Friday, January 21, 2011

Kids & Music

A few weeks ago, I was happy to discover a podcast featuring an interview with a woman I greatly admire and her two daughters. She shared insights from her childhood, and from her life as a wife and a mother. Her daughters also shared insights about what it was like growing up in their home. In the interview, she mentioned growing up on a farm with an abundance of chores to do, and learning the value of hard work. When she began having children of her own, she felt strongly that her children needed to learn to work, but raising them in a small home in the suburbs, she couldn't find as many chances to help them work as she'd had on the farm. So she decided that her children would learn to work through music, piano lessons specifically. And they each took lessons. And the expectation in their home was that they would practice 3 hours a day (!) As you might imagine, they all became accomplished pianists - each teaching lessons by the time they were fourteen.

I've been thinking about kids and music a lot since listening to that interview. Music is something I really value, something I want my children to be familiar with, and hopefully love. I want this for several reasons - not the least of which is that I fantasize about family hootenannies on the front porch on Summer evenings - and we need to raise up some pickers and strummers to make my dream a reality :) Really though, I think it breeds discipline, creativity and satisfaction, and allows children a wholesome way to express themselves. I realize that their success with music will probably be directly related to my diligence in helping them practice, and setting an expectation of effort and dedication. I've been thinking about all the complexities of how to do this...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the following:

* Were you raised in a musical home? Did you take lessons? What kind? What age did you start? Was there a culture of expectation in your home about music?
* Was there a daily battle between you and your parents (your mother) over practicing? How were you incentivized to practice?
* How do you wish your parents would have handled music lessons when you were younger?
* Do you/will you make your children take some kind of music lesson? Will you let them choose the instrument or insist that they start on the piano?
* At what age do you think children are ready for music lessons?
* Is it worth the strain on the relationship and the daily battle to help your children become excellent (or at least proficient) at a musical instrument?

That's a hefty list of questions! Weigh in on anything that strikes your fancy...


Vicky said...

I learnt piano as a child and although I never became the new Mozart, I have fond memories of learning to play and want to share that with my kids. I just need to find space for a piano in my house somewhere.

sarahandmatt said...

I have 10 siblings. My Mom insisted that we all learn the piano. Other instruments were optional if we wanted to join the band, etc, but piano was required until about highschool (most continued through highschool). I think we started in 2nd grade. 2 of us have taught lessons, but all of us (at varying levels of proficiency) can play for church. I love your dream of singing on the front porch with your kids, but what really makes me determined to make my kids learn the piano is the ever-shrinking number of people who can accompany at church. Somebody's gotta do it!

Joan said...

Music was a part of my home but in the form of "Carmen" and "Les Miserables" or "Paul Simon" :)
I played the piano for two months or something lame b/c my Mom didn't push it.
My husband on the other hand played for 12 years! TWELVE years and didn't enjoy a single day of it. He wishes he had the option of playing guitar b/c he was never passionate about the piano. With that being said, I am thrilled his mother persisted (forced) that he play b/c now he reads music and plays and can help our children through music lessons (b/c I surely can't).
Encouraging your children to play an instrument and providing lessons for them is a great thing. I think some children will play willingly and others will be stubborn and difficult.
I have yet to decide if I will start my children with the piano or another instrument. Although I'm sure I will encourage musical training in some form...just not sure how/what yet.

Melanie said...

