My daughter, Beatrix, takes violin lessons. She uses a quarter sized violin that has been passed around various members of my wife’s family for years until they grew to a larger size. We knew, because of its age and use, that it would need a little bit of maintenance after it was passed to her. New strings were needed and handled by her teacher. But, the bow needed to be re-haired and that is best done by a professional. So, I took it to a local Luthier who came recommended highly by her teacher.
Walking into his shop was immediately stirring. Violins, violas, and the random cello were everywhere. The smell of old wood and off-gassing lacquer filled my nose. all of this coupled with a gentle greeting by the Luthier gave one the immediate sense that this was a kind of chapel. A sacred temple for the practice, care, and continuation of an ancient art.
I gave him the violin, showed him the bow, and explained what I needed. I commented on some of the other items I noticed may be needed, beyond just the bow, to get his expert opinion. Perhaps it was the way I asked my questions or understood his answers but something caused him to ask, “Do you play?”
I explained to him that I grew up in a very musical family. My Grandmother was a concert classical pianist. My mother also plays at that level. And, my siblings all play at a concert performance level as well. Growing up, learning an instrument was considered as much of a part of my education as school itself. It was required.
I further explained there is a wild “writer” gene in my family that, like a random quark, strikes certain members with that ability and seems to knock out whatever talent or desire to excel at an instrument may exist in them. I told him that I did take both violin and cello lessons as a kid but, have not played in years. I told him that, lately, I have felt a pull to pick up instruments I abandoned as a child and play them again. My daughter takes piano, voice, and music theory as well and seems to pick things up quickly. I told him getting her to practice violin was sometimes a struggle though, despite the fact she’s pretty good and a fast learner.
He said, gently, “You should play. Not just for yourself, but for her. But, more than that, you should let her teach you. If you let her teach you what she is learning, because of your age and past experience, you’ll catch on quickly and it’ll make her feel like a good teacher. It will empower her and make her feel in control. This will make her a more confident player. Then, practice will no longer be drudgery but something fun you do together.”
I was struck dead in my tracks by this idea. It seemed at once mysterious and obvious. Like he was telling me a secret I already knew but hadn’t yet believed.
At Beatrix’s next lesson, I told her teacher about this conversation and she thought it was a fantastic idea. “I have a whole closet full of full size violins. You’re welcome to borrow one.” Done.
So, I have now taken several “lessons” from Beatrix, and the results of both her interest, learning, and time spent
practicing teaching are like the difference between night and day. No fighting, struggle, or argument over practicing. None of her getting frustrated or bored after five minutes. None of my feeling like getting her to practice is like getting her to swallow cod liver oil. We simply have fun playing her lessons together and, on average, do so for a half hour or more. It’s great and some of the best time I’ve spent in the last few weeks.
I suspect as well that this would work just as well with sports, or dance, or anything that requires similar practice. So, if you have a similar struggle around practice time at your house, perhaps try letting your kids teach you.