CHAT: children and musical instruments

It’s CHAT revived….strap yourselves in, it’s a good one!

This week I’m speaking to my dear friend Alicia about introducing young children to musical instruments.  Alicia is one of my oldest friends who rocks womanhood, mamahood and also happens to be an accomplished violinist.   While Alicia didn’t choose the professional musician route, she studied (and also met her husband) at Juilliard Pre-College in NYC.  She now has two young daughters, and we discuss her three year-old A during the interview.  Here’s what she had to say:

You grew up playing the violin to a high standard, ultimately earning a place at the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division. Summarise this journey in practical and emotional terms. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to study at Juilliard. It was by chance that I met my violin teacher, Miss Margaret Pardee, through my mother’s somewhat haphazard research for violin teachers on Long Island. She found “Pardee” easy to pronounce and decided to give her a call. At the time, my mother had not heard of Miss Pardee, her musical achievements, or even of Juilliard. During my audition with Miss Pardee (which in retrospect, we didn’t realize was an audition at all), she said that we should consider auditioning for Juilliard Pre-College the following year, and gave us some pamphlets to peruse. She then recommended that I study with one of her students until she had an opening in her very packed schedule to accept another student into her studio. We did as we were told (she is a very persuasive and stern lady) and I found myself preparing repertoire for an audition some number of months later. It wasn’t until I started studying at Juilliard during my 8th grade year that I realized the world that I had stepped into. I would describe the experience as fun, exciting, and hard work. It was a new environment with lots of new friends and personalities, and I loved every minute of it.

Has A begun formal training on a musical instrument, and if so, what is she playing and what’s the structure of the training? No, A has not yet started formal training on a musical instrument. She is just three, and we believe that this coming year will be the right time to begin lessons. Until now, we have just tried to expose her to lots of different types of music and instruments at home. She has surprised us with her love for music and performing… she has memorized lyrics to a few dozen songs (Sofia the First songs are her favorite) and regularly sings her heart out to anyone who visits our home.

What’s your advice on how to inspire and motivate children to play a musical instrument? My husband firmly believes (and I 100% agree) that it’s important it expose children to as many activities as possible at a young age, whether it’s a musical instrument, a sport, or something else. We believe that this is one way for the child to discover something at which s/he excels, and that the taste of success that subsequently follows will drive the child’s work ethic through adulthood. The theory is that once one feels that one is truly good at something, one will want to achieve that feeling again in other situations, and thus will be more likely to work hard and apply effort under those new circumstances. Music can be fun and rewarding, but the child first and foremost needs to enjoy it. Pushing too hard won’t work if the interest level isn’t there.

In your experience growing up as an instrumentalist, was practicing fun as well as functional?  I can’t say that practicing was very fun, but it was functional. Practicing was necessary, as it gave me confidence (as well as quelled the fear) when I got up on stage to perform. So much of giving a good performance is in one’s head. Knowing that you have spent hours upon hours rehearsing for a performance is an automatic mental confidence boost.

What would you describe as the greatest benefit(s) of learning to play an instrument as a child? (Chris says meeting Sung!) Yes, meeting my husband at Juilliard is certainly a great benefit of learning an instrument! But in line with my thoughts above, I do believe that I gained some level of self-confidence through music, which admittedly helps a bit, particularly during one’s awkward adolescent years! I also believe that being forced to be on stage all throughout childhood and my teenage years was great practice for staying poised in high-pressure situations.

Thanks amiga, some great food for thought there.

CHAT is a (weekly) interview series and throwback to my journalism days, where I loved the art of writing questions that evoke interesting, insightful stories. CHAT will run most Mondays on the blog and topics will vary. Drop me a line at if you are interested in contributing.

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