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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother | Tag Archive | music education
Tag Archive - music education

From Stop Stops to Music – a Mother’s Journey in Music Education

My daughter’s last Christmas concert before college just ended. As I waited for the concert to begin, I thought of her first Christmas concert, 15 years ago.

We started her in Suzuki at age 3; her great-grandfather, grandmother, and uncle had all played violin. When she watched violinists on TV, she would pretend to play one, using a TV remote as her instrument and a block as her bow. Then she got in Suzuki violin. The first thing they did was offer her a cardboard violin. She had thought she would start with a real violin, looked at the cardboard, and said, “I won’t play THAT.” (She inherits her stubbornness from her dad.) She refused to practice and fought us the entire semester. Finally, she showed she could properly hold a violin and bow and put them down and was able to use a real one.

Except there was a hitch – she wanted to play violin HER way, which was not the Suzuki way. At her preschool, she had won a “wild colt” award because of her free spirit and desire to do things HER way. The Suzuki way started with taca taca stop-stop. She had to learn to play rhythms their way. In her first Christmas concert, her teacher played taca taca, and she played stop stop. Over time, she reluctantly realized she had to follow rules to progress and learned her rhythms. Her last rhythm was “wish I had a baby kitten.” We promised her that when she finished her Suzuki Twinkles recital, we would let her get a baby kitten. So she did.

For fifteen years, I’ve been the music mom with both her and her brother. Their musical journey has been a varied path, with ventures in piano, guitar, electric guitar, handbells, percussion, children’s choir, a show choir, and an a capella choir. After 5 years of violin, both kids were burned out and quit that instrument. But their music continued.

Each Christmas, we’ve seen them perform in concerts, with some years feeling like nothing but a never-ending concert with gigs caroling, playing solos, singing with the Philharmonic, and singing at the Nutcracker.  At the end of this journey, before she leaves home, I can say I don’t regret a single concert or musical experiment.

When my daughter started high school, she returned to violin – this time, because she wanted it. And she did it her way – playing in an ensemble but also teaching herself to play “Sweet Child of Mine,” by Guns ‘n Roses. When her bow broke during Thanksgiving weekend, she was devastated because until the store opened and she could buy a new bow, she couldn’t practice.

Every child has music at heart. If you’re a parent, do what you can to help your children discover their song and learn to sing or play it.  Try varied instruments and methods.  If money’s an issue, find budget ways to introduce your kids to music – look for free concerts, library programs, or if you can find nothing else, younger teachers who charge less but still love music. Do whatever you can to add the best music your budget can afford to your kids’ lives.

A child who learns to perform music develops stage presence and discipline. If you don’t practice, you don’t sound good, and kids are smart enough to realize that. Hard work and practice, taking apart a tough piece of music and mastering it a section at a time, and then playing it with other people where you have to watch a director and listen to one another, develops work stills to learn to handle projects for a lifetime. When kids who learn music learn to express themselves with phrasing, dynamics, and breathing, they learn skills that will help them become better public speakers. The best public speakers know a pause can be as important as a phrase, that sometimes pitch goes up and sometimes it goes down, and varying volume is a good thing.

Enough of the logic. The most rewarding part to me tonight was watching a young lady not only poised but willing to help younger violinists – and my savoring those memories of her first Christmas concert 15 years ago.

I wouldn’t trade a moment of those years or concerts. But if I could do them over again, I might notice fewer mistakes and appreciate more of the beauty music can bring to the life of a child.

9 Venues for Affordable Music for Kids

ParentSquare should have a MusicParent badge for parents who pay for and get kids to music lessons and make sure they practice. 

Over 13 years, my kids have had varied music experiences – Suzuki violin, piano, Kindermusik, choirs, percussion, handbells, traditional violin, and guitar. Some music experiences cost more than others.  We paid for most, with some scholarships or help from family. My daughter paid her own tuition for a children’s choir for two years.

How can you expose kids to music on a budget?

  1. Library programs: my kids went through a brief Kindermusik intro once. One local library offers low-cost recorder lessons.
  2. Church programs: look at after school programs and camps. My kids did vocal and sign language choirs plus group percussion and piano classes in them.
  3. Free concerts: Colleges, churches, and libraries may host free concerts. For younger kids, look for outdoor concerts where you can sit near the back. Every 3 years, one local church does an Amahl and the Night Visitors performance. I included it in a music unit to introduce my kids to opera.
  4. Library music collections: Don’t limit yourself to Mozart. Do a Peter and the Wolf adventure. Get some scarfs or streamers and encourage them to “dance” to the music.
  5. Sing: Kids love to hear their parents sing. Encourage them to sing with you.
  6. Share the music you love: My taste runs to Vivaldi, while my husband’s veers to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Let them see what music moves your soul. 
  7. Get the rhythm: Suzuki begins with rhythm awareness. Listen for rhythm patterns and help your young kids learn to repeat them. My son blew taca taca stop stop bubble rhythms in his chocolate milk before he was 2 – listening to his older sister’s music lessons.
  8. Perform with other kids: music is not a solo act. It’s meant to be shared. When your kids perform music with other kids, they learn lessons: following direction from a leader, listening to others around them, maintaining poise when circumstances change, and also developing skill in phrasing, dynamics, and expression. Those skills apply to public speaking, interpersonal communication, and life in general.
  9. Lessons. If you can afford it, private lessons are great. Get the best teacher you can afford – if not professional, what about a high school student?

You can find ways to help your kids discover their own music passions, regardless of your budget.

5 Steps for Perfect Pitch

Small children’s violins should come with a surgeon general’s advisory: Flat violin notes cause toe curling, hair loss, early onset arthritis from cringing and upset stomachs for parents of children who play them.

When my preschoolers were in violin, I was the Pitch Nazi who insisted they hit notes neither sharp nor flat, but on pitch because the alternative made me physically ill. Their pitch might not be perfect, but it didn’t need to be mortally wrong.

Perfect pitch – the ability to hit a note correctly without a cue. Traditional American thought is you’re born with perfect pitch, or you’re not. Japanese thought, however, is perfect pitch can be trained. The older I get, the more I agree with the Japanese.

When I play the perfect pitch game, I’m often 2 steps flat – maybe my childhood piano was flat.  After 13 years as a music mom as my kids have sung and played guitar, piano, handbells, percussion, and violin, I win the pitch game more often than I used to.

Isn’t life a lot like perfect pitch? Some assume those with wonderful lives were born to them or got lucky. Others believe with hard work, we can make our lives better.

Let’s assume perfect pitch – and a better life – are trainable. What can improve your ability to hit the notes right? As a former Suzuki mom, these are the steps I’ve seen to develop perfect pitch:

  1. Repetition - Repeat basic building blocks often, no matter how advanced you get.
  2. Focus - When practicing, don’t get distracted. If you get distracted, refocus yourself.
  3. Smaller chunks – if a building block is too difficult, make smaller chunks of it that you can handle.
  4. Expand your repertoire - After mastery of building blocks, always seek to develop your talent.
  5. Share your talent with the world – Play in public with others. When you play music with other people, you must listen not only to yourself but the world.

Perfect pitch will get new tech twists in the future.  When my daughter takes her violin to play in public, she uses the G-Strings app on my phone to ensure she’s tuned. 

Though we may never have truly perfect pitch, we can develop the talents we do have and make them better.

With great love, anyone can learn new things.