This is a subject I feel very passionate about. I started taking piano lessons at age four, and although I didn't get a degree in music, I started teaching piano from home when my first child was born. My parents gave each child an opportunity to learn, but they never pushed us to practice, so I was the only one that stuck with it, simply because I loved music. My perspective has changed since teaching. I realize just how different all of my students are, and how they each have different struggles while they learn. Here are some of the main things I've learned, however:
- Don't push your child too hard, or they'll resent it. Incentives work great, however. As a teacher, I give my students points for how much they practice, and then they can "buy" prizes from me with their points. If the teacher doesn't offer this, however, parents could do something similar. It's also important to realize that almost all music students will face a period where they'll need more positive reinforcement from parents or others, or they won't get over the hump.
- Don't start your child too young. I wouldn't recommend starting at 4, like I did, because it was hard to learn to read music before I could even read. I stuck with it, but most children would just get frustrated. Instead, while your children are young, listen to LOTS of music. Teach them to feel rhythm (children who don't learn rhythm young have a MUCH harder time learning later), dance, sing, and just LOVE it.
- I will teach each of my children piano to begin with. I think it's a great instrument for learning to read music. Once they learn to read music, however, I'll let them determine what instruments they want to learn from there. Piano isn't for every child, but I think that music is.
- Finally, I just wanted to mention that practice became MUCH easier once I felt that I was needed as a pianist. I lived in a ward that had one pianist, and when he couldn't come, I had to fill in and play in Sacrament Meeting at age twelve. I also filled in for Primary starting at age nine. I LOVED it! While it isn't reasonable to let every child learning to play accompany in church, find someplace that they can play for others where they'll feel needed (service at a nursing home?), because then it'll get beyond just practicing to really feeling like a pianist/musician.

Okay, that's really long. Sorry

Abbie said...

Bah! We've been talking about this at this very moment in time. We just got a keyboard and want to start lessons soon (for me and Eli).

I'm like Joan, I took lesson for two months and something happened and I quit. No pushing from my parents. I wish they would have pushed, even just a little bit. I wish I would have been required to take it for a year or something (I like the until high school idea. I think I would have gone longer because I really liked it. The reason I want to start lessons again as an adult.

My husband started playing on his own when he was 3 and had lessons starting at about 3nd/3rd grade and for about 5 years and then moved on to other instruments. He wasn't forced and he liked it. It's been awesome for him.

So yeah...hoping my babes will take after their daddy and that our family will be the piano playing type.

Melanie, great tips!

Karen said...

My children will learn the piano, and any other instrument they want (within reason). I started around 6/7 and took lessons for about 6-7 years. I'm sure there were battles over practicing, but I'm glad my parents made me do it. I think we practiced for an hour a day (maybe half an hour). I love knowing how to play. I think it has been good for me.

heath said...

Like Melanie, I have a lot of thoughts about this. I started violin at the age of 5 (begged to play starting at the age of 3) and piano at the age of 6. Everyone in the family played piano for at least some time, and ahalf my siblings (out of 8) picked up another instrument as well.

Piano was never my passion, though I've never regretted learning it. I will have all my children learn the piano because it is so good for the brain (using both hands at once while reading two different lines of music, with each hand moving at a different rhythm--you just can't match that kind of brain training).

Violin, on the other hand, I loved. I hardly needed promptings to practice because I loved it so much. However, true to human nature, when my mom really gave me a hard time about practicing more, I would immediately resent it and not want to practice (though my passion often won out and I practiced anyway). Luckily, I stuck with it and received both my Bachelor and Master degrees in music performance.

Music definitely teaches work ethic and taking pride in doing things with excellence. Personally, I never offer incentives or rewards to my students outside of satisfaction with what they've produced. As a result, I may not be a good match for non self-motivated students (though I've had more than one unmotivated students become very self-motivated through a year or two of my coaching). I guess I just feel that there are so few things that people take personal pride in anymore; I hate to cater to an entitled generation.

However, I totally realize that there are personalities that benefit from rewards. One of the most talented violinists I know was rewarded with video game time if he practiced. I guess incentives worked for him.

One of the saddest things I've seen is my totally gifted niece go from being a very good and passionate pianist to practically giving it up. She would practice for hours if you let her, but through the demands of her father (wanting her to only practice what he wanted her to practice, getting mad at her when she made mistakes) she lost her drive.

