Musical ability and family influence
December 10, 2013 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Musicians, how did your parents' attitudes affect your musical development?

Essentially, I was thinking about how I might want to raise my children in terms of introducing music early on. I am a musician and learned my instrument when I was about 10. My parents were always very hands-off about it, which I consider a big piece of what motivated me to take music on as something that I felt was my own. My dad was a musician and I was exposed to music throughout my childhood but my parents never really cared too much whether I practiced or not which I think made me care more. I feel eager about sharing music with my future children and was just thinking about how I would want to approach this. I thought it would be interesting to hear others' perspectives on how their families shaped their musical development, or put them off it. So I thought I'd ask:

1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
4. Do you still play?
5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

Okay, that's all :-) Was curious about this.
posted by mermily to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (35 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
My grandfather played the piano and went to school on a piano scholarship, and so my mom made my siblings and I play the piano starting at age five. I quit when I was eleven, I think my younger sister quit around nine or so, but my brother continues to play. It really depends on the kid, I think. We were all treated the same, regarding piano, and my parents never encouraged competition between us, but feeling like my younger brother was better than me at piano (and he was) made me dislike it.

1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

I played piano as a child. I wouldn't consider myself a musician, but I would consider my brother one, and we went through identical (up until I quit) trajectories.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

Our mother made us practice for half an hour each morning. I did feel pressured to do it and hated it, and I think my brother felt so as well. I think that a lot of the pressure, however, came from knowing that my younger brother was so much better than I was. I quit piano in sixth grade, but my brother still plays, and frequently practices on his own. By eighth grade he was practicing on his own, every morning, unprompted.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

Yes (five). I think it made me a better reader, but I do think it may have hurt my self confidence a bit regarding music. However, comparing myself to friends who never had that opportunity, I'm glad I had that foundation.

My brother got hooked on jazz and atonal music, and that pushed him to study physics in college. He very much views the world through music.

4. Do you still play?

I do not, but my brother does.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

I never did. BrotherObviousResistance has said he enjoys the constrained creativity it provides (you can be creative--but not too creative). He mostly improvises.
posted by obviousresistance at 5:13 PM on December 10, 2013


1. I took piano lessons when I was a kid for a few years.
2. My parents... cajoled me. I wouldn't say forced. I hated practicing because Mario was more fun.
3. Learned when I was 6. Kept at it till I was 8. Think it made me realize the effects of hard work. Also made me (for a good chunk of my childhood) think that hard work was always zero fun (but I blame by bad piano teacher for this, she was no-nonsense, no fun allowed)
4. Nope. Quit as soon as my parents let me.
5. Actually kind of feel distant towards the piano as it is. I'll plink around when I see one though, and consistently wonder if I should take it up again. But all that time and effort... bleaugh.

Kind of depressing answer, looking back.

I'd say that if you're interested in bringing music to your kids' attention, play for them, let them see you having fun with it, and let them pick it up on their own.
posted by johnpoe50 at 5:36 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
Yes. I learned as a teenager.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
I never felt forced to practice. I was entirely self-motivated. My parents were supportive.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
I started at 14.
I did, however, from an early age, have a lot of music in my life. My mother sang me to sleep almost every night until I was in second grade. I had music classes in almost every grade. When I finally figured out what it meant to practice, music seemed to come to me easier than it came to peers who started at the same age.

4. Do you still play?
Yes. Every day, and I write music too.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
Playing music quiets my mind. Emoting through music is rewarding. There's a challenge to improvisation and memorization that I also find very rewarding.

The muscle memory and the attention to time and space that it requires is something that I would expect a gamer might understand on some level. But the artistic, emotional, expressive aspect of it makes it also something more than that. And the constant attention to time, relentless time, is also somewhat different, perhaps more challenging in terms of focus.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 5:52 PM on December 10, 2013


My parents are both musical.

1. I am a musician (though amateur) and I learned a lot as a child.

2. My parents did not force me to practice. I loved music and very much wanted to play.

3. I started learning one instrument when I was maybe 5 or 6. Others I picked up later. I'm glad that I started learning early, but I wish I could have had the option of studying with someone other than my mother. She was loving but rather critical with a tendency to scold a lot, and a lesson could quickly go from "you haven't been practicing enough" to "and you haven't been cleaning your room or doing your homework either." All the negative aspects of our relationship came into sharp focus during lessons. It didn't sour me on music, but it was discouraging and damped my motivation. If I could have studied with someone else without causing a lot of drama, I would have jumped at the chance.

4. I still play. I still pick up new instruments and try new things all the time. Music makes me deeply happy. I have many talented friends who did not have the early opportunities to build skill and confidence with music that I did, and I feel sad for them. As adults they believe they simply aren't talented, and don't try.

5. I don't know how to say what hooked me. Certain sounds just feel really good to me and making music feels really good. I got a lot of praise from adults for being talented, and I'm sure that was a motivating factor. I was always wanting to figure out a different song, and once my mom gave up teaching me I had a lot of freedom to just play with stuff until I figured it out, and that was great.

Looking at MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch's reference to gaming - the puzzle of hearing a chord I hadn't learned yet - say a diminished or a 7th - and muddling around until I put it together - is comparable to the gaming "hook" of being constantly presented with harder and harder puzzles to solve.
posted by bunderful at 6:05 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


From my 16 year old string bass playing son:

1. Yes, considering performance as a major. I started when I was 8.

2. They used to "make" me but once I started I would keep going all on my own. I practice daily now and look forward to it. Sometimes they remind me of what time it is so I don't go too late (too tired = bad practice).

Music lessons/classes were not an option for me or my sister. My parents said it was not negotiable but we could choose any instrument we wanted. I chose bass because it was the biggest instrument (I was 8!) and then I started really loving it. My sister chose viola and played for 4 years before deciding to change to voice (still an instrument! ). Music has always been around for us. My dad is a drummer and a lot of their friends are also musicians. We've always been surrounded by music and art.

3 & 4. Started at 8. I play currently with a youth orchestra in my city, at school, and in various regional/state/national orchestras. I kinda wish I had started earlier but I don't think I could have held even the smallest bass!

I am thinking about going into performance as my major in college. If not performance, I'm looking at music composition/computer science, with a minor in performance. No matter what, I want to keep playing.

5. I just love music. I love playing it, hearing it, talking about it, composing it. It makes me feel alive.
posted by cooker girl at 6:05 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

I started learning at a very young age. We always had instruments around, and so piano was the first thing I learned. My father let me learn by ear, and taught me a few basics like the notes, but that was haphazard and not terribly efficiently done. By early elementary school I could play Fur Elise and a decent bit of Moonlight Sonata, but it was all aping.

I started in band in 5th grade, playing flute. It wasn't the instrument I wanted to play, but it wasn't really negotiable, or if it was I wasn't enough of a self-advocate to speak up about it. I remember being simultaneously excited and disappointed.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

I always enjoyed practice, but it wasn't something I sought out until my parents activated my competitive nature. They told me my cousin was parted from her violin when she was naughty and that, as punishment, her parents wouldn't let her practice. Even though I already didn't mind practicing, this turned it into a treasured commodity that I never wanted to lose. It also managed to avoid the "ugh" factor of feeling like it was a chore.

I should say, I don't know that this was anything special that my parents did. I think I was naturally a little freak show about this. My sisters hated practicing. I ended up getting piano lessons in addition to my flute lessons specifically because my sisters hated practicing so much. One of them hid under the dining room table to avoid it, until I volunteered as tribute and took her lessons over for myself.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I wish my parents had been more careful about my early years of music education. My dad plays primarily by ear, so that's what he could teach me as a kid. My music reading wasn't delayed or anything, but it could have started a lot earlier and I think that would have helped me a lot later on. When I started formal lessons at 10 or so, I finally hit my stride.

