Is it helpful to have musical parents

February 11, 2010 at 05:46 PM ·

My 8 year old son is learning violin.  He is doing Suzuki.  His teacher requires one parent to attend his lessons and also be with him when he practices.  For a while, my wife, who is not a musician was the Suzuki parent.  Within 3-4 months, my son's musical ability was way beyond that of my wife.  For example, one of his daily exercises is a book called "Winning Rhythms" which is a rhythm training book.  By the time he started doing 1/16ths, triplets and syncopated rhythms, there was no way my wife could keep up.  So I have taken over.  I am a proficient amateur violinist.

Now that I am the Suzuki parent, I see other kids taking their lessons and the parents seem to have no clue what is going on.  But the kids continue to learn and progress, just like I did when I was small (neither of my parents knew anything about music). 

So my question has to do with whether or not kids with musical parents, in particular, violin students with violinist parents have an advantage over those that do not.  I would especially like to hear from teachers on this issue.  Do your students learn faster when their parents are musicians?  In my case, there is a bit of friction between myself and my son's teacher.  When I am trying to help my son, his teacher sometimes views me as overstepping my bounds. And she absolutely objects to me showing my son stuff that she has not taught him.  So I have to be very careful about what I say or do regarding violin. 


Replies (36)

February 11, 2010 at 06:12 PM ·

I think it can be a benefit if you support their learning and help them to achieve it. But I really don't feel like it matters. I think the reason why some kids who have parents who are violinist and learn to play violin is because they were exposed to it and those children might have their parents sit in while they practice and help them at home.

I didn't know anyone who played the violin. And I advanced fairly quickly because I had my own desires and practiced...24/7.

So I think that it's about the student more than it is the parents. Though some parents tend to push a lot harder/more and tend to emphasize playing instrument more than others. Having exposure to something may be beneficial but in the end it's on him whether he wants to really learn it or not.

February 11, 2010 at 07:34 PM ·

I think if a child really wants to learn they will learn inspite of having musical or non-musical parents.  That being said I think there is obvious pros to having a musical parent.  A lot of the successful musicians that I know come from musical families where music was a way life rather than an extracurricular activity. 

My personal opinion is that Suzuki is unecessary in children beyond the age of 6 or 7, but I can see your situation is particularly frustrating.  My understanding is that Suzuki programs want parents to be involved and attend classes with their children.  I think that's great because studies show that when parents are involved in their kids' education children excel.  But what do they expect you to do?  Attend but sit still and mute?  Seems to me like they're overextending their authority.  They are teaching your child and providing a service and if they expect you to attend then they should allow you to participate.  As a parent you are your child's first and foremost teacher in life and you shouldn't be excluded if you want to participate.

February 11, 2010 at 07:55 PM ·

If the question is "Do your students learn faster when their parents are musicians?", I find the students that move along the quickest are those that practice well and regularly, have a knack for the fiddle, have a keen intelligence, a sharp ear, a will to master skills, and a great fondness for violin and music, regardless of whether their parent/s play an instrument or not.

But is it so important to move along fast, or to progress well?

If the question is "Is it helpful to have musical parents?" then yes, of course.  I like having a parent that I don't have to teach how to tune a 1/4 size violin.  (Smile)


February 11, 2010 at 08:47 PM ·

Hello Smiley,

a parent need not be a musician per se, but certainly parents who instill work ethic, values as well as being musical and offering a musical environment which is supportive will show up in the child's success.

February 11, 2010 at 08:52 PM ·

My parents were not musicians, at least not when I started.  It is probably good while children are young.  As they get older, I've seen them bristle at their musician parents' involvement, well-meaning though it may be; my own teacher taught her young kids up to that point and then sent them on to another, saying, "They listen better to someone else."  Perhaps it is okay that my parents never had the temptation to give me unsolicited advice. 

February 11, 2010 at 11:25 PM ·

I teach quite a few students with at least semi-musical parents, and I enjoy their feedback and questions.  But I do understand your teacher's nix on teaching them new things--I don't 100% agree, but here's some perspective:  when I am working with a student I am tailoring my teaching to their readiness and sometimes I don't want them to learn anew thing b/c they're not ready for it yet, or they may be ready but it's a distraction frm the main thing we need to work on.  Or the parents wants to push the kid to a new piece but I want to teach it with  attention to certain details before bad habits creeo up.  I've also had parents show their kids great things that they were ready for and I just hadn't gotten to yet, so I have a hard time naysaying the idea, but it's true that over-teaching on the part of the parent can actually hinder progress.  Of course, sometimes, so can my teaching if I am not in tune to the child's readiness.  I guess I usually talk with the parent if I'm sensing a conflict there.