One final thought--each child is so different. Some will have the passion like I did. For some it will be a chore. For some, the less you interfere with their practicing, the better they'll do. For others, they will need you by their side, giving them direction on what to do next. And some will just need lots of praise. I teach a family of 5 girls, and I've learned that even within a family where everyone was raised "the same" they all need these different approaches.

Katie R said...

* I remember listening to the Messiah and Amahl and the night visitors- they are now still a part of my Christmas traditions. Musicals like white Christmas and peter pan were frequent too.
I took piano and was in a children's chorale and church choir 3rd-12th grade.
I don't know about "expectation" but it was Very present and a part of our lifestyle (concerts/ radio/ tapes/cds/records)
* I despised practicing, I don't really think we had an incentive, it was an expected responsibility along with other chores.
* I am not sure I would have been easy to motivate at all... I was a VERY stubborn child.
* My children will probably start AN instrument. What good skills and knowledge I have from that exposure. at least choir or something...
I was involved in choir VERY young think that exposure taught discipline and skill.
* Yes. I think at least a few years of dedicated practice should be put toward something non athletic. I HATED it then and it has in no way skewed me as an adult (I think) :)

Rae. said...

Great topic, and something that my hubby and I have recently discussed ourselves!

I am a piano teacher myself. I have about 15 students, ranging from early beginners to late advanced. I did not come from a musical family at all, but my mom got my sister and I started in lessons when I was a kid, and I continued through until I was about 17. I had some excellent (and demanding) teachers, and there were plenty of times I wanted to quit. My Mom would have allowed me to quit if I pushed hard enough, but she usually prodded me enough to get through lull periods.

Bottom line: you never hear anyone who knows how to play an instrument proficiently say they wish they never had. But you DO hear endless gaggles of all of us adults, looking back, saying: wow, I wish I wouldn't have quit those lessons!

I think music is an essential and necessary part of any child's development. Any instrument, any skill in any form is beneficial and healthy and should be encouraged!

That is the advice I give any parent of my student(s) who are going through a bit of a dull period and need some prodding (as a teacher, I'm always modifying and changing things up to keep it exciting, but the reality is practicing can be boring sometimes: period.). As a parent, you don't want to be some hard-line dictator. You're always balancing the fine line of assessing your child's stress levels while also not wanting to teach them to ever be "quitters". I simply tell the parents that if a child has started, you should agree to a certain standard of proficiency before allowing them to call it quits (which I show them the level I think a student must get to in order to have really solidified a permanent basic knowledge of the piano).
If they stop prematurely, you've basically wasted all of your money because they will regress and forget 95% of the skill they have acquired.
It is an incentive to the student as well, because they understand that they have autonomy of choice after reaching such and such level: at that point they can call it quits or stick around for even more. I have a few students working hard so they can quit, and some students working hard because they love it: but either way all of my students end up playing well and will walk away with the knowledge. I've done my job! haha!

Also, as a sidenote, it is an excellent source of income. How many stay-at-home moms can earn $37 per hour for their time? I can! I remind my sisters of that when they bemoan and wail my mom forcing them to practice. It's just another feather in their cap they can utilize if needs arise. Being able to teach is what helps me stay home with my kids!


Michemily said...

I have had a lot of discussions about this very subject lately. On the one hand, you want your kids to have the value of a musical education, but that pretty much means at least 10 years of fighting about practicing. Do you really want that contention in your house?

But then I look back and see that I hated piano until I had played for about seven years. Now I'm glad my mom stuck with forcing me to practice, though I can't say I'm amazing. She at least wanted us to be able to play in church, and my two brothers never really made it. One of them would like to be able to play better, and the other can't read a single note anymore and is happy that way.

My sister's in-laws had nine kids and they were really forced to practice a lot. Some of them are amazing, some are okay. Some of them like being able to play and some of them completely hold it against their parents and will never make their kids take music lessons. I think it's one of those things that you have to kind of figure out with each kid. Yes, it's important for them to learn discipline, but it's also important for you to have a good relationship with them.