4. Do you still play?

Yes. Every day. I also sing with the Houston Symphony Chorus. That's a bit of an interesting cautionary tale. It is difficult for amateur instrumentalists to find a group to play with. The instrumentation is always wrong. Or the skill levels are so varied that it isn't enjoyable. But singing is easy for many instrumentalists who have decent music theory backgrounds. And it is very easy to get into a very good chorus if you are good at music theory and can carry a tune in a bucket.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

It was learning that I loved. And I am sure it would have been something else if not music. Sight reading new music was like reciting an incantation in a long dead language - I never quite knew what was going to happen, but I knew it would be amazing. Later on, I realized that learning different instruments gave me the same exhilaration.

It's the process I enjoy, not the end point. (Fwiw, this is also why I study foreign languages for fun now.) I think that's why practice has never seemed like a chore to me. I rarely perform. And when I do, I'm afflicted with terrible anxiety and stage fright. But practice is just for me. I am not sure that is something my parents did. I think that is just my personality.

I had a great band director who knew exactly how to push my buttons and spur me onward in my playing. Honestly, I think the thing that he did which was so important was that he talked to me like a peer, not as if I was some minion.

The night before all state solo contest, I camped out in the courtyard of the hotel we were staying in to practice. I started playing th Quantz sonata I was performing the next day and from somewhere out in the darkness by the pool I heard a raspy voice shout, "Too fast."

I should note that it wasn't always fun, and I didn't always enjoy music. I started college as a music major and knew immediately that it wasn't for me. The competitiveness and negativity was just too much. I realized at some point that the drive to perform better than others was preventing me from enjoying music at all. (Competing with myself: fine. Competing with others: I'd rather swallow glass.) I wasn't able to play or listen to anything without taking issue with it. Also, by then I'd begun flirting with many other instruments and the insistence that I focus on one to the exclusion of others was unacceptable. So I dropped the flute and played the French Horn for all of college. I didn't quit playing my other instruments. I just played them exclusively for fun. And I sang in a couple groups for fun.

It took a long time for me to rehabilitate my relationship with music. Even to this day I still catch myself slipping into the negativity from time to time (mostly when a symphony rehearsal is particularly grueling), but I can often snap myself out of it and go back to enjoying the experience.

Sorry for all the rambles. If you've got more questions I'm happy to answer anything via MeMail!
posted by jph at 6:05 PM on December 10, 2013


*1. Are you a musician? No
Did you learn as a child? I did, I played clarinet and bass clarinet. I tried to practice at home, but undiagnosed ADD and unsupportive parents who were also really demanding ruined the experience for me.
2. Did your parents force you to practice? No. Nobody even listened to me practice. My parents were not home and did not want to "listen to that squawking," when they were.
Did you feel pressured to do it? Yes. They wanted me to be good enough for them to enjoy. Lots of shame for not being good already.
What was your disposition towards music as a child? I wanted to be a musician, but had been asked to please not sing (by school teachers) during class performances. I was told I had an awful voice and was tone deaf. No effort was made to help me "hear" music. I wanted music to be a part of my life, and wanted to understand it. My parents did not advocate for me, and in fact didn't understand why I couldn't just "get it." Nothing I read could elucidate this for me.
3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? My fourth grade class all had a round robin of musical instrument classes, and then in fifth grade we "chose" our instruments. I wanted to play saxophone, but so did everyone else. I stuck with clarinet/bass clarinet for four years and did not have any musical activity in high school.
What effect do you think that had? Earlier probably would have been better for me. But really, more support coupled with less pressure. Every time we were assigned "chairs" I was berated for not being first, even when I was second chair clarinet (just through brute force on my own, not through understanding...I look back and impressed at seventh grade me for hanging onto second chair for so long.).
Are you glad you learned it at the age you did? Like I said, earlier would have been better. I wish that my mother had had the wherewithal to encourage me to continue playing. Partly it was financial though. I felt like I was also not keeping up with the other students musically, no matter how much I practiced. Private lessons would have been really helpful for me, but there just wasn't money for it.
4. Do you still play? No. I think about picking it up again, but instruments are expensive. But I got a C+ in "voice for non-music majors" at college. And only did that well because the instructor saw me singing along with my practice tapes in the parking lot at a grocery store. She hadn't believed that I was really practicing. She wasn't a good instructor, and I didn't have any idea how to ask her to be a better fit for me.
5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you? What I loved about it was making something with my body. I was so excited that with the shape of my lips and the force of air from my lungs I could make sound, and then I could make sound change. And then, I could move my fingers around and make drastic changes. I could hear that changes were happening, and that was really cool. Now I understand that there is math behind music, and what super pisses me off is that I was actively discouraged away from math and science as a kid (by teachers, my parents were indifferent to my education, beyond what came home on report cards.)

*I realize that my experience does not map in any way to what you hope to provide your kids, but I hope it gives you some caveats. I come from a very abusive childhood. But the math part of it, and the lack of involvement beyond just "have you been practicing?" were very real roadblocks to my own understanding and enjoyment of music.
posted by bilabial at 6:07 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of what bilabial says can't be stated enough. Even jokey comments can really cause a crisis in a kid that is working toward something like musicianship. When I got my first saxophone, and was so eager to play around on it, my mother said it sounded like the mating call of the 18-wheeler. Har Har. And of course in retrospect she was just being silly. But I remember being mortified and embarrassed by the whole thing.

I also remember being a teenager and playing things that were very technically complex, and having no one appreciate them at all. There I was, pouring my heart and soul into the Hindemith Sonata, and all my mother could muster was "I really don't care for neo-classical music..."

So be very careful with your words and especially remember that your opinion will exist in an entirely separate category from other opinions - a category fraught with all the other emotions of the parent child relationship!
posted by jph at 6:17 PM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


1. Are you a musician? Yes. Did you learn as a child? Yes.
2. Did your parents force you to practice? Not really, but they were disappointed enough when I didn't that I did have a guilt-based incentive. They were paying for my lessons, after all. Did you feel pressured to do it? Only mildly. What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?) I loved the hell out of it. Note that although I didn't have the discipline to rigorously practice the pieces I was learning for my piano lessons, I would just sit around and improvise for an hour a day.
3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? Yeah, I started at 4. What effect do you think that had? Incalculable. Starting that early enabled me to become fluent with music (both performance and composition) the way that I am with English. Are you glad you learned it at the age you did? Hugely.
4. Do you still play? Yes.
5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you? The fact that music is the best. At the age of 4 I forced my mom to start teaching me.
posted by dfan at 6:23 PM on December 10, 2013


Background -- my mother's a piano teacher although she never taught me. My grandfather on the other side was a well-known music hall band leader and violinist in the UK.

1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
I've been a musician all my life (not pro, mostly, but I've made several albums and singles as part of bands and currently lead my own band). I learned piano as a child, for a few years. After that I taught myself piano, guitar, and later drums, bass etc.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
Not a vast amount. I don't remember practising much because I was told to. It wasn't an issue I remember. Almost everything I learned was because I was fooling around on my own instrument. My son practises his violin for the orchestra, but he plays drums in a band and never practises. We don't force him but remind him. He's fairly self-motivated.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
I started at about 8. In retrospect I wish I'd continued longer with formal lessons.

4. Do you still play?
Yes, every day.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
When I realized I could compose my own music and not play something someone else wrote.
posted by sweet mister at 6:28 PM on December 10, 2013


My parents are both musical, singing and playing multiple instruments. My brother and I both started piano around 5. I stuck with it through high school, but it seems like he stopped relatively early on. We both also sang in choirs beginning around 8 or so, and both played in the school band beginning around 10, with private lessons on our band instruments at various times. I think honestly I generally loved music and making it, and I also developed much of my social life in jr high and high school especially around musical activities.

