What I Wish All Parents Knew….

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Not long ago on a forum for teachers, the question was asked, “What do you wish that all parents knew?” What a question! But I do have a little list…

First of all, that parents (and the rest of the human race) knew that music is a core subject, just as important as reading and writing, even if it isn’t taught in school. Notwithstanding all the studies that abound on the internet that the study of music makes us all better in myriad ways, many parents seem not to be aware of this. Why? Because the schools don’t seem to be either. I wish I could count the numbers of times I have seen desperate elementary, middle and high school teachers lament on numerous forums how little support they get, how their jobs always seem to be in jeopardy, how they are constantly told that music isn’t important as a subject, how they are overworked and under-appreciated not only by parents, prinicipals, but even by other teachers. It’s disheartening, to say the least. This, of course, makes it very easy for parents to ignore the studies. If their local school doesn’t think music is important, then why should they?

An excellent example of school board short sightedness: my grandsons live in a very high-income county on the east coast with high property taxes and excellent schools. They have a string program in their elementary school (up to fifth grade) which is very well attended. The teacher does a magnificent job, way above and beyond the call of duty, and after their end of year concert I went to congratulate her. She then told me that there was some question on whether the funding would be pulled for this excellent program and she, an accomplished string player herself, would be forced to teach band. In third grade. Where conventional wisdom says that children that young really shouldn’t play most wind instruments as their lungs are not fully formed. And in an area where lots of these children were taking private lessons in stringed instruments anyway. Fortunately, disaster was averted and the program continues for yet another year. But the fact that the school board even considered stopping a very successful program and substituting band sends a very big message to parents: playing a stringed instrument simply isn’t important, even when you have a thriving string program. It’s more important to train a band to play at football games. What chance do parents have?

So, I wish all parents realized that music, especially the study of the piano and stringed instruments which are more suitable for small children, are important and that they should make sure their school boards know it, too.

I wish all parents realized that the discipline necessary for learning a musical instrument will help their children in other areas in their lives. That the same discipline applied to school subjects should be applied to music – it shouldn’t be a choice to do homework OR practice. I never cease to be amazed at how many things parents expect of their children, but when it comes to practicing a musical instrument – society tells them that it should be “the child’s choice” which translates for the parents into an excuse not to impose the necessary discipline. The problem is that unless they study a musical instrument, scholastically talented children who never have any difficulty in school may not acquire the mental and physical rigor that can be a big help when they run into something truly difficult when they grow up. I tell my students and parents that there’s nothing more difficult to do on the face of the earth than play the violin well. Therefore, if they practice it, they will acquire all kinds of benefits that will serve them well later in life (if not immediately): the main benefit being that they will learn how to face, work through and solve difficult problems that seemingly may have nothing to do with music. My older daughter, who has a MM in Violin Performance,, and who has achieved various successes in her professional life outside music, says she owes a great deal to the violin. I read somewhere that Einstein solved the mathematical problems of his General Theory of Relativity playing Mozart quartets. I also read that 60% of CEO’s of multinationals play a musical instrument to a professional level. This last statement may be apocryphal, but where there’s smoke…

But just to show you how pervasive and insidious the arguments are against music, I once got Continue reading

18 November 2019

Self-Deception, Self-Delusion, Avoidance, Your Student and You (you’re outnumbered): Part 2

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Self-delusion: the act of deluding oneself or the state of being deluded by oneself especially concerning one’s true nature, abilities, feelings, etc. “They know what they are doing is wrong. And it’s our job to remind them of it. Because when we don’t continually remind them, people devolve into self-delusion.” ¹

Doesn’t that sound like a perfect description of a violin teacher’s job?

As discussed in Part 1 of this post, self delusion is common to the whole human race. Some of us are more aware, or less self-deluded, than others. For example, there are people who sit on mediation cushions eight hours a day to see through the illusion that is life in general. Although a worthy occupation, most of us don’t, thank heavens, or very little would get done.

In fact, most of us can go through life very nicely without ever confronting our self-deluding optimism (see the previous post). But the study of the violin means we have to come face to face with and conquer this tendency if we want to learn to play well.

