Finding Balance, part 1

In the face of the unreasonable demands on time often made by students’ teachers and coaches, I find that I have two choices:

  1.  Become like them.
  2.  Or not.

I can either become emphatic and overbearing in my teaching, striving to convince parents of the importance of studying a musical instrument to the exclusion of all else, convincing the parents that their children are so talented (whether it’s true or not) that they must dedicate most of their time to their instrument, and backing it up by enrolling my students in countless small competitions that are held each year for children.

OR I can keep my sanity and my conscience in good repair by helping my students and their parents cope with the countless demands made on them both.

Years ago I decided on the latter course. but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make sure that some practicing gets done.

First of all, a disclaimer. While I do not believe in competitions for young children, I am not entirely against them. Many adolescents enjoy competing and that is fine. I just don’t want to turn myself into the sort of sports coach who insists that only my sport is important and that competitions are necessary to prove it. To the contrary, I believe that music is something you do because it’s a good idea and you like music. This, however, is often not enough for our goal-oriented society, which tries to convince us that we have to “do” something with whatever we study. Therefore I offer a few pieces of information and insights to help fortify parental resolve to have their children study music, starting with:

It’s a fact that you always “do” something with your education whether it’s obvious or not. Einstein credited his discovery of the Theory of Relativity to playing his violin. If that isn’t a good argument for music education – that it can involves training and can sharpen intuition for other types of endeavor – I don’t know what is. When this isn’t convincing enough for doubtful or vacillating parents, I offer the following fact:

Music not only makes you smarter, it makes you better at your school work. I refer to a very helpful article which summarizes the research on this: Yes, parents may say, but my child already gets really good grades. So then I point out that:

When time comes for their children to apply to college or university, music can make a huge difference. Most colleges have an orchestra of some kind and they always need good musicians. Even if they don’t have one, their admissions officers seem to appreciate the value of the study of music. I have been asked on numerous occasions to write references for past and present students. Universities are very interested in what a non-academic teacher (especially one who has known the student for many years) has to say about an applicant and I doubt ANY teacher knows a student as well or for as long as his music teacher. All of my students for whom I wrote recommendations got into the college, university or prep school of their choice AND they got scholarships. My letters may have made the difference, but I think that music training itself is what gave these students an edge over many other applicants. The research in the article above confirms this.

While parents may agree with my approach in principle, convincing them to act on it can become problematic. It’s really hard for them to say no to athletic coaches, for example, especially when their children are pleading with them, too. So I employ a couple of tactics to help my students get time for practice.

Next: a little is better than nothing and other techniques


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3 May 2015

2 thoughts on “Finding Balance, part 1

  1. Virgil T. Morant

    I like how your two choices mirror the form of the two choices the young musician’s father gave him that you referenced in another post recently.

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Well, sooner or later we come up against the choices that life (or a parent) sometimes thrusts on us. Thanks for your comment.


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