Neither of us was ever "made" to practice by our parents, although we were sometimes guilted about it. In addition to usually actually liking to make music, I think we both had affection for our instructors that made us want to please them by practicing. One thing that I think our parents did very very right was that they were very supportive in attending performances, driving us places, fundraising for the Band Boosters, etc., but they never made our musical activities about them, never made us "perform" for them or even commented on our practicing unless we asked. I was incredibly self-conscious about my music (I still am), and I think higher pressure or more judgement from my parents probably would have made me quit very early on.

I continued pursuing music seriously in college, even though I knew at that point that I was not talented or driven enough for it to be my future career. I still love singing, and sing in at least one choir at all times, and I still very much enjoy playing the flute and piano, although I do so rarely. I have picked up the banjo as an adult and find I enjoy continuing to branch out into new musical styles, which all of that training makes very easy. I am very grateful for the opportunities I had as a kid, and I wish that I had that luxury of time now to devote to music that I did back then.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:34 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
I'm an amateur musician. I learned when I was around 8 or so, as my older brother was taking guitar lessons, I looked up to him and wanted to learn as well so he taught me initially. He ended up not really going anywhere with music after high school, whereas I did a degree in music.
2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
At first I loved playing the guitar as it was something my brother and I did together. Our parents never really seemed to care too much to be honest. Later I loved the progressing, learning new techniques, learning new rules, then how to break those rules in some circumstances. I was always a better improviser than playing something strictly note for note.
3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I think I started when I was 8. I think its best to start young, as its hard work in the beginning, especially the guitar or violin which physically hurts initially, but also mentally takes a lot of persistence.
4. Do you still play?
Every day. I also write music, and am involved with a lot of musical friends and its a big part of my life.
5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
Progressing. Learning. Changing my views. When I was in high school used to be into hard core metal guitar. The fastest player was the best player, all about pure technique and not the actual music. I evolved a lot at university and have continued to evolve my musical views over the course of my life. My playing and composing style has also changed. I love how music has coloured my life experiences and now I have a son he seems to love it when I play the guitar for him.

In terms of the guitar specifically... I can't really say. Its a bond between my brother and I. Its a bond between many friends of mine and I. I've had my current guitar (an Admira classical) for over 15 years now. The guitar forces limits in a different way to other instruments, in terms of what your fingers and hands can physically do and reach on the fretboard. You have to learn to extend those limits, but also work within them at the same time.

But my parents influence was basically zero, other than allowing my brother and I to do it. The only comments I ever got from them that I recall was complaints about practicing the same thing too much and they got sick of hearing it.
posted by Admira at 6:37 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
Started Orff-Kodaly lessons at age 5, recorder at 7, flute and piano at 11, bassoon in 9th grade, harp in 12th grade, with voice lessons on and off in high school and college. (And one of my undergrad majors is music, though theory and composition rather than performance.)

2. What was your disposition towards music as a child?
Early music lessons and starting piano and another instrument of my choice were non-negotiable. The stuff after that, they actively supported, but didn't push. (And when I was very busy with other good things in high school, I dropped piano.)

My mother's father was an extremely skilled musician and a lifelong music lover. My father was a good singer and major music fan - my mother has less direct skill, but still loves it.

3. Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
My parents *really* tried to talk me out of flute, because it's so common. However, it's also portable and flexible (I could play in orchestra, I could play in band, I could have easily done marching band.) It's a hard instrument if you want to be *best* at something (so's violin, for that matter) but if you're not sure what you want to do, it gives you a lot of options.

One of the things my parents had realised by the time I came along (I have two older siblings) is that our family has a lot of small motor skill issues - violin would have been a really horrible choice for any of us (and my mother had huge issues with it as a child.) At the same time, I have very small hands - there are piano pieces (and for that matter, bassoon pieces) I just don't have the hand reach to play. Looking at whether there are any realistic limitations on the instrument and/or picking instruments that either can develop in multiple directions and/or build transferrable skills helped a lot.

(That was the reason for the piano: their theory was that whether or not I was ever very good at it, I'd come out reading both treble and bass clef, able to play music for myself, and able to appreciate chords and harmony in a way that's hard on a solo instrument by yourself.)

I always found my vocal music to be very relaxing - while you're pretty much stuck with the instrument your body produces (other than whatever you learn to do with it, which can be a lot) there was something great about not having to reach for keys or keep lots of things consciously coordinated.

4. Do you still play?
Really complicated question - my music major, alas, lead to major burnout on a lot of music that I'm still getting over, 15 years later. But music is an always part of my life - listening, structure, how I use it deliberately for mood and emotion and soundtrack of my life.

(I sing some, and I play folk harp, mostly, these days. It's worth noting those are the two most portable and most flexible.)

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

I like words a lot, but music does things words can't do. Or it comes at things from a different perspective. Or gives a different nuance. And it has layer after layer of complexity that rewards learning more about a piece (or the context of a piece, or the background of a performer, or a dozen other things) in a way I really enjoy, and that I think is a lot easier if you have a background in any instrument or repetoire.
posted by modernhypatia at 6:40 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

Debatable. But yes, I did learn as a child.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

Never. They'd probably have been quite happy if I'd practiced less, or dropped it altogether (they did make me quit in high school, for financial reasons). I liked it very much.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

Yes, I started playing when I was 9. I think it made many things more automatic - reading music, I do best when the notes can go straight from my eyes to my fingers while my brain minds its own business and keeps quiet. One good thing is that at 9, I was not self-conscious about making horrible noises, and wasn't afraid to play because of them. By the time I was 12, I think I would have been so terrified of messing up that I'd never have made any progress.

4. Do you still play?

Yes. I was able to get back to it in college, and at 40 I now play through private lessons and in a community band.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

Not sure. It's something very different from almost anything else I do, and I can sometimes get a little outside of myself, but I don't really know if that's it.
posted by dilettante at 6:41 PM on December 10, 2013


I am the youngest of 4. All of my siblings are musical, and I fell asleep to my brother playing the piano many, many nights. Whenever my mom drove, she'd play classical music. And I spent a lot of time in the car as a child.
I wish I had been required to take piano lessons from the age of 5, like my siblings were, but somehow I didn't. My first instrument was the flute at age 8, and I think I would have been better served by the piano.
I occasionally still play. I practice more consistently when I'm taking lessons, but free time is tight right now.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:44 PM on December 10, 2013


1.) I am a musician. I took piano lessons from my mother and flute lessons and school and privately. (starting from age 10, not counting a huge pile of musical toys from age 3 or so; my parents were music teachers)
2.) My parents never had to pressure me to practice, but practice records were part of my grade in band class, and I would not have been able to fool my private teachers. Also, music was the one subject in school that I (a) actually cared about (b) actually needed practice in to get better. (Other subjects I either did fine without too much work or coasted to middling grades)

There was also familial competitive pressure, as most of my family are talented musicians with a very high proportion of professional music educators.

3.) I guess ten is not relatively early, but I'm very glad I learned as a child, because I no longer have the time to take on totally new things, and I really love to play.
4.) Not so much on my native instrument, but I mess around with electronics and software and whatnot. I wish I had more time, but it is difficult to practice an acoustic instrument in the same house as small children without waking them.
5.) This recording. I was fortunate enough to perform part of this piece with my parents a couple times.
posted by mkb at 6:53 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
yes, but not professionally. Yes.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
Yes and no. I was forced to practice the piano. I hated it because it was out in the family room where everyone could hear me practice. When I entered middle school I switched to flute so I could be in the band. My parents got me private lessons and I practiced for at least an hour every day (from 8th grade throughout high school) on my own because I wanted to and I liked playing. It also helped that I was almost always preparing for something (honor band audition, Solo & Ensemble, etc).

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
Started learning piano around age 5. Started on the flute in 6th grade and piccolo in 8th. Briefly tried out the trumpet in 8th grade and taught myself horn in college.

