Music Competition

Irene said: Nov 15, 2012
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

May i know what is your view on music competition? My daughter took part in competitions every now and then,
she is only 4 and I tell her that she is performing. I didnt explain to her the concept of competition, she tells me she enjoys performing and I just tell her that these are all performances.
When is a good time to explain the concept of competition?

Sue Hunt said: Nov 16, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

When she is strong enough and generous enough to support someone else winning.

When my son was about 7, I overheard him telling a friend about a concert, in which he had played. His friend’s reply was, “Ooh, who won?”

The friend was heavily involved in fencing at a competitive level and had no problems with being ranked. It was obvious to him that the person who worked hardest and focussed best would win.

On the other hand, I have watched the TV series, Toddlers and Tiaras. Here, children are competing to “be the best,” that is the most beautiful and talented. It is very sad to see the side effects to this on the competitors and their families.

Whether we like it or not, life is competitive. At the base line, we are competing with ourselves, comparing and contrasting performances with previous ones. If we take it to the ultimate extreme, we are out there trying to knock the socks off other competitors.

I truly think that the only safe form of competition is to enjoy the rate at which you can improve personal focus and hard work. Then playing in a competition can, as you are doing, become a positive performing experience, for the enjoyment of all concerned. When you are focussed on personal growth, the jury’s remarks can be used as teaching points for further practice.

Heather Reichgott said: