Nanny Music #33 – what’s in your mind


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Recently I read an article talking about practicing on instruments, some professor said if you practice with absent mind, the longer you practice the more imprint of the mistakes in your brain, and that makes improvement impossible. No doubt. I know this right from the start and I never asked my children practice a certain amount of time. I just told them to practice the part they can’t manage yet then a few more times to ensure the right way and bring into their muscle memory. if they could practice 5 to 10 times a day, I am happy. I also told them to think of the music and play in their mind when they are in the car and can’t physically play on the instruments. Seems i am with the experts all along.

My children both play fiddle good but they have different styles even learn from same teachers. They heard different things from the same song. When my daughter thinking about long stroke bowing my son is thinking legato in the same phrase of melody. The main thing is they all HEARD the music and they are not just play notes. They play fiddle with passion and expression because they play like that in their mind before they apply it on the instrument.

Practice is to make it better, if you just remember the notes and don’t have the music ringing in your mind, you are just a robot do what you told. Anyone can play notes. soon or later. But the musicians can hear how their music touch the audience before they play. i felt annoyed when a teacher or parent told the kids to wave around when they perform, it is awkward and make them look like clowns. my daughter’s teacher said, just relax and let the music drive your body moving so the audience can feel your enthusiasm. Yes, close your eyes and your music is dancing with you. There is another pianist said when you reach the highest level your body will move less because you are playing through your heart not through your body. I think he is talking about the impulse. Why not teach the kids play from their heart from the very beginning. I heard people applause kids play with squeaky sounds because they thought they are too small to make it sound good. No, they are wrong. Suzuki method teaches kids distinguish the tiny difference between sand and beans sound like in a jar while shaking it. Even a 4 years old can recognize beautiful sounding. All they need is to use the right technique and experiment it when they play instruments.

Feel the music is the best way to practice, when you play beautifully in your mind. Your brain will teach your fingers to play like that. I don’t think my kids ever play squeaky notes even when they were 4 and play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They are not prodigies, they just really hear and feel the music. a 10 minutes practice in your mind is better than 5 hours sawing on the instruments.

Nanny Music #32 – What do you do


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After the kids won the talent show, someone approach to me and asked who is their teacher. He assumed I will say the names well-known locally. Well, one of their teacher, Calvin Dyck, teaches Lia classical music is a famous musician who owned a doctor degree. But that’s not the reason I chose him for the lessons. He has a very powerful colorful style and uses a fun method to teach. And he loves fiddle music. I was amazed by the detail and expression he brought into music and surely he made a big change to the kids performance. I understands why others always want to know who is the kids’ teacher, most parents want the best for their children and if they can get the same teacher as my kids, they will give their children a jump-start.

My children might be lucky to have different teacher to help them through different stages. Their second classical teacher force them to read music instead of copy him. He also took out the tape on their violin from the previous teacher to train them get in tone by ears and it really open another chapter. Their third teacher speed up their path by introduce fun pieces. And their last teacher is like a martial art master bring them into power and style which are not on the paper. When they were 8 and 9, fiddle master Calvin Vollrath took them in his own class in the fiddle camp, a pioneer step no one else dare to do. he gave them a chance to learn in professional level at very young age.

Yes those good teachers make significant changes. Buy when my son start to teach as charity, Dr Dyck told him, he can’t just teach anyone, but only the one who want to learn. I found out later it is true. But not just about the kid but also the parents. Kai has a couple brilliant students who learn fast. We helped them get a donated violin and drove Kai to their place to teach for free. We suggested them to join the local fiddle club to get in camp free. When all sounded good, their parents kept cancelling lessons because they are busy and they never show up in the camp or club. Why they were asking help and not cooperate with the teacher?

I also heard a friend said her son got MVP but she can’t let him be in the baseball game that summer because they HAVE TO go to their share-time cabin for vacation. What? Anything special happened to my kids maybe the only chance to make a change to their life, what are those parents thinking?

It bothers me when I see kids stand like statures in a fiddle group while others perform because they only know a few songs. The first time my children join the local fiddle club they are just beginners in playing violin. I didn’t let them sit there to watch other’s play. I told them picking up their little violins and follow others’ fingers. in a half year they are winning in contest, getting paid gigs and even recorded with the club in the CD. Do you dare to let your kids try?

