Friday, November 25, 2011

Learning Music

Music lessons can be costly.  It is a long-term commitment, and I hesitate for the longest time to enroll my children in any of them.  

SW, seven, has picked up the violin when he entered Primary school this year.  They are weekly lessons conducted in groups, taught by an outsourced music teacher.  SW is fond of the teacher, Mr. Quek. The course fees at SGD105 per 10 lessons works well on my purse string.

We had never planned for SW to learn the violin.  SW wanted to learn to play the trumpet but his school only offered brass band as CCA for Primary 3s onwards.  For him to have a head start in music, I suggested the violin and he was keen.  Since then, he had been learning nearly a new song each week.  Here is a recording that I made of his playing recently.

Audio recording of SW playing violin: Go Tell Aunt Rhody

The greatest challenge in learning music - or every other thing, I suppose - is regularity of practice.  For a young child learning music, parental involvement is crucial.  Over the last few months, I have been diligent, negligent, encouraging, demoralizing, patient, touchy, in short, not exactly proud of myself.  But from these experiences, I have learnt that I have to sit with him and give him 100% of my attention when he practices.  It makes a whole world of difference whether he has an attentive audience.   For instance, it is different when I just yell out to him to 'get to practice' when I am still doing my laundry or trying to round up an email.  The attitude I received in return was sluggishness. 

My husband is a believer of Nature.  "If you need to push him to practice all the time, you might as well give it up!"  There is much truth in this because after a while, you realize you spend more effort trying to get your child to practice.  You start taking on the role of an authoritative and pushy parent and it makes you feel absolutely lousy, and you feel like giving up.

But of course, we must identify the cause of the sluggishness.  That was when I realized it was I who has forgotten the importance of being focused.  Once I got my child to focus on the instrument, and encouraging playing his best, then I spend less time trying to 'push' him to practice.   At this stage, I really have no idea how long it will take for him to cultivate the internal drive to pick up the instrument to practice everyday.  I could only take one step at a time.

My 5 year-old daughter, CH, is interested to play the keyboard.  Like in the case of my son, I did not jump straight into giving her formal piano lessons.  I have a Kurtzweil keyboard which I bought about 20 years ago with the first 3 months of salary from my first permanent job.  CH likes to play around with it, so I decided to try teaching her on my own.  

I recall attempting to teach her when she was 3 and 4, but they were flops.  She had refused to watch me demonstrate to her and insisted on playing in a haphazard way.  It was taking me too much efforts to coach her, so I let it go.  Now that she is 5, she seems more ready to listen and learn.  Perhaps she has realized she wasn't going anywhere on her own!

From the internet, I found PIANO BY NUMBERS.  I was tempted to take up the program, but decided to try using my own number notations to teach her instead.  In my younger days,  I used numbered scores to play some Chinese pop music.  Chinese instruments like the Er Hu also uses similar key notations, which is using numbers 1 to 7 to represent the notes C to B.  It was with this method of numbered key notations that I kicked start CH's home music lessons.

From there, CH learned to play some familiar nursery songs using her right hand: 

After about a month or two, CH was able to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars, Jingle Bells and 2 other Chinese folk songs (客人来火车快飞) with her right hand.   Thereof, we moved on to these books which I bought from Yamaha Music School:

I picked this series upon my sister's recommendation as they are suitable for young beginners.  There are colorful pictures and child-friendly layouts with fun-filled activities.  With basic background in music, I was able to set her off in picking up the keyboard.  As to how far we will go with this, and for how long, again, we will take one step at a time!