4. Do you still play?
Yes, but only flute and piccolo and I am part of a fantastic community band. Sometimes I wish I never gave up piano because I would love to be able to sit down and just play. I can barely read bass clef now.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
Part of it was because it was something I could do. I was diagnosed with Junior Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was five. I wasn't allowed to participate in sports or even PE at school. So my parents got me started in music because it was something that wouldn't bother my joints.

Additional info: My mom had piano lessons as a child and dabbled on the family piano a bit. My father does not play anything. Both my parents tried to be active band parents in high school but I wouldn't really let them participate at first. As I got older they became more involved. They went to all of my performances throughout middle and high school and saw a few when I was in the marching band in college. They actually just flew from Florida to Pennsylvania to attend my band's concert in November.
posted by Nolechick11 at 7:01 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

I am a (not professional) singer, most specifically a choral singer. (You specifically mention instruments, but I think serious choral singing is perhaps an analogous experience.) Yes, I started choral singing as a child.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

My parents didn't force me to practice, because singing was (and still is) one of my favorite things to do. I didn't feel pressured - it was very much my choice. My parents were both pretty musical, if untrained, and we sang all the time at home.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I started singing in a choir at the age of six and was in school choirs, church choirs, and community choirs pretty much ever since. Which means that, essentially, I have more training in being a choir member than in anything else in my life. Starting that early means that I have a lot of ingrained physical habits and that reading music happened pretty much like learning to read English - easily and fairly organically.

4. Do you still play?

My current community choir has a concert this weekend. 8)

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

Like I mentioned above, my parents introduced me to singing at a very early age (a lot of my earliest memories involve singing along to something in the car). It was something that we did as a family, something that I associated with being happy. And it was something that, as a small child, I was recognized as being quite good at, which felt nice.

So music was something I was good at that made me feel good.
posted by darchildre at 7:31 PM on December 10, 2013


Are you a musician?

Yep, although I haven't actively performed/recorded in years. I do make my living in the music (more-or-less) business, though (see my user name).

Did you learn as a child?

Started sax at 8, piano at 10, formal lessons for both. Started picking up guitar and bass on my own around 13 because me and some friends wanted to play Beatles songs.

Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

Mmmmm . . . . they tended to nag about actually, y'know, practicing, like scales and exercises and pieces assigned by my teachers, which I tended to sort of passive-aggresively resist. But I could blissfully spend hours playing what I wanted to play; sax with Music Minus One jazz records, pretending I was Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano, playing guitar in a band with my friends.

This probably says more about my own character & relationship with my parents in general than it does about how my parents approached my musical education, so unless you've got an unhappy marriage and a quietly bull-headed kid, I dunno how much of the above paragraph would apply to your and your kid(s).

Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

Well, I seemed to have some level of natural talent for music, and I think it was good for me in a lot of ways to discover something at an early age that I was good at and enjoyed doing enough to be self-motivated.

For me that happened to be music, and I'm glad, on the whole, that my parents let me run with it. But for other kids it was a sport, or some type of visual art, or, heck, one of the most musical guys I know is seriously into cars - fixing them, hot-rodding them, restoring them. I think the important part is to let your kid find what they love, and support them whatever it is. Your kid(s) might not be musically talented, and that's OK.

Do you still play?

Perhaps ironically, my weirdo career doing music-related tech stuff means I've got little time to play myself, besides fooling around on guitar in my apartment.

When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

I still honestly have no real idea.

And I dunno where it came from, either. My dad can't carry a tune in a bucket (although every few years he takes a whack at learning one instrument or another, usually with not much result), my mom can carry a tune, and has a perfectly pleasant singing voice, but as far as I know neither of them really played any instruments, and they never listened to all that much music around the house, either. I was the one who wanted the radio on or records playing, even before I started learning an instrument. I think my folks figured learning an instrument would be "good for me", somehow, like broccoli, so they allowed and encouraged it, but I think they're both still kinda mystified how their oldest kid wound up making a living in music.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:14 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
Yes, but not professionally. Yes--I had piano lessons for several years (maybe around ages 8-12?), but I abandoned them. In high school I started getting back into it on my own, and picked up the guitar.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
At first I enjoyed practicing but by the end I just got really sick of it. I wasn't even the slightest bit interested in the music I was playing (goddamn Alfred books). As for disposition towards music, I always loved it and I was always interested in making it--but I really hated that particular style of piano education, and of course at that age I had no idea there were alternatives.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
I wouldn't consider piano my instrument any more (I never play it) but I think learning it had a good effect. When I started getting interested in playing music again it was helpful that I already knew the basic mechanics of piano-playing and could read music.

4. Do you still play?
I play the guitar frequently and sometimes compose things on the computer.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
I can tell you exactly what hooked me. I was in a play in high school where I had to play the piano, but there was no music provided, so a friend observed that the song would work to the tune of "Gilligan's Island" (!) and showed me the chords, which kind of introduced me to the concept of roman numeral analysis/Nashville numbers/whatever you want to call it. (The Alfred books had some roman numeral stuff, but just dryly explaining "this is a I, this is a V7" without any indication of how to use it.) I had always been able to pick up melodies by ear, but never understood how to identify chords--and suddenly I saw the light: this is how you do it, this is the tool that was missing. The world opened up.

So I guess the lesson is that for me, learning the building blocks was everything, and playing a finished product from a score was nothing.
posted by equalpants at 9:11 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

No, I'm not a musician. I studied viola in middle and high school (ages 10-17). I also tried to pick up cello during that time.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

My parents aren't musical and couldn't really have cared less about me playing an instrument per se, but they liked that I liked it. They did what they could financially handle to be supportive.

When I was in middle school, I practiced maybe once or twice a week after school before my parents got home, and sometimes on the weekends when my parents were out (they didn't ask me to do that, but we lived in a small place). In high school, I honestly don't remember what my practice schedule was, and I couldn't have practiced *too* much because I played sports year round -- but I was playing in a couple other orchestras/groups by then, too, and had orchestra for an hour a day in school, which I guess was enough?

My parents never told me to practice or cared whether I did or not, but I wanted to be able to play the music with the rest of the orchestra -- I didn't want to be the one jerk not keeping up! Plus, practice was when I got to play around with the fun solo pieces, and didn't have to just be the backup (as was the case for the viola section in most of my orchestras' music) -- it wasn't a slog.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

In my school district, kids could start taking music in school in fourth grade. I was really eager to start, but things got lost in the shuffle and I ended up having to start in 6th, instead. At the time, I found that upsetting, but looking back, I don't think it made a lot of difference.

Since I'm not naturally very musical, I think it was a lot easier to learn how to read music and hear if things were out of tune at an earlier age. I'm not sure I would have been able to hear the pitch differences between in-tune and out-of-tune if I'd waited much longer.

4. Do you still play?

No, I don't play anymore -- I've looked for community orchestras in the past, but could never find one that was a good fit. I miss it, but I'm so rusty now...

I love going to concerts, though, and I do think that having some musical knowledge helps me get a lot more out of concerts than I would otherwise (it deepens the experience for me). I'm very happy that I did play, and in a perfect world I'd have some money and time to throw at lessons and would start playing at least a bit again.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

I loved playing with other people -- that we all had our parts, and our parts fit together like the cogs of a clock to make something bigger/better.

For the first year, we had to basically screech away trying to learn the fundamentals and that wasn't too amazing, but by the second year, I could join the junior community orchestra, where we played more complicated arrangements in the junior community orchestra. Once we were playing "real" music in high school, I loved it.

Also, I was close with a lot of people in my orchestra class -- we were together for an hour a day for seven years in class, and a lot of us also played together outside of class (in community/regional orchestras, a quartet, etc). There were a few orchestra field trips and all-day events every year, too. The social aspect was really fun.

