Helping My Children Enjoy Music

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My husband is a musician. He plays various instruments and does some singing and composition as well. But he talks of a tragic moment in the past when he lost his passion for piano. He had enjoyed a feverish excitement with each new piece he played…until he began to discover other genres. His teacher was not open to having him play music in those other genres. When it came time to choose a recital piece, she insisted he play a piece he did not want to play. As he finished his piece at the recital, the audience laughed. In that moment, he thought, “That’s it for me. I’m done.

Some children continue to develop their musical talents and grow their passion for music. Others have experiences where they lose interest. Still others fall somewhere in between…maybe they are exposed to music but do not choose to pursue it. I began to ask myself a few questions, “What’s the difference from one child to the next? What do parents do differently? How can I help my children to grow their talent and their passion?” I don’t have all the answers, but I came across a few ideas to encourage my children to practice more regularly and willingly. And that seems to be the first step to developing a passion. After reading several articles and learning various strategies, I compile here a few favorites. I hope this helps you, too.

  1. Try, try, try: Praise effort, not intelligence. We just need to make sure we are using every opportunity to praise. And we need not wait until a piece is mastered, but give plenty of praise for each small attempt. Instead of saying, “OK, now let’s do this,” we need to say, “Good job. That was great the way you kept your eyes on the music. Next, let’s try…”
  2. Mistake = Opportunity: How many people see failure as a path forward? As musicians, we must. Our children need to understand that their mistakes are the wonderful fuel for improving and learning. They are not setbacks and they are not something to be embarrassed about. When children make mistakes, they need to challenge themselves, “How can I sing this better?” Just think – if they learn this concept with music, they will be able to apply it in other areas, like academics and sports.
  3. Effective Practice: Practice makes perfect, right? Not if the child is just playing his pieces through twice and moving on. Effective practice has two criteria: first, the musician slows the piece down, even to an unrecognizable tempo, to promote a deep practice where the musician is able to fix errors as he goes. This is a method taught at Meadowmount, a classical music school attended by Yo-Yo Ma and others. Second, he needs to focus on something specific, a few lines in the song, for instance. Some parents help the child set goals for each practice session until the piece is learned. Others sit with the child as she practices and call her attention to a section to work on. The goal is to reach a point when the child is able to find his own mistakes and identify on his own the sections that need work, understanding that what he puts in is what he gets out.
  4. Fun: Practice needs to be fun and rewarding. That means families need to be creative and find positive ways to practice. I read about teens that placed their music pieces on their left and moved them to the right as they finished them so they could easily see their progress (and the light at the end of the tunnel). I learned about parents who took the time to create a game board on which the kids moved a piece along to see their progress toward a predetermined reward. Another parent gave their children magic beans that counted for $1 each. They could save up five and choose one type of reward, or save up 20 and earn a trip to the symphony.
  5. Go and see: Finally, mimicry is an important step in learning and igniting passion. When Jackie Evancho saw “Phantom of the Opera,” at age seven, she decided she wanted to sing ‘like that.’ Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, found one study that showed a child learned 400% faster when he saw himself as an adult musician. One of my sons decided he wanted to learn to play the cello when he saw Cello Wars on You Tube. We just need to help them find opportunities that enable them to see possibilities and bring their potential to life. I remember vividly a point in my childhood when I would have put forth any amount of effort to become like Nadia Comaneci.

We, as parents, can help motivate our budding musicians, but what do we do when the child poses that nagging request because he would rather ride his bike or play his favorite video game than practice music? Recently, one of my sons voiced his desire to quit the choir. First I told him to make a list of pros and cons, and let me know what he decided. He just said, “Oh, never mind.” Then I suggested we Google “Should I quit the choir?” We did so and came across a blog by Matt Hanson titled, “Why I Can’t (Won’t) Quit the Choir.” When my son read it, he agreed with Matt:

First, he loves the feeling of being on stage with fellow choir members before hundreds of spectators, performing the numbers they each and all diligently practiced for four months; and he enjoys the time they spend together as ‘family’ backstage before the performance.

Second, he feels that he is part of something historic and unforgettable. (My son added that he feels he is part of something important, larger than self).

Third, Matt admires his choir director, who is part of a group of people out there who care enough to take the time to share their knowledge and their passion with others.

Finally, Matt mentions the doors of opportunity that are open to him, such as the trip to Italy his choir was planning.

So, good luck to all of you child musicians out there and the parents trying to help you find the motivation to move forward on your road to success. May you find the passion in the music you perform, the inspiration from those you see in the world around you and the love of music in your very own beautiful heart.

– M. Cantwell

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