When my son was a six year old cello student, I overheard him talking with a friend about an exciting solo, that he had just played, in his teacher’s home concert. His friend’s immediate response was, “Wow! Who won?”
Learning an instrument is not a race. In music education, reaching higher playing standards is not about winning, but about doing quality work. The following strategies help me calm the competitive element in my music studio.
Parents and teachers who really understand, avoid asking questions, comparing each other’s children such as, “What book are you in?” or, “What music are you working on?” I am more interested in knowing what aspect of playing you are working on. This can mean posture, tone, shifting, et cetera. No matter where our children are in the repertoire, we are always aiming to bring them to the highest level of ability, whatever instrument they play.
You can encourage students and parents, to focus on this, every time you put on a recital in your studio. Get each child to choose music, at least half a book back from the piece they are currently working on. Ask th to focus on how beautifully they can play their music and not on level of difficulty of what music they are going to play. Announce to the audience, what specific playing technique the child has been working on. For instance, if a child has been working on a relaxed bow hold, I ask listeners to recognize and appreciate the hard work and effort this child has put into it. The music is the vehicle to demonstrate how well the child can perform this specific skill. Choosing music from an earlier book allows students to play it more beautifully, by adding more layers of skill, which they would not have been able to do when it was new.
On informal occasions, such as group music lessons where children have individual performance opportunities, I get each child to play one of their earlier pieces. When the applause has died down, I encourage the other students to mention one good thing that they have noticed about the performance. They quickly become really good at noticing improvements in posture and technique. It is lovely to see the performer stand slightly taller with each sincere compliment. This also helps listeners to learn how to be a generous audience. There is always a forrest of eager hands as I ask for positive comments.
Sometimes, I get each parent at the group music lesson or concert to write down 3 good things, that they noticed about each performer’s playing. I then compile the comments into affirmation certificates for each child. We present these at private lessons with the words, “This shows how hard you worked!” I’m always delighted by the child’s extra efforts in the rest of the lesson.
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