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Tim Yip

Kids and Self-discipline when it comes to music

December 17, 2012 at 5:50 PM

Does the above picture look familiar? Your kid is glued to a game when it's time to practice or do some painful task like *gasp* practice music!?

What do kids naturally gravitate towards doing when left alone? From polling my students, I’ve found that they would likely find something to play with, go somewhere to explore, or play video games. Kids are wired with amazing traits, but one trait I’ve noticed that kids aren’t born with is self-discipline for things that require perfection.

Kids aren’t born with self-discipline


When was the last time your child decided to set up his own practice schedule? Or was there a time where he accounts of the quality and time spent practicing? Most likely, never. (But if your child is like this, contact me ASAP because I want to learn your secret!)

What is self-discipline?


Here’s how Robert Brooks, Ph.D., a Harvard Medical School psychologist, defines the term self-discipline: “Self-discipline means taking ownership, accountability and responsibility for our behavior. It is one of the most important qualities we can help our kids develop.” Why is it so important?


Now wouldn’t it be awesome if our children were born with a natural incentive to love to self-discipline? We’d probably end up with an army of olympic level athletes and music virtuosos!

But let’s be honest now, kid’s don’t just pop out of the womb practice happy. When it’s time to practice, kids will always opt for more computer time rather than working hard at their scales. That’s where learning music comes in.

How music helped a wild child (me)


So you already know a bit about my childhood. From my mom’s account, I was a terrible student at 5 and 6 years of age. I could not hold still. My focus was all over the place and I was very hyperactive. Part of the result of that was me letting off energy through being a rambunctious, appliance-breaking maniac. Now this would have continued for many more years, my mother said, if I hadn’t played the violin. Something about the music lessons and practice made me have to calm down and put my focus on the instrument. After a year of learning music, my focus increased dramatically and my desire to roughhouse lessened.

Who's responsible here?


Who is responsible for practice? The kid, parent/guardian or teacher?
The answer to this question really depends on the level and age of the student. I would argue that the responsibility of practice rests on the student and his parents or guardian and the teacher. Each person has a different role.

Why not place the responsibility completely on the student? Think about your average 7-year-old’s perspective: He has no concept of pushing himself to potential excellence. Practice requires self-discipline that comes from mom or dad helping them make choices that teach them how to do it. So yes, parents play a hugely important role for ingraining a sense of discipline through encouragement, reminders, correction and rebuke.

The teacher on the other hand sets up the expectations of how long, and what to practice. A good teacher will go as far to show you how to practice it, too.

Love what you do and you’ll do good


It’s a given that loving what you do will help motivate you to do well in a given field (more on that in a later post). Yes, absolutely! We want kids to love what they do.

When it comes to music though, it can take years to develop that love. Think of it like romance. Some people fall in love at first sight. For others, it takes a long time to kindle a loving relationship. Relationships are never easy, and playing an instrument is really very much a lifelong relationship with music! Wow. That is very cool and also a little scary.

Be assured though that music produces wins that develop a whole person and makes it all worth it.

Some helpful ideas


If you are struggling with finding ways to help with the self-discipline arena, here are some thoughts to consider.

It takes perseverance, but once you love music, it’ll increase the quality of your life forever! So parents, keep in mind the long term rewards when your child’s interests wane when the going gets tough. Hang in there, it will be worth it!


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 18, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Hi, nice blog!

I am no better because I took some time off my things to read your blog...

Seriously, as a late starter, I am blessed for only one thing : I was always the one who kicked my own b... harder than anyone else to practice my violin!

I would have hate so much someone to put all this pressure on me against my will. It must really be an art to convince a kid that music will pay on later on if he/she practices...

I love your thoughts on the topic.

"and playing an instrument is really very much a lifelong relationship with music! Wow. That is very cool and also a little scary"

You nailed it, if we would have realized how much work it is, many of us would not have enrolled in this but...since we're in it (as amateurs or pros) and that we love it...maybe a bit too much lol, mind as well keep on!

Good luck with your students..

From Thessa Tang
Posted on December 18, 2012 at 12:48 PM
There are certain children aged just 8, 10 and others aged slightly older whose self-discipline will put some teachers to shame.

If a 12-yr old (being uninterested in Facebook or video games as 2 in the class I know) is usually self-disciplined in doing her daily school homework, she is more likely than not, the same disciplined self with learning the violin she loves. Let's try to be more open-minded and not lump or judge kids altogether or music practice as a class on its own [merit]?

(1) As parents, we would want to role model and teach with some consistency our kids, a sense of self-discipline in general FROM DAY 1 (no apologies here for coming across as controversial) and not just because it is "music" with which we are dealing?

That is why I agree that the responsibility of music practice [like just about any required good behaviour] rests on the student, not on the parents (who can only seek to motivate all good behaviour as an early initial influence).

(2) Most kids (including even the special needs ADHD and very autistic ones I teach who use violence) RISE to expectations with parental patience and perseverance - they need to be told calmly and clearly that they are doing "it" for themselves. They will get "some notion" in the end. They are not doing "it" for their own good, or for their future, or for their music and certainly not for their parents. Kids can and will learn from their own mistakes, we do so need to let them fail and fall. Re. Certain behaviour will give rise to certain consequence.

When my daughter did not feel she did well in something [was it in writing or public speaking?], against all common sense, I foolishly opened my mouth and asked whether she knew what had gone wrong? This was my forte and I wanted to lecture on her failure! I stupidly thought I was helping with my offer? The abrupt quiet reply to my boasting, was: You don't have to rub it in, mum. She needed to fail and falter and she knew why somehow. If she didn't, she would ask sooner or later? If a kid played badly, he knows it and he probably knows he should have practised not just to avoid so public an embarassment. Parents need not take this failure personally, as kids can bounce back and recover. One parent did and I heard the teenager publicly chided when she lost in a competition when her mother blurted aloud: How COULD you? (Make that mistake?) We need to examine our own motives if we ever threaten or force our kids to practise? They need our patience.

(3) Requiring a (discussed and pre-agreed) ROUTINE (in terms of suitable start time each day, how long and where to do the homework / practise music) from day 1 is non-negotiable. Routine can be kindly, firmly and consistently applied to behaviour across the board and thus not just to music practice which is NO different to school home work.

(4) It's useless to plead, nag or beg kids to practise, for then, the kid will know for certain it is s/he who has the control button. There is a world of a difference between a PRIZE and a pre-deed bribe. In a way prizes often work thankfully, to influence a new and positive change in behaviour en route eventually to a good habit and character. With bribes however, parents invariably lose both respect and control of the/the next situation. Timing [of the reward before or after the deed in question] is critical in behaviour modification, it is everything.

(5) Given time and patience, a consistently applied combined "Required Routine cum Prize" strategy will work. If it doesn't seem to work, at all, consider whether you have thought of an attractive enough prize? What incentive(s) would definitely motivate and thrill [your] this particular child?

Mums and I were pleasantly surprised and we feel empowered that even "very difficult" temperamental children feel sheepishly bad if they deviate from a mutually agreed routine (between parent and child)? Encourage decision-making as far as practicable. Most children perceive this parental choice-giving as a pleasant freedom.

Why are you practising, again? I asked this little one and the seemingly-nervous somewhat sensible reply from a girl of just 10, was: I don't want to make mistakes in the concert? I'll look like a fool, won't I? [Pause] I want to sound good. She smiled. She knows well beyond her years - diligence and its natural consequence.

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