Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents, Robert Cutietta
Cutietta believes that NOW is a time when it’s easier to raise musical kids than ever before.
He talks about “the challenges, joys and importance of getting the best possible music education for children.” From the many ideas in his book, two stand out: listening to good music and keeping children motivated.
Listening to good music
Suzuki parents know all about the listening requirement in order to learn pieces about to be played. He also encouraged playing good music from the day of birth. Cutietta calls this “bathing your homes in music.” He explains that music is made up of “rhythm patterns, pitch patterns, and timbre,” unique to each style of music from country to classical to Chinese. Your child’s brain will recognize the patterns by repeated listening. Playing the music in the background is an unconscious music lesson, according to Cutietta. Since the book was written in 2001, we have even easier ways to bathe our homes in music; bluetooth permits us to have wireless speakers all over the house run by a cell phone.
In addition to the Suzuki pieces that your child will be playing, other good listening can come from his suggested listening library in Appendix D. Some are listed here–
- Adagio for Strings, Barber
- Annie, Broadway Show
- Appalachian Spring, Copland
- Mother Goose, Prokofiev
- Bolero, Ravel
- Brandenburg Concertos (1-6), Bach
- Canon in D, Pachelbel
- Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Mozart
- Fantasia, Disney
- Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky
- Symphony No. 5 and 6, Beethoven
- Symphony No. 40, Mozart
- Water Music, Handel
Keeping children motivated
Among the topics in his book is keeping the child motivated. Children have not yet developed the sense that perseverance is a major characteristic to their well-being in life. It is completely up to the parents to keep their child motivated through the hard work that practice takes. We don’t want our children to be “afraid of a little hard work” because that is what develops perseverance.
Starting early with expectations will create an atmosphere at home that “this is what we do in our house.” I knew a 17 year-old who said, “She [his mother] never would have considered the idea of his quitting violin lessons. It just wasn’t going to happen.” His was a mother who knew what she was doing and why. As he grew up, he played baseball and played the violin. “The boys on the team just knew me as the tall, lanky kid who also played the violin.”
In that same light, the Suzuki Association of the Americas has many suggestions on its Suzuki Forum for parents who are a key part of the Suzuki Triangle. In the Discussion section—General Suzuki Forum, a parent submitted a common question:
~ “How do I keep my child interested in polishing teacher-assigned spots when she wants to move on to other pieces regardless of her tone, fingering, and posture.” ~
Motivation using two types of rewards: Intrinsic and Extrinsic
To develop intrinsic motivation, you can use such ideas as: 1) offer your child a choice as to what he will do first, next, etc. 2) show how to break larger tasks into manageable parts. 3) help develop an internal locus of control. An example of the latter is teaching children that their grades in school, for example, are a result of what they did. The teacher didn’t randomly assign grades. It’s the same with violin playing; the better you practice, the better you will play.
Another type of reward is extrinsic because children acquire the concept of intrinsic rewards at a later time. Adults can relate to extrinsic rewards. Who among us wants to work without receiving a paycheck (our extrinsic reward)? We may love our job, but we also want to be compensated for our time.
Here is the way to organize a plan for extrinsic rewards.
- Think of practice as a “to do” list.
- So, instead of practicing for so many minutes, practice a certain skill or in a specific passage of a piece.
- For example: play Scherzo with correct 2nd position fingerings 3 times this week or play measure X with perfect intonation 10 times this week)
Ideas that work for both Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Rewards
- I often use the iOS apps “Spinny Wheel” or “Decide Now” for making customized “game wheels” in classes or private lessons.
- Child uses a game spinner to choose what he will play and what reward he will get at the end of the lesson.
- Or you could write to do’s and rewards on slips of paper and put them in a bag or box.
- You could draw items out of a jar.
choice of a snack
invite a friend
song on iTunes
What child doesn’t like spontaneity? In addition to “earning” rewards, you can plan to give “unexpected” or “unreliable” rewards (unexpected to your child—not to you).
These might even work better than earned rewards (Earn—think getting a monthly paycheck for a job which doesn’t always give you joy. Unexpected—think buying a raffle ticket which may or may not yield a reward).
For example, if you catch your child doing something well (you should decide ahead of time what this thing is, and sometimes it could be on the task list for the week, other times it may be from last week’s task list, or it could be something completely different). If it happens, you might say (apparently spontaneously as far as your child is concerned), “you did X! I think that’s worth a reward right now.”
Then you’d either have the child “spin” for a new reward, or you’d have one pre-picked and ready to give, or perhaps you might have something ready that’s not on the rewards list at all but that you know your child will enjoy, such as a favorite chocolate bar, a high-quality new cake of rosin, or a new cleaning cloth (if needed), etc.
Spontaneous rewards should not cancel out the expected ones…
Of course this is more work for YOU, but it could be a temporary way to help motivate your child until the internal, intrinsic rewards of playing music well start to kick in.
For the older more advanced student, rewards could also be pieces of music that your child is interested in that are easy and which won’t be “worked at” in the lesson, such as pop music, sheet music and backing tracks for fiddle tunes, melodies from a favorite movie, etc.
Cutietta has a unique perspective in his book: as professional musician, a music teacher, a researcher, and a parent. It’s an interesting read. Good printed interview on PBS with Cutietta.
“Creating desire in your child’s heart is the parent’s duty.” Shinichi Suzuki
You might want to check out some of my other posts on related topics.