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forcing ones children to play an instrument

Not a good idea, according to Niniane Wang, an engineering manager at Google. In general, I don't have a problem with this; parents shouldn't force their children to do something they have no real interest in. However ...

It is difficult, especially with a young child, to determine whether or not struggling with an instrument is an indication of non-interest, or just a lack of experience, and/or expectations being set too high by the parents. Not everyone is going to be a four-year-old Mozart. OTOH, starting early in lots of things (not just music) is helpful in developing expertise. (This said by a person whose parents wouldn't have had to force him to play – they couldn't keep me off the piano if I'd had one and the opportunity to take private lessons.) It's a lot harder to develop expertise when you are an adult, simply because in most cases, you don't have the time to sit down every day and practice in depth, covering a number of areas – technique, sight-reading, improv, memorization, etc. When you're a child, you've got more time to practice, especially if your parents have set aside that time for you.



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2008 07:34 am (UTC)
Our gradeschool did the music lessons thing staring in, IIRC, fourth grade. There were two instruments that interested me, (electric) guitar and drums. Dad decided that I would learn coronet.

I came from a house where music was rarely played. If Dad played anything, it was most likely "background music". The teacher didn't explain anything about notes, halfnotes, tempo or such like in any sort of a way that I could understand.

I flailed on the coronet for about two weeks then gave up.

I really wish that my folks had invested in something that I had had interest in playing, learning about music when I was 10, rather than finally starting to learn some basics through dancing at 40, would have done me a lot of good.

I did try to teach myself guitar several times over the years, but never with any success. At one point I realized that if I gave up everything else I enjoyed doing, and focused on learning guitar for several years, I might aspire to mediocrity.
Mar. 11th, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
Do you mean cornet?

I had a few weeks of guitar lessons, but for some reason they were discontinued. Afterwards, I played as much as I could remember, or teach myself, but gradually stopped playing. (I may have become more interested in playing a two-octave organ my parents bought one Christmas; I seem to recall spending a lot of time on it, until seventh grade when I played saxophone in my jr high band. That's a story in and of itself, because not only had I not taken any lessons, I didn't know in advance what instrument to choose.)

This reminds me of another encounter with Mike P. He, his sister, and his mother came to visit my family one day back in the 1970s. (They had moved back to NYC for a while; being a military family, they moved constantly.) He wanted to play my guitar, but I hadn't used it in quite some time, so he had to tune it.

If I have time, I'll write about how I tried to explain to my Albi, France host how to tune a guitar in French, among other things.
Mar. 11th, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, a trumpet, not a crown.
Mar. 11th, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
Two things:

1) I don't think it's just time to practice that makes it easier to learn to play an instrument as a child. I think there really are neural pathways still being formed up to some age.

2) As for forcing a child, I think it depends on the age of the child. I think it's perfectly reasonably to force a younger child to take lessons, but an older one who wants to quit should be allowed to.

Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of teachers don't really know how to teach children who are not naturally musical and end up frustrating them. If my sole experience of music lessons had been my first piano teacher, I'd argue against lessons for children. My second teacher was somewhat better, though his idea of popular music was stuff that had been popular before I was born (i.e. we played show tunes, but he had never heard of The Beatles) and I only stopped taking lessons from him because of a scheduling problem. When I went back to taking lessons when I was in junior high, I had a great teacher and was much happier with the experience.

I also had two years of viola in school. The first was with a good, patient teacher, while the second teacher was actively discouraging to anybody who wasn't ever going to be professional quality.

My brother, who is a professional pianist now, quit clarinet after a year.
Mar. 11th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
1) I don't think it's just time to practice that makes it easier to learn to play an instrument as a child. I think there really are neural pathways still being formed up to some age.

Sure, but I wonder what takes precedence and to what degree, the intellectual comprehension of the music or the physical act of playing it. This topic comes up on rec.music.makers.piano every so often, when new adult learners express frustration or question whether to learn the instrument at all.

Based on a limited sample of what I saw from the students (adult and child) in my last piano teacher's studio, time spent playing (and quality of instrument played) had more of an impact than age.
Mar. 11th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC)
Well, my opinion is just a bit different from yours, but basically the same: If parents didn't force (some/most) kids to do things they didn't want to do, some children would basically be unwashed, flaccid, illiterate little humanoids. Because, dealing with children (well, teens) as I do - believe you me, most kids don't want to do a LOT of things, like bathe (and some of my students don't), eat food that's good for them, study, do their homework, practice, or anything else that isn't fun.