February 11, 2010 at 11:32 PM ·

Hi Smiley,

It was SO helpful to have musical parents! I started playing the violin with the Suzuki method at age 7. My mother, who also played the piano and guitar, regularly attended my lessons with me. Not only was this helpful to me when I got home and needed a little extra help (sometimes she remembered something from the lesson that I forgot) but it was also good because she kept me on track with my practicing. She knew exactly what I was supposed to practice each day and also knew how the teacher taught me, so she could help me out if I got lost. She never interfered with my teacher's techniques while at my lessons, but she would always help me if I had questions at home, referring back to what my teacher had taught me. Because she had a musical background, she knew the importance of practicing and made sure I spent time doing it! In my experience teaching, some parents (they were not musicians) would let the practicing part go a little and just expect their child to do well in the next lesson. Going back to my mother, since she was a musician, she also knew what it took (through practicing) to become a better musician and could help me do the same.

I also agree with Anna's comment that 'it's about the student more than it is the parents" Even though it was really helpful for me to have a parent who is a musician, the real test was my own personal drive to becoming a better musician that made the difference.

February 12, 2010 at 12:09 AM ·

My feeling is that a lot has to do with the personality of the child.  I know that I absolutely thrived by being left alone to work on my violin and the worst thing anyone could do was to interrupt me while I was playing!  On the other hand, I had friends whose parents sat in the same room as them while they practiced and they were fine with that kind of close supervision. 

I think with young children it is probably good to at least have an "interested" parent taking a close look/listen to what they are doing but having said that, I started learning the descant recorder in school at age 4 and by the age of 12 I'd taught myself various other members of the recorder family as well - completely on my own.

February 12, 2010 at 12:57 AM · I don't see any logical connection between "musical" and "helpful". Helpful parents are helpful, whether they are musical or not. Musical parents may or may not be helpful, depending on whether they help or hinder. Is there a hint in the teacher's comment that maybe the parental assistance rendered has not been helpful? Might it be more helpful to pursue this instead?

February 12, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

I haven't read all the answers to not be influenced (I'll read them after though!)

YES almost always... look at the pros...  So many good violinists and soloists had musical parents. I hardly can't think of a musician at this level with 0 musical parents. There is Repin but he still had a super musical context.  Maybe a few others but not that much... If it's not because of a musical parent, the kid has to be in a really fertile context...  I think any musician parent is helpful, not just violinists, as we often see good violinists that had super pianist talented moms who made their practice coatch.

So even at a normal level and situation, a musician parent (good amateur or professionnal) can make a world of difference if the kid accepts the parent's help and is interested in music of course! The best students I saw around me were those with a familial musical background. Often foreigners too since music is very strong in some cultures.

All the best for you and your son Smiley!  Just weird that the teacher is so stubburn. She should welcome a good amateur musician parent and as your son will grew older, he'll appreciate different ways of seeing things and the variety of advices...


February 12, 2010 at 02:20 AM ·

I partly agree with those who say you can progress fast with great will, sharp ear etc with no musical context and parent (especially for mature late starters).  I could say I did this since I also practiced almost 24H a day lol before deciding I wouldn't go in music and entering college. But have I (or anyone else) had musician parents, they would have started at 3 at a conservatory with surely a good teacher since they would know who were the good ones... So a little to not say totally different situation I guess hihi ; )

So I still say that students from all contexts can be good but those with musician parents have a great  advantage on their side if they make good use of this opportunity...

But just my two cents and I know opinions are very diversified with such a topic ; )


February 12, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

My mother is not a musician and had very little musical background behind her. But on the other hand my father is a wonderful piano amateur as well as singer and there are very many musicians on his side of the family. So my parents are 50/50. It has certainetly been a great advantage to have a musical parent as I grew up with apperciating music from an early age and since early one music has been a huge part of my life. So to me my enjoyment for music sprung first and foremost because of the fact that my parents incorporated music early on in our lives. I even have terrible recordings of myself when I was 2 years old singing "Oh Shenandoah" very accuraetly.