It was also rewarding to feel that my hard work and all the years of playing were paying off and I was very obviously getting better over time. My senior year, I played a concerto in my final concert, and that still chokes me up, it was such an amazing experience. I felt a big sense of accomplishment.
posted by rue72 at 9:31 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Yes, though not as much of one right now as I'd like to be. I did learn (and excel) as a child.

2. I'm glad my parents pushed me to stick with my instruments in high school, but I wish they weren't always commenting on how I sounded when I practiced. I always felt self-conscious about practicing, and I still do, and I think it's held me back. I also wish my parents had gotten me better-quality instruments sooner; while I did well with what I was given, now that I've bought better instruments and accessories in the years since, I know just what I was missing, in terms of sound quality, ease of achieving the desired sound, etc. I always felt embarrassed lugging my off-brand guitar and amp to guitar club, for instance.

And I wish my parents and teachers had made it easier to even consider taking lessons (beyond some piano lessons I took in trade for my mother giving the teacher's daughter flute lessons). If they'd helped me figure out the financing for it and hooked me up with teachers who could connect with me on my level, rather than just saying, "Yeah, to achieve your full potential, you should really be taking lessons," that would've been good. When I got to college and tried to continue with instrumental music, I got cut because I wasn't in lessons. (When I would've found time for lessons is another question, since I was playing sports and doing theater as well, but it would've been nice to have the choice.)

3. I started in band in fourth grade, which was just when everyone started. I always felt like the kids in orchestra who started really early with Suzuki method stuff or whatever had an edge on us, though. As noted, I took piano lessons for a little while, too. Then I started playing guitar at age 13, with a group class, but I never received instruction in the style I was interested in. Oh, and I tried to start playing drums in band pretty early on, in addition to woodwinds, and I demonstrated some aptitude for it, but because they "needed me" in the clarinet section, I didn't get to pursue that interest. (I started playing woodwinds because the clarinet was the only thing I could get to make a sound that first day.) I went far with my chosen instruments in high school (won a jazz soloist award, became section leader, earned a music department award), but I guess across the board I wish there would've been more support and options for learning to play rock music, which is what I really loved.

Beyond instrumental music, I wish I'd had more opportunities to really learn how to sing well. I can hold a tune and stay on pitch, but I'm not a spectacular singer, and I never went to church, so I didn't have an opportunity to practice that way. I recall being a terrible singer when I was a kid, and music class didn't help that, nor did choir class in middle school. I feel like I never learned the basics of healthy, strong singing.

4. I still play the guitar (or, well, at the moment, ignore my guitars) and sing, but while I still own wind instruments, I haven't played them in nearly 10 years.

5. Being able to produce the type of sound I wanted to, in the genre I wanted to, was always huge. Learning how to solo in jazz band, even in a rudimentary way (music theory has never been a strong suit), was eye-opening. And learning to play along with recorded rock music by ear and reproduce some of those sounds, now that I have the right equipment, is what has kept me interested in the guitar. What would've helped in this regard in band would've been having more recorded examples of the sounds the director wanted us to achieve; for kids who weren't that familiar with the genres or idioms we were working in, sight-reading only took us so far. I understand that we needed to develop those skills and learn to really read what was there, rather than just aping sounds on a recording, but I think a healthier mix of both would've been good.

Oh, and yeah, being a band rat was great socially. A lot of my best friends are still people I met in band. I wish I'd learned more about how to form a band or ensemble, though—that's not something that's easy to learn, even though I always wanted to be in a band.
posted by limeonaire at 9:33 PM on December 10, 2013


At first I got the feeling that this was a ChatFilter type of question, but then I remembered that I don't know what that means and I was just feeling like a oh-so-haughty-awesome-MeFite dood, and then I was like, "you know, this is a pretty important consideration I'll have for my kids. When I have kids. If I have kids. When I get married. If I get married. But that requires dating. And dating requires time, and effort, and not working." And then I thought about how this exact question has been asked of me by my friends who have kids, and how, in trying to answer them, I realize how significant music has been in my life. And how much about how I was raised with music has played a role in my life and how it's led to incredibly important and meaningful moments that shaped my perceptions of the world.

To answer your questions:
1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
No. I'm a physician. I started playing the violin when I was, oh boy, five? Six? My pop played trumpet, my mother taught literature. I was introduced to the violin because, well, I'm Korean, my pop loved singing Korean folk songs at the top of his lungs, and a colleague of his played in an orchestra and suggested the violin, gifting us with a small violin since I couldn't sing for shit.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
Yes. My mother forced me to practice. There was tremendous pressure to practice every single damn day for at least an hour. I hated it. I hated practicing, I hated recitals, and pretty much the only thing I liked was reading Tales From the Crypt and Swamp Thing comic books at one teacher's house while waiting for the lesson, rosining the bow, and later playing along with my pop: he didn't know how to play, either, but he was given his colleague's father's violin as a gift for me to inherit when I got older. It was fun playing the same songs, and trying to figure out how to play those cheesy Korean folk songs. We sounded like shit.

Pop never pressured me to practice. Mom would make me warm up my hands under running water in colder times. All I was allowed to listen to was classical music on records and tapes, and when CDs came out, the occasional CD. So my tastes in music very early on turned to enjoying everything else BUT classical music. Later in life, I would lie to my mom and tell her that my orchestra teacher at school said to listen to classic rock for one reason or another, like the violin solo in Dust In The Wind, or the lyric analysis and song structure. She didn't buy it: she isn't stupid.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
Yes. So did my brothers: my middle brother played piano, and my youngest brother played violin as well. It spawned group resentment, unhealthy competition as to who's better or more advanced, excuse making and bullshit lies as to why any one of us sucked more or wasn't as good as the other.

For example: my middle brother advanced quickly and became an excellent pianist, which my other brother and myself would discount as the violin is a "harder instrument." Another example: my youngest brother advanced faster and further than I did, and I'd claim that though he was a better technical player, I played with "more soul" and "depth of feeling."

The differences in our skill levels really fucked things up for all of us: alternating periods of praise and resentment from my mother, longer forced practice time to try to get me better enough to play pieces that my youngest brother was able to play, etc. We became hypercompetitive. We developed ugly egos.

But am I glad I learned it at the age I did? Without reservation I answer "yes." We all went off to college. My middle brother majored in music. My youngest brother and I majored in other things but took courses in music and continued to play. And you know what? Something magical happened when the pressure was off, when we had the independence and freedom to make our own choices when it came to music: it was astounding and revelatory to be able to choose for ourselves, and to not be living in the same house trying to live up to an ungodly high standard set by my mother or ourselves in competition.

And as it's said and so contrived: the suffering we shared made us appreciate things more. What we'd been scooping out of the earth of living, digging, and finding ourselves in a deeper and deeper hole, we'd been piling up elsewhere which we could not and did not find until later in life.

And what we'd found were not simply piles of suffering or the dirt of despair: somehow what came about and was formed was, well, us. Who we were. And we weren't failures or terrible at music, after all. More importantly, and so importantly, we recognized each other's talents, and I realized my limitations: I wasn't as good at the violin as my brother. I could never grasp music theory as well as or play as beautiful music as my middle brother did on the piano. And that was ok.

And for someone who grew up in a traditional Korean household, coming to the understanding that there are some things I couldn't be great, or even good at, was mindblowing. Everything changed in the relationships I had with my brothers, as I came to the understanding that they were not just better than me in one thing, or some things, but that they could be better than me in anything.

Now, we grew up as an emotionally closed family. Far from what you might see in Korean TV shows and movies, we never said "I love you." The closest thing I can recall was my father squeezing my hand as we walked from dinner to the car, asking if I understood what he meant. I didn't. And he quietly, so that my mom or brothers didn't hear, said "I love you." And as cheesy as it may sound, as late in life as undergrad, this whole deal with music, and competition, and independence-- well, this was the first time I grew up enough to even begin to realize that I wasn't just the oldest brother, wasn't just a playmate, and didn't simply feel like I was their protector or ass-kicker of their bullies: it was the first time I realized that I loved them.

