Updated: Dec 22, 2022
In the early years of their musical journey, we nudge, encourage and cajole our child to learn in hope that they will develop their love for and ability in music. In creating a nurturing environment for them, our aim is to help our fledgling musicians grow their wings.
Yet, in the daily grind of making practice happen, we may miss the forest for the trees (or the wings for the feathers). Before we know it, they're flying on their own - and soaring ahead of us.
A marvelous occasion in parenthood is when our child's abilities surpass our own. (Arguably, having only completed Suzuki Cello Book 1, my unmarvelous ability when it comes to playing the cello is not exactly an aspirational benchmark for my child.)
But in an environment where we are used to demonstrating and guiding our child in their earliest and simplest tasks when they first embark on instrument lessons, seeing your child run ahead of you can leave you feeling lost and insecure.
Because we no longer know it all.
We no longer have all the answers to their questions.
We are at a loss at how to explain and demonstrate something that we don't know - and cannot do.
Practice sessions at home now involve a frantic checking of the lessons notes, exchanging blank looks and shoulder shrugs, and yes - frustration over "Well, I don't know!" on the part of both parent and child.
Tonight's Parent Talk with our Suzuki Cello Institute teacher Dr Alice O'Neill made me reflect upon how my role as a practice parent has transformed over the years as my children progress in the Suzuki curriculum. Sure, having taken music lessons into my late teens, I'm still pretty useful in guiding and demonstrating sections of the Suzuki piano pieces to my children - but I can't play any of the pieces as well as they can. I can't even play some of my nine year-old daughter's repertoire.
As for the cello: I've been lost ever since the pieces required a position change.
How did I go from being in command and control of the Twinkles to falling by the wayside?
And yet, as Dr O'Neill so gently reminded us tonight - being at your child's side is all that you ever needed to do. It is - and will always be - the greatest thing that a parent can do for your child.
And you know what? It's okay not to know it all. Having a parent that doesn't know everything creates opportunities for the child to grow as his or her own person. They can no longer look to me for an answer. We have to figure out how to obtain the knowledge and to work through a problem - together. Showing your child that adults don't know everything and how you are turning to resources outside of your own knowledge and ability to help her work through a problem is a better gift than telling her how to play the right note.
Here are some ways in how I support my children in their music lessons and in practising their instrument at home:
(1) Take good notes. Notes that you can understand once the lesson is over so that you can guide your child well at home over the next six days until the next lesson. For my eleven-year old, I make lesson notes on my phone in a shared Keep Note, which I ask her to replicate in her own notebook in a way that she can comprehend and use to guide herself in her practice, and to show her teacher what she has been practising over the week. (Her rewritten version is usually multi-coloured, has keywords in fanciful font, and is surrounded with cat doodles. Clearly more inspiring than my boring adult-style notes.)
(2) Ask questions. Sometimes, my cello child would play a note and look at me expectantly to tell her whether or not it is in tune. Frankly these days, with her progressively complex repertoire - I can't tell. So I ask her back, "Do you think it was in tune? Did it sound like the note that you had in your mind?" or "Shall we check it against the recording?"
(3) Note down questions. This is a combination of (1) and (2). When in class, take down notes from the teacher. When at home, note down questions for the teacher. Questions can come in the form of words, a photo (e.g. Is her bow hold correct? Could you send us the fingering for this section of the score please?) or a video (e.g. Is she playing in the correct position? Could you send us a video on how to play this section please?) Our teacher encourages us to Whatsapp our questions in all forms to her in between lessons so that we're not left hanging and waiting for the next lesson to roll around before we get our questions answered.
(4) Look to other resources. Sometimes the teacher is busy, well teaching, and can't get back to us straightaway. So we try to find the answers by listening to the Suzuki recordings, looking for Suzuki videos on YouTube, asking fellow students / parents, or seriously these days, asking Google.
(5) Be their ready assistant. Carry out their requests to record a video of them, or to take a photo of them at practice. Write down their questions for the teacher. Today, my daughter asked for help to pencil in the bow markings in her score as she figured out the new sections. I did it. She asked me to tape her fingers to her bow to make them stay in a Beautiful Bow Hold. I DID IT.
Who knew that parent support could come in the form of taping your
child's fingers to her bow when she asks to.
(6) Lastly, be fully present. Not typing on your laptop. Or surfing on your phone. Or calling out feedback from the kitchen. (Okay, the last one is hard to avoid when the pasta is boiling over or when there are dishes to be washed.)
To our Suzuki studio parents, from watching our children present their best to one another's families at last Sunday's recital, I can tell - without doubt - that every one of us is doing something right in supporting our child in their musical journey.
Every child was prepared in their mastery of their piece and in their hearts to present.
Every child stepped up to play - and to finish - their piece.
Every child started and ended their presentation with a beautiful bow to acknowledge and to thank the audience.
Every child was a calm and respectful audience.
It wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for you walking this journey at their side.
Even as you watch them take flight.