Passion requires autonomy

Published by Lori Pickert on February 10, 2010 at 10:31 PM

Parents who want their children to discover a passion for music, sports, or other hobbies should follow a simple plan: Don’t pressure them.

“Passion comes from a special fit between an activity and a person,” said Geneviève Mageau, a psychology professor at the University of Montreal. “You can’t force that fit; it has to be found.”

In one study, the researchers followed 196 middle-school students as they picked up a musical instrument for the first time. After five months, the psychologists found that one major variable that predicted whether children developed a passion for music was if their parents allowed them the freedom to practice on their own schedule. The passionate kids on average scored 9 percent greater on the autonomy scale than the non-passionate kids, which is a big effect in a psychology study, Mageau said.

“I’m not telling parents to let their kids do whatever they want without limits,” Mageau said. “The most important message is to focus on the child’s interests and not to impose one’s own on them.”

Want Passionate Kids? Leave ’em Alone (thank you to Sarah for the link)

 

We had a somewhat difficult time finding music teachers for our sons who would honor our desire to not force them to practice. I made it very clear that we wanted them to further develop their love for music and do whatever they wanted to with it, and we did not care about speed or amount of progress. Still, twice we had to replace teachers who pressured the boys or scolded them for not practicing enough.

My younger son only practices piano 5 to 10 minutes a day, but he loves music and writes his own pieces.

 

17 comments

Comment by cara on February 11, 2010 at 06:17 PM

I was wondering when a home schooler would mention this article - pretty cool article. I do wonder if i'd have played the violin longer if the guilt of not practicing hadnt been so unpleasant?

Comment by estea on February 11, 2010 at 07:13 PM

funny, m was just telling me about this article.

you know the history with my own mother and piano: legalistic practice notions and her *dream* that would not die - "my daughter will be a concert pianist if it kills me!" - had a huge part in the ultimate near-demise of our relationship. what's really sad is, the "special fit" was there, but i didn't learn to love piano until my mid-30's, after a 10 year hiatus. i began playing again purely for my own enjoyment. it was magical.

so i absolutely agree with the no pressure approach. would i have been a little sad if my kids didn't express interest in an instrument? yeah. but pushing costs too much.

Comment by Holly on February 11, 2010 at 07:16 PM

We had a horrible piano teacher. James stopped playing for a year after lessons that lasted a couple of months. He recently started playing again just out of books that we have at home and I'm leaving it alone.

Comment by Jana on February 12, 2010 at 04:28 AM

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Comment by nancy on February 12, 2010 at 01:59 PM

we had a little taste of very expensive lessons and the pressure to practice. at one point i just wondered what we were doing- forcing our child to practice when he just wanted to play with his brother. so, we just let it go and quit the lessons and saved ourselves the money and are much happier. if my son wants to pick up the instrument great, but he can easily learn when he has the real desire. what 6 year old has a passion for violin really?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2010 at 12:14 AM

my apologies re: slow response to comments, but our internet has been out. i can manage to approve comments on my phone, but i’m not up to typing responses!

cara, that’s an interesting point — that a child could feel not only resentful about having to practice so much but guilty that they didn’t do as much as they should.

i know someone who won’t let her child quit lessons — and she forces this child to practice — because she regrets quitting when she was in junior high. and she quit because she hated practicing! something wrong there...

e, incredible that pushing too hard can kill a real passion in a child — you probably would have practiced all the time in your own way .. and enjoyed it in your own way. scary.

thank you for sharing your story!

one teacher told me that one of my sons had a particular talent and it was my *responsibility* to make him develop it. if he had the ability to be a .. concert pianist? a pop star? a supper club piano player? .. i’m still not sure how it would have *helped* him for me to provide all the force behind it. real passion has to come from within, i would think.

holly, i hope you can find a good teacher for him — they are out there! we have had two really wonderful piano teachers. when the first, a young man, moved away, he was very worried that i would find the right replacement. i found another young man who plays in a band and who has just the right relaxed, laid-back approach. with these teachers, my son has been allowed to progress at his own pace and still do everything he wants to do. don’t give up!

jana, thank you!

nancy, just to support the violin, i do think it’s a fun instrument to play if you can do it in a relaxed and fun way. ;^)

i just don’t believe in forcing a child to practice .. and this goes right along with my feelings about all learning. the child needs to own it, or what is the point?