To find a good teacher is important but more important is your input for your children. When you complain your kids don’t practice enough, please play some music to let them fall in love with it. When you envy with other kids play better, maybe work with the music teacher a little close, not just drop the kids off for lessons and take off. My daughter heard a Beethoven piece played in the movie, she said it’s so beautiful, I want to play it. So I searched all night on-line to find the sheet music. Do you ever do that? When you kids want to play something harder than the level they are learning, do you encourage them or say you can’t do it? Do you ever let your kids holding a pretend violin to mimic the musician? Do you play music for your kids since they still in the womb? So don’t blame the kids or teacher, check how much did you do.


Nanny Music #31-Recycle orchestra and music teachers


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One of Dryden, Ontario's Landfill's. This one ...

One of Dryden, Ontario’s Landfill’s. This one is located in Barclay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because of our own financial problem, I encourage my children to help other kids when they can. since they start to perform at very young age, they have being the volunteer entertainers of Child Run,an annual fundraising event for BC Children Hospital. Now they established a charity program to teach kids from low-income family for free. We always know how hard it is to pay for music lessons and buy instruments as we experienced it ourselves.

Just saw a trail of a documentary film called Landfill Harmonic, a couple of music professors and a luthier is help the poorest kids who live in a landfill city make instruments from trash and teach them to play. They took those amazing sounding young musicians on tour in Europe with their instruments made from garbage. One of the orchestra kids’ father said they make a living by resell the trash, surviving day by day. They don’t have money to buy any instrument or pay music lesson. And his daughter said she can’t live without music. I cried when I heard the outstanding music they played. My guitar teacher who is the best in Asia want to teach me for free too when I was young. I asked him why, he said, because you really want to learn. Unfortunately I couldn’t continue the lessons because of some family issue.

a few days ago a music teacher send me an article written by a music parent who is an economist talking about why music teacher should charge the missing lesson without give out make up lesson. He compare music lesson with swimming lesson, he said, you can’t ask for make up lesson for swimming or university class so you shouldn’t ask make-up music lesson if your kid is sick. he forget one thing swimming lessons and university classes are group lessons if you missed one you can ask your friend, or the instructor to give you a tip or assignment within short time. But music lessons are set for individual, private lessons. Music skill take time to progress and very detail learning in person there is nothing a friend or assignment can catch it up like a make-up lesson will do. Plus in a group lesson the instructor already spend his time with other students, of course it’s not fair for him to spend extra time with single student. But for private music lesson, the teacher won’t need to do anything if the student is not there, so make-up lesson is just move the same amount of time he spend on teaching to different spot. He doesn’t lose anything.

what a contrast, the music professors teaching for free to change lives, and a rich parent want the teacher enjoy his free time when his kid missed a lesson. My family struggle financially, even my kids have some talent and they need a good teacher I can’t afford to pay a lesson not taught. I think the professor in the movie know that and he won’t ask for money from the landfill orchestra. Music teachers need the tuition for living, but get paid even their student is sick or can’t make it to the lesson, umm. I know I want my children to be the music teachers who give to make a change.

Nanny Music #30 – I want that gold


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Even I just tell her to do her best, this was what Lia told me before the classical violin competition. Turn out she got two gold medals, a bursary and one trophy proves she is the best in the division and the other one to show she had the best quality of performance in the whole competition. And she got invited to the Honours Concert and a chance to compete in the provincial competition. It all start with a ridiculous competition Lia as Jasmine in Aladdin which let cellist compete with violinist judged by an adjudicator knows nothing about cello. No matter how good the cellist is the violin music always sounds harder and more appealing. Lia played cello that time and lost to a violin player who seems not Princess-Jasmine-aladdin-7075721-577-800handle the music piece well. She didn’t gave up, and determine to do better in violin competition after that.

The mind power drive her to reach far, not only winning. When she played you can see how the determination pull her whole strength and concentration into the music. You can also see her close her eyes to put her whole mind in the beautiful world of music.

