Teaching Kids to Concentrate

            Playing classical music does not make you smarter. While it may not be the best business decision (I want to sell you violin lessons, after all), I feel it necessary to dispel that fantasy. According to recent studies, intelligence is 80% hereditary. If the raw processing power of your child’s brain concerns you, then look south a couple of feet and frown at yourself.

            This article isn’t about intelligence, however, and I’m don’t endorse biological determinism. While intelligence cannot be affected, there is another key trait which is enhanced through violin study, and it will certainly impact your child’s life: concentration.

            While the ability to effectively concentrate has likely some correlation with intelligence, a distracted mind is not the sign of unintelligence. Concentration can be increased in any child through the violin.

Here’s how:

            Even in the very beginning stages of learning, the violinist must juggle multiple foci. The violin demands independent control of both hemispheres of the body. It also forces them to work together, though as independent units. Each of these units has its own technique and rules that must be maintained while playing. A classic example would be initiating a bow stroke from the elbow and not the shoulder. If a beginning student does not adequately focus on the technique of an individual hemisphere, then it will inevitably fall apart. While this takes concentration enough, the true exercise of your child’s concentration is in maintaining the technique of both hemispheres simultaneously. If you have a child that already shows an affinity toward concentration, you should put them in violin. They are going to do very well. If your child does not have a natural affinity towards concentration, then you should also put them in violin. It is going to be key to their mental development.

            For an example I present a current student of mine: Izzy. Izzy the Tizzy, as I am wont to call her.

Izzy’s first lesson

Izzy’s first lesson

Izzy is a lovely little girl. 6 years old and full of smiles and energy. Too much energy, at times. To call her easily distracted would be critical understatement. She’s intelligent, but before violin she hadn’t been forced her to truly focus on anything. While capable of any individual technique, everything would fall apart if she as she attempted to do any two things at once. The beautiful bow-hold she had just a few moments prior is now a deformed craggy claw of tension. Her once accurate left-hand can’t find the right places for her fingers, and her bow now windshield-wipers from bridge to fingerboard. You teach her one task and then, as you teach her another, the previous task springs a leak.

            Yet she is doing quite well, now. And how did I accomplish this? I forewent harping on her technique and focused entirely on the ability to hold 3 ideas at once. Recall, she could do each technique beautifully in isolation. Now, they just needed to be done simultaneously. I followed a clear, step-by-step process to accomplish this.

            First, she had to be actively thinking about the 3 ideas (bow-hold, left-hand, and bow arm, in this case) without any distraction. The key is to not stop talking. It might take a bit of practice, but if you keep an almost stream-of-consciousness manner to your speech, the child won’t even have the opportunity to let their mind wander. The moment you notice their mind going off, you can bring it right back. I just kept reminding her of the three things, what about those things she needed to focus on, and didn’t let her escape. Also, she is holding the instrument in playing position the entire time.

            Next, you make sure she has the sequence running through her own head. This step flows seamlessly out of the first. The order in which you place each focus doesn’t matter, but just make sure there is an order. An example of what I said to Izzy would be, “Are you thinking about your bow hand, and keeping those beautiful, loose, curved fingers? Are you thinking about your violin hand, putting the tips of the fingers on the tapes? Are you thinking about moving from your elbow to keep your bow straight?”

            Once she acquiesced, I gave a bit of instruction that is the key to this whole endeavor. I told her that she must think so hard about these three things that she starts sweating. Most 6-year-olds, and likely many adults, haven’t really been introduced to the idea that there is a level of mental focus that is physically tiring. If you forget to add this bit in, especially for a distractible child, then the whole operation won’t work.

            After all of this, it was finally time to let her play. The immediate result was an astronomical improvement. In this one moment, she had been guided through how to really concentrate on what she is doing, and the results were undeniable.

Izzy’s beautiful violin posture

Izzy’s beautiful violin posture

            I went through all these steps with her mother, who worked with her this way throughout the week. To be honest, Izzy did not enjoy the process. Learning anything well is hard work, which many young children are averse to. However, even a child of 6 can find joy in doing something well. When she came back the next week, her abilities had skyrocketed, and she was giddy with the result. She even wrote, unprovoked, on the white board in big, messy letters: i love viuline.

i love viuline.jpg

            While there is no evidence that playing a musical instrument will increase your child’s intelligence, it will certainly increase their mental stamina, taking whatever raw intelligence they possess and maximizing its potential. All you need is a great teacher, a dedicated parent, and a violin.

Improve your child’s concentration. Sign up for lessons today!

           

           

Tobiah MurphyComment