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The child is very passionate about music and wants to grow up to become a musician. Unfortunately, the truth hurts. The parent wished he were deaf when the child starts playing any musical instrument. The child plays very terrible music very passionately. If only he studies as hard in school. How should the parent advise the child?

The child is 9 years old. The music he produces can cause lizards to fall off the wall.

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    How do you know the child has "no musical talent"? Skill with an instrument is learned, nobody is born with it. How much opportunity has the child had to learn to play vs. simply bashing whatever keys/strings are in reach? Did he have hundreds of hours of practice without improvement? If not, you can't speak of "no talent". – rumtscho Sep 12 '15 at 9:19
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    @curious: Plenty of musicians made huge careers by making lizards fall off the wall. Your idea of musical ability and talent is probably very different from the average nine-year-old's, and nine-year-olds are the biggest market in the music industry. Do you want the child to fit your own ideas and values in music, or do you want it to develop its own? – reinierpost Sep 12 '15 at 14:16
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    As amateur musician, I think that success is 5% talent, 95% hard work. – el.pescado Sep 12 '15 at 18:39
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    At nine years old I couldn't play an instrument, couldn't read music, couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, and was pretty much a waste of time musically speaking. At 11 my parents let me join the children's choir at church, where the choirmaster was NOT particularly nice to us, but he DID teach us to sing - on key, right notes, etc. At 12 I decided to take up clarinet. At 14 I took up trumpet. At 17 I took up tenor sax. by the time I graduated high school I could play about 8 instruments passably well, and could sing...OK. :-) So chill - encourage the kid, get him a good teacher, and wait. – Bob Jarvis Sep 13 '15 at 3:44
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    In school I was the "smartest" around (I've received several major awards and a PhD at a famous place). When I started playing an instrument, I was probably the most talented of those who started with me. One person who was initially well down the list in talent put a huge amount of effort in. Eventually he was by far the most skilled person at our school, and one of the top in the state. His academics suffered for it. I don't know why, but his senior year he quit playing. He translated that effort into academics. We're both professors now, but he's at a better place than me. – Joel Sep 14 '15 at 1:46

11 Answers 11

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As rumtscho commented, how do you know the child has no talent? And how do you know they won't end up selling a million records? Take the Sex Pistols as an example - when they started they couldn't play or sing and sounded awful, but were incredibly enthusiastic and became stars. Everyone starts off sounding like they are strangling a cat, or destroying the instrument!

At this stage I'd suggest encouraging your child is more important than putting them down. You could suggest some structured tuition, as this can set them on the right track to learning properly. After a while, get a professional music tutor's opinion on their capability.

Or alternatively, get them an electric instrument that can be played through headphones. Either way, be supportive, positive and enthusiastic for them if it is something they love doing - they may change their mind later anyway, and decide they hate it. But that's much better being self driven.

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    Uncredited session musicians also tend to play a part. – reinierpost Sep 12 '15 at 14:13
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    @reinierpost: sometimes several. – Steve Jessop Sep 12 '15 at 17:39
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    If only I could upvote more than once! Both for "be positive" and "get an electronic instrument" :) – yo' Sep 13 '15 at 20:35
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    I don't think the Sex Pistols are a good example, as they couldn't play or sing when they ended either. – iamnotmaynard Sep 14 '15 at 19:09
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    "when they started they couldn't play or sing and sounded awful" - and they never got better! – Gusdor Sep 15 '15 at 11:49
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I wouldn't discourage following musical talent. Although he may never be good, it may be a good release when he needs to think. Thomas Jefferson was not amazing but often played the violin when he needed to think things through.

We tend to gravitate toward things at which our personalities excel. You could always have him look at other things he may enjoy instead.

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    This is an important answer - even if the child never becomes famous for their music, it does not mean the lessons were 'a waste'. Art is its own reward. – Zibbobz Sep 14 '15 at 13:36
  • Indeed. Up it goes. – Joshua Sep 16 '15 at 2:35
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The child is 9 years old. It isn't exactly urgent that you either squash his creative ambitions or support them at the expense of every other possibility.

