Music Mastery and Confidence: Teaching kids to expect more of themselves
When students master a piece of music that seemed at first impossible, they develop confidence and persistence that can help them in academics and whatever they set out to do.
I have seen this again and again teaching violin at the St. Louis School of Music. Students who apply themselves intelligently, efficiently and persistently end up surpassing their own expectations and achieving their goals.
Sometimes the lessons don’t come easily. I can remember when I was in high school getting frustrated in practice. I would play a section of music 50 times in a row and the next day it would sound as if I’d never practiced it. It seemed as if I’d made no progress. But later, I watched my husband practice violin day after day with seemingly little or no progress and noticed he did not seem to get frustrated. He just kept at it, trying various solutions each day. Over a couple of weeks his progress would become apparent and the end result was always brilliant.
That’s an important lesson of music education. Kids learn not to get impatient or discouraged when they don’t learn something immediately.
One of my students came to me totally lacking in confidence. She had very low expectations of herself. Her previous music teacher had let her develop a lot of bad habits. Over five years we have worked to fix those bad habits.
At first the progress was slow. Often when I corrected something in her playing, it would upset her and she would cry or act silly. Treating her with kid gloves did not seem to help.
Recently I decided to treat her like the other students instead of walking on eggshells around her feelings. If something is not right, I tell her directly without sugar coating my explanations. I raised my expectations for her and made it clear that I was expecting more of her. I saw an immediate improvement, a night-and-day change over a couple of weeks. She is growing more independent in her practice sessions and much more confident in what she can achieve. Rather than feeling hurt by my increasingly blunt corrections, she is pushing herself to achieve more.
Of course, some of this is because she is older and more mature now. But she is also learning what a great feeling it is to tell herself “look what I have accomplished.”
Music is a great way to learn excellence because it contains so many details that have to be exactly right. For some teachers, getting students to play the correct notes is enough. I have found, though, that students gain a lot more confidence when I push them to play with nuance and sensitivity. As I have started being tougher, my students are playing better and are happier for it.
When kids learn something that is too easy, they don’t gain confidence. It is through meeting challenges and mastering problems that they build self-confidence. This is an important lesson for parents who want to motivate their kids to succeed.
With my students, especially as they get older, I expect precision. When I give them feedback, it is honest and sincere. Music is a perfect avenue for teaching young people how to respond positively to constructive criticism. They start to realize that sometimes it takes more than a couple of tries to get something right.
We also teach the ocarina, a palm-sized wind instrument that developed in several ancient cultures. While it is easier to play than violin or piano, it is also good for building confidence, especially in younger children. They too can learn the work ethic of being persistent and not giving up.
With the violin, you could play for years and still sound like a student. With ocarina you can sound pretty good in a short period of time, but it is still not instant gratification. This makes it a good instrument for those students who don’t make music a huge priority yet still want it in their lives. Students who are more into sports or other pursuits can still get the benefits of music education without the large time and financial commitment required by more demanding instruments.
No matter the instrument, learning to play