Comment by Kirsten on February 13, 2010 at 04:30 PM

I agree with this to a point.
Pushing a child to do something they don't want to do is obviously not a good idea. Totally agree.

However, there is joy and pride in discipline and seeing progress. Sometimes when you reach a milestone, performance, award, etc. you become more self-motivated to work harder.

I can imagine it was hard to find a music teacher who would not require practicing, because I can imagine that being a teacher who is teaching basically the same thing over and over would be frustrating.

Also, this doesn't work for all disciplines. Dance, for example, requires class attendance to perform - performing being a huge motivation to take the classes for most kids. My daughter has a passion for dance, in spite of being 'required' to take regular classes and encouraged (not forced) to practice at home. She has goals she has set for herself and works hard to make those happen.

However, she is one who found her passion early - we all recognized that - and she is very self-motivated.
if she lost interest, I certainly would not make her continue.

Comment by Andrea on February 13, 2010 at 05:04 PM

I just want to say thank you for having this blog, I wish I could print everything here and keep it next to me.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2010 at 09:52 PM

hi kirsten :^)

you make some interesting points ...

i should clarify that we weren’t looking for a teacher that didn’t require practicing as much as we were looking for a teacher who understood we wouldn’t be enforcing practicing. if a teacher is frustrated teaching to my son’s self-set pace, that’s fine. either my son would be willing to meet his teacher’s requirements or we would look for a different teacher and s/he could find a different student.

but .. i don’t mean to imply that my son doesn’t work at piano. he just works at it as much as he wants to. if i were a teacher, i would rather have students who were there out of love for music and who really enjoyed playing than students who were forced to be there and hated practicing.

i agree totally that "there is joy and pride in discipline and seeing progress". i just think there is more joy when the work is self-chosen and self-directed.

andrea, thank you! that makes my day. ;^)

Comment by Alice on February 15, 2010 at 08:08 AM

I live in a city with a large community of nomads, many of whom are great muscicians, who play on public transport. I always wonder what their attitude to practicing is - do they just play together every day, for fun, and rely on peer pressure to improve? In between trams, they play, improvise, and enjoy themselves at the tram stop. Music seems to be just part of their lives, not something relegated to an hour a day in solitude.

I bought a second hand piano a couple of years ago and decided to learn how to play. I swapped ESL lessons for piano lessons from a highschool student, and muddled a long a bit on my own. At first my eldest daughter was resentful of this interest and she hated the piano. Then gradually she became interested. I tried getting her to take lessons with my 'teacher' but she got stressed because she felt she couldn't do it.

Every now and then, she would sit down at the piano after I got up, and she would try and play something from my book. I explained which fingers to use, and which notes were which - but didn't insist that she use the right fingers, or right rythm. Bit by bit she got over her fear, and started learning some tunes on her own.

This year, my daughter (now 8) joined a free music class at school. They have a talented teacher who is writing a musical for them to play, together with a choir. Each child has brought their own instrument (guitar, flute, keyboard, violin). My daughter now has a new short piece to learn each week. It is pretty fast paced for an her, being self taught, but she is doing okay. I can't get her to practice much, but she is keeping up.

I think that the group music class is very inspiring for her - she comes home with the music really in her.

I find that the best way to get my daughter to practice is if I sit down and try and play myself. She soon gets me to move over.

My daughter is really experimenting with her piano now. She will sit underneath and move the keys. She experiments with different sounds. She writes her own little tunes and writes them in her music book. Nobody tells her if she is doing it right or wrong. She has a beginners book, which I learnt from, and she is gradually working her way through it, at her own pace, teaching herself new tunes. When she needs help, she asks me.

The other day she started playing with two hands simultaneously. She just decided to play the same tune with her left hand as she was with her right.

I don't have any dream for my daughters' music, except that they enjoy it, and that we can all play together one day (and that they will still put up with my terrible playing:) ).

