"Is Music the Key to Success?" -- A NY Times article commentary

While this is a very interesting article, it is important to keep in mind that ANY level of music exposure, such as  simply playing in a school orchestra since 5th grade, does not yield the same results as taking private lessons since 7 years old and practicing 2-3 hours per day. While these may sound like extremes (and believe me, they are not!), of course, there are varying degrees of commitment when studying a musical instrument. I wanted to specifically  comment on one phrase that we frequently hear from parents, often in the unfortunate presence of their child, "my child is not going to be a musician, so he/she does not have to be the best." It is not our goal to "make" musicians, but it is our goal to have every child love and be proud of their musical abilities, and that only comes from them playing at their best. Because if they don't, what's the point?

Elements such as proper posture & hand frame, clean intonation, great bow control, strong sound, good stage presence, and thoughtful musical interpretation do not automatically mean a straight ticket to a successful music career, but they are standards to which we hold all of our students.  Why? Because if we don't, then you are simply wasting your money. Additionally, through lessons, students start shaping their own playing standards and developing ear-training skills that allow them to be better critical listeners.  When students are able to judge their own playing and are dissatisfied with their own progress and playing level, it is important to address the direct cause, as continuing on that path is counterproductive and detrimental to their self-esteem not only as young musicians, but as human beings. That said, if assignments go unfulfilled and very minimal preparation is done at home, we know that the student is not achieving at their potential, and it is our job as teachers to ensure that both parents and students are aware of this and make necessary changes at home.

It is important to remember that there will always be challenges, some more difficult to overcome than others. It is ultimately for parents to decide how they choose to teach their child to deal with those challenges, as it will set them on a particular path in life. On one hand, parents can choose to be supportive, offer words of encouragement, and possibly dedicate more of their own time towards finding a solution. This approach allows the child to explore and build on their own creative problem-solving potential, successfully overcome the challenge, and feel good about doing so. It is also unfortunately common for some parents to leave their child to take control of their own situation, (a problem in itself) which can ultimately lead to quitting or wanting to switch instruments. The latter is a very unhealthy way to deal with any situation, since it teaches the child a dangerous life lesson: when there is a challenge, quitting is a viable solution. The real psychological damage is done when there is a lack of a healthy support system from the parents, and that child starts experiencing feelings of inadequacy towards handling a personal challenge. In studying violin, it can be something as small as struggling to execute a proper shift. While seeming rather inconsequential at the time, these isolated incidents may project into a diminishing of one's self-worth, potentially leading to deeper psychological issues down the road in other, non-musical areas.

The best way to ensure that everything is going in a positive direction is to be in constant communication with the teacher, usually through consistent presence and observation of lessons, a suggestion especially valuable for younger students. Do not be afraid to ask your teacher questions regarding the progress that your child is making and whether they are staying on a successful path of learning. That is your right, after all, since you are the one paying for lessons with hopefully someone who possesses knowledge and expertise in the field.

Written by Dr. Katie Smirnova

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