Tiger Mother And Music Discipline
There has been a tremendous surge of attention lately regarding the parenting practices of the famous “Tiger Mom.” The Harvard Law professor wrote a book called, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, in which she recounted her experiences raising two daughters in the traditional Chinese way while living in modern day America. The book has raised much controversy regarding her practices, but what caught my attention was that she pushed her daughters to learn a musical instrument, the violin and piano respectably. This article will discuss my thoughts on the Tiger Mom's parenting practices of enforcing music discipline on her daughters.
In the book as well as in interviews, the Tiger Mom forced her two daughters to practice their instruments for 2 to 3 hours a day. She would listen to them practice and tell them that each song must be perfect or they would not be permitted to stop practicing until they could.
The first daughter really reached a high level of musicianship in playing the piano. I heard her on a video recording, and I was impressed with what I witnessed. She was performing a piano solo at Carnegie Hall at the age of 14. Wow! Clearly, the 3 hours a day of practice made that achievement possible. The second daughter, on the other hand, studied the violin for many years and has recently given it up with permission by her mother, in order to pursue tennis.
Both of her daughters have high grades in all their classes. Part of that has to do with high expectations of their Tiger Mom, and partly I believe, because learning a musical instrument improves cognition and it transfers to higher scores in math, reading, and science.
I personally believe that 2 to 3 hours of practice a day plus homework and studies is on the excessive side. I believe 45 minutes to an hour of focused practice time is the most effective, especially for beginners. Unless the child is immensely enjoying the practice time, the results will not improve much after the first hour, so long as it is focused practice.
Students who enjoy practicing need a break after an hour. Even professional musicians need a break after an hour of performing. And they are playing what they have already learned. It's much more strenuous on the mind and even on the body to practice an instrument for several hours at a time because of the amount of concentration required. Everyone needs a break. The Tiger Mom supposedly didn't even allow bathroom breaks during practice time. Again, this is excessive and this method would certainly backfire sooner or later. That's exactly what happened with her second daughter.
If after practicing one hour a day consistently did not show any improvement, certainly some change would need to be made. If the student has a good teacher, that teacher would be able to make a professional assessment as to whether the student is improving and demonstrate how to achieve progress. Unfortunately, sometimes it is poor teaching and not the student that can hinder results or motivation. Sometimes a teacher change is required. Sometimes it's the teacher's personality or method that is not effective for a particular student's needs. I don't think this was the case with the Tiger Mom. In my opinion, she was forcing her kids to practice too much.
I understand that she had high expectations and I applaud that. The West seems to be lacking in a disciplined approach to parenting lately. But music inherently teaches discipline. Music inherently causes the student to self-analyze and to find solutions to improve. A good teacher can help facilitate this even further. A mother looking over the shoulder of her daughter while practicing causes too much pressure and diminishes the joy that making music brings. Now I don't know if The Tiger Mom actually looked over her daughters' shoulders while they practiced, but that's how it appeared in the videos I saw from the media. If that's the case, it would have been better to do a check during the last 5 minutes of practice time to see if there's an improvement.
A parent with no background in learning a musical instrument should not take this approach too seriously, because that would be like a lawyer performing heart surgery. It's not their job. The teacher ultimately, assesses improvement and reports the results back to the parent. The Tiger Mom did study the piano and violin during her childhood, so she was somewhat qualified to assess her daughters' progress. However, she is not a professional musician nor a music education expert. So her opinion on progress would not be considered as valuable as a professional teacher's would be.
The role of the parent in their child's music education should be involved but not overbearing. The parent should enforce daily practice for 45 minutes to an hour and make sure to be informed by their child's progress from the teacher on a weekly basis. If the teacher recommends more practice time or recommends more concentration, the parent should enforce and facilitate this at home. And if the child laments about how difficult it is to learn the instrument, or expresses doubts of improving, the parent and teacher both should encourage and support the child to believe in himself/herself.
I applaud the Tiger Mom for being so involved in her daughters' music education. I also applaud her for understanding how important learning a musical instrument is for a child's education and development. There is no doubt that learning an instrument and learning how to read music have a profound effect on a student's ability to master other academic subjects. It shows too, because the Tiger Mom's children have proven to be superior in their academics.
In the end, learning a musical instrument teaches discipline, builds self-esteem, and improves academic abilities. I thank the Tiger Mom and her story for bringing the importance of music education to the forefront of the media, even if it will be short-lived like all stories in the news. We the people, parents and teachers, must ensure that the next generation grows up to be intelligent, hardworking, and ultimately successful individuals. Learning a musical instrument indeed teaches values that will help them achieve these goals.