Why not just be supportive? I don't remember when I hit my stride, but it was well into adulthood, and even then, my parents still didn't really understand my style or what I was doing, and they would probably have even said I wasn't very good (at the same time I was getting very positive feedback from my peers and audiences).

You don't sound very supportive. My advice would be to step back and examine your prejudices, as the answer to your question has much more to do with you than the child.

  • An excellent answer. All 9 year olds should have a hobby. They shouldn't necessarily be allowed to indulge in it to the exclusion of all else, but if they enjoy it for an hour or two a day, what's the problem? I can think of worse things for them to be doing. – Jon Story Sep 14 '15 at 10:18
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Talent ≠ skill. While a talent is innate, a skill is learned and developed. Talent can definitely give you a jumpstart on the road to success, but it's only through developing skill that you'll ever achieve it. Remember that regardless of talent, everyone begins their journey with no skill.

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    100 times this. This would be my answer. I have a saying: "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard." – user11394 Sep 20 '15 at 17:08
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With formal training and time (and maybe earplugs for you) everyone improves. My son played for many years with more enthusiasm about sharing the experience of creating music than putting in the time to be very good. His music teacher gave him an award for being "most enthusiastic" student because it was clear to all he really enjoyed it. He moved on from playing or thinking he could make a career of playing. Most children figure it out for themselves.

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Be glad your kid is enthusiastic about something which does not involve a computer monitor and beeping! I suffered greatly when my son learned drums, but it broke my heart when he gave everything up for World of Brainless Beepcraft.

It is useful for any child to learn the discipline and self-discipline of music. The wonder of knowing how the dots turn into glorious harmony will stay with your kid forever. There is no greater joy than producing music in a group, no matter how bad you play.

If he's really tone-deaf, try electric piano with headphones. Or drums (ouch). Make a soundproof room for practicing. We use a cellar room, I pinned egg trays on the ceiling, I still use it to practice the saxophone.

Discipline; once we had a nighttime carnival procession. It was cold and rainy. I said, I'm not going, they can manage without me and I don't want to get my uniform wet. The son said, Mom, I have to go, the other drummer can't come and they can't play without me. So we went. I was so proud to hear him say that.

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I think lots of people want to be musicians for reasons that have less to do with the music than with being the centre of attention in a specific way. So it should be relatively easy to transfer it to something else once the child gains recognition for successes there.

However, if the child is still young, then as a parent I would try to make sure not to send the child on another, longer dead end.

And finally, learning musical instruments without help is hard. If the child is not musical enough to be frustrated to the point of giving up or asking for formal lessons, then that may be a bad sign, but it's hardly conclusive proof for hopelessness.

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Music helps in areas of math and analytical thinking. Give the kid time, some lessons, and i think you will come to realize that it was a great gift. Never discourage a young mind from creativity and interest. Never tell them what you wrote here. Instead you could complement them on their interest. Yes it is hard on the ears but most all musicians start off sounding terrible. You could also try a different instrument or re-arrange the music room in a way that will make you both happier. Get your kid in school band that way you never really need to listen. If you do insist on taking away their musical interest at least give them some other creative outlet such as art, dance or singing. Rock on.

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    "Get your kid in school band that way you never really need to listen." Kids do practice some at home, if I'm not mistaken (and I might be; none of my kids were in a school band.) – anongoodnurse Sep 13 '15 at 5:12
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    @anongoodnurse I was in one, and yes, I had to practice at home, for at least 45 minutes, 2-3 times a week. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to make reasonable improvements from one music class to the next. – Dan Henderson Sep 13 '15 at 8:55
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The kid is nine. It's expected that he will not be any good at that age. Channel the enthusiasm, get a good instructor, and see where it goes. Make sure that continued funding for professional instruction is conditional on serious study and discipline on the kid's part.

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There are careers in music for non-musicians! I have a friend who had no talent at all but he worked hard and though he will never be a great musician he IS good at giving lessons in technique and knowledge - which can be learned as a skill as another answerer noted.