Same mind power get her the first trumpet position in school honor band and the academic honor roll and lead actress in biennial musical play. The perfection she try to reach is much more meaningful to her than all the honors she got. after she got all A’s on the report card she still work very hard on the test. I asked, don’t you get an A on that subject already. She replied,”I want to be better.” Yes, her thirst for perfection is always pushing her forward.

Nanny Music #29 – my kids from heaven? hell?


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candles (Photo credit: rogerglenn)

When most of the families gather together enjoy the holidays, there are families in Newtown CT and New York sorrow for their lost. People might blame the system not able to control or deal with the mental illness like this frustrated mom But are there any other options?

I like to watch a couple of TV shows on the Animal Planet channel. One is “My Cat from Hell“, the other called “Me or My Dog” The cat behaviorist said there are no cat’s problem he can’t fix, even some of the pet owners have reach their limits and they are thinking their last choice of putting the pet down. At the end of teach episode, seem all pets owners and pets are happy, If the obvious mental challenge pet can be fixed, why they need to rely on medication or lock-up in jail or hospitalization for human? Why can they use some behaviour analysis or environmental change to mild down the mental problems? In the article above the mother bring out a drama about her son throw a big tantrum on following the school dress code and she won’t want to take back the punishment right after he apologized. She mention he was threatening to kill himself or his mother. And she took him straight to the mental hospital and ask them to call the cop. Um I remember many times my kids throw tantrum and my husband warning them about seeing psychologist. Or they complain they have no life when we ask them to practice their instruments. But I know in my heart that my kids are not crazy and yet they are so brilliant that their teachers have some hard time to keep up with them. We never take either of them to the mental hospital or psychologist. And most of time they calm down after a while and do their chore or practice. They know that is the best for everyone. If your kid really are gifted and has mental problem why stick with the punishment to make the situation worse? If you know his reaction is extreme why keep pushing the button? In the animal shows the experts never try to change the cats or dogs, they always find something wrong with the way the pet owner treat their pets, hurting them emotionally or physically even they don’t intend to. Just think how scared was the kid when his mother drove him to the mental hospital and he screamed, ” Don’t send me to hell!!!” Which kid will behave good all the time. Even my daughter is advanced on almost every subjects in school and instruments she learned, I still encounter bad tantrums from her or even swear on some occasions. I deal with my children differently when they don’t listen. For my very opinionated daughter I give her the option to choose when to do what, and let her feel she is in control of the situation. For my stubborn son I break down the chore in small amount and lure him to do just a little more and throw appraise here and there to make him feel the achievement. If it ‘s not working then I will take their privilege away. They know that they better listen when I still in good mood otherwise I might be harder to handle than them. Sometime I give in after they soften down, sometime I stick with the punishment. Each kid and each scenario is different, been strict like the Tiger Mom does not always work. I want them get things done I also want them to love me and always share their thought with me. If even deal with normal kids requires some strategy and management skill, how can you just apply strict rule and push them when they already have problem. My kids are not always behave in home but they are always well behave in public. They were the only kids allow to perform and record with adults in the local club. My son went alone to a language camp for a week when he was 7. People asked me how I train them to help me, the disabled mom and listen so well. Um, it’s not so peaceful in home but they know if they want to play video game in the rest day, go to friends house, or even go to a movie, they better get things done quickly and make me happy. a cranky mom is just as bad as a kids with tantrum. No I didn’t ask them practice 5 hours a day, I didn’t lock them up in home without sleep overs, I encourage them to participate in school play, volunteer, teach or even start a charity. I didn’t give up when they popped up the words like I hate you, or I want to kill myself. They are just words, when they get emotional they are not logical to avoid bad words. The min thing to do is calm them down when they are upset so you can put some logic in their mind. I am not always able to keep myself calm, but when you push too far even a normal kid will go crazy.