Still later in life, I understood that my mom never bought the bullshit I was feeding her when it came to be jamming out to the Allman Brothers, or Zep, or Yes, or fucking Kansas: of course she knew I was lying, and she was playing the long game. I felt the guilt of lying twenty years after the lies and the love of my mother trying to cope with raising three kids in America and all that living and learning in another culture entails: the struggles of the poverty of money, the poverty of success, and the poverty of friends.

All of this I would not trade for the world, and it laid the foundation of a certain understanding that, though my own various adversities, I would finally come to the realization that there are things that I don't know, might not ever know, and that my worldview is mutable: that some things are not merely incomprehensible, but rather there are things that I cannot even possibly fathom. And that such things aren't any less real to other people despite my ignorance.

And this is precisely why I think your question and its implications are so damn important, because I struggle with ideas of how I'd like to raise my kids, if ever I have any. I don't have any answers that satisfy me, though I know I would not like for my kids to be forced or pressured or suffer as I did. At the same time, I look back and think that the pain doesn't seem to have been so severe in the spectrum of suffering. But it raises questions which I hope to to find answers to, and where answers cannot be found, I hope to have enough wherewithal to find guidance from my friends and family, and people like you who ask such questions, and people like those who've replied here who are sharing their experiences.

4. Do you still play?
Boy, now I feel a bit sheepish after such a long-winded response to the previous questions. I've played rarely post-undergrad and post-residency. Nominally more recently, as I no longer live in an apartment with irritable neighbors. I've lost my chops: the mind knows what to do, the body has difficulty following.

Perhaps I've taken my acceptance of my limitations too far, but over the years I've picked up other instruments and have taken to making crappy songs on 4-tracks and now on the computer. Despite their abject mediocrity, I enjoy making music. It's kinda like the feeling of taking a crap and saying: BEHOLD AT WHAT I HAVE MADE!

Ok. Yeah. That's weird.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
All that music encompasses, and all that encompasses music, in all its intangible glory and wonder. And now, not music that I might make, but the beauty that is made by other people.

I love my violin for the music other people make.
posted by herrdoktor at 9:52 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
I am a professional musician.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
I know I was forced to practice piano as a young child. I distinctly recall learning to play a specific dreamy-sounding piece with lots of pedal, deliberately playing it over and over again until my mom fell asleep and I could sneak off and play.

After I began playing flute, I became more self-motivated, and by mid-high school, when I had made up my mind to major in music, I was more or less self-regulating on practice, although somewhat lazy.

I did not feel especially pressured to be musical. It seemed very natural, although it took a long time for me to really take it seriously.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I started piano lessons at age 5, which doesn't seem especially early. I started playing the flute at age 10; it was later my undergraduate major. I did not like the piano and quit lessons around age 12, only to start again later in high school when I realized music majors HAD to know how to play piano. I am very glad that I was exposed to all the elements of music, as welll as (somewhat) disciplined practice, from an early age.

(Years later, on a visit home from college, I realized that our piano was out-of-tune, twangy, and horrible sounding, and probably always had been; so maybe that had something to do with it also.)

4. Do you still play?

I am now a composer with a Ph.D in composition and music theory. I still play both flute and piano. The importance of being able to play sort of varies -- for a few years I sort of put the flute away, and then really put some work into it when I got a gig playing with a new music group. Now I'm teaching at a job where I need to boost my piano and SINGING skills -- which is an almost entirely new thing for me, as I was always in bands/orchestras and never in choir. I'm taking vocal lessons, which are really awesome. I try hard to keep up my somewhat dormant flute skills. I compose every day (or try to).

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

With every musical thing it was different. Playing a major triad on the piano! Making a semi-beautiful sound on the flute for the first time! Realizing I could make ANY MUSIC I WANTED and someone might perform it! All hooks.
posted by daisystomper at 10:27 PM on December 10, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
Yes.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it?
Yes, it was part of the daily routine. Occasionally that makes one feel pressured. No, it wasn't part of the daily tantrum.

2b. What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
Positive disposition. Resented part of the approach that was thought to me because it didn't match my disposition in a specific way (as I see it now).

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
If 5 1/2 qualifies as "early", yes. No problem with any of that, no.

4. Do you still play?
Yes.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
It was there before I can remember what hooked me.
posted by Namlit at 12:59 AM on December 11, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

Yes (trumpet, electronics). Sorta: 2 years of crap piano lessons.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

I resented it. My parents didn't push too hard but it was mandatory for a couple years. I did love music, but not the stuff you learn when you first learn an instrument.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I forgot piano instantly. Picked up trumpet in my 20s. Learning piano as a kid had zero impact on my musical development afaik.

4. Do you still play?

Yes, very seriously (release cds, tour, etc. for 15 years or so)

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

Trumpets rule. I just loved it. The sound source is your mouth, man. That's fucking awesome. Electronics also rule in totally different ways (and I don't mix them w/trumpet). You can make electronics. And they're cool when broken/semi-broken.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:28 AM on December 11, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

You could say I'm a "pseudo professional" musician, by which I mean people occasionally actually offer me money to perform. My first hands-on experience with an instrument was a recorder unit in music class in... 3rd grade, I think? There were trumpet lessons in fifth grade, and glee club for a couple of years right around then. I grew up listening to my parents sing, mostly in choir. My mom plays piano. My grandfather played organ, and on Christmas the family would gather round while he played and sing carols. I'm pretty sure my brother was already playing drums by the time I took up trumpet. In general, my family likes music; I grew up on a steady mixed diet of The Beatles, classical, various 1960s folk-rock, 1950s Jazz, and 1970s rock.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

I don't remember being forced to practice trumpet, although it really wasn't my favorite thing so there were probably some weeks where I needed nudging. I was encouraged, not pressured, to try an instrument. What I really wanted to play was guitar, but that wasn't available; There was a company which coordinated with my elementary school and offered after-school lessons. I remember going to a "meet the instruments" session and asking a company rep about guitar, and being told my hands were too small to learn guitar. Not knowing any different at the time I dropped it and picked trumpet, I don't really remember why. I wouldn't say I resented trumpet, but I was never really excited about it, if that makes sense. I was secretly pleased when I had to give it up when I got braces about a year later.

A year or two later I got my first electric guitar for Christmas, and that was awesome. I had a teacher who came to my house and was happy to help me learn my favorite tunes; I needed no encouragement at all when it came to practicing guitar.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

Learning an instrument is all about hand/eye/ear coordination, and learning to read music is like learning a different language in a lot of ways; I'm pretty sure that establishing those neural pathways at a relatively young age helped me a lot both in terms of my ability to learn new instruments as an adult, and with logic and abstract structure in general (My day job is computer programming.)

Recorder and trumpet were more like intellectual expercises for me; they were interesting even if I wasn't into playing "Row, row, row your boat." Guitar was my first "I really like playing this, and want to do it a lot more" experience. I was in a noise band in college, and those were some of the best times ever. After college my guitar sat in a closet for six years for want of a context in which to play it. One day in my late 20s it occurred to me that, as a grown-up, I could acquire and learn to play a banjo if I wanted; it was an instrument I'd always been intrigued by but had no personal cultural context for. That was about 11 years ago, and seeing how the mechanics of guitar overlap with banjo was a bit of an epiphany for me in terms of picking up fretted/stringed instruments and fooling around with them; once you know how strings, frets, and picking work together, switching instruments is mostly about figuring out where the notes are. I've also tinkered with ukulele and mandolin since then, but I keep coming back to the banjo.

I'm glad I learned guitar when I did, although I certainly wish my parents and I had known that kid-sized guitars existed; I might have gotten started sooner.