Ria said...

I took lessons but convinced my mother to let me quit at age 16. I wish she'd made me stick with it. she never made me practice so I should have been much better than I was. I wish she'd made me practice. The best teacher I had was becoming TA/accompanist for 4th grade music. I was forced to learn things I wouldn't have otherwise.

All three of my kids took piano. Their teacher's philosophy was that if they loved music they would practice so there was no forcing. both my girls became accomplished. My son however, though gifted in many ways, became resentful and went to lesson after lesson without progressing. He played notes, but not music. Since our goal had been for the kids to be able to play the piano for church, my husband hit on the goal of learning 40 hymns. Once he learned 40 hymns he could quit. (My part of the deal was that he had to replace lessons with a job as well). 40 hymns worked for me because if he could play that many, he could play most any of the hymns anyway. He quit as soon as he could. He had also been "forced" to sing in the church choir with the rest of our family. As soon as I let him give that up too, our relationship improved vastly. I lost a musician but also lost a sullen teenage boy and gained a far more cheerful one.

I learned that not every child is best suited for music lessons. He learned that sometimes you gotta work through unpleasant things but it all works for the best.

If I had it to do over, I still would put him in piano lessons and fight through 40 hymns because I think he learned much more than the hymns. But I would also be willing to let it go when it is obvious that this is not his area of interest. After quitting piano he picked up my guitar and started teaching himself. I offered him lessons but he wasn't interested in that. He was happy to play around with it on his own. Now he is a missionary and I'm told that he sings almost everyday and has played the piano whenever needed. Yup, 40 hymns was worth it.

Natalie said...

My mom insisted that all my sisters and I (5 girls) take piano lessons from the time we were young.
I hated it!! She tried to get me to practice everyday but left is mostly up to me so I made slow progress. Considering I had lessons for over 8 years, I don't play well. I am not a performer and accompanying people, even if I have the song memorized, is always a failure.
On the other hand it taught me how to read music. I use this skill ALL the time. It surprises me how many people don't know what they are looking at when they open the hymn books in church. With this skill I have learned new instruments and sing in choirs.
3 of my sisters play well enough to accompany in church or primary, we all sing, and another sister plays the violin.
It all paid off in the end even though I can't play well enough to accompany. It taught me an important skill even though I am not accomplished.

sarah / book bound bindery said...

i heart music. especially live music. and most especially when i can play it myself.

may i recommend this great book

here's to happy piano-ing!


Ricki said...

My mom was a piano teacher and all five of us kids took piano lessons from ages 6-18, but not from her. She thought it would be better for us to take from someone outside of the home, I think she was right. Our teacher scared us into working hard! We wouldn't have been so intimidated by mom.

We were required to practice for as long as our lesson times, so 30 minutes a day until we were older, then it was an hour a day. If you missed a day you had to make it up the next day, so you usually just did it every day -Saturday was optional and Sunday was a day off.

Since we all played we kind of helped each other out and suggested musical choices when learning new pieces, Chopin being a family favorite. I loved that we always had music playing in our house.

Something I wish we'd had was more training in "casual" music. I would have loved to learn to play chords charts and jazz styles to sing along to popular music. Or maybe another instrument more suited to that type of music, like guitar. I would like to do that with my kids, train in the classical style as well as more improvisational styles.

Primary Female Caregiver said...

