MUSICAL MUSINGS: The benefits of having a tiger mom

Recently, someone told me that they thought children shouldn’t learn how to play an instrument. He said that if a child wanted to play later on, then that child could start when he or she wanted to.

His reasoning was that starting at a later age would ensure that children playing instruments actually enjoyed playing instead of just being forced into world of music.

I couldn’t agree less with this point of view.

I started playing the violin at 4, mainly because my mother was adamant that I should learn how to play an instrument.

I was told that I could play whatever I wanted, so I settled on the violin (mainly, I think, because it was one of the few instruments I had heard of at the time).

I began taking group lessons and then, soon after, private lessons. Violin wasn’t a priority for me. It was more like a chore than a hobby—my mom would set a timer for 15 minutes, and I was required to produce squeaky noises for that time.

Eventually, violin wasn’t so much a chore as a daily punishment. I would come up with excuses, or say that I had already done my practice when I really hadn’t just to avoid those 15 minutes.

It became a habitual point of contention between my mother and me, even more so when my practice time was bumped up to 30 minutes. I would threaten to quit at least once a month, but my mom was unrelenting.

And then I joined the middle-school orchestra and realized how much better I was than everyone else. Even though I had been playing for only seven years, my skills were understandably better than my peers’ (who generally had picked up their instruments a year or two earlier).

So my ego drove me to practice the violin more and more. I auditioned for the Sacramento Youth Symphony, and, when I was accepted, I experienced a new revival in practice.

But it wasn’t until a couple more years had passed that I really began to enjoy playing the violin.

I had just started working with a new teacher, and I was beginning to stay awake during classical concerts. Suddenly I realized that professional musicians weren’t performing because their moms were forcing them to or even because they wanted to one-up their peers.

Instead, they were playing because they wanted to, because they found something in music that made them whole.

I began looking for that feeling in my music and haven’t stopped since.

In many ways, this story could have ended differently. If my mother hadn’t been so resolved, or if I had never joined the middle-school orchestra, or if I hadn’t started looking for wholeness in my music, then I might never have started liking the violin.

But the worst possible alternate scenario would have been if I’d never started playing at all, or if I had started in 5th grade instead. I wouldn’t have had the time to become a reasonably good player, and, therefore, wouldn’t have had the motivation to get better.

This is why I disagree with the view that music shouldn’t be started until later in life.

Sure, by that time one may actually want to start playing, but they aren’t going to get nearly as far as someone who started earlier. And, yea, a kid may end up quitting, but at least they’ll have the basics down so that they can return to it later. Either way, starting early only helps the person involved.

I mean, there’s a reason that a majority of the amazing players today started when they were young.


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