It's all too easy to get out that smartphone and let it sweep you away from your goals on the violin, whether you are a professional, a student, or a parent of a student.
"Mom? Mom! Were you watching me?" said a five-year-old violin student to her mom, after accomplishing something new in the violin lesson. Her mom was sitting right there on the couch, but a million miles away on the phone.
"Oh I'm sorry, I wasn't," said Mom, realizing that both her child and the teacher were looking at her. She put down the phone and watched.
I could say, "Parents are different these days." But it wouldn't be fair. Most parents mean well, especially when they have taken the trouble to attend a young child's violin lesson. We're all still humans. But the smartphone poses a unique challenge to our relationships, our productivity, our wellness, our sanity, certainly our violin practice. It's something that clearly, we have not adequately addressed as a society.
Let's face it, watching a child's violin or other music lessons can be boring. I went to my son's piano lessons for 10 years, and those years occurred before the advent of the smartphone. The pages of the piano notebook that I kept for him are filled with notes, but they are also filled with elaborate doodles that have nothing to do with piano. Before smartphones, parents brought books and magazines to lessons. I have a very comfortable couch in my studio -- many parents fell asleep!
Practicing can also be boring. Did we humans manage to avoid practicing before cell phones? I'm here to say that yes, indeed we did.
Also, I hate to admit this, but people occasionally get bored and turn to their cell phones at symphony concerts and recitals. Also, sometimes people entertain their children with smartphones to keep them quiet and well-behaved. Is it worth it to cultivate a child's attention span by going phoneless, risking that the child might get bored and restless? What if you get bored during a concert, should you turn to your cell phone and check out?
Smartphones take us away from our surroundings like no other distraction that I know. When a person is fully immersed in his or her phone, it is possible to stand directly in front of that person, address him or her by name, and get no response whatsoever. It's also possible to waste copious amounts of time on the smartphone. Ever notice how, you can get on the phone to, say, check the temperature outside, then somehow 10 minutes evaporate into thin air -- and you still haven't checked the temperature!
It's plain to me that we all need to take control of our phones. Certainly goals such as keeping one's proficiency on the violin or other instrument, learning new techniques, helping a child learn violin -- or even exercising, making dinner -- these are more important than checking Facebook or getting sucked into the latest listical on Buzzfeed or checking every text as it comes. But the smartphone, as well as so many "clickbate" sites on the Internet, are designed to kidnap your attention and keep it hostage for as long as possible, and not always with edifying content.
It can help to make a conscious effort to curtail screen time: turn off useless notifications, turn off the phone altogether and stow it away for things like violin lessons, or for that particular time period that you have designated as practice time. Another trick: switch your screen to black and white -- it simply makes the phone less interesting. Allow yourself to be bored and phoneless on occasion; boredom can actually good for your brain and your creativity. While I don't want to be a nanny-teacher, I may try to institute some kind of cell phone policy for my studio. This is rather complicated, with students of many ages who need a varying degree of attention from parents. (When the student is in that pre-teen weaning-from-parents-at-lessons stage, it doesn't seem as necessary to ban the parent's phone use as when they are in preschool!)
What problems have you run into with smartphone use, for yourself or for your students? What have you done to curtail your own cell phone use or to make sure that it does not interfere with your practicing or other important aspects in life? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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