Tag Archives: practicing

A GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN MUSIC – Principle 2: “Self-Initiated Learning vs. Imposition”

“Children learn best when the learning is self-initiated, arising from their own curiosity and interests, rather than imposed on them.”

– Aletha Solter, Ph.D., “Principles of Learning”

Godfrey Kneller's portrait of IsaacNewton, 1689
Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of IsaacNewton, 1689

Newton hit the nail on the head with his third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Try verbally or physically trying to make a child do something will make them resist even more.

Examples:

  • Try forcing green vegetables into a kid’s mouth and they will refuse to open their mouth or immediately spit out whatever you put in there.
  • Yell at a child to get in bed and they’re be riled up and less tired or willing to sleep.
  • Try physically removing a child from doing or playing with something they like and they will kick and scream.

When we apply this to music and helping children develop the habit of practicing, negatively forcing a child to play a specific instrument or practice at specific times for specific lengths of time may produce results—BUT, on the other hand,  they might sap away a child’s desire to play over time. This happens especially if those measures result in reluctance, resistance, indifference, apathy, or rejection of musical activities or practice.

There are two types of motivation:

  1. Intrinsic motivation, or an inner desire or interest to do something, usually for the sake of enjoyment or self-satisfaction.
  2. Extrinsic motivation, or a drive to accomplish something in order to receive a reward or recognition from an outward motivator. Motivators include threats, bribes, prizes, fame, competition, pressuring, etc.

In teacher Lara Hansen’s article “The Inherent Desire to Learn: Intriniscally Motivating First Grade Students,” she says,

“When people are intrinsically motivated they feel interest and enjoyment in what they are doing. They also feel a sense of capability and determination. What they don’t feel is tension, stress, and anxiety.”

In general, people tend to enjoy activities more when they can enjoy the experience and develop a personal passion for what they are doing. Any trauma introduced to an activity in the form of external motivators can lead that activity becoming stressful instead of a pleasure to perform.

As teachers and parents, we can provide opportunities for a child learn an instrument, but imposing, pushing, or bribing a child will create resistance and perhaps kill the child’s original curiosity and interest.

But don’t worry! We all have negative experiences with music, like playing a bad concert or being pressured to practice because of an assignment or impending performance. External/extrinsic motivators naturally exist and aren’t all bad unless they kill our passion for music.

And even if desires and passions dwindle, they can be fed and nurtured back to life. Just because a child throws a fit and doesn’t want to go to a music lesson one day doesn’t mean all is lost—you may find the same child excitedly getting their instrument out to show a friend the next day.

They say curiosity killed the cat, but perhaps killing the curiosity in the cat is the sadder scenario. Let’s keep the desire to learn alive and well!

How Young is Too Young?

As a violin teacher, with a pretty good size studio, I think the question I get the most is, “At what age should I start my child?”  There are several responses that I could have with this question, but I will go with the two that I feel most strongly about.

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First, what is best for your child?  In this day and age it is not uncommon for a child to have an extra activity every day.  From soccer to acting class kids’ schedules can be crazy.  If you want them to play an instrument, not have to practice with them, and just have fun, then starting in 5th or 6th grade is probably the best option.  At that age, kids can be pretty self-driven and if they like the instrument will practice.  You may need to be flexible, however,  because your child will probably want to switch as they get exposed to different instruments.  For a child to try violin one year and cello the next is great, but as a parent can be frustrating.

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Second, what is best for you as the parent?  If you want to start your child on violin at the age of three, that’s awesome, but realize you will have to be very dedicated.  Practicing with the child every day, enduring tantrums when practice gets difficult, and having a slow and steady approach to learning the instrument.  I love it when a young child gets a grasp on music early.  The students I have that started at the age of three or four have a way better understanding of music then a child that starts in 5th or 6th grade.  They have been around music longer, appreciate it, and see music almost as a second language.  It is a beautiful thing, however, it is not an easy thing to accomplish as a parent.  If you are not the type of parent that wants to dedicate yourself to learning the violin and practicing with your child every day then hold off on starting them young.  It will cause you more grief than joy.  So, unless you are a bit of a “tiger mom” it may not be best for you.

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I started the violin at the age of three.  There has never been a day, in my adulthood, that I have regretted starting the violin at such a young age.  It is why I love teaching younger students so much.  By the way, all of the children’s pictures in this post are students of mine.

