Tasmin Little and Parent Support

In my recent post, The Making of Charisma, I talked about the powerful buzz we sometimes experience during a concert performance.

Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little

At these times the music doesn’t merely move us, it imparts energy and inspiration for the musical life. After I hear fabulous playing, I can’t wait to get to my violin. With the sounds and images still clear in my mind, I just want to play and play, trying to achieve the glorious tone of the great artist I’ve just heard.

As a teacher, I get a similar effect from watching great players working with young musicians.

The best masterclasses are about purely musical matters, delving deeper into the heart and soul of the music, rather than dealing with matters of technique. Today’s post features a conversation I had with Tasmin Little after her masterclass to young violinists at the University of WA. She was in town to play the Bruch concerto with the WA Symphony Orchestra.

Tasmin is an international violin soloist, a great artist who radiates her love of music like the morning sunshine in springtime. She tours the world to play the great concertos for us, yet still finds time for her children within her formidable range of musical activities. Her performances inspire audiences with the  joy and enthusiasm that emanates from the depths of her being. She lives the delight of playing the violin – and you can’t help being enlivened by her extraordinary vibrancy on or off the stage.

When I talked to Tasmin after the masterclass, I wanted to hear about the early years of her life with music. By virtue of the years of self-directed study and hard work, great musicians are ultimately self-made, but the environment and influence of their early years is pivotal. The active support of parents in a young musician’s life creates a powerful impetus. From these years come the vision and love of music; the origins of the quest for beauty and artistic meaning. As we talked, Tasmin spoke about her deep appreciation of her own parents’ part in her life with music…

the support of parents in the right way is crucial, she says.

Many years ago I realized that my most important “students” are parent -teachers. Nature bestows parenthood on us minus instructions on how to bring up our offspring to be well-educated musicians. We all know how to love and care for our children, but we must somehow learn how to educate them for life enrichment – in music, art and literature, for example.


◊ Avoid pressure or conflict!

Children smell an agenda a mile away and may refuse to co-operate. Wouldn’t you? Inspiration is better than motivation! I teach parents of young beginners how to make up simple games to get things going,  generally involving a little challenge to make repetition more interesting.

Sometimes I incorporate the large squares on my studio carpet in a game. When an important point comes up, such as playing a tricky section correctly or learning a new skill, we turn the squares into stepping stones. The student steps into the next square after a correct repetition, but stays put if there’s a mistake! The goal is the tenth square. The game is played in a humorous spirit. I’ll say, very goood – step forward! Uh-oh, can’t move on that one! Or, what do you think? Children are very fair judges. I might vary the game for fun: e.g. three or more correct repeats before stepping forward; stepping backwards for mistakes; etc., but by the end of the game, the point is learned and memorized.

This way of learning is more effective at developing good study habits for very young students than indirect systems such as incentives (rewards), verbal persuasion or nagging.

◊ Take part in lessons!

As a teacher, my aim is to include the parent in the lesson. It’s really my fault if a parent dozes off and doesn’t know what to do at home. I ask parents questions, go over points together and even get them to demonstrate basic skills.

◊ Learn and practise the basics yourself!

I love it when parents catch the violin bug for themselves. Home becomes a place of music and real musicians. Daily practice and studying new music are normal activities for the people who live there.

◊ Learn to read music!

At first a musical score looks like a secret code, with strange symbols and esoteric meanings, but it’s easier  than you think. Start simply with finger numbers* (1 to 4), note names and lengths (easy to follow and check as you listen to the recording) and bowing (just ups ν or downs Π) – during the course of lessons. The teacher will help out.

◊ Take responsibility for morning practice!

For many parents, this is the hardest part, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is patiently establishing a daily habit that has its own momentum. I’m going to return to this important topic again and again. How to successfully set up and monitor daily practice needs its own series of posts. Irregular practice requires much more effort than maintaining daily practice. Every intermittent session requires motivation, whereas daily habits grow their own momentum, so you can direct your energy and attention to where it is really needed – fluency.

◊ Teach the new piece!

In our music school, we teach parents to set aside a time each afternoon for learning new music. This system works very well – a single clear goal to work together on, without the pressure of other things to practise. The morning practice creates fluency, which makes new learning easier.

I appreciate your interest and hope you find this post useful, whether you’re a teacher, parent or student. I look forward to hearing your comments and questions. Next up is more music, so stay with me until the next post!

Cheers, John

*A little word about finger numbers: I teach the correct names of notes on the fingerboard from the very beginning, i.e. C# rather than A2, F# not E1, etc. Even 3 year old students easily learn to use correct terms. After all, they are able to learn new languages with ease at this age.

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