2015 May

10 Reasons to Thank Your Music Teacher

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Many people making a living from music, or even those who carry it on as a hobby, will be able to remember being heavily influenced or inspired by a music teacher. Whether it was at school or as a private tutor, they are often responsible for that initial bit of encouragement that makes young people realize that music can be much more than something to be enjoyed in your spare time.

Even if it doesn’t ultimately result in a professional career, engagement with music is increasingly being recognized as a great benefit for us all in many ways. This has produced a growing number of efforts to draw attention to the importance of music education in schools and in the community.

Music Monday is an annual event held in Canada on the first Monday of May. Organized by the Coalition for Music Education since 2005, it brings together school children and their teachers, community groups, music ensembles and work colleagues to highlight the benefits of a musical education. The day involves a mass concert where groups across the country come together at the same time to play a song which has been chosen as the anthem for the year.

Another major part of the day is to highlight the hard work put in by music teachers. A couple of years ago, CBC asked several leading musicians to write letters of thanks to their most influential music teacher to recognize the role they had played in their life and education. The letters described teachers who had run numerous bands and musical ensembles at high schools, organized trips to competitions in other cities, and inspired the creativity of their pupils.

In one of the letters, jazz pianist Oliver Jones writes about the huge impact his piano lessons with Daisy Peterson-Sweeney, the sister of famous jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, had on him: “All of my musical life I have considered myself to be very fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful and talented people, those who have guided me, inspired me, and most of all those who have motivated me as a youngster. It is rare to find all of these qualities in one person.”

Even for those of us who don’t quite manage to make a professional career out of musical performing, there are no shortage of things that we can take from our school music lessons and the teachers who delivered them. Here are ten things music teachers should be thanked for.

1. They taught you that it’s OK to make mistakes, and making them is how we learn and grow as a person. That’s something useful for life in general, not just music.

2. They taught you to believe in your abilities and stay calm under pressure. Again, not bad qualities to have regardless of what you’re doing.

3. They encouraged you to do your best and push your limits.

4. They destroyed the “practice makes perfect” cliche. In reality, a copious amount of practice is not enough to become a great musician. You always need to find a way to make yourself inspired.

5. They show tremendous dedication, including by taking after school lessons, running school orchestras and clubs, and planning activities. A lot of this additional commitment is never recognized in a teacher’s working hours or salary.

6. They made mathematics easier to understand. After all, its simpler to grasp the concept of two quarter notes fitting in to a half than trying to stare at a badly drawn diagram on a blackboard.

7. They pushed you to take responsibility for your actions, by practicing for your weekly piano lessons or remembering to bring your violin to school.

8. They opened the doors to something which has been shown to stimulate the entire brain. As noted in a recent article, a vast quantity of scientific research has proven the positive effects of music in many areas.

9. They stressed the importance of always looking for ways to improve. Whether or not you’re still playing piano today, a healthy dose of self-criticism can only be a good thing.

Original article on CMUSE 4/21/2015

Why the First 2 Months of Being a Music Parent are the Most Important

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by Anthony Mazzocchi

I often observe that many parents hold some age-old assumption that musical talent is God-given or inherited, but let’s be clear:  everyone possesses musical talent to some degree.  I believe the high attrition rate of students between the first and second year of musical instrument study in school music programs is partly due to parents who are unsure of how to help their child develop their talents.

Regarding these beginner students who only have one lesson per week in school, the questions remain :

How can parents cultivate their child’s talent in its early stages?

How can their child gain a lot of progress in the small amount of time school offers music instruction?

The habits created during the first two months after a child receives their instrument have a lot to do with whether or not the child will continue playing beyond the first year of study.  Parents play a huge role during this 8 week “window”, and with minimal guidance their child can be set up for a lifetime of musical enjoyment and character development.

Why 8 weeks?

Many recent studies have concluded that growing new skills requires a minimum of 8 weeks.  This doesn’t mean that one can master a skill in 8 weeks, but a few things will happen:

  • Circuitry in the brain will begin to form and create habits (hopefully good ones) after 8 weeks.
  • Grit can be cultivated in students during the first few weeks of musical instrument study.  Children and parents tend to make negative judgements about their “talent” and ability too early in the learning phase, especially if they are creating a sound that isn’t too great.  This is an important time for parents to teach their child to embrace struggle and be patient — their brain needs time to grow.  Students who persevere and stick to goals early in music instruction learn valuable life skills such as self-discipline and grit that can last forever.

The inequity of time with instrumental music education in schools

Most academic subjects meet every day in elementary school, but instrumental music usually meets once a week in a small group lesson format.  As a matter of fact, 8 weeks (56 days) of academic subjects is almost twice the amount of instructional time students receive in a full year of music instruction.

While the simple math above should have parents immediately emailing school leaders insisting on more days per week of music instruction in their schools, it’s more important to realize that music teachers are working at a disadvantage right off the bat; parents need to be cognizant of their role as supporters of learning at home.  It is crucial that parents make sure their child plays their instrument at home most nights, even for 5-10 minutes, in the first two months of instruction in order to avoid frustration, letdown, and quitting.

Here are a few other things parents should do during the first 2 months their child studies a musical instrument:

Parents should understand how the brain works

Practicing skills over time causes neural pathways to work better in unison via myelination  — a chemical process helping the brain optimize for a set of coordinated activities through “wrapping” the wires of the brain.  To improve performance, one needs to practice frequently, and get lots of feedback so they practice correctly.  Myelination basically debunks the theory of “natural talent” — it takes time on task to become good at something, and parents need to realize that their children are capable of being successful at playing an instrument (or doing anything) when practiced consistently.

Parents must teach their child to embrace repetition

Playing a musical instrument is a great and rewarding way to learn how to embrace repetition.  In order to wire our brains to become faster and more accurate, we must repeat actions over and over.  The reward of practicing a piece of music correctly — and sounding good as a result — is a great vehicle for parents to teach their children that repetition is not a chore, it’s a life skill that yields some of the greatest benefits imaginable over time when applied to other areas of life.

Parents should fill their child’s mind with beautiful sounds (preferably right before bed)

Visualization is one of the most important skills that eventually leads to motivation, grit, confidence and improved performance.  Play a recording or watch a video of a great musician with your child right before they go to bed and let their unconscious mind do the rest while they sleep!  The more children hear and see greatness, the better model in their head they have to strive towards — and we need a great mental model to be great at something.

Parents should aim to create an independent learner out of their child

I call this “giving ownership” of learning to children.  Our goal as parents is to help our children improve so much that they no longer need us.  The more involved parents are during the first two months of instrument study, the more often they can step back and create moments of independence for their children later.  We know that the most successful students are those who take charge of their own learning.  Although it’s a little difficult at first, anyone is capable of becoming an independent learner with a little willpower and the proper support.

What if your attention to your child’s practice for two short months was the difference between them staying with an instrument for the rest of their life and reaping all the benefits music education has to offer — or quitting after one year?  It’s never too late to pay attention to the way your child approaches their instrument study.  Try it for 8 weeks and see what happens!

Learn simple steps to becoming a great Music Parent in Tony’s new book:

The Music Parents’ Guide – A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent