Saturday, February 21, 2009

Too much music?

As Fiona's piano learning has ramped up (she's now been studying for almost five months!) I'm beginning to realize that maybe some parental leadership is called for. Her violin and her piano teachers are very sensitive to the possibility of overloading her. However she is eager and enjoys a challenge -- and they are also very good about not being bound by age-based expectations. They will suggest she move on, try a bigger challenge, focus on some subtler details, shoot for a higher level of mastery. They won't assume she can't do it because of her age.

Fiona seems to like challenge. She wants to learn the "new Book 4 piece," the one that's been introduced with the latest repertoire revision that isn't in the book yet. When she managed to learn the three simplest orchestra pieces easily within the space of a couple of rehearsals, she asked whether she couldn't learn one of the more challenging ones too. When her piano teacher suggests trying contrary motion scales she wants to do parallel too. If her teacher says "next week we'll start this piece," or "move ahead if you like," Fiona will be gobbling up the next piece or two of repertoire within 24 hours -- plus a duet or two on the side.

The problem is that all this interest in new challenge leads to an awful lot of work. A thorough piano practicing now takes an hour. Same with the violin. She doesn't really mind practicing; most of the time she enjoys it even if it sometimes takes a little nudge to get her started. But I worry. Two hours of music practicing -- darned hard work, always pushing her capabilities just a little as she learns and grows as a musician -- seems like an awful lot for such a wee little thing.

Maybe it's been the lingering effect of the virus we've all taken forever to kick. Maybe it's just the February doldrums. But it seems to me that she's got less energy for other things lately. Sure, she's always game for an extra aikido class or to listen to some extra bedtime story. But she seems less interested in the intellectual stuff lately, especially math and reading, and that's unusual for her. Maybe she's spending too much of her mental energy on music.

So this week I've been trying to help her cut at least one of her practicings short every day. She's always a little taken aback when I suggest stopping. But she doesn't complain.

Since I helped her pull back a little on the practicing front she does seem more balanced. She's been reading a lot more -- up to a book a day (short novels, mostly). She's back to doing both Singapore Math and Hands-On Equations. And she's having lots of fun with trivia cards and non-fiction books as well.

I'll let her pull things back in the other direction in a week or two if that's really where she wants to put her time and energy, but for now I'm nudging her a little towards moderation so she can decide if it feels better.

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