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The role of family to a learner musician

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#1 hummingbird



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Posted 05 December 2019 - 12:14

One of my students came back this week with her little Christmas piece she’d been ‘practising’ littered with note errors. I asked her how she thought it went afterwards before pointing any of them out and she immediately said “great!”. Pause. “Well, actually some parts didn’t sound right to me at all, but my family just kept telling me how Absolutely Amazing it sounded”. Longer pause while she frowned. “Doesn’t say a lot about the musical ability of my family does it?”

The above is reposted from the teachers' forum.  When I first read it, I laughed out loud and thought it was so good that I was about to post it in the "My favourite post of the day" thread.


Then I got to thinking about it, and remembered how my family react when I play something to them.  The general advice is to play in front of people as much as possible to get confidence.  I don't have any confidence playing to people, and actually my family are no help at all and so I don't play for them any more.  One relative (a non-musician) pointed out that I'd played a wrong note and suggested how I could improve it (yes, thank you, I already have a teacher and no-one knows better than me that it wasn't perfect).   Another didn't comment at all - there was just silence after I'd finished so I guess it didn't go down very well.  I've blotted the other instances out of my mind but the result is that I don't play for my family any more because they do the opposite to building up my confidence.  None of them are musicians, I might add.


So what IS the role of family when listening to a learner play - and does it make a difference whether it's a child or an adult?

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#2 Banjogirl



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Posted 05 December 2019 - 12:27

I think it depends on which family member it is. I was the one who helped with practice, but I was always careful not to tread on the teacher's toes. I could point out wrong notes but I wouldn't get into interpretation, unless they asked me. Everyone else would say well done, on the whole. I hated my grandparents criticising my playing. That was Mum's job!
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#3 thara96


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Posted 05 December 2019 - 12:28

Being supportive 


No it should not do. My mom always used to listen to me and smile when I concentrated and played well. 

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#4 ejw21


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Posted 05 December 2019 - 13:53

Good discussion. Being supportive is definitely the key.


I don't see my family that often (logistics) so the opportunity doesn't arise, but beyond a 'that was nice' style comment, not much support. They are not musical. My in-laws are a bit more clued up on music but again, v infrequent opportunities. OH isn't musical but will provide support e.g. constructive comments on posture and noticing physical tension when I'm playing. Thankfully I have lots of piano friends from regular meetups to give more nuanced feedback. Usually very supportive and often discussing the style/interpretation of a piece or around that particular composer.


As a child I was really shy and didn't like playing in front of people. Mum was often elsewhere in the house but listening in and would say 'x section sounds more improved' but playing in front of Dad was a nightmare - unhelpful comments about 'play the black notes' or something like that.

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#5 mel2



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Posted 05 December 2019 - 15:13

Close family - tin ears. No interest at all, in fact they close doors 'to give me privacy'.
Distant relatives - wow! That was fantastic!

Another relative by marriage who 'often entered festivals' and is 'musical'; when I got out a book a Christmas duets and suggested we have a spot of music-making, looked horrified and was unable to read a note. Then I felt bad for embarrassing her!
I don't bother any more.
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#6 Latin pianist

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 16:47

The most helpful thing parents can do is make sure their child is organised so that they come to each lesson with the music they need and their practice notebooks. Some families seem to be always losing everything. I have pupils at school who forget their music week after week and don't look when their lesson is so time is wasted while I find them. When my sons learnt instruments at school, I made sure they had everything they needed with them and encouraged them to look at the timetable. Even some home pupils come without music occasionally.
Obviously encouraging practice is essential too and taking an interest in what they're playing.
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#7 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 18:55

You know your playing is thoroughly abysmal when you get essentially zero feedback on your performance from the bodies assembled, and then someone pipes up "can you play <insert pop/rock/musical song>?".  And when you say "er..., no" the room descends into embarrassed silence.... "More tea, vicar?" :crying: :crying: :crying:

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#8 -Victoria-



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Posted 05 December 2019 - 21:34

I don't think there's a one size fits all.
As a kid I either got no feedback or criticism. This not only from my family but also from teachers (peris and class) and band directors. I don't ever remember being praised. This drove me on hugely - always trying harder in the hope that one day someone would say I was good! I remember being told not to audition for county orchestra then for a Conservatoire place because I would only be disappointed. So I thought ### it, I'll do it anyway and got the places. Not having any high expectations from anyone meant I never felt under pressure but worked at it purely for myself.

With my own kids it's completely different. I praise them instinctively and never dare to criticise because it's taken so badly. I try to praise effort rather than results because that's what all the parenting books say, yet personally I know if someone had said to the younger me how great I was at trying, or concentrating etc. I would have read between the lines that actually they weren't that impressed with the music.
TLDR: parenting is impossible :)
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#9 agricola



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Posted 06 December 2019 - 08:56

I agree with Latin Pianist about the importance of organisation.  Also for younger pupils I like parents to attend at least occasional lessons if possible and to monitor practice.  Children often react badly to criticism from family members so I prefer parents to stick to "have you practised your scales?" etc unless they are musical and can actually help sort out problems. 


One safe comment a parent can always make is "I love to hear you play!" which avoids both praise and blame.  For visiting relatives "How wonderful to hear live music!" serves the same purpose.

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#10 elemimele



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Posted 08 December 2019 - 18:45

I'm with LatinPianist and Victoria. You can't get it right, so you may as well make sure at least they've got their bits and pieces with them.

I don't know why music should be different to other activities; we manage to encourage our offspring on their attempts at cookery, sport, etc.

As a kid, the best thing my parents did was provide a musical environment, a house in which musical instruments could be found, and where it was normal to be able to play something, or sing. We can hear our own wrong notes.

I loved that girl's comment on her family, in Hummingbird's first quote! It shows a big step forwards in her attitude to her own judgement.

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