Wednesday, April 05, 2006


"Expectations are just premature resentments."

Someone shared the above quote recently on an unschooling list. I wrote to my Suzuki list that I was finally discovering the magic of a Suzuki parenting relationship free of concrete short-term expectations courtesy of Fiona. Fiona is (so far) a little easier-going and a lot more outgoing than her older siblings. But the difference I notice in being her Suzuki parent is mostly due to the fact that I'd pretty much decided that age 4-5 was the optimal time for me to start my kids as Suzuki students, and so when she decided at 2 1/2 that she wanted to get busy with lessons and daily practising, I just decided to humour her. We started working together doing all the standard pre-Twinkler stuff, but I was pretty sure that she would not make clear progress until after the honeymoon period wore off, she ditched the violin for a year or two, and then started back at it at age 4 1/2. I was not invested in the idea of daily practising or forward progress. We were totally just doing it to have fun.

I was the one who was taken aback when my mom suggested moving her officially off a box to a real violin before Christmas. And then I was surprised again when it was time to start using fingers and bow together. I was not waiting for the next step to fall into place. It did and I almost had to be shaken out of my little "isn't-this-cute-and-fun" reverie to recognize that it had. But here she is, age 3 years 2 months, playing the A section and the B section of all the Twinkle variations (not putting them together very often yet but within spitting distance).

The magic is that she is the one who is driving the endeavour. She asks to practice. She is willing to do hard repetitive work even when it's not totally fun in the moment. She owns her violin-playing. There are no autonomy issues. I always knew she would learn to play an instrument (likely violin) very well, but when she started the work she's doing, I had absolutely no expectations about how or when she would get there.

When one is both the teacher and the parent, and is the one setting forth the goals, it is doubly hard not to get over-invested in the attainment of those goals. With Fiona I've finally got a glimpse of what happens when you don't. If only I can hang onto this orientation as she progresses!


  1. Anonymous6:05 am

    Hi Miranda,

    Your entry reminds me of a quote attributed to Dr. Suzuki: "Patience is merely the absence of expectation." It's easy to do this with my students, but more difficult with my children! It's also difficult for the parents of my violin students!
    I have a violin student (12) who has made unusual progress (everything up to Gavotte in Bk 1 memorized, with good form & intonation, since the beginning of December, except for a decided fiddler-ish lilt to Minuet 2; he "swings" it a bit. Try it! He also learned 12 fiddle tunes, ranging from easy to advanced, for a fiddler's workshop.) He started violin as a three-month experiment, because his grandparents (who are footing part of the bill) didn't want to get him an electric guitar! I thought about not teaching him, but then I thought perhaps that if I were involved, I could possibly influence his family to get him the instrument he really wanted! However, he loved violin and sometimes practiced two hours or more per day. In the last two lessons, he's definitely been dragging his feet. I finally figured out that his mother, who is very caring and warm, at first had no expectations. This was to be a short-term commitment only. Son owned his lessons. He auditioned for his school talent show without telling anyone, and was accepted. Now, mom sees that son could be really good. She thinks that son could be better if he practiced her way. I figured this out when I asked him to play a scale (I teach one octave scales in all keys and positions from almost the beginning), and he said he hadn't done it. His mother expressed surprise, he said he hadn't had time; he'd been practicing for the talent show. He mimicked her in a high voice: "That doesn't sound like your talent show music!" (Apparently mom had been overseeing his practices, and discouraging him from playing the fiddle tunes, so that he could focus Minuet 2, which he already played very well at the time he auditioned for the talent show!) So now I have the job of de-investing mom in son's practice, so that he can own violin again!

