Sunshine’s Violin Lessons: Reflections on Why I Make My Daughter Learn to Play an Instrument

Once a week, I sit through Sunshine’s violin lessons.

I have to admit, it’s not my favourite hour of the day. I’m supposed to sit with her for her violin lessons so I can help her remember what to practice during the week. That means I need to find something to keep Lily and Jade busy for 45 minutes. Sometimes, Jade has slept through the lessons; other times she and Lily colour or play Tiggly on my tablet.

Harder than that, though, is watching Sunshine wiggle and squirm through her violin lessons. She has to go potty. She wants to sit down. Her arm is sore. I’m amazed by her teacher’s patience in directing her back at the music, coaching, prodding, teasing. Nearly every lesson I wonder if she’s too young. If we should wait a year until she can focus better (and better respect the fragile instrument she’s waving carelessly around as she stretches).

Sunshine's Violin Lessons : Reflections on Why I Make My Daughter Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

Violin lessons were actually Sunshine’s idea.

I played during my teens. While I haven’t played much since university, she has seen my violin and decided she wanted to play. She asked to learn for about a year before we heard about a secondhand 1/4 size violin for a cheap price and bought it. Then we waited another year to start her in lessons, because she was busy with Kindergarten and we didn’t know any teachers.

When she started Grade 1, we finally found a music teacher through church. We also found out her 1/4 size violin was too big, so she had to borrow a 1/10 size from her teacher. For a while, she was excited and gung-ho. Then the wiggling started. Violin lessons felt like one more thing on my to-do list: must get schoolwork, laundry, housework, meals and violin practice done.

When we moved, I had troubles finding another violin teacher. I asked several friends for referrals, made numerous phone calls, but all the teachers I tried weren’t available. I was almost glad to take a break from lessons. Then, one more new friend asked, “Is there anything you need help finding over here?” and I said, “A violin teacher,” and she said, “My friend’s kid has a teacher… I’ll find out more” and we’d found another teacher.

Sunshine playing violin before her weekly violin lessons

What keeps me going with Sunshine’s violin lessons is two things.

First, both of Sunshine’s teachers have said she is doing very well and has potential. I’m glad they see it, and I trust them. They teach a lot of students and probably see that Sunshine’s behaviour is normal even if it frustrates me. Second, my own experience of music lessons makes me want more for her.

I started piano lessons when I was ten. We’d had our piano for years, but never seriously done lessons before. Then Dad decided that if we had a piano, someone should be playing it. I actually wanted to learn, though my brothers were more reluctant. Dad said we each had to complete Grade 1 piano; after that, we could either quit, change instruments, or keep going.

When I reached Grade 1 piano, I decided I both wanted to keep going and to start violin lessons. I used my babysitting money to buy my violin and started lessons with a neighbour. While I found violin easier to learn than piano because I only needed to read the treble clef, it was also harder to learn because I couldn’t hear the subtle differences between sharps and flats.

I stopped playing when I started university, because I worried about how much time my classes and studies would take. Since then I’ve played only sporadically; a few times at church in northern Alberta and once or twice for the girls. I sometimes wish my parents had started me on lessons when I was younger or that I had kept it up through university.

Being able to play an instrument takes a lot of commitment (often on the parents’ part when students are young!). There’s also the cost of the instrument; parents and students must weight the options of buying from a violin shop or renting an instrument while a student tries it out. In all this, parents must instill a sense of enthusiasm (which can be hard, as I’ve said!).

One of our neighbours, a piano virtuoso who raised a family of extremely talented musicians (including my first violin teacher), once said that he owed much of his talent to his parents who made him practice. And so I hope to give Sunshine that gift of music… even if I have to sit through her silliness every week at her lessons and prod her every day to practice (and play that song AGAIN because once wasn’t practicing).

Do your kids take music lessons? At what age did they start?

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