February 12, 2010 at 05:09 PM ·

 I know you asked for answers from teachers, and I am a parent not a violin teacher, but I have given this topic lots of consideration over the years so here are some of my thoughts.  I have at times noticed that some children of musicians do especially well in non-Suzuki settings.  They have a parent who can correct their intonation errors, make sure they have learned their quartet parts before the quartet gets together, accompany them on concertos and sonatas on a regular basis.  All of these things are extremely helpful.  With this sort of help they can start at age six or seven and catch up with those who started at three fairly quickly.  

I have also noticed that sometimes musicians want their children to excel at music a bit too much so that they are met by resistance from their children who sense in their parent's  keen interest some anxiety or impatience or interference.  This is where I as a non-violinist feel I had a huge advantage.  Absolutely everything my kids learned to do on the violin seemed miraculous to me. I didn't know enough to be critical and I was open to the coaching the violin teacher gave me.  I listened carefully and did exactly as she asked.  The teacher has to be in charge for  the child develop the important trust in the teacher's judgement.  The teacher asks very difficult things from their student and the student must have the feeling that the teacher knows what they are capable of.  You don't want to doubt the teacher because this doubt will be passed on to the child and undermine their progress.  This is where the non-musician parent is at an advantage - they are coachable and able to let the process work without interfering.  

Another arena where the non-musician parent has an advantage has to do with ownership of the project of learning the violin.  If it is going to be ultimately successful, this has to be the child's project.  The child has to feel they are a musician not that their parent wants them to be a musician.  As they get into their teen years they have to map their own way forward, seeking support from their parent as needed. 


February 12, 2010 at 10:04 PM ·

Thank you all for your insights.  Please keep them coming.  I just wanted to respond to a couple of posts that were made.

>All the best for you and your son Smiley!  Just weird that the teacher is so stubburn.<

Anne-Marie, actually his teacher is amazing.  She really has a way with small children, very patient, and she always comes up with fun ways to learn things.  My son loves her.  One issue which has been a source of friction believe it or not is the use of a shoulder rest.  His teacher uses a SR and just about all her students do too, but after spending the past 6 months trying to rid myself of an SR, I suggested that perhaps my son can do without.  There are no shortage of opinions on that here, so I don't want to stir up that discussion again. 

Jennifer, good to hear from you again.  You make some good points.  Being a violinist I think has its advantages, but like you say, perhaps even more important is to provide a good learning environment -- one where my son is motivated to improve not pressured to do so.  I am probably guilty of all the bad things you mention, so it will be a learning process for me to figure out how to share my knowledge with him while fostering his self confidence and motivation.


February 13, 2010 at 12:38 AM ·

As  Suzuki student it was extremely helpful to have musical parents in the sense that they were always playing classical music, taking us to local performances of all musical genres, and were supportive in finding the best music education possibilities in our area.  Me dad can read music and played trumpet in high school, but it was my mom who was the Suzuki parent.  She now knows how to read music, has a great ear for musical expression and intonation, but that all came about because she sat through years of my lessons, my brother's lessons, and no my sister's lessons.  So for myself (and my siblings) our parents were musical in the sense that they were constantly surrounding us with music and considered music to be a serious school subject (we were homeschooled) and serious career.

As a teacher, I find the students who progress quickly are those students who take it upon themselves to initiate practice sessions and are willing to go the extra mile at home.  Honestly, I've never had issues with parents who also play and like to practice with their child (or at least supervise the practice.)  The only drawback to this is that sometimes as they get older, the student feels smothered, like their parent does not trust them to practice alone.  I have had to talk to some parents about this issue, but that has really been the only drawback to having musical parents. 

February 14, 2010 at 02:48 AM ·

Hi, Smiley!

As a violin (and piano) teacher, it is *definitely* my experience, with no exceptions, that the children who have musical parents progress the fastest and best (= most solidly), especially if the parents are involved with the home practice.  Specifically, students with violinist parents have a big advantage.  Of course, as students progress into the mid- to later teens, there could potentially be cases of over-involvement in the daily practice details, especially if the teen has surpassed the parent's level, in terms of continued "nettling" leading to frustration and desire for some privacy/personal responsibility on the part of the teen, but I've only seen a few legitimate cases of that.

