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Pauline Lerner

Dear parents of my student

July 8, 2009 at 3:41 AM

Dear parents of [my student],

I am happy that your son [daughter] is one of my students. He has musical talent, and he enjoys playing music. Do you know that as parents, you play an important role in his musical development? This is true even if you do not know how to play an instrument or read music. You can foster his musicianship in many ways.

First and foremost, you must be supportive music education. Let him know that you take it seriously. Have him keep regular attendance. Encourage him to practice daily, even if he can only practice for 10 or 15 minutes on a very busy day. (More about this later.) Buy him the books I recommend. Show an interest in what your son can do, and praise him for his advances, improvements, and even his persistent efforts.

If your financial situation is difficult, as it is for many people in this deep economic recession, please feel free to speak to me about it, and we'll find the best way to cope. I've done this with several of my students already, and it works.

Find occasions for your son to show off at home with an audience which is sure to be appreciative. Visits from grandparents are great for this. Your son can choose two or three songs to play for them, and he should practice them extra in advance. Any gathering of friends or family in your home can give him a chance to play and show off. Birthdays are special events. I will teach him how to play "Happy Birthday to You." That's a real crowd pleaser. One of my students, age 10, surprised everyone at a Thanksgiving dinner at his home by playing several tunes on his violin. Everyone was impressed and said so. When he told me about this experience, he said, "One of the reasons I like playing the violin is that I can do something well even though I'm just a kid."

If you or your spouse plays guitar or a similar instrument, you can play back up guitar with your son as soon as he learns a few simple songs. You can start doing this at one of your son's violin lessons with me to coach, if you like. I've coached several duos like this, and sometimes I play along. This is a valuable experience for several reasons. Playing by yourself is different from playing with others, and your son will benefit from getting an early start on playing with someone else. Playing music together is a great bonding experience for parent and child. Besides, music is a wonderful thing to share with someone you love.

If you know something about music and/or playing the violin, you may be able to help your son practice. The mother of one of my students used to sing in choruses, and she misses the experience. When her daughter has trouble keeping a steady rhythm in a song, Mom stands up in front of her daughter and conducts. It works! When her daughter plays a wrong note during her practice, Mom calls out, "Wrong note," and that helps too. Another student has a father who plays an instrument other than the violin. He doesn't attempt to teach his son violin specific skills, but he does help his son with rhythm and scales. In these cases, the parent knows enough about music to be a good, creative coach.

Now for the tricky part. Sometimes a talented kid won't practice. I know you don't want to get into a habitual nagging routine or, worse still, have confrontations with him. Reasons that make sense to us adults, such as "You have a gift, and you should appreciate and nurture it" or "I work hard to make the money to give you violin lessons" just fly over the kids' heads. I've found that it sometimes helps to schedule a regular time for practice every day and stick to it. If time is short because your son has too much homework, needs to attend soccer practice, etc., he can practice just 10 or 15 minutes and still accomplish something. At the very least, he will reinforce his muscle memory. If he plays a song he likes, he can motivate himself to keep practicing. Another approach is to reward steady practicing, preferably not with money. The mother of one of my students gave her daughter the reward of having not just one, but two, girlfriends over for a sleepover after she attained a certain goal. It worked. I encourage you and your son to talk with me if the practicing problem persists. After the three of us talk, it might help for me to talk to your son one on one. Sometimes a kid will talk more freely and honestly when his parents aren't around.

"Listening is practicing." So says the great trumpeter, writer, and educator Wynton Marsalis. He's right. Music is one of the few subjects which you can really learn by "osmosis." I'm often surprised that my students and their families don't listen to music much at home, and if they do, there is only one audio device for the whole family. I tell the parents of these students to play a music CD in the car when their kid is with them. Ideally, each student should have an iPod or CD player of his own. Some of their instructional books, including the Suzuki books, have their own CDs. It really helps a student know what a piece should sound like before he even gets to play it. Besides the educational CDs, your son should listen to "real" music to enhance his understanding and appreciation of music. I have hundreds of CDs, and I'm happy to make copies of any of them that your son may like to listen to. However, nothing beats the excitement of a live concert. Unfortunately, the tickets are often prohibtively expensive. There are free concerts, some family oriented. I'm always on the lookout for these, and I let my students and their parents know about them by email.

If you have any questions or issues you'd like to discuss with me, please feel free to contact me.

I look forward to helping your son grow as a musician and enjoy playing the violin.

Pauline Lerner

From Erica Thaler
Posted on July 8, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Well said!  I bet you have some lovely parents in support of your studio policies.  As a violin mom of over 9 years (and student of 4 years), I can attest to all of this!  Brava!  Erica

From Tess Z
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 3:45 AM

Excellent topic, Pauline.  I'd like to add an endorsement for the Carnegie Hall series, "From The Top", which features young talented musicians from all walks of life and instruments/voice.  In our area, it is broadcast on the local public station so even if you don't have cable or a dish you can still see it.  My kids enjoy the program as much as I do and we record it so they can watch favorite performances again.


From Drew Lecher
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 4:20 AM

Pauline, that was great and so well put:-)

Tess, I like that idea.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 10:46 AM

Hi, as someone who have started late in a non musical family, I can really say that I miss very much parental support (and I'm not talking about financially because they do many sacrifices and have bought me super quality stuff and pay a good teacher which is already very generous from them).  But I rather mean that it is difficult psychologically to always be the only one of your gangn (like an alien) at home, to not be understand at all when it goes wrong and you would need this musical parent just to bring support and who knows maybe cues if he\she is a very good violinist...  I would just love someone on the same channel than me, someone who understands performing, who is emotionally so conected to music etc...  

So if you can be such a parent for your kid, go for it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It is such a gift to your kid!   BTW, if I had started at 10 yo and less, it would have been drammatic because my parents and me would have been totally ignorant...  When you are older, you are able to think by yourself, and auto-push you towards what you want.


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 10, 2009 at 4:53 PM

Thank you all for your praise and suggestions.  You are the editors of my draft, and I'm very glad to hear from teachers, parents, and students.  I wrote some parts of my letter because I've had parents who have opposed me on doing these things and other parents who just didn't know any better.  I'm also surprised that parents who play an instrument don't think of playing music with their child.

Thanks for calling my attention to From the Top.  I've heard the audio on public radio on the Internet, but I've never watched the show because I don't have a TV.  I will check the local TV listings for it.

Anne-Marie, your account of your own experiences is very moving.  I will definitely add the remarks you suggested.

From Anna Meyer
Posted on July 12, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Pauline, I absoulutely love reading your blog. I have read through most of your old blogs and I find that they give a very thoughtful insight into violin teaching and playing. I especially enjoy the one´s about teaching. So even though I don´t comment often I LOVE to read your blog.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 14, 2009 at 3:52 AM

Anna, thank you for telling me that.  When I don't get comments, I wonder whether anyone is reading my blog.  I'll write more about my experiences teaching.

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