Consider too that having performed music, even poorly, gives one an advantage in understanding it from a different perspective than by just listening to it.

This insight could lead to being a better producer, promoter or some other non-musician career in the industry.

From my perspective, if your child has a passion (that isn't harmful to himself or others) encourage it.

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Many of the answers provide purely inspirational answers, which have value. Children are our future! However, there is a reality that we selfishly expect more out of our life than to be slaves to our children. I mean really!

So you have a balance of desires. The child is passionate about music, but you are not confident the world will be kind to their musical skills. You want the child to be happy in the long run (potentially longer than they are even aware of at age 9... not many really understand what it means to hold a musician's job!). And then there's the short term issue of the racket.

The short term part has the easy solution, as mentioned, of getting the kid to prefer an electric instrument, with headphones. However, that still doesn't resolve the long term issue of letting a child go down the wrong path.

But is it the wrong path? If there was ever a way to tell the right path from the wrong path, I'm sure it'd appear in a parenting book. Judging by the scathing reviews on Amazon, no parenting book has this magic tip in it yet, so I'm assuming no one has written a way. I don't expect to either. You'll have to find your own solution.

However, there is a reasonable solution which you can fall back on if you haven't figured out any better solution: a dose of reality... for both of you. Let's just focus on the long term bits (you can suck up the short term issue of cleaning up lizards off the floor, or convince them to do the electric instruments). Your positions are different enough that they're not polar opposites... just really really far apart:

  • The child is passionate about music, and wants to continue further. Arguably the child wants to spend their life doing music (even if their concept of what that means is a bit shortsighted at the ripe age of 9)
  • You believe you understand what music is good and what is bad, and you believe the child will be unhappy in the future because the world will not appreciate their music, and the child will have spent their formative years "wasting" their time on that dad-gum instrument!

The best solution is to find a win-win, so that the child can continue being passionate. You really don't want to snuff that out. Failing to do so, you can always fall back on testing both of your positions. Convince the child that, if they want to continue down the musician path, they should experience more of the reality that they are entering (you know, that reality we always shelter our children from!). The child needs to pony up, and test their desire of musicianhood against their actual abilities. Find a way to build a game where they have to use their musical skills to "make a living." This could be as literal as throwing the kid on a street-corner to play their instrument for tips, or it could be a more intellectual game. Perhaps you think their sense of tempo is obnoxious. Build an objective game where they are rewarded for playing in tempo (perhaps as literally as "you can use the amplifier rather than the headphones for 2 minutes for every tempo exercise that you pass"). Let them have to work for their passion, and see if music really is their passion.

This is where the key is. If music really is their passion, it won't matter a lick of difference to them whether others like their work or not. They'll live the life on a street corner, playing for tips, absolutely content that they actually got to live the life they wanted to live (how many get the privilege to claim that!). If it turns out that they value other things more, they'll learn that maybe music isn't really their passion, and you can sigh with relief at the blessed silence.

And if you do your job really well as parents, you'll find a way to dislodge a child's misguided passion for music without killing their passion in the process. It's really quite a skill, dislodging a passion without killing the underlying passion that drives the person. Most of us are really bad at it. We could kill the passion in a lizard as we try to convince it that it's really bad at climbing walls!

On that topic, how passionate are you about being parents? These sorts of "put your money where your mouth is" arguments also work for bettering ourselves, if we decide they are rational enough to give them a shot (feel free to argue they're not rational! I don't mind!). You could challenge yourself to really pony up and try to show your passion for parenting. Develop games like "deal with 30 minutes of ear splitting racket to earn unlimited access to the bottle of wine/beer after 9:00." Along the way, you just might accidentally figure something out to help you work with your child on their passions. You never know. As always, use your own judgement in your own life; I'm just an anonymous voice on the internet. What do I know about you?

Lizards off the wall? Really? I bet that could make a killer reality TV show!

protected by anongoodnurse Sep 13 '15 at 5:09

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