I don’t see the pet experts suggest mental medicine to a cat or dog why we always push to get them for our kids. If there are no bad dog or bad cat but just a behaviour cause by the physical pain or misunderstanding, why can we think of the same way to the kids with mental problem. They might never change because lack of some chemical in their brain that didn’t mean we can’t alter our method to deal with them and keep them away from trouble. For one thing, why keep a gun in home when you are a teacher and you know your kid get some problems already. And why drive the kid straight to mental hospital after he apologized even the good behaviour don’t last long. They never see an option how can they think logically. There are times when my children both arguing and screaming out of control and my husband would sigh, ” Our family is falling apart !” No, that’s the moment I have to wake myself up from yelling back. If I can’t I am pushing the family apart. And there are a couple times my neighbour thought I am crazy because of the yelling. Look back can you swear you never yell at your kid? I am learning along as the kids grow, loosen or tighten the leash on the way and sure in my heart they wont be on drug or bring a gun to kill someone. If a demonic cat can turn into a sweetie after a few adjustment, there must be a way to deal with human with mental illness before bring out the medication  or lock them up, don’t you think so?

Nanny Music #28 – the shiny eyes


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English: Benjamin Zander

English: Benjamin Zander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


After Kai and Lia did the speech for Tedxkids, I realize how a person’s perspective view can inspire others. And then Lia’s violin teacher talked me about a video from Tedx Talk video by Ben Zander, a conductor. He talked about how classical music can light up people’s heart and when you see the shiny eyes you know you make someone love classical music. The shiny eyes, yes, I have seen it in my children’s eyes when they heard a beautiful piece and eager to learn to play it. Should all music learning students have the same sparkle in their eyes? Why some of them quit learning before they can enjoy it? Mr Zander said when the kids start to learn they impulse on every note, and by the time they impulse between phrases, they can play pretty good. This is what exactly I tried to show my children when they start to learn instruments. I never asked them practice for certain a mount of time. I asked them to listen and feel the music when they play, once they got the part they try to manage, they are done practicing that day. When they feel the music the notes become fluent like running water. Even just 5 minutes, it will be better than mechanically practice for hours. And why some teacher think the kids only can play the songs or pieces they learned? Let them try, mimic other musicians, music plays from their hearts not their fingers. When Kai and Lia started, their school teacher brought more than 40 kids to the local fiddle cub. Kai and Lia were the only kids can stay and play with the adults in the fiddle club, They join the club gigs and recording after a few month of learning. What happened with the other kids who start to learn fiddle earlier and better than them in that time? Well, they were not been told to try. When they heard a song they don’t know yet, they just sit there and soon get bored and restless. Eventually their eyes are muted to the music. Like sitting in the coffee shop and not hear the background music. I can guarantee you won’t see any shiny eyes. Music learning could be like an experiment, keep trying and get sparkles on the process. I don’t think more than half of the songs Kai and Lia performs are taught by their teachers. They heard them from concerts, CDs even from their friends, their repertoire from the teachers are just the sprinkles on the ice cream. Mr Zander said everyone can love classical music. I am thinking of what Dr Suzuki who create the Suzuki method said, everyone can learn to play music, if you make their eyes shine.



Nanny Music #27 – Balance life


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Lia told me she would like to learn gymnastic stuff, well, maybe that’s not a good idea to add it in her busy life. One thing I know about gymnastics, balance. Wonder if she can borrow this idea for her learning, or maybe she already implant the idea and using it to organize her schedule. She told me her project has been used as a example to show how a good work can be done  by her school teacher. And she is progressing well in classical music as well as fiddle. She hand out with friends and watch lots TV on the days she is free, and still get As in school, even advanced a grade in math. Um, she seems balance well in all area. That make me think, we are told to get all 5 groups of food to balance our nutrition, why not balance the activity or jobs we do? I never think practice 5 hours a day 7 days a week is good for a musician. As Homer Simpson said, “No beer, No TV make homer crazy.” I will say, all work, no leisure make everyone crazy. Even a musician need some balance in life.

Nanny Music #26 – learn to be a leader


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Kai joined one of the fiddle club practice without Lia, the club president asked him to lead some tunes. Count in, arrange the pick up, show other member how to play when they are not familiar with the arrangement. Even play harmony for most of the tunes. And there is a moment let my heart skipped a little. She asked Kai to record a tune so others can take it home and learn. The song is not very hard but Kai never heard it before, all he have is the sheet music he get a few minutes before the request. He played perfectly with vibrato just by sight-reading right after the request, the recording is once through. And when he plays harmony by request he make it up on spot too. Hmm, the only other fiddlers who done it before are either teachers or being play like mature player for a long time. Kai is only 14. And no, he is not genius, he learned how to do it from jam session in the fiddle camp, his fiddle buddies.