I started lessons when I was 5 and did not have the option of quitting until I was 16. Though I resented it at times, it has been an enormous blessing in my life - I went on to major in vocal music and now teach private lessons. My younger siblings were allowed to quit much earlier, and every one of them regrets it now. Each of my own children started when they were five as well. I feel like that is the perfect age. Children learn languages best when young, and reading music is like reading a simple language. Music is an ever-present part of life here, and so practicing the piano is more like an extension of us as a family than another chore. And my kids perform frequently - in recitals, at church, etc., which is a fantastic motivation for practicing. When they get older, they will surely beg to quit as I did. I don't plan on allowing that for a while. :) When my children have a good grasp on the piano (can sight-read and play primary or simplified hymns), they are allowed to explore other instruments in exchange or just as well. My 8-year-old just began the violin, and her musical ear and music reading ability learned from years on the piano have helped her to pick it up very quickly. I don't expect my kids to all become concert pianists, and they don't need to play the piano forever, but I do expect them all to make music a part of their lives. I have mostly used my own piano skills to facilitate my vocal career and earn a little extra money. But whatever instrument they choose (including voice), there is absolutely no better preparation than the piano. And, as stated by others, it is a fantastic way to teach discipline and exactness.

Kristyn said...

The timing of this is too funny! I listened to an NPR story not too long ago about music and parenting, and cannot get it off my mind!

Here's the link:

I don't agree wholeheartedly with what she says, (she's extremely harsh) but I have not stopped thinking about it and what I could do differently since hearing it. Listen to it, and I guarantee you'll have this in the back of your head the next time you're dealing with your kids as well!

Kristyn said...

Okay I'm back again. I just listened to the above link, and it was extremely insightful and I think still deals with this same subject. It's a must-hear.

Katie said...

I can't figure this out (I've listened to half the interview so far)--Did they each practice three hours every day? Or was it one hour for each child? How do you fit in nine hours of piano practice on a school day?

Kristyn said...

Katie, I don't know how they fit that much practice in, let alone anything else! It boggles my mind. I am wondering if they book offers more insight? She did mention once that there was little to no free time in her daughter's lives. And I think any kid's life with no free time is not a good idea. I liked some of the things she said, but would not implement all her tactics in my life. But her overarching expect more, and help to do it, not cater to laziness approach has really struck me as something very worthwhile.

Katie said...

I know that I am grateful to play the piano and to have had lots of free time. Also I think kids can learn to work hard on their own projects when they are given time to do them. The creativity of my children astounds me! I learned a lot of life skills because my mom let me follow my interests of sewing and cooking as well as reading and playing the piano. Here's to time for exploring your own interests! (But my three daughters take piano lessons and so will my sons!)

Kimberly said...

My kids are definitely playing piano starting from when they are six and at least until they are 12. At that point they can do something else with the same level of dedication (except sports) or continue with piano.

My husband and I had a huge disagreement/discussion about music lessons. I feel they are vital to teaching children to work hard and take pride in their accomplishments without external rewards, and he feels it's 'too hard-too much to expect from a kid'. I disagree...but we were raised different. My parents had MUCH higher expectations for me than his did. They were happy if he was scraping by with C's and a passing interest in debate. Mine were happy if I had A's and was doing piano and viola.

Ah well, I'm the one who will take responsibility for their practicing. And I am fully aware there will be opposition. I hated piano, and was so glad when I finally got to quit, but it was a great prep for viola, and now as an adult I wish I had stuck with it and learned it better.

Trina said...

Both of my oldest daughters (15 and 12) have had piano lessons, mostly from me, and mostly very sporadically, but it's been enough that my 15yo can play for church with practice, and my 12yo will be there soon. (The rest will learn piano, too. Hopefully I'll morph into a more diligent teacher.)

I really think piano lays such a priceless musical foundation. Both of my girls have been able to pick up a second instrument, and both are now working on a third. Besides, a piano can't be left on the bedroom floor and stepped on, so it seems like a great instrument for kids based on that alone!

I think, though that the real benefit to musical training is being musical as a family. As I type, my girls are working on a violin/cello duet that they began on their own. They sing together often, and have started harmonizing with each other. At an age where they have a LOT of complaints about one another, music is keeping them close, at least when they're playing/singing.

Of course the rest of us get in on the playing and singing when we can, and it might be one of my favorite parts of motherhood so far.