Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Our Music Journey - So long farewell, I hate to say goodbye

It's not even the crack of dawn yet. Time check shows that it is before 5am. It has been big day, a big 24 hours for us as I made a big decision earlier (at least it feels that way for me!). Dumpling took her ABRSM exams earlier and in under 3 hours after the exams, I took a leap of faith and withdrew her from the school.

It has been at the back of my mind for a while. More than a year to be exact. But I got sucked into the "everyday busy-ness" and within the same year I changed a job, and she spent 9 months prepping for her exam. It has been a hard decision mainly because I love the teachers at her music school. But I ended up making the decision to leave to take a break as well as to trust my gut feel. 

Over these years and having taken 2 exams, there are a few things that I learnt about myself and my views on her music journey. In short, I would like to:

1) groom a more well rounded musician
2) minimise taking exams as much as possible and certainly not for every grade 
3) spend more time focusing on her foundation and cementing the roots 
4) spend time working with her on some theory aspects where she can understand and interpret the pieces better

In short, I am looking more for an all-round approach to this journey. 

If you are new to this, in the ABRSM violin exam how the children are graded are based on:
- Music pieces (3 from a set of songs) @ 90 marks total
- Arpeggio and scales @ 21 marks
- Aural @ 18 marks
- Sight reading @ 21 marks

Total to marks to pass is 100 with 120 to achieve a merit and 130 to achieve a distinction. So while there is a focus on being able to play (a hefty 111 marks out of 150), aural and sight reading are important aspects too. 

Exams are not a bad thing and it is from the exams that I got a sense of what Dumpling's strengths and weaknesses are. She is a mostly visual learner so when it comes to sight reading and musical knowledge, she is good. She can read something new and is able to interpret the piece and play on her own. In the same breath, I have also learnt that she is not confident in the echoing back of songs. This is linked to the training of the ears. 

Violin, as it is, is a very hard instrument. I play the organ and have basically completed all the necessary grades during my younger days. Keyboard instruments are "easier" in a way that as long as you place your fingers on the right keys, there is no chance of bad intonation. Because I studied organ so my ears are trained where I can spot a bad note being played on the violin during Dumpling's practice. 

Now, for children who are not trained and not exposed to how that note is supposed to sound, they won't know better! It's like me being asked if I like to eat chicken rice and I won't know better if I have not tasted it before. 

Essentially I feel that the approach should be where the students are taught techniques, musical knowledge and exposed to things in their grade / for their level before they take the exams which showcase those knowledge. Certainly not the other way round where the focus is more on the exams and the foundation still needs work. I also feel that there should be time focused on training the ears as being able to play by ear as a musician, to me at least, is an important skill.

Akin to creative writing, I liken this to the approach where if we were to read to and read with our children from young, speak to them properly, discuss a wide variety of topics and build up broad vocabulary through books, there is no need to do tons of worksheets to drill on grammar and comprehension. The child would have naturally picked up language and the child will also be able to write in time to come without having to complete sheets and sheets of worksheets.

And so, I made the decision to trust my gut feel, to stop, and explore other options down the road. I have been blessed as Dumpling has been enjoying her Aural lessons over at Aureus Academy where she enjoys clapping back and learning to pitch her tone and enter at the right time to "sing" a tune. Over these past 2 months since she started her Aural lessons, I have seen subconsciously how she is much more alert to the dynamics of pieces, "pulse", etc. On a few occasions, I saw Dumpling tap / clap to some songs we heard while watching movies and she turned to me and told me the time signature. She was also able to hear some of the notes and told me accurately what they are.

It is a bittersweet and somewhat unsettling decision for me. But I trust my gut feel and I believe that I know my child better. We have both come a long way and I guess it is time to change the game rules a bit. This video clip was taken almost 3 years ago:

This clip was one of her exam prep videos, taken a few weeks ago:

So while her current school has been doing some good stuff, the educator in me wants a different kind of journey for my child. :) It will be a hard journey for us both but I know that it will be a better move for her.

Please wish us the very best of luck in our new journey! 

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