In the News
Performances by Tess, Keith, and Scott Coulson
Tess Coulson performing Czardas, Monti
Scott Coulson performing Prelude in Db Major, Chopin
Keith Coulson performing Prelude op 23, Rachmaninoff
Beverly and I were talking about my kids and their growth since I was crawling around on the floor with them in “Music ‘n’ Me,” playing “Sugar Cookies” endlessly on our little keyboard. Now they are all teenagers, with the oldest a Senior in High School, but all are still actively developing their skill at piano with Larissa. Beverly asked me to write some thoughts on what we’ve done to encourage their continued work and growth in music.
For us, learning and playing music is a family priority, like going to school or brushing your teeth. Practice is something we do every day. Over the 14 or so years we’ve been at Milder’s, from the first group lessons up to their current preparations for a family recital, that has been the case. Certainly, there have been times when one or more of the kids was not as interested in practicing. So maybe break it up, giving a little free time between the practice, or stop short a little on one day. Just make sure and do it every day. As I’ve heard one teacher say, “You only need to practice on days you eat.” Over time, our kids have all come back to the point of practicing under their own motivation with little more than the normal parental prioritizing of activities (e.g. “Finish your piano before getting on any screens.”) We’ve also never used extra practice as a punishment, since that teaches kids to hate practice. We also never try to catch up on missed practice by doing it all the day before the lesson. Cramming teaches kids that practice really isn’t important. Marathon sessions don’t lead to better playing, and it makes kids hate practice. Better to do the regular amount plus ten percent than to make it a death march. Now, they’ve progressed way beyond my ability to help them, but I still like to listen to them practice. When they were little, I would sit with them to encourage them and help them do it right.
Why so much about practice? It’s simple: the best way for kids to develop a love for their music is to get good at it. Nothing is more frustrating than not getting better (e.g. my golf game) and nothing is more satisfying to them than mastering a piece. And this never happens without practice – daily, on the right things, the right way, like the teacher prescribes. Also, practicing every day ends up taking less time to mastery than infrequent marathons. My kids started out practicing no more than 10 minutes a day while in group lessons and typically spend 45 minutes a day now (usually in two 20-ish minute sets), and they’ve grown measurably every year. Still, they’ve made the effort essentially every day for 10+ years, so it adds up to a lot of time overall.
It’s been great for each kid, and great for the family as well. Every day I get to hear a live performance of music in my house. As the kids have developed their skills, they have come to appreciate the gift that this skill entails. They will play music as a way to relax, focusing on the music to relieve stress. They play for fun – not just the classical pieces they’ve learned, but other pieces (e.g. music from “Lord of the Rings” or Disney films) or music they make up. Their training has made band music a breeze – consider reading a single note versus a piano piece’s six or more at a time – so they can focus on tone and technique. And my daughter was able to pick up the vibes in almost no time thanks to her ability to read music and the instrument’s similar layout to piano. Playing in an ensemble is easy for them after years of performing recitals.
In fact, their music training has carried over to other activities as well. My oldest claims that he is unfazed by nerves as a pitcher from all the recital performances he’s done. It makes sense; what could be more challenging than playing a difficult piece from memory in front of an audience from a cold start? Yet they all do it, with little or no show of nerves (especially at younger ages), and they draw from this forever. Similarly, they’ve learned a surprising amount about managing projects. To learn a complex piano piece takes time, requires them to break down the piece into sections, and start learning it measure by measure. Not only have they developed the skill to learn essentially any piano piece, but they can imagine that any project may be mastered by breaking it down and building it up bit by bit.
So we started our children at Beverly Milder’s Musical Arts to help them develop their skill in and appreciation of music. We made it a priority because neither of us received the same support when we were children, and feel we missed out. It’s turned out to be a much greater gift, far exceeding our expectations. Yes, they play piano well, but they love music, it has become part of their personalities, and they’ve learned to apply the lessons from music to enrich their lives.