doing just fine!
Sometimes parents get worried because they see other students who seem to be doing oh-so-much-better!
It's very easy to compare students, especially if you see your child seemingly lag behind others. That doesn't necessarily mean your child isn't doing well. It just means they're going at a different pace.
Music lessons are not the same as going through school. There's no set rule of guideline for what a child should be doing at a particular age.
Some pick up musicality easier than others, some pick up theory better than others, and some pick up technique better than others. Some students do well in all three at the same time, and others are great in theory and musicality, but lack something in technique.
Work with your child's strengths.
And, even if you still think your child isn't doing well, always feel free to bring it to the teacher's attention.
But be as descriptive as possible. Can you pinpoint what is troubling you over your child's progress? The more descriptive you are, the easier it is for your teacher to understand how to help you and your child.
Otherwise, you might get my reaction from the beginning of the blog post: Your child is doing just fine!