    We (dh, ds14, dd12, dd8) live in a sort of parallel (but maybe more dysfunctional) homeschooling/unschoolling universe in Maine. I had "expected" that my children would naturally learn to play violin/viola, as dh & I do, so we started ds (now almost 15) at the age of 3.5. He is the only Suzuki student I know of who spent 5 years on Book 1! I could elaborate on how this happened (but won't!); now he studies fiddle with a classical/fiddle teacher who is overlooking his apparent inability to practice AT ALL, and spends hours playing his electric guitar. Dd12 was extremely interested in the violin when she was a little more than two; I did some box violin stuff with her but adopted a "wait and see" attitude toward formal study, because she kept finding & leaving our 1/32nd violin on the floor, and eventually stepped on it, breaking off the scroll. We moved from Texas to Maine when she was about three (leaving behind ds's Suzuki teacher), and I made a violin available to her, without teaching her. She would stand in playing position, squeaking open E's and staring at the immobile fingers of her left hand with great concentration. After a few weeks of this, she started to play fiddle tunes, but wasn't interested in lessons. When she was four, I acquired a five-year old student, and because they immediately fell "into friendship", I decided to teach them together. They studied Book 1 in parallel, and graduated from Twinkle & then Book I together. When the friend switched to a teacher closer to home (half a block rather than 12 miles away!), dd lost interest in lessons with me, but always had "her" violin (I have all the sizes) available. Occasionally she would ask for help, and sometimes shared a lesson with another student (now another best friend), and in this way made her way gradually to almost the end of Book III. A couple of years ago, she confided to me that her heart's desire was to play the saxophone! I told her that when she was a little bigger (she's tiny; at 12 she's 52" tall, with rather small hands) she could start. She's had four lessons and her teacher (a college student) is floored; she practices, she's getting a real "saxophone sound"; she went into the last lesson & played the first part of the Pink Panther theme, which she had figured out. So, saxophone was her instrument all along! Oddly enough, she's now started asking to study violin formally. Dd8 has had the least interference from me. Two years ago she went to Orchestra 1 for ASTA day (American String Teacher's Association) with just one of the pieces learned; last year she played for the Fiddler's Showcase at the Common Ground Fair: "I'm going to play the first quarter of 'The Britches Full of Stitches'". 12 notes! She's dabbled in Slow Twinkles (a cd with six different sub-performance speeds). This year she asked to go to ASTA day again, assuring me that she will learn all the Orchestra I tunes (stuff like "Hot Cross Buns")!. Yesterday, she said she would accept me as a violin teacher (I had refused to let her study with ds's teacher because I wanted her to have a different technical foundation), if she could take Karate lessons! So I guess I have to think about Karate now; my knee-jerk reaction is to not connect it to violin. (It seems that all children around here study some sort of martial art. I have dragged my feet in signing mine up because I'm hesitant about the competitive nature of the class; over time my children have been involved in many physical activities which can be divorced from competitive or adversarial settings: swimming, yoga, dance, wall-climbing, horseback riding, biking, hiking, c-x skiing)


    p.s. I first found your site several years ago when I was making comparisons of Suzuki violin "teaching points"; since then I have checked back regularly to find out what your most interesting family is "up to"! I finally have a laptop computer of my own, so I'm taking advantage of the "night-owl" habits of the rest of the family to do some on-line interactions of my own, while they sleep. The other computers are in bedrooms and the occupants must not be disturbed! ...and usually when a computer is free during the day, I'm not! I love your blog & links!

  2. Thanks for your wonderful comments! It is so fun to hear about other children growing up in circumstances similar to my own kids'!


  3. Just thought of something else. Just as in the Suzuki paradigm there are good expectations ("this child will play music beautifully" i.e. a belief in every child's potential) and bad expectations ("you will finish learning Gossec Gavotte before the end of the school year" or "you will keep your wrist straight all the time"), there is good and bad patience. The other Dr. Suzuki quote I've heard, this one about the "wrong" sort of patience, is "Patience is controlled frustration."


  4. Anonymous2:30 pm

    Hi Miranda,

    Somehow I misspelled my name - it's "Deborah"...Is it possible for you to change that in the original post? (I'm "deswart" on your Suzuki/unschooling list - I think.)

    p.s. For you moomin fans, when we were in Austin I had a feral cat colony, which included two young yellow cats. We left "Bob" behind on a farm, but "Thingumy" was one of four who got shipped to Maine... she's almost twelve now, and as shy as ever.


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