Saturday, August 20, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

My kids all have piano lessons and I make them practice (I'm not paying all that money for no progress - the money seriously does talk at this point).  They complain - pretty much every time.  It's tiring, but I'm stubborn.  After seven years I think the oldest child has decided he (f i n a l l y) quite likes practicing so doesn't huff and puff as much any more.  He's also gone to high school and discovered that being able to play the piano well is quite the attention grabber - so he's more motivated than ever.

However, back at the ranch, the complaining continues.  It's part of the territory with learning a musical instrument.  I have discovered this through many, many conversations with other parents who are suffering through the daily traumas of music practice too!  I feel like a tyrant mother and am told regularly by my kids that I expect too much.  Or do I?

Well, this is where 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' comes in.  This book by Amy Chua has been widely read and promoted as a book on Chinese parenting.  This is in fact not quite true.  It is actually a book on music practice.  More specifically, music practice in the piano method, Suzuki, that my kids are taught.  The book is the story of a mother obsessed with pushing her two girls (the eldest on piano and the second on violin) as quickly through the Suzuki method as possible.  This involves two hour music practices (on a quiet day) and much more on the days leading up to concerts.  The eldest is compliant and goes with the flow.  The second, not so much.  She is a bit more like my kids.  Just fights her mother the whole time.

The fighting happens because with the Suzuki method a parent attends the lessons and assists through practice too.  Not all methods do this.  It does work - it means that what is taught in the lesson essentially can be retaught daily and consolidated effectively in practice.  In theory it sounds lovely - time with your child, etc, etc.   In reality it can result in conflict as the child refuses to do what needs to be done. parent gets frustrated, tears are shed (by both parties) and a box of tissues is bought for the top of the piano.

The good thing about Chua's book is that your average Suzuki parent comes off looking like a walk in the park in comparison.  My kids read some of it and were astounded.  I look like sweetness and light.

Most of the book is horrifying from my point of view as a parent.  The lack of positive encouragement was hard for me to take.  Even though I make the kids practice, I also give them lots of encouragement - I think it is motivating.

I was struck however, that perhaps we do short change our kids sometimes by not pushing them a bit harder.  What's interesting about the piano is that while you're struggling and battling away to put two hands together on a particular section of a piece, it is intensely draining and frustrating.  But the euphoria and sense of achievement that comes when it finally clicks, is huge.  I think this experience can be transferred into lots of contexts - especially with study and into your own personal discipline in life.

A month ago my daughter wanted to learn the Harry Potter theme song for an audition at school the next day ('I don't want to play a boring classical piece Mum that no one knows').  She knew, from past experience, that she would have to work hard for hours that night, but it would take perseverance, time and effort to get there.

If you're battling away with music practice like me, I reckon you'll find 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' particularly interesting.

3 comments:

Karen said...

Thanks for this, have just checked and it's available in our local library so I will go and grab it this week.
I (think) I am fairly laid back regarding music practice here. If it gets done three or four times a week we're doing well, although usually even getting it done that much can be an ordeal for my younger one. The eldest freaked me out a bit yesterday when he produced his trumpet unprompted and said he wanted to practice so he could get into the school band. I hope that continues.
I have worried in the past that I might turn them off completely if I push the issue too much. This is going from my own memories of music practice as a child. I started learning the piano relatively late (late primary years) and remember feeling much more motivated to do the practice because I was allowed to choose the songs I wanted to play. I didn't do the AMEB exams till I went to Uni, by then I think my work/study/practice ethic was far better!

Motherhugger said...

As they we used to say when I was singing jazz: there aren't any hard songs, just ones you haven't learnt well enough yet.

I have a friend who reckons there is no difference between getting your kids to daily practice their instruments and paying for academic coaching. What do you think? (Her kids are coached.)

As for the scale of mean mums, I've shown my kids clips from Mommy Dearest and Sybil. I'm an angel in comparison. (Recommended for a mum pick me up - at least I'm not as bad as them.)

Jenny said...

That's an interesting comment about coaching - I think it does reflect something about what I value as a parent. If only music practice actually was 'daily' - it is much more hit and miss than that. And probably closer to Karen's three or four times a week (which is fine). Interestingly our youngest started lessons just a few weeks ago. I'm a bit worn out by the whole thing and suggested to the older kids that maybe she shouldn't do it. They were horrified - but it's not fair Mum - she needs to have her chance to learn too. I was surprised - I thought they'd say - yeah, it's awful, don't make her do it. So they enjoy it more than they make out.