4. Do you still play?

Yes, although it tends to be on again/off again for me, mostly because I don't regularly get to play with other musicians. For the last few years I've been going to an annual gathering of fellow weirdos who are into 19th century banjo, and for a month or two on either side of that event I'll get excited and play quite a bit, then weeks may go by without practicing/playing. Every once in a while I'll get an itch to get out my electric guitar, but it's really hard for me to recapture that "lock myself in my room for hours and learn how to play my favorite Led Zeppelin tunes because someday I'm going to be in a band" vibe.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

In terms of banjo, which is my thing these days, it's just that sound. I've always loved the sound of the banjo for as long as I can remember (formative moment: seeing a live dixieland combo with a tenor banjoist at a Shakey's Pizza when I was probably 5 or 6 years old) but I never really heard any old-time or bluegrass music growing up and it was one of those things that was so exotic that it never even occured to me that I might learn how to play banjo until years later when I had the benefit of the internet. Not sure if that's much help in terms of what gets a kid hooked, other than to say that if a kid latches onto a particular instrument for whatever reason, that's the one to get them.

In terms of music in general? Honestly, I think it was just growing up in a household where music was around a lot of the time, whether it was hearing my mom play piano once in a while, singing in the car on road trips, or just listening to stuff like The Dave Brubeck Quartet around the house. Music is just a part of life, and my parents were awesome about making that pretty broad and non-specific; there was never any "You are going to learn a real instrument like violin, not that low-brow rock and roll guitar" attitude. Hell, they bought my brother a drum kit and let him play it in the house!
posted by usonian at 5:31 AM on December 11, 2013


I'm a working classical composer (entirely freelance since 2006 - quit my last adjunct teaching job as of dec 2005). I had no formal training as a child; I went to a high school for the arts; and I did conservatory composition training.

We had no money for instruments or lessons when I was a kid. I'm really unusual as a pro classical musician with no formal childhood training (and as a pro classical musician who grew up poor).

Here's my current musical approach with my 3-year-old:
- exposing him to lots of different music styles, esp. on youtube so he can see people playing (he's settled into loving blues & singer-songwriter for the moment);
- having lots of acoustic instruments around for him to play whenever he wants (good toy piano, bamboo xylophone, kalimbas, hand drums, mini guitar - I'll be getting him a real glockenspiel soon because he's been lobbying for one);
- limited time with onscreen instruments (he loves GarageBand but luckily thinks of it as something special that's only on Grandma's phone).
posted by kalapierson at 7:18 AM on December 11, 2013


1. High level amateur, but not professional. I started at around age 6.

2. My parents never, never forced me to do anything. I had a hard time, because I loved the sound and expression of the violin so much that my lack of experience killed me a little inside when I made bad, scratchy noises. I still really wanted to play, though. I was a lousy practicer until High School, when I joined several orchestras at the suggestion of my private instructor.

3. I started relatively early in group lessons at school. Starting young generally seems to be key for later playing at a high level, particularly for classical musicians. I think it is closely linked with learning a physical and mental skill and discipline while your brain is still developing.

4. Yes, and I love it! If I stopped, it would be like loosing a limb. I am in my 40's, and I currently play in a couple of community orchestras and love chamber music.

5. I think I was hooked by being able to express myself in a way other than words. I was shy and awkward, still am in many respects, and could work through feelings and say things in music that I had no other way to express. Also, just the sheer beauty when I got it right was a huge motivator. I was exposed to a lot of classical music as a child, so I knew how pretty it could sound.
posted by k8oglyph at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2013


Oh, fun question!

1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

Currently more of a sporadic dilettante. :) I go through phases of interest-levels, also depends on time and health. Family-wise, my parents didn't play any instruments, but my mom enjoyed singing in the church choir, and both parents enjoyed listening to music as a hobby, like most of us, I suppose. My maternal grandmother played violin as a child (she hated it!) and learned piano later on. She had a Hammond-type organ for years and years, and would play for us at holidays.

I took two years of violin in elementary school, so grades 4 & 5, I think? We moved twice for my dad's job during my formative years, and unfortunately, that definitely had an affect on my being able to continue my music education. I've been told that I have a natural ear for music and once I get the technical side straight in my head, I can progress pretty quickly. So I always wonder what I could've accomplished with a good teacher had I been able to continue.

Having to stop playing violin is one of my bitterest childhood memories, to be honest. After we moved in 5th grade, my parents apparently didn't realize that hello, people give private music lessons; in their minds, if I couldn't do it through the school district then I just had to quit. They seemed to expect that I could just continue teaching myself, and when I got stuck and wasn't playing, eventually I had to sell my violin. I begged to switch to flute so I could at least be in the school band, but for whatever reason, at the time they said I wasn't allowed. All I have ever really wanted to do was make music (it makes my soul sing! it makes me feel alive! etc.), and part of me has never really forgiven my parents for taking something away from me that was so important, especially when we had to leave the home I'd grown up in, and my best friend, and all of that.

After we moved, I switched to informal singing and was always in the school and church choirs. I have a decent voice but I am still too shy to sing by myself in front of others...it's easier with a group. I can't imagine not being able to sing!!

I tried to pick up guitar in high school, along with mandolin and ukelele, later on. I was able to borrow a friend's violin for a while and took private lessons for a few months with a Carnegie Mellon grad student. He intimated the bejeebers out of me and I felt too frustrated with myself to practice or put the appropriate effort into it. I have a negative pattern of getting frustrated (bc I'm a perfectionist) and then quitting, then beating myself up every time I do this. So my goal for this coming year is to spend at least six months on weekly guitar lessons and see how much I can improve. Don't know if I will ever pick up violin again, but if I do, I think I'd rather focus on learning some simple fiddling and not drive myself crazy trying to become technically proficient and being able to play as well as someone who's been a classical violinist since the age of 3. :P

I also noodle around with electronic music and have a little Kaossilator synth that I amuse the hell out of myself with. :) I love complex layered electronica bc it gives me so much to listen to and pick apart. I like following the patterns of the different pieces as the song progresses, thinking about how that sound effect was created, etc. I also enjoy researching different types of production methods for electronic music, ways the audio can be manipulated, etc. I eventually went into a tech field for my career, so I guess liking geeky music just went along with my other tech interests.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

My mom usually nagged me to practice and I suppose I felt somewhat pressured to do it, but more from the angle of, "We're spending good money on renting this violin for you, you ingrate, so you'd better do this!" which just made me feel resentful and then less inclined to practice. I wanted to do it, but at the same time, I learn very quickly and I would get bored SO easily. Having to do boring simple rote exercises over and over made me crazy, and I wish I'd had an observant teacher who could've found ways to keep me challenged and yet continue learning at an age-appropriate level. I think this is where private instruction in addition to school-based instruction would've been helpful.

Another aspect of music lessons is that it's a good, practical way to help children learn math. I've never been innately good with math, but if I have a way to understand why I have to do X or Y operation, it helps me to understand it better. I've often wondered if continuing with musical education might have offset some of my math-related troubles later on in my schooling.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I started when I was 9, I think. It has always helped me to think positively of music and of creative self-expression. I think it's good for kids to learn an instrument or how to sing, simply because being able to make something yourself, at a young age, when everything around you is at the whim of adults, can be a pretty powerful thing for a kid, imo.

I am still pretty obsessed with music and even though I never got to the level where I'd always hoped to be, I'm glad that I can enjoy it as a hobby/occasional creative pursuit.