So, in essence, I'm a firm believer in letting the parents parent, and am not a believer in parenting by committee or democracy. That said, because of the innate discipline necessary in learning music, if a child isn't parented through the learning process, they just won't learn, and that becomes a sad thing. Not everyone's going to be a virtuoso, but their lives are inherently enhanced by the process, in so many ways, some of which are not musical in nature at all.
Mar. 12th, 2008 12:52 am (UTC)
If parents didn't force (some/most) kids to do things they didn't want to do, some children would basically be unwashed, flaccid, illiterate little humanoids.

Agreed. Parents have to cede control over time, but when kids are young, it is the parents' right and responsibility to teach them things they don't necessarily want to learn on their own. You never know what's going to take root, except that if you do nothing none of it will (duh). I wish I had been exposed to certain areas when I was young and the learning would have been easier.
Mar. 13th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)
Not everyone's going to be a virtuoso, but their lives are inherently enhanced by the process, in so many ways, some of which are not musical in nature at all.

Indeed. Someone might not wind up playing an instrument, but still be aided by exposure to music in something like dance or audio engineering.

I vaguely remembered that she expressed frustration in singing until someone gave her some technique tips. If she'd stuck with the piano lessons a bit longer, perhaps she might have learned some things that would have enabled her to sing better. (OTOH, maybe she just had a poor teacher.)

My former piano teacher asked me to sing sometimes while playing. (She was trying to get me to play the music as if I were singing it.)
Mar. 13th, 2008 12:24 pm (UTC)
Singing can also, unfortunately, be one of those things that's about "do you have the basic equipment or not" issues. Her frustration may have been her own instrument, sadly. It is possible to be an indifferent singer just because one doesn't have the proper shape of pharynx, etc. (that said, you're still right - any kind of previous musical training enhances singing, even for those with limited physical ability)
Mar. 11th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
It makes sense to have a child learn an instrument, just as we have them learn things like basic cooking, drawing, shop work, etc. It's difficult to know whether one likes playing before reaching a certain level of proficiency, but I agree with Ms. Wang that if someone's been taking lessons a while and still hates it, they should be allowed to drop.

Mar. 12th, 2008 03:49 am (UTC)
BTW, were you in any of the Stuy music groups? A few years ago, I wrote about not getting into concert band.
Mar. 12th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
I started taking piano lessons at the age of 3.5. I wasn't old enough to make decisions for myself back then, but my parents noticed my ear at a very young age and asked for a few professional(musician)s' opinions. I think I used to enjoy it at first, but I began do dislike it in 2nd grade and ended up hating it and quitting in 8th grade. I focused only on choir.

But three years later, I came back to piano, because I was old enough to appreciate the joy of practicing and making something sound good, and interpreting it in a way that nobody else can.

To me it feels like knowing how to read music, for example, is something that everybody already knows. When some people tell me that their parents never made them take lessons, I'm appalled. Not in a mean way; just that I can't imagine a life where music education is absent.
Mar. 12th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
The first musical instrument I ever played was a recorder. I think I got it when I was three years old. I could play it decently by the time I got to grade school, where part of the curriculum was group recorder lessons. The guitar lessons came sometime during grade school. Offhand, I'd say the toy organ came around age 8 or 9.

My parents never bought a piano. It's ironic, because my father and his sister both not only knew how to play, could play pretty well – enough to play at church services. I actually found some of my father's old piano scores, and did the best I could to play them on the two octave toy organ – most of my musical learning came from that and recorder playing. For a brief time around age 14, there was talk of getting a piano and my sister and I getting lessons from a friend at Stuy's mother, but that fell through because NYC nearly declared bankruptcy in 1975 and we didn't have enough money.

Another irony is that my father's grandfather was a concert pianist. However, I never knew that until my cousin (Mike P.'s mother) told me about him when I told her I had started taking piano lessons back in late 1990. My father never mentioned him.

Even if I'd had a piano and lessons, I might not have made as much progress as I'd have liked. We went away for the summers and some other holidays, and there was no way a piano would have come with us. Unlikely that one would've been rented either. I remember my former piano teacher once commenting to another student's parent about how taking off the summer without playing would affect the student's progress.
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