On the teacher/parent roles issue, I know there are plenty of opinions about this among fellow teachers; but my view is that it is very helpful for the parent of younger children to be there and observe the lessons carefully, but not to comment much at all during the teaching, but to save his teaching for at home, to reinforce and perhaps broaden what is being taught at lessons.  It is not helpful during the lesson to have parents coach the child ("Remember to start that down bow"), or say things like, "You did it better at home last night!" (often a way of covering embarrassment or making excuses for the child's lack of preparation); such involvement *during the lesson* can confuse the child from concentrating on what is being taught by the teacher and also decrease the child's own sense of responsibility for how he performs. 

But I am *always* for the child being free to get help from other teachers or musician parents, and would never take it as a personal affront to know the child is getting help or even paid lessons from someone other than myself (!), and I will at times refer my students to others whom I think are able to help with certain things better than I can, or even who can explain *differently* and might be able to get the "light to come on" for this child sooner - afterall, as teachers are we not most interested in the *child's* development, however it comes? 

If a less-qualified but helpful parent is actually teaching the child bad habits or, as was mentioned earlier, starting a piece with poor habits before the child in my opinion is ready for it, I will explain that kindly and directly to the parent, continue to require assignments be up to my standards, and leave it to the parent to decide whether it would be most helpful to stay out of certain areas because the teacher knows more, or if they are really keen to see a child start that piece too early, for instance, perhaps I am the wrong teacher for what they want, and they could find someone with less exacting standards.

That's a rather long two-cents' worth, but I hope it helps! 

February 14, 2010 at 05:01 AM ·

Lynae, as someone who observes a lot (too much sometimes!), I have observed the phenomenon you tell among violin and piano classes... 


February 14, 2010 at 06:07 PM ·

Hi Lynae,

As a musical parent, it is good to hear that perhaps I will have some impact on whether my son achieves his potential as a violinist.  Call it wishful thinking, but I would like to think that I bring something to the table.  Being able to hear the problems, and also offer suggestions as well as being able to demonstrate how things are supposed to be played, seem like things that would be advantageous for my son as he progresses.  Of course, he gets that at his lessons, but that is only 30 minutes a week, not even enough time to go through his current repertoire.  But as you and others have pointed out, the trick is for me to learn how best to teach him without overstepping my bounds both with him and his teacher. 

In that regard, I would appreciate any other input that others can offer.  As I am still far more advanced than my son, and he is just 8 years old, he fully respects my abilities for now, but as he gets into adolescence, I'm sure I will face many more issues when helping him along.


February 15, 2010 at 03:06 AM ·

Our Suzuki teacher had certain expectations which I felt were very helpful and thought I would relate to you here:  She spent time in each lesson teaching me how to work with my boys at home.  When they were really little, my time with the teacher was perhaps 15 to 20 minutes of the 30 minute lesson. She was really careful to make sure I knew exactly what to look for in posture and the hand positions, how to identify tension in the neck or hands, and what to listen for sound-wise.  Most importantly, she was clear about the specific skills to be learned with each piece.  These were drilled as pre-exercises and I was taught to make sure these little skills were reinforced precisely as  instructed in the lesson.  After these  pre-exercises were mastered, my kids would then join the blocks together in the piece, but they were never allowed to play the piece until the pre-exercises were mastered.  She also had specific pieces and books to develop reading skills, but the repertoire was to be learned entirely by ear and she insisted that I not let them read their Suzuki pieces, although I could allow them to study the specific pre-exercise spots.


February 15, 2010 at 03:17 PM ·

My 4 year old cousin has just started learning to play violin with the Suzuki method and her father non-musical father is on board with her. He has no music training what so ever but he´s very excited to be learning violin with her and has much enthusiasm so I think itæll be very beneficial for my cousin to have her dad on the ride, even though he´s not musical. He will learn to play like her and be an encouragement for her.

February 15, 2010 at 09:00 PM ·

"As I am still far more advanced than my son, and he is just 8 years old, he fully respects my abilities for now, but as he gets into adolescence, I'm sure I will face many more issues when helping him along."