Alice

Comment by Alice on February 15, 2010 at 08:26 AM

I think that it is also important, to choose your own music - just like reading.

We have a friend who is very talented musically, but gave up lessons as a teenager because he didn't like the music she chose. He plays jazz.

I go on the internet and look for free beginners sheet music. There is lots. Sometimes you can even listen to it before downloading, if you don't know the tune.

I have one or two 'difficult' pieces that I like to play, and lots and lots of easy things for variety. At Christmas I printed off a whole lot of basic carols, and the two girls would sing a long with me. There is lots of music there, on the piano, that my girls are familiar with.

Now my husband has asked my eldest if she will teach him:) He wants to join in the fun too.

I think it is sad when parents see their children as concert musicians, or not at all. I saw a video on youtube at Christmas of a grandfather and granddaughter playing together for the rest of the family. For me, that is the spirit of music. It should be part of our everyday lives, not just on concert platforms.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 15, 2010 at 04:48 PM

i was thinking about this post a lot over the weekend, wondering if i had been clear with what i was saying initially about my own son and his lessons (due to kirsten’s comment ;^) .. i’m not against *practicing*, i just want the motivation to come from him and not me. the quote, for me, was about how parents can get kids into lessons and get them to practice but they can’t supply passion and self-motivation (which kirsten points out her daughter has).

the same son who decides 5–10 minutes a day is enough for piano will spend literally hours working on comics, doing observational sketches, and writing stories. my desire is for him to decide how to allot his time and to try to resist pushing his schedule around, making him do more with piano (which would necessarily take away from something else).

i was also thinking about the tie-in with malcolm gladwell’s 10,000-hours rule .. according to some experts, if kids don’t start on their passion fairly early, they won’t get those hours in. so parents may feel that leaning on their kids a little will help them have the choice to follow their talent professionally later.

(post here: http://www.whiteoakschool.com/camp-creek-blog/2009/1/5/outliers-and-homeschooling.html )

i have my own idiosyncratic rules that i try to follow as a parent, and one of the most important ones is trying not to impose my will or my ideas on what my children do/will do in the future .. and focusing on helping them pursue their own ideas/goals/passions. it can be *very* tempting to spot a talent and try to urge your child to develop it, or simply shoo them in a particular direction. for me, my years of practice doing project work with a large variety of children help me immensely .. i know that if i’m patient and can keep quiet, they will almost certainly produce their own ideas.

kirsten points out that her daughter loves dance and has found her passion; that is what i think we all hope for — that our children will find their passion. and, of course, they will have more than one. we want them to find them all. that is the main goal of my way of working with children — to *help* them discover their passions and prepare them to pursue them.

one way i think we can do this is by constant reflection .. checking and double-checking .. am i listening to them? am i overriding their ideas? am i getting in the way? am i supporting what they really want to do?

alice, you say, "I find that the best way to get my daughter to practice is if I sit down and try and play myself. She soon gets me to move over." this has *always* been my experience as well — there is nothing that makes my children more interested than seeing me or my husband doing it! :^)

i love the description of your daughter experimenting with the piano .. this is that “playful exploration” that i am always going on about. i still have the pages that my son wrote his first pieces of music on, before he learned to write music properly. he devised his own system for writing down the notes. (which of course i thought was genius! ;) i had to physically stop a friend from reacting by telling him “oh here is the *right* way to do that…” bless her heart. i waited for him to show his teacher, who, being wonderful, praised his ingenuity and then told him he would show him how to write music like it was in his music book when he was ready … then gave him a pile of blank sheet music that sent the little boy home walking on air. :)

“i was thinking about this post a lot over the weekend, wondering if i had been clear with what i was saying initially about my own son and his lessons (due to kirsten’s comment ;^) .. i’m not against *practicing*, i just want the motivation to come from him and not me. the quote, for me, was about how parents can get kids into lessons and get them to practice but they can’t supply passion and self-motivation (which kirsten points out her daughter has).

the same son who decides 5–10 minutes a day is enough for piano will spend literally hours working on comics, doing observational sketches, and writing stories. my desire is for him to decide how to allot his time and to try to resist pushing his schedule around, making him do more with piano (which would necessarily take away from something else).

i was also thinking about the tie-in with malcolm gladwell’s 10,000-hours rule .. according to some experts, if kids don’t start on their passion fairly early, they won’t get those hours in. so parents may feel that leaning on their kids a little will help them have the choice to follow their talent professionally later.

