I recently read a rather heart-rending post on one of the Facebook violin sites about a little girl born with severe muscular problems who wanted to play the violin, but her doctors advised her parents against it saying that to give in to her request would be setting her up for failure.
I am happy to say that this young lady, after years of begging for the opportunity, was finally allowed to start studying the violin and now, many years later, a CD of her playing is about to be released! Not only that, she says that playing the violin greatly improved her impaired muscle coordination and math skills.
I would say she has had a resounding success. But this brings us to examine what success and failure mean.
One person’s idea of success can often be another’s idea of failure. For sure, the doctors were thinking about pursuing the study of the violin up to a high level, attending conservatory, etc. How do I know this? Because this has happened to me in my own studio, only it didn’t have the above happy ending.
I once had a student with spina bifida. She is severely disabled, has no feeling from her chest down, can’t move anything except her arms and head or sit up straight without a special chair. Her aunt called me saying that she thought it would be a good idea for this child to have music lessons and to be able to play with other children so she could have at least one activity where she was “normal.” And I agreed. But what instrument??? By process of elimination we finally decided that the violin was the only possibility, even though I would have been very happy to have found another instrument for her – taking on such a student carried a scary amount of responsibility for me. Why?
One guiding principle in my teaching is we must teach our students the habit of success. What is my definition of success? Trying something, no matter how small the task, and succeeding at it. This brings you to attempt another small step and succeed at this, too, thus promoting faith in yourself and the knowledge you can solve difficult problems if you tackle them the right way and in small enough doses. My job as the teacher is to make sure that my student, perhaps with a little hard work and persistence, is capable of whatever I give her to learn so that success is always achieved, even if only in tiny increments. However, I had never taught a child with such severe disabilities and had to hope that my intuition and experience would see me through. Continue reading