Smiley, some of the best teachers were not that good players. Ex:  Some old players can't play very much but offer wonderful advice. Maybe I'm wrong here but many good amateurs have better ear and technical knowledge than playing. So even if your son becomes a talent bomb  you could still give wonderful advice on how it sounds and what you think is lacking... 

Just my two cents,


February 16, 2010 at 04:47 PM ·

I assist my wife in a private music school, and while having musical parents is not a guarantee of success, it usually will tip the scales in a favorable direction for more progress and faster progress.  This is only if the parents express interest and enjoyment in music, and guide their child in areas that make the most difference:  a) setting aside dedicated practice time, 2) positive reinforcement of the student's efforts, and 3) not overscheduling the child's list of other activities.

Parental involvement is most important in the non-musical ways.

It is sad to see a very promising youngster with the talent to be successful become an ex-musician because the parents were convinced that they would be better off trying to be the next star quarterback, figure skater, and soccer star, all at the same time.  It just insures mediocrity for all the areas, and makes the lifelong rewards of music much more difficult to achieve.  I personally do not perform at the Berlin Philharmonic level, but I do enjoy playing in ensembles and for special events long after my contemporaries in sports have been forced to give up their dreams.  Sports are fine to a point (generally around 35 years old) where the body simply won't do it anymore.  It is then that we musicians at all performance levels reap our rewards by being able to continue our interests without too much difficulty.

So now we teach the ex-sports adults the music they could have learned much earlier.  It's more challenging for them, but still possible.


February 16, 2010 at 10:01 PM ·

my parents are not musicians, neither ever even played an instrument. my mum sings well at home, but my dad can't carry the tune of Happy Birthday! i think it would be an advantage to have parents who understood the musical challenges, the little things like Why I Prefer To Practice In The Kitchen (it has wonderful acoustics), why i must not miss orchestra/quartet/chember/choir/lesson under any cicumstances etc. it can be a mental struggle.

February 17, 2010 at 01:58 PM ·

Hi Smiley -

Having spent some time hearing you warm up your violin, I'd have to say that I think you have nothing to worry about.  Like drawing or painting, I truely believe that music can be (to a certain extent) genetically inherited.  I know I'm going out on a limb saying this, as there have been many posters here without musical parents, but maybe there were other family members that were musical that they weren't aware of....

When you add a parent's enthusiasm and support, I think you add a tremendous will in the child to achieve. 

Seeing the way that you and your parents interacted with your son gives me every reason to think that you as a family will give him all the nurturing and support he will ever need to progress.  All he will need from himself is personal desire.  And if he inherits even a scrap of your talent, he will still be set.

And remember your thoughts about your son progressing?  Unless you plan to give up the violin in the near or not so near future, YOU will also continue to progress.  Take care,

---Ann Marie

February 17, 2010 at 04:09 PM ·

hello smiley, reading from your first post, i see 2 issues:

1.  a general q:  whether parents with musical background make a difference when comparing with those without.

2.  a specific q: how to deal with this teacher that wants to have her own way.  the social dynamic of  how  2 well meaning people work together from different angles...

1.  i think parents with musical background can be an advantage.  particularly with violin, starting with the simple act of tuning, to helping with intonation, musical understanding, musical appreciation, etc, children of musical parents receive more musical support in a more natural, informal setting which can help shape the kids.  of course, what the kids do with the extra help is eventually up to the kids themselves.  imo, the kids' own desire to excel in something trumps everything that parents have in store for them.  

2.  some teachers are more personal in that they have envisioned their own way of teaching and anything else can be interference.  but we see that, in other walks of life as well, those who will hand us a beer before we have a chance to ask for a cup of tea:)  i can understand and respect that, assuming i trust the teacher enough to rely on her expertise. a pro chef may not want extra help from others unless he/she asks for it.  i think certain level of that type of obscession is healthy and needed, if not cute.   but, i hope the teacher in this case also understands and acknowledges that you are--or at least can be--an asset.  if your kid is progressing fast and she is only teaching him  once a week,  there may be a need for someone to step in during the week to help out as a teaching assistant.   isn't suzuki about teaching the parents to help the kids anyway?   of course, if she is teaching him wrist vibrato this week and you take upon yourself to also teach him arm vibrato, i can see issues:)  

you seem to be very level headed and reasonable.   but some teachers may not want you to reason with them, haha.   shhhh, but do it anyway because it is more fun.

