In Praise of Discipline or Yet Another Reason to Make Your Kids Practice


Discipline is a marvelous word which has its origins in the Latin word for learning. There are many definitions but I would define it as, “The capacity to do something anyway (and do it well) when you REALLY don’t feel like it.” This is fine for adults, but are children born with this capacity or do they have to acquire it? Can we expect children to become disciplined on their own?

The answer is “Sometimes yes.” There is a school of thought that says that if children have enough desire to arrive at a goal, then they will do all the unpleasant things necessary in order to reach it. Perhaps, but what if you have a child who has no goal in particular other than playing video games as much as possible or avoiding anything that resembles work? What do you do about a child who has a very short attention span or one would rather be playing with his friends than learning to do anything?

The marvelous video below was recently published by The cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, is part of the successful group, The Piano Guys. Here he thanks not only his teachers for giving him his passion for music but his father for the discipline he imposed on him which made it possible for young Steven to pursue this passion. He describes his father as a benevolent dictator who believed in freedom of choice. Here are the choices he offered his son:

  1. Practice the cello and eat
  2. Or not

I almost stood up and cheered when I watched this video. If I had been at the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) convention where he gave this speech, I probably would have. Yes, his father was obviously a stern disciplinarian and many would not approve of his tactics but the important thing here is that Nelson IS GRATEFUL to his father and his teachers for not giving up on him even though he was a difficult student.

Nelson said jokingly in another interview* that his father gave him “incentives”  which Nelson thought of as “threats.” Whatever. The fact is that he plays, he plays well, and he LOVES music. You can’t argue with success like this.

Have a look.



  • Find us on Facebook
  • Find us on Twitter
  • Find us on Google Plus
  • Find us on Linkedin Registered & Protected 

31 March 2015

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Discipline or Yet Another Reason to Make Your Kids Practice

  1. Chad

    I like the sound of this, but I don’t know if I would have the courage to implement it!
    Sometimes I wonder if music teaching is a little too imbued with the idea that the ends justify the means. Lang Lang is an extreme example- he talks about the horrible things his father did to him and basically says “sure, they were terrible, but look at me now!”
    It’s a grey area, of course, particularly if the child is indeed grateful for the discipline. It is my conviction that children absolutely love healthy discipline, if it is presented to them convincingly (or with careful subterfuge). But I worry how many poor chinese children are going through hell right now because their parents have read Lang Lang’s book and taken a little too much inspiration from it…

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      This is the problem of being a parent – knowing how much discipline to give your children. Many parents give none at all which, in my view, is the easy way out. On the other hand, one can exaggerate in the other direction. I haven’t read the book, but I would suspect that Lang Lang’s father was intent on his son becoming a great virtuoso which is quite different from expecting your child to practice his instrument for, say, a half hour a day. As I have said before, I know lots of people who are happy their parents made them practice and I know even more who are sorry their parents didn’t. Please note also that Steven Sharp Nelson did not originally pursue the cello as a career – he was in real estate management or development – so I doubt his father’s ambition was to make him a career musician. The discipline and passion he got from his family and his teachers made it possible for him to have that choice. Don’t worry, when you will have children, you’ll do the right thing. I know you are a musician. Did anyone make you practice? If so, are you glad? Thanks so much for your comment.


Leave a Reply to Chad Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>