In the course of the study of the violin (or any musical instrument) there many concrete common misconceptions that lead to self delusion. And these are problems that we teachers can actively do something about without sending our students into the black hole of despair.

Here are a few of them:

TIME IS A CONSTANT

No it isn’t. Even physicists will tell you that time can be slowed down and sped up, if you’re going at the speed of light or close to it. But for our purposes, we’re talking about the clock ticking time we’re all used to. Even then time is a perception, not a reality – unless you’re looking at said clock. For example, when you’re having fun, time flies. When you’re not, any little thing seems to take forever. That’s proof enough. Same thing for when a student is playing – he may be convinced that he is not rushing when in fact he is. That is why teachers inflict metronomes on their students. It isn’t that students can’t count or don’t have a good sense of rhythm. It’s because they are doing something so complicated that involves total mental and body involvement, their perception of time is altered. (See Mount Rush-no-more…And How to Get There) So a student may think, or want to think, he is playing perfectly in time when in fact, he is constantly rushing. Self-delusion.

WHAT WE THINK WE HEAR IN PLAYING IS IN EFFECT WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING

Have you ever recorded yourself talking and then listened to the recording? Quite a shock, isn’t it? We hear our own voices when we talk from inside our heads but it’s quite a surprise to realize that others don’t hear what we hear. This is an understandable self-delusion that music students suffer from. That’s why we need teachers – and sometimes recording devices. The problem with playing the violin, or any instrument, is that we have to listen to what we want to do while actually listening to what we are actually doing. That means you’re doing two things at once, you might say. No, you’re doing one thing at a time but very quickly. We just have to realize that:.

  1. You have to know what you want to hear – most students don’t and we have to help them with this and
  2. You have to listen to hear if you are actually accomplishing it. This means training the brain to work even faster than usual – again they need our help.

In my opinion, the most difficult thing to teach students (I’m talking about beginners but lots of advanced students need help with this, too), is to listen to themselves. They can’t correct what they can’t or don’t want to hear. This is the biggest cause of self-delusion as far as I’m concerned. They don’t know how to listen to themselves, and/or they don’t care to. In the first case, the teacher bears some measure of responsibility. In the second, it’s much easier to think you’re doing fine instead of bothering to listen and correct.

I have a theory about prodigious children. The difference between them and others is not a good ear (intonation), sense of rhythm, or intelligence – or even facility. Someone is bound to disagree with me, but I have taught my fair share of them and this is what I have noticed: Continue reading

21 October 2019

Self-Delusion, Self-Deception, Avoidance, Your Student and You (you’re outnumbered): Part 1

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No one ever said that teaching the violin is easy, Here is yet another reason why and it’s a biggie.

On my last post I made the comment that “self-delusion is very common among violin students.” I have been called on it – a very thoughtful violin teacher asked my opinion on what causes it. “Perhaps,” he asks, “it’s something other than a self-preservation instinct or limits due to overall maturity?” And then he gets to his real worry, “And it would be interesting to think about whether some self-delusion training is accidentally or inextricably built into early childhood teaching and parenting.”

Wow. I can certainly understand this last concern – I know he is about to become a father and is most likely worried that he might unknowingly scar his child for life – a concern all good parents have, in my experience with lots of them. And good teachers.

The answer is, no, we are not ruining our kids, turning them into self-deluding-head-in-the-sand ostriches. They are doing a nice job of it all by themselves. You see, apparently self delusion, self-deception and avoidance are hardwired into our brains (our hardware) and into our personalities (our software) on many levels. Our brains are deceiving us. So are our egos, AKA, our personalities.

First, let’s define terms. I have been all over the internet trying to find the difference between self-delusion and self-deception. While psychiatrists make some distinctions, psychologists make others, and yet many others say it’s the same thing. So, somewhat perplexed, I decided to go straight to an excellent source, a friend who happens to be a well known psychiatrist* (doesn’t everyone in this profession need a psychiatrist friend?), who concurred that they’re pretty much the same thing. Therefore, for the purposes of clarity, let’s say that self-delusion and self-deception are the same and I will use them interchangeably as do some articles I have read. And for the sake of brevity, let’s just say that self-delusion or self-deception is allowing yourself to believe something that isn’t true Continue reading

30 September 2019