4. Do you still play?

Answered in question 1.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

It was just so beautiful. Hearing notes trill from a violin like falling beads of water...it still gives me chills. I also liked that music could express feelings without words.
posted by cardinality at 8:34 AM on December 11, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

Not a musician but I learned piano, clarinet and saxophone as a child.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

My mother (a professional musician and teacher) tried to teach me violin aged 3 or so and I hated it. I have never been able to take instruction from either of my parents.
I taught myself piano; nobody in the house gave a crap or commented on it; I did it because I find playing the piano actively a fun thing to do. I never "practiced".
Clarinet/sax was something I had (free) lessons on at school. There was pressure to practice. I did not practice. This is largely because NOBODY TOLD ME HOW and also because I didn't find playing either of those instruments fun on my own; only in groups, which is why I kept at it.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

Yes, I'm very glad of all of it.

4. Do you still play?

Nope. On leaving school I was at a kind of limbo standard, too good to enjoy playing in ensembles aimed at low skilled people and not good enough to audition into anything good. Also I still hated practice and lived in places with roommates and neighbours. I was mortified at the idea of other people hearing my attempts at practice; bearing in mind that I still did not know how to practice, which made me extra self-conscious.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

The music teacher that started a kid's big band on Saturday mornings. I still love all the old big band music and wish I was still playing it.
posted by emilyw at 8:40 AM on December 11, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?
I am a musician. My day job has morphed from music to creating stuff *for* musicians and performers. Music has always been part of my life.
2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)
My parents played duets togethers when I was a small kid. Mom made me do piano lessons for a year or two, which almost broke my interest in piano since the lessons seemed to have nothing to do with music or anything I wanted to do. I was mostly not pressured to be musical, but would never consider *not* being musical. Campouts and time at friends' houses just naturally included playing instruments. Music has always been an organic part of my life and I can't imagine otherwise.
3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?
The instrument I play/earn most on is not one of the first few I learned as a kid. Every aspect of my musical life has been self-taught, though the environment I grew up in was conducive to music.
4. Do you still play?
Oh my, yes.
5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?
It got me out of a lot of classes in grade school. Wind instrument and string instruments each got out of class three times a week at different times. By high school I'd discovered that the performing groups went on week long tours. By rigging up a few small groups for vocal music and band instruments, I got to do PTA and Rotary and other community group meetings during the school day. Junior and senior years I attended less than 50% of the school day.
posted by lothar at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2013


1. Are you a musician? Did you learn as a child?

Yes, a performing musician; I play in a (rock) band. My parents put me in piano lessons when I was six, I quit shortly thereafter. I took them again around nine and again, quit after not too long a time (I had nasty teachers). In 4th grade, they started offering music lessons in school. I wanted to play either violin, saxophone or flute. My parents said I was playing clarinet because my dad did, and he already owned one. His was in too bad a condition to play, so they just had to buy me a new one anyway, but I stuck with it up through high school (played in the concert band and orchestra, not the marching band because I was a majorette). Was decent at the clarinet through middle school, then I stopped caring about it in high school. My parents actively dissuaded me from practicing ("We're trying to watch tv" and all that). When I was sixteen I bought myself an acoustic guitar and taught myself how to strum some chords. This is the instrument that stuck with me (fourteen years so far!)

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

Like I said above, my parents discouraged me from practicing the clarinet. When I started playing guitar, they knew I bought it, but I only played at night (2am "night," I mean) with pillows and blankets shoved under my door crack to "soundproof" or when they weren't home. I picked up the guitar because I wanted to be a poet, and the first time I heard Bob Dylan (at fifteen) I realized that music was the most (easily) consumed form of poetry and it progressed from there. (It also helped, hearing Dylan, because growing up my parents told me I couldn't sing. They also said Dylan couldn't sing, and I thought (still do) he had the most amazing voice I'd ever heard, so I suspected maybe, just maybe, I might be able to sing, too.) So playing the guitar was something I chose. The clarinet--I wanted to play an instrument, just not that one. Growing up, we always had music in the house, even though my parents weren't very supportive of my playing it myself. I remember my dad buying me my first cassingles and 7" and CDs.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I wish I would have stuck with the piano lessons, or kept trying until I found a teacher who wasn't mean. I wish I would have learned guitar much earlier, as well. Even more, though, I wish I would have started a band sooner. My boyfriend was starting his first bands at 13, 14, but I didn't start mine until 25. Every day I regret all those years lost.

4. Do you still play?

I still play guitar, yes. I have my clarinet, but I haven't played it since high school. I'd like to brush it off and try using it in my band, but haven't done that yet. We have a dedicated practice night (for the band) and I'm trying to get into a daily practice schedule on my own.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

Growing up, I always sang or hummed little songs to myself, so picking up the guitar allowed me to make real songs! All those songs by other people I admired/fell in love with, I could do that myself! I'm still amazed that I get to do this, and unlike when I was a child, I no longer have to hide it.
posted by dearwassily at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2013


1. I'm...hm. Not a musician, but used to be and want to be in the future. Or I could identify as a musician, currently non-practicing. I played the flute for eight years and piccolo for five as a kid. My dad is an amateur flute player.

2. Did your parents force you to practice? Did you feel pressured to do it? What was your disposition towards music as a child? (Did you want to do it or is it something your parents wanted for you? Did you like it or resent it?)

I was definitely not forced to practice, just gently nagged a time or two. In middle school we had to hand in practice records with parent signatures every week: ugh. Mine were of varying truthiness. I phoned it in and half-assed it and felt guilty. I liked playing, I liked performing, I didn't like practicing, but I wasn't resentful so much as frustrated and stressed; I felt unsuccessful and I hated competition. (Chair auditions: misery. District band auditions: the worst, so competitive that they'd make us prepare pieces I had no hope of mastering.) Also, my flute teacher was a wonderful player, a fine person and probably a great teacher too, but in retrospect I think maybe not the best fit for me. We were very different.

I wanted to do it independently, but for sure my dad wanted it for me. (Still does: I went out shopping for a mandolin in my late twenties, financially independent and prepared to buy it myself; he came with me and when I found one I liked, he said "Your birthday's soon, right?" and paid for it.) Also: my dad played occasionally when I was little, but when I picked it up, he started again for real, took lessons, went to flute conventions (and took me with him), eventually joined a group. Now he's an alto and bass flutist too.

3. Did you learn your instrument at an early age? What effect do you think that had? Are you glad you learned it at the age you did?

I started when I was ten. I remember wanting to start a lot sooner! But fifth grade was when band started in my school district and I had other extracurriculars already. We had pretty good music instruction too: Orff instruments starting in first grade and recorders in third. I don't know, I do and don't wish I had started younger. I might have had a different relationship to everything competitive, for better or for worse.

4. Do you still play?

No, I quit after high school. A few years back I spent about a year trying to play the mandolin. I love it, but it's hard and requires just about completely an opposite skill set from what I learned playing the flute -- a fun experience, but maddening too. It turns out I still don't like practicing, maybe because I don't know how. Partly the mandolin is just, by nature, hard to pick up as a first stringed instrument, so I got a guitar and resolved to build some skills playing that before attempting the mandolin again. I don't play either of them, but I intend to someday. I'm better at building habits than I used to be and maybe that will help. What I mean about identifying as a musician above is that having been a musician, even if I did suck and half-ass it, is a thing I still value that has made me a more awesome person.

5. When you came to a love of music/your instrument, what do you think it was that hooked you?

Three different answers for this. Music: it was always around, and it seemed like magic, and it turned out to be magic I could reproduce. (I feel this way about knitting too.) What hooked me on the flute was getting to be in the band and also play duets with my dad. I wanted to play mandolin and guitar to make the music I was already listening to for fun. Flute repertoire leaves me pretty cold these days. I liked some of it at the time, but I was mostly learning to like what I played -- not learning to play what I liked, which I think there's a lot to be said for.
posted by clavicle at 5:55 PM on December 11, 2013


(Check your MeMail - I sent this one off to my brother to ponder, and copied his response - which is long - in a message.)
posted by Austenite at 12:39 AM on December 15, 2013


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