(post here: http://www.whiteoakschool.com/camp-creek-blog/2009/1/5/outliers-and-homeschooling.html )

i have my own idiosyncratic rules that i try to follow as a parent, and one of the most important ones is trying not to impose my will or my ideas on what my children do/will do in the future .. and focusing on helping them pursue their own ideas/goals/passions. it can be *very* tempting to spot a talent and try to urge your child to develop it, or simply shoo them in a particular direction. for me, my years of practice doing project work with a large variety of children help me immensely .. i know that if i’m patient and can keep quiet, they will almost certainly produce their own ideas.

kirsten points out that her daughter loves dance and has found her passion; that is what i think we all hope for — that our children will find their passion. and, of course, they will have more than one. we want them to find them all. that is the main goal of my way of working with children — to *help* them discover their passions and prepare them to pursue them.

one way i think we can do this is by constant reflection .. checking and double-checking .. am i listening to them? am i overriding their ideas? am i getting in the way? am i supporting what they really want to do?

alice, you say, "I find that the best way to get my daughter to practice is if I sit down and try and play myself. She soon gets me to move over." this has *always* been my experience as well — there is nothing that makes my children more interested than seeing me or my husband doing it! :^)

i love the description of your daughter experimenting with the piano .. this is that “playful exploration” that i am always going on about. i still have the pages that my son wrote his first pieces of music on, before he learned to write music properly. he devised his own system for writing down the notes. (which of course i thought was genius! ;) i had to physically stop a friend from reacting by telling him “oh here is the *right* way to do that…” bless her heart. i waited for him to show his teacher, who, being wonderful, praised his ingenuity and then told him he would show him how to write music like it was in his music book when he was ready … then gave him a pile of blank sheet music that sent the little boy home walking on air. :)

“i was thinking about this post a lot over the weekend, wondering if i had been clear with what i was saying initially about my own son and his lessons (due to kirsten’s comment ;^) .. i’m not against *practicing*, i just want the motivation to come from him and not me. the quote, for me, was about how parents can get kids into lessons and get them to practice but they can’t supply passion and self-motivation (which kirsten points out her daughter has).

the same son who decides 5–10 minutes a day is enough for piano will spend literally hours working on comics, doing observational sketches, and writing stories. my desire is for him to decide how to allot his time and to try to resist pushing his schedule around, making him do more with piano (which would necessarily take away from something else).

i was also thinking about the tie-in with malcolm gladwell’s 10,000-hours rule .. according to some experts, if kids don’t start on their passion fairly early, they won’t get those hours in. so parents may feel that leaning on their kids a little will help them have the choice to follow their talent professionally later.

(post here: http://www.whiteoakschool.com/camp-creek-blog/2009/1/5/outliers-and-homeschooling.html )

i have my own idiosyncratic rules that i try to follow as a parent, and one of the most important ones is trying not to impose my will or my ideas on what my children do/will do in the future .. and focusing on helping them pursue their own ideas/goals/passions. it can be *very* tempting to spot a talent and try to urge your child to develop it, or simply shoo them in a particular direction. for me, my years of practice doing project work with a large variety of children help me immensely .. i know that if i’m patient and can keep quiet, they will almost certainly produce their own ideas.

kirsten points out that her daughter loves dance and has found her passion; that is what i think we all hope for — that our children will find their passion. and, of course, they will have more than one. we want them to find them all. that is the main goal of my way of working with children — to *help* them discover their passions and prepare them to pursue them.

one way i think we can do this is by constant reflection .. checking and double-checking .. am i listening to them? am i overriding their ideas? am i getting in the way? am i supporting what they really want to do?

