How should we teach our children music?

Inspire them? Bribe them? Force them?

I asked my Sabahan cousin and an English friend this question, over a cup of tea.

My English friend said: “My son learns very easily, but he doesn’t have the heart for music. I like him to spend his time after school doing things which HE enjoys. After all, they study so hard in school, and they have homework. WE want to relax when we get out of the office, don’t we? Surely they should be allowed to do the same?”

Hmm. I play piano. I said: “You know, when I’m playing, you cannot believe how many people say to me: ‘I had lessons when I was young, and I hated them. But I would love to be able to play songs now. I wish my parents had forced me to stick with it, instead of letting me quit.’ ”

“That’s right” said my cousin. “If you love them, you have to make them learn when they are young. What do they know about what’s good for them? All they want to do is play computer, computer, computer. Right?”

My English friend just sighed. “Well, he does spend a lot of time playing WoW (World of Warcraft). But I just haven’t got the heart to force him…..”

Here in Kota Kinabalu, a private music teacher said to me: “Oh Joanna, I feel so sorry for some of my pupils. They come to me so tired and look so scared because they haven’t practised their songs enough. I tell them: Don’t worry. You are supposed to enjoy your music. It’s alright if it’s not perfect.”

I thought about the eight-year-olds I know who have Mandarin lessons four nights a week, and said to my friend: “Music practice will be at the bottom of their list every time. They have too much pressure.”

“Yes. But what to do? It’s music, not mathematics.”

When I was a child, I practised a lot. My parents didn’t have to say Boo. I daydreamed at the piano, and I daydreamed for HOURS. I was transported from my mundane life.

But my life was boring. If I had my SON’S life, maybe I wouldn’t have learnt anything at all. He has friends, sports, PS3, DS and Internet. In his bedroom, he hangs out with a Global Community.

Can our beautiful musical instruments compete with all that? Or do we — as good parents — force our kids to learn, because they will thank us later?

What about the academic pressure many children in Asia face? Many have a lot of homework, and extra tuition for extra subjects. Life is competitive, even for a child. Where does music fit in there?

Is music for joy? Or is it an academic subject? Does it need to look good on your job application? Is it still precious if it does not help your career?

Music enriches Life.

If you have held a flame in the crowd at the end of a pop concert, you know it.

If the church choir has moved you to tears, you know it.

When your child makes a first musical note, you know it.

So. What is the right way to bring music into our children’s lives?

This columnist knows that we all try our best, and there will be no One Right Way.

But let’s talk about it here and maybe we can enlarge our pool of ideas.


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