February 18, 2010 at 06:31 PM ·

Anne Marie wrote:

>Seeing the way that you and your parents interacted with your son gives me every reason to think that you as a family will give him all the nurturing and support he will ever need to progress.<

Translation:  he is an only child, spoiled rotten by both his parents and all four grandparents.  :-)


February 18, 2010 at 07:43 PM ·

lol And Smiley wrote Anne Marie for Ann Marie (perhaps a mix between the english and french version!)...  With two of them here, I understand he gets mixed up ; )



February 19, 2010 at 01:02 AM ·

I think there is one key benefit to having musical parents:
If your parents can readily understand the need for a $2000nstrument, you won't be practicing on a $99 special!

February 19, 2010 at 06:29 AM ·

Agree with Rosalind.  It totally depends on the child.  In my case.... my parents took music lessons as children on different instruments, were not serious, and do not know how to read music.  They never entered into the picture... I was self-motivated from the outset.  Though when the public school teacher told my parents that I should definitely take lessons they thought she told that to everyone and thus I started lessons later.... but in the grand scheme of things, my own passion and determination moves me forward way more than my parents ever could have.

My students benefit most from supportive parents who do not interfere.  The only "bad" parents I had were those who didn't follow my instructions and constantly questioned my methods (without knowing the FIRST thing about musical instruments themselves--aarghh).  Overall, personality and how respectful students/parents are... is way more important than how knowledgeable.  Just my $0.02.  The other factor: age.  I could see where for very young kids musical parents help.... one helped tremendously, herself a pianist.... not knowing violin was no hinderance because she understood technique (her daughter was just shy of 5).  I find that even non musical parents understand pretty well how to help their kids if I tell them something specific to remind them about during practice.

February 19, 2010 at 09:32 PM ·

i'm with Elena. it doesn't matter if the student is the son of Mozart, they will still go nowhere without a little self-motivation.

February 19, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

Yes but the "sons of Mozarts" ; ) are overall more represented at a very high level cause those who get there are often those who had a very good personal passion/interest and... context and exposure (outgoing musical family) Again this is just from the students I saw at the conservatory and bios of soloists. But there is exceptions, of course.


February 20, 2010 at 03:33 AM ·

Actually, if Mozart were my father, I think I would give up music altogether due to an inferiority complex :-)

It seems that people who had musical parents believe it helps, and people that did not have musical parents think it doesn't matter.  Go figure.  Personally, I am clueless because I did not have musical parents, but on the other hand, I am a parent musician.  The world is such a confusing place.  Sometimes, I just feel lost.

February 20, 2010 at 10:16 PM ·

true about the inferiority complex, it would be rather depressing.

February 20, 2010 at 10:20 PM ·

I think students with musical parents progress quickly. On the upside, the home is structured to promote time for practice and lessons. That is half the battle. Then as the child grows, the parent can give valuable insights to the teacher. My boys for example are getting really tall so we are always getting on them for posture. We thought that phase was over, but you have to revisit those basics from time to time over the years.

On the downside, the best musical parents I know usually have children who learn an instrument that is different than the one the parent wants. Violinists have children who want to do brass or woodwinds. When the parent is a professional, I think they can make it hard for a kid to measure up sometimes. Our teacher has a child who is brilliant and a woodwind player but refused to learn violin from the dad who is great. So the bar can get pretty high.


February 21, 2010 at 04:17 AM ·

 @Smiley, interesting.  Never realized that (about the opinions being based on one's own experiences).  I'm sort of a mixed case since my parents took music lessons but didn't give input.  Also, both my maternal grandparents majored in music at Manhattan School.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree I guess. ;)  Actually, this is probably where my motivation comes from.  The passion is just in the blood.  So... perhaps musical parents/ancestors unknowingly help genetically!  I think the one thing people can universally agree on is this: musical parents can help in the short run, but at the end of the day, if the student WANTS to get there, they will. :)

February 24, 2010 at 03:25 AM ·

Yehudi Menuhin's parents were not professional musicians.  They loved music and took Yehudi to orchestra concerts when he was 3 or 4 years old.  They gave him the best teachers they could find, and encouraged him - and his sister on piano - in many ways.  That's the best thing a parent can do, and then let the child decide how far to take it.

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