Sometime, experience come from trying, like Kai learned composition from the camp workshop, and figure things out when he have brain storm jamming with friends., even just doodling around. And you will never know when or where any request will pop out. Like in the club, he need to be a teacher, leader and conductor or composer. I am happy he took the challenge with an ease and enjoyed it too. The main hing is that he is ready, and all the effort worth it.

Nanny Music -#25 Making a prodigy?


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Mozart in 1777, the year of the concerto. Pain...

Mozart in 1777, the year of the concerto. Painted in Bologna by an unknown artist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lia’s violin teacher hand out a flyer for a child prodigy’s concert. All music teachers and parents are hoping their kids have this kind of so called talent There are people called Lia prodigy too and yes by the time she turn 15 she might be able to apply for university or college. She does has some talent, not enough to be called a prodigy if you sk me. The main point is I don’t want her lives as a prodigy, I want her feel and enjoy the music, play the music in her understanding and come out from her heart. When her fingers are flying on the strings, it’s the beat of her heart not 1/16 CDEFGAB. When she stands on stage to compete I want her forget about the contest, relax and be herself. I saw a documentary of a piano prodigy. When he was 6 he was performing at Carnage Hall and was featured in Ellen Degenres’ show. He was home schooled so he can practice all day. And he traveled around the world more than 200 days a year to perform. Yes, he play piano like Mozart, has no childhood, no friends, just like Mozart too. Do I want my children to be like that, definitely not. Mark O’Connor said he won more than 400 contests, yes, it’s also means his parents drive him to every single contests they found in the country. What is the limit? These prodigies were made by the parents.

Lia won every contests she went, some are bigger some are smaller but we traveled for the experience and to meet some fiddle friends, have fun in the camp on the way, not just go to contests.

Is it really worthy to skip a kid’s whole childhood to make a prodigy, do he really can express the music or just has mechanical skill. How much a 6 years old can understand of the sadness of Tchaikovsky and the heaviness of Bach or Beethoven? How can a 6 years old brain interpret a composer’s deep thought of their whole life? I remember after a lesson with my writing teacher I went to a famous poet’s home and asked a copy of his work which is out of print. I was asking in a worship tone as I felt the depth of his writing. But the first thing he said to me is “Young kid, do you really understand my poems?” I was in my early 20s when I saw him, and my writing was like a veteran. There is a professor from other country wrote to me asked for my book as he thought I was an old guy. The poet words hurt me, but I understood why he asked. It didn’t matter if I had an old soul, he can’t imagine an young “kid” reading his writing of a half century life experience. Prodigy, hum?

Nanny music #24 – Sacrifice a little earlier, gain a lot later


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.ImagePlaying 4 instruments ( violin, cello, piano trumpet), clogging, karate, it sounds a lot to a kid. But Lia seems manage well. She won first in every fiddle contests from BC to Saskatchewan; got 100% on every tests in school, even got a lead role in her school biannual play. and a music award from jazz band. She is working on getting her brown and black belt in Karate. And she is still have to do some chore in the house.

All these achievements come with a price, she can’t go play with friends as much as she wanted to. Even occasionally she got to hangout with friends and even a sleep over, she know she have to practice every day as a commitment for her future. and the time management skill she got from her busy life is priceless too. She don’t have a “tiger mom” asked her to skip all school activity and family chore to concentrate on main school subjects. She don’t have strict musician parents only allowed classical music or one specific instrument. But all her learning somehow help each instruments and sports. Such as her strength on her fingers from cello playing and symphony practice helped her playing twin fiddle with her brother and winning fiddle contests; the karate discipline taught her working hard in school; and the dance lessons give her the feel of the beat for music.

Is it too much for her age, maybe. But Chinese said “bitter first, sweet later”, ” bear what others won’t, and you’ll gain what others can’t” simply it just “if one won’t work hard when one still young, one will be pathetic when one is old.” The sacrifice of her free time now is already paying off and her future will be limitless if she don’t give up trying.