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Should You Spook Your Kids to Practice?

October 31, 2012 at 7:47 PM

Fear, I believe, is often the default operating system for surviving in highess environment. For music students, fear most often is sourced from pressures from parents, teachers, and peers.

Fear Can Hurt

Fear is a natural survival instinct. However, we also don't want it to become an overriding force that actually keeps us from learning. I can think of a few ways fear can be a bottleneck when learning the violin. First, some technical skills require some risk. If you are fearful in execution, the sound comes out poorly. More importantly, if your mind is constantly occupied with fear, it's hard to unlock and open your mind to new ideas and concepts.

Fear Can Also Help

Now from my own experience, I've found that being fearful can motivate me to do well for a performance or lesson. For example, I feared messing up on an important performance, and due to that I practiced more. I also feared some of my teachers and they actually were able to scare at-the-moment to perform some difficult techniques. So there is a place for fear as teaching device. I want to point out that it has to be done in moderation. I learned the best when I was not under the pressure of fear, and moreover learning the violin should be a positive experience. As a teacher I'm trying to train students and be a positive mentor. Scaring students all the time is not good for my own sanity and neither is it healthy for children.

Stakes and Rewards

We know that learning music takes hard work. How can we get students to be motivated? Motivating excellence in your musical child most often revolves around two vectors: stakes and rewards.

Stakes — they creates some type of loss-aversion and real accountability.
Rewards — they reinforcement the right habits through rewards.

Now I believe that stakes and rewards can be used until the student experiencing intrinsic reward of enjoying the violin in and of itself. Let's be honest. Most kids are not very crazy about preparing well for lessons and need to be motivated externally at first. So instead of weighing heavily on fear motivators such as spanking, verbal threats, or other methods, try to focus on setting some kind of stakes and rewards. You can set stakes like elimination of activities your kid likes but are "extras", allowance, or desserts. Rewards can be verbal praise, movies, video games, or food. I would note that you want to keep the rewards small-don't let it undermine the valuable intrinsic motivation to keep playing. Don't crowd your young one with too much stuff so he can have the time and mental energy to explore those internal motivators.

Last But Not Least

I posted a bunch of new video on my youtube channel. There are a bunch of new instructional videos. Be sure to check them out. My first education violin album, Wohlfahrt book 1 for violin, is also now available. Have a happy and safe Halloween!


photo credit: RSL IMAGES via photopin cc

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