Starting children young can be very rewarding.  My mom was an amazing, dedicated woman and she said there was nothing more rewarding then seeing her children come alive while playing music.  My mother also came up with the best quitting rule when it came to music.  If we ever came to our mom and said that we wanted to quit she always said that was just fine and we would mark the calendar for 6 months from the time that we asked to quit.  If 6 months later we still wanted to quit the instrument, we were allowed to do so.  You would be amazed at how often quitting an instrument is associated with an upcoming performance, current frustration with a technique, or just pure laziness. Often, after 6 months, we would not even remember wanting to quit.  I still use this rule with my own students.  It works brilliantly.  In ten years of teaching I have only had one student quit.

In closing, a child is never to young to begin to experience music. Singing to and with your child, playing music for your child, and being intentional about learning different instruments and their sounds can go a long way towards teaching your child to appreciate music. Music is not so much a talent but a gift and like all art, should be deeply appreciated.

I would start by watching the “Goat Rodeo” sessions on YouTube with your child. Totally entertaining and lively. They will love them.  You can click here to see what I’m talking about. 🙂

Online Music Lessons: Helpful or Hurtful?

We live in an interesting age, musically speaking.  Through the avenue of the internet, so much is available to us in the way of recordings, videos, articles, pictures, etc, etc.  From this sea of information, any aspiring musician with a computer can find tools and resources for online music lessons and often times for free.

Learning music online is vastly different than what teachers and players have been used to in generations before the world wide web making some wonder if online lessons are truly beneficial for budding musicians or if they just cause confusion and poor technique.  Before investing any serious time in front of a computer screen, there are a few things to consider when it comes to music lessons.

When it comes to learning anything, I think the most important thing to consider is how you or your student learns.  For instance, I am a kinesthetic learner.  I learn best by doing or using my hands.  Sitting around watching videos online, does help me as much a having a teacher guide me during a lesson and then practicing it on my own for several hours.  Yet, I have a student who is a very visual learner and online videos are a great reference for the days in-between lessons.  Likewise, I have a family member that can read a car manual and just build an engine in a weekend.  I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could play the violin after a day of reading “How-To” blogs online.

If you decide that using online music lessons are something that would be helpful for you, the next thing you need to consider is where the information is coming from.  The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of videos, articles, and blogs to choose from.  The bad news is that pretty much anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can post something.  When searching for music lessons, it’s best to use media produced by a professional or teacher with years of experience.  Generally, they will have tried and true methods to share that won’t lead you or your student astray.  If you are unsure about the validity of something you found online, it’s best to double check with your teacher.  Send them a link and have them check it out.  If you are teaching yourself how to play, you can always check with other members in the music community.  Contacting a local music store to see if they have come across something useful is a great place to find sound advice.  You can also check with other players through online forums like Violinist.com or Fiddle Hangout.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking online, a great place to start is our blog.  We are all professionals and teachers here, and we work hard to provide our readers with quality and useful educational articles that anyone can access.  We also have a Video Library on our website.  You can check it out here.

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

Practice, Practice: Dedication and Time Needed for Playing a Musical Instrument

If you or your child are interested in learning a musical instrument, several things need to be considered seriously beforehand.

First of all, learning a musical instrument requires dedication. Sufficient time will need to be set aside for the purpose of practicing. This may mean saying “no” to other activities or interests. When beginning, depending on the instrument and the age of the student, 15-30 minutes per day will usually be a satisfactory amount of time for practicing. The more you learn, the longer you will be able to practice, because practice skills increase in quality the more you use them. Good practice skills will be a help, not only with music, but also with many other aspects of your life. Dedication, perseverance, and consistency are all great skills to know, and one way to learn them is by learning to play music.

However, practices do not have to be long, grueling workouts. Shorter, more consistent practice sessions are always better than long sessions every now and again. Although they may be shorter, these types of practices ensure maximum concentration throughout. Many people find this method easier to fit into their busy lives. This plan also works excellently for children, who have relatively short attention spans. They will retain the information better, and frequent repetition helps to lock in new skills. Practice times can also be made more fun for children by promising rewards for completing consistent practices or new songs. That will ensure enthusiasm and excitement on the part of the child. During your practices it is always good to have fun. Reward yourself after working on a difficult piece by playing your favorite previously learned song. Having fun helps everything.

Although learning a musical instrument requires time and dedication, these few suggestions may help you in fitting music into your busy schedule, and also make practice sessions more enjoyable. Keep practicing and have fun!

This article written by guest bloggers Heather Kobilan and Jessica Kobilan

 

Scales: the Backbone of the String Players Practice Session

There is a certain segment of the string player’s daily practice routine that can be viewed as the least exciting, and it can be tempting to exclude this section of the practice session. However mundane practicing scales can seem, it is arguably the most important part of practicing the violin, or any stringed instrument. Why is this? Continue reading Scales: the Backbone of the String Players Practice Session