alice, you say, "I find that the best way to get my daughter to practice is if I sit down and try and play myself. She soon gets me to move over." this has *always* been my experience as well — there is nothing that makes my children more interested than seeing me or my husband doing it! :^)

i love the description of your daughter experimenting with the piano .. this is that “playful exploration” that i am always going on about. i still have the pages that my son wrote his first pieces of music on, before he learned to write music properly. he devised his own system for writing down the notes. (which of course i thought was genius! ;) i had to physically stop a friend from reacting by telling him “oh here is the *right* way to do that…” bless her heart. i waited for him to show his teacher, who, being wonderful, praised his ingenuity and then told him he would show him how to write music like it was in his music book when he was ready … then gave him a pile of blank sheet music that sent the little boy home walking on air. :)

“I don't have any dream for my daughters' music, except that they enjoy it...”

i couldn’t have put it better myself! :^)

“I think it is sad when parents see their children as concert musicians, or not at all.”

i agree, and this is another thing i was thinking about .. that i don’t take my sons’ passions any less *seriously* because i don’t enforce a certain amount of practicing, etc. i want them to own it; i want them to form a working relationship with their teacher in which i do not play an auxiliary role as taskmaster. allowing them to own it lets them enjoy either outcome .. a serious career later (unlikely, statistically) or a lifetime love of music.

i do think parents have a tendency to look for the thing their child excels at — and swiftly move on if it appears that superiority isn’t going to be there. but a child should learn (and adults should know) that tremendous pleasure can still come from activities in which you are not *the best* — and they may be roads to the thing at which you *will* excel. even if they don’t, taking deep pleasure in an activity is not something that should be disregarded.

alice, thank you!

Comment by Kirsten on February 15, 2010 at 11:51 PM

(did you know you last post repeats?)

Totally get what you're saying. And agree.
I guess I was just thinking that it's okay to have kids try different arts/activities with the understanding that they come with expected practice time. And if they're not into it, by all means, don't push them into it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 16, 2010 at 03:07 PM

kirsten, lol - oops.

and *i* agree with *you* :D .. and i appreciate the conversation, as it helps me articulate my own feelings more clearly. :)

i am turning this whole thing over in my mind. it occurs to me that i have come to the conclusion that kids get more out of all situations when they are in it chin deep and making their own decisions/calls .. as in project work. so i have taken this to other areas, including “extracurriculars” .. i try to keep out of the way so they get the full brunt of the learning experience. i suppose i feel it’s less likely that they will become professional athletes or musicians and more likely that they will take what they learn from these experiences and apply it to their future decisions — and they’ll learn much more if they are the ones in charge.

Comment by Helen on February 22, 2010 at 11:41 PM

I LOVE this discussion! It raises a lot of questions for me about my own experience though. I also quit music as a child because of the tedium/guilt/conflict of practice. I started and quit a few things as a child and have on more than one occasion said to my mother "Why did you let me quit that?" I think what I am starting to learn though is that there are a whole heap of creative ways to encourage and foster interest rather than imposing a way of learning. I think removing the things that introduce guilt is a big step there.
Thank you for this post and all the comments too.

Comment by Susan on February 28, 2010 at 03:04 PM

Hi Lori, Did you find that music teacher that's a good complement for your son's passion? A few years ago, we fell into a music environment that fit our boys' love of playing, and it's become a family affair.

With a name like the Bow-Dacious String Band (and camp), it's hard to go wrong. Email me if that seems appealing. I'm slow on the blog reading, as usual, but swimsuit violin playing should always come highly recommended. :-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 7, 2010 at 04:14 PM

helen, thank you.

i tell the boys that if the way they are proceeding isn't working for them, they can look for a different way. quitting is rather final. i think because they know that i'm open and flexible, and because my husband and i share our own unconventional ways of achieving our goals, they are open to considering different ways to look at the problem. i'm not surprised children quit when their parents are leaning on them, they're unhappy, and they don't see an alternative.

susan, i did, thank you! we stuck with it until we found a good match. it's one of the most important lessons we try to drive home -- they are responsible for their own learning, so they need to figure out how to get what they need.

i've heard good things about that group.

if you can't play your violin in your swimsuit, why learn?! ;^)

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