These statements, which have rent the air in uncounted millions of homes, portray a dilemma which besets parents who offer their children music lessons. With very few exceptions, the practicing problem is one that parents sooner or later must deal with.
I have often been asked by other parents "How do you get your children to practice?" As I explain some of my feelings on the topic, I find that many parents perceive only two alternatives: Either grit your teeth and coerce the child to the bitter end or give up and spare everyone the daily battle. Some parents give up because they believe it is not fair to force their own wishes on the child, all the while knowing that the child has talent which ought to be developed.
Others give up when the child's interest wanes, and they accept it as a sign of lack of talent which justifies quitting lessons. Some parents are simply at their wits end to find a way to motivate the child and are tired of all the nagging.
None of these alternatives need be the case. Though there is hard work involved, practicing can be a positive activity which will launch your child into the discovery of music and actually draw you closer together.
People are motivated only if they choose to be. All that parents and teachers can do is create an environment which sparks an interest in music and an inner desire to learn. What motivates one person may not motivate another. A child who is involved in the study of music draws motivation from various resources. Some types of motivation have stronger influence at different periods of maturity. As an individual gains experience in something, the reasons he or she has for doing it may change.
Beginning with the lowest maturity levels and working upward toward self-propulsion, an individual may find all kinds of reasons to practice:
"I practice because my Mom pays me 50 cents every day that I do."
"I practice because I can't play until I do."
"I practice because I get a lot of attention when I do well."
"I practice because I've got a great teacher and I don't want to disappoint her."
"I practice because it's fun to play in a group and I want to be as good as (or better than) the others."
Feelings of Self-worth
"I practice because I love the music and the reward of doing it well."
Adults operate on different levels of motivation simultaneously, depending on the activity. Children usually don't have the capacity to operate on high levels of motivation until they get experience.
Developing a skill, especially in music, is like the growth of a beautiful flower. A seed is planted in the earth where, if the proper conditions are achieved and maintained, it will swell, break its outer shell and begin to sprout. This first stage of growth seems interminably long, and from the surface seem not to be taking place at all. Yet watering and watchful care against predators must continue. The seed must receive continuous nourishment or else it will die. As it first begins to grow, the seed is not able to find its own food but draws upon food stored for it by its parent. It is difficult to be patient during this early stage of growth.
When a child begins music study, certain conditions must be met, just as with the seed. Encouragement, a good teacher, daily practice, good practice environment, and habits are some of these conditions. It may not appear, judging from some of the less than musical sounds coming from the youngster's efforts, that anything in the way of real progress is taking place. A child who was excited about beginning music lessons may lack the patience and commitment to give the routine attention needed. After all, it's a lot of work to keep the seed nourished, and not very rewarding when you don't see anything growing. It usually takes an adult with experience and long-range perception to help the child continue on.
After a time, the seed sprouts, sending a shoot upward into the air and sunshine where the stalk and leaves will grow, and a shoot downward where the root system will develop to anchor and nourish the plant. This is a satisfying stage because growth, though gradual, can at least be seen. The plant is still young and immature, but as it grows, there is greater motivation to give it care. the upward reaching plant is the actual music-making of the child. The sounds are beginning to be refined and the child is able to play pieces for family and friends. A sense of growing competence and the good opinions of others count heavily among the rewards. The roots of the child's ability, such as the technical achievements in motor control, physical strength, note reading ability, etc., are the underlying sources of nourishment whereby the music making gains its quality. A sturdy root, or a thorough background in the rudiments of playing which are transferable from piece to piece, is necessary if the whole plant is to be strong and beautiful. It's easy for a child to neglect attention to the roots in favor of the growing stalk because the roots aren't as readily seen or heard. In other words, the child may favor playing pieces rather than learning other, perhaps more technical, aspects of playing. The student is gaining proficiency but may yet lack the maturity to give the growing plant all the right kind of attention. He or she hasn't yet experienced the full beauty of the flower and needs the careful guidance of an adult.
Finally the growing plant reaches a stage of maturity when it begins to form a bud and then the flower in full bloom. This is the stage when a young musician has gained enough proficiency and maturity to really get "hooked" on music. This is when the student is motivated to practice because of the satisfaction of mastering the instrument and of playing the music itself. The music, after all, is the ultimate motivation. The young student has experienced the beauty of musical expression and wants more. At this point, students have a need to express themselves musically because the music has become a part of them.
There seems to be a turning point in motivation for most music students who pursue their study to advanced levels. When this happens varies according to a multitude of individual circumstances, the basic ones being how quickly proficiency is acquired and how early the student matures. Some students have the proficiency but not the maturity to be self motivated. Others have the maturity but not the proficiency to experience this turning point. I have observed that most successful musicians have discovered the magic of music enough to be willing to practice somewhere between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Some gifted and early maturing individuals may experience this
One of my colleagues describes what seems to be a typical pattern:
With music, unlike academic or scientific fields of endeavor, it is too late to wait until a child matures to start practicing. It must be begun in the early years of childhood when the motivators must come from outside sources. There is much work involved in getting a child to the blossoming
stage of musical development. There are many pitfalls and interference's that must be countered. This book explores sources of motivation for a young music student and helps parents provide the right growing conditions for the flower to come to full bloom. This book is available at Amazon.com.
with Carla Bosman
Carla is a violist/violinist who currently resides in Dunwoody, Georgia. She began studying violin at the age of eleven in her home state of Texas. By age 15, Carla focused her studies on the viola and soon began performing with the New Mexico State University Orchestra. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from the University of Houston Moore's School of Music and Music Education teaching certificates from the States of Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia. Carla has studied under professors Lawrence Wheeler and Lawrence Gibson and has worked under the baton of Robert Shaw, Franz Anton Krager, Dr. Marianna Gabbi, Lawrence Gibson, and currently with Maestro Juan Ramirez, composer and violinist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Carla has nearly 25 years of teaching experience with private students and elementary, middle, and high school orchestras. Carla has performed in and conducted as part of a number of orchestra competitions and has consistently received superior and superior plus ratings. As an instructor, her Peachtree Charter Middle School Orchestra was recognized in 2005 as the State Honor Orchestra by the Georgia Music Educator's Association. Carla has hosted and judged Solo & Ensemble and All-State competitions. Over the years, many of her students have also been accepted to perform with their All-State Orchestra. She has been the viola coach for the De Kalb Youth Symphony Orchestra and a member of the American String Teachers Association (ASTA). Her experience as a musician stems from playing classical music with outstanding musicians like Joli Wu, Pablo Alfaro, Ken Wagner, Justin Bruns, Cecylia Arzewski, & also Roberto Diaz at Atlanta Symphony Hall to performing with mariachi groups with musicians like Linda Ronstadt and Mariachi Quinto Sol. She currently performs with the Atlanta Community Symphony Orchestra as principal violist and also freelances in the Atlanta area performing weddings, special events, and benefit concerts.
The Da Capo Strings Studio's music education philosophy is deep-rooted in the Suzuki theme of nurturing and understanding. Our focus is to instill the beauty and love of music while helping the student to reach his or her fullest potential.
As each student moves to a new level of playing, individual attention to technique and performing skills becomes more important. Because orchestra classes have different instruments with differing technical problems, private lessons are very effective for dealing with individual needs. Techniques such as vibrato, advanced bowing, shifting, and intonation need to be dealt with on an individual basis. Nothing has proven as effective as a private lesson program.
Carla enjoys volunteering as a breastfeeding counselor for La Leche League, fostering homeless dogs, genealogy, and spending time with her two beautiful daughters and devoted husband.