Is learning the violin valuable and if so how? This is one question just about every parent has when their child learns an instrument for the first time. So I invite all parents, both new and old, to read this letter especially for parents of violin students.
Dear Violin Parents,
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read this letter. The purpose of this letter is simple: to help you and your child get the most out of your investment. That's right. music lessons is an investment into your child's ongoing learning and development as life-long learners as they develop a passion for their instrument.
There is a common disparity that is occuring in our society today, in all areas of education, the competing interests of results-orientated, assessment based learning versus the need for students to engage in creative and exploratory learning. According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2018, by 2022 the job skills the average person will need will be very different to what we know today, with soft skills including creativity and leadership increasing in importance and is becoming highly sought after by employers than all other skills. Learning a musical instrument helps the students of tomorrow to develop these highly sought after and important skills.
I often feel great sadness when I hear from friends of mine who teach other musical instruments who talk of their students giving up an instrument prematurely, never touching the instrument again, simply because learning an instrument gets hard, but mainly giving up due to the misguided, pressure from parents. I want to make sure that this does not happen to your child.
You are committing a huge amount of time and money to educate your child with music lessons. It would be a huge shame if this was wasted!
The importance of music lessons
Before going further, let me congratulate you in enrolling your child in violin lessons. It is one of the best things you can do for your child's development and personal growth.
Music education not only provides an artistic outlet for your child, but research demonstrates learning a musical instrument helps students in other areas of study including memory, self-discipline, motivation and even literacy.
Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance. The study found that kids who take music lessons ‘have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.
The Cost of Lessons
Enrolling in violin lessons is a huge commitment: time, money and energy.
Time commitment. This includes the time needed to take your child to and from lessons, ensemble rehearsals, competition and concerts. For young students, parents are often involved in lessons to support your child during practice. You also commitment to attending concerts and other performances.
You also need to commitment to helping your child find a regular time to practice and to motivate and encourage them to practice regularly at home. This may include pestering or being a tiger parent to get your child to practice, and realistic very few children will practice on their own until they are well and truly in their teens! You’ll need lots of energy to keep them motivated as they embark on an activity that involves considerable but delayed gratification.
You’ll tear your hair out and get frustrated when they don’t practise. You’ll nag. You may need to wake them up early so they can practise before school and sometimes their practice might wake you up early on a Sunday morning.
Financial Costs. Firstly, there’s the instrument you need to purchase or rent – who knew how expensive a decent violin could be? And what about the lessons themselves? For the most part, music lessons aren’t cheap and, like anything else, the more you pay, the more qualified and experienced your teacher will be. Music lesson costs per year will run into the thousands of dollars for a child.
But don’t let this put you off; the benefits your child will gain from music lessons will far outweigh all the costs, as long as we keep a few things in mind.
Why have you decided to get violin lessons for your child? Is it about helping them get a scholarship to a top private school? Is because you want your child to do exams and competitions? Or is it because your child has shown a passion for music and you want to foster that passion in them?
Whatever your answer, here are some truths about how music education has changed in the last 10-20 years.
Quality education is now less about facts, figures, and absorbing content and more about a sense of curiosity, wonder, and a desire to explore and be creative. Good music educators are delivering lessons that are much more innovative and creative than they were 20 years ago. These educators are teaching their students to explore popular music and read chord charts, to play by ear with groups or with backing tracks, to sing pop songs, to compose and improvise, to use technology and play jazz. They’re helping students learn the music they want to learn. These are all creative experiences that will profoundly shape a student’s educational experience and establish a path to lifelong music making.
On the other hand, lessons that push students to learn only a small number of “prescribed” pieces in order to complete ever more challenging exams each year, that force students into competitions and festivals with the expectation of performing ever more perfectly, and are based solely on reading notation and playing it as written are actually starting to have the opposite effect. They will bore your child and will hold less and less currency in the education of the future.
An important note about exams. Exam syllabi were never designed to form the curriculum of music lessons or become an annual course of study. Don’t get me wrong, exam boards serve an important purpose and examinations can be an extremely motivating and positive experience for students when used in the correct way and to provide both the student and teacher with feedback on the learning and teaching process.
Parents, whatever you do, don’t force your child to take exams and don’t force your child’s teacher to teach in this way. You’ll be having the opposite effect of that which you intend.
In my opinion, and those of the teachers I coach in my network, the things that will have the biggest impact on your child’s love of and ongoing participation in music, is a teacher who:
is invested in your child and has a passion for sharing their own love of music;
develops your child’s ability to create their own music, to improvise and compose, to wonder, to ask questions, to be curious about music;
helps your child learn music that’s relevant to them and that they want to learn, alongside giving them a well-rounded experience of the great repertoire of the past;
helps students understand the harmonic construction of music, how to play from chord charts and lead sheets, how to jam with a band and to make music up on the spot; and
uses exams, competitions and festivals for their desired purpose, in consultation with you and your child and in keeping with the goals all three of you have set.
Put simply, it’s about your child’s relationship with a teacher who can give them a well-rounded, modern, creative experience of music that’s in-line with their goals and related to the music they love.
Many of us teach violin to adult students including doctors, surgeons, lawyers and other respected and highly-paid professionals, all of whom play simply for the love of music. It’s the way these professionals were nurtured to enjoy playing the piano as a fun and creative outlet as children, that is so vital to their life-long desire to keep playing.
Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and all the great composers were brilliant improvisers. They taught their students to create and play the music of their day and would never have thought to teach them solely how to play music of a hundred years earlier. So, why do we?
Let’s ensure that the next generation of students continue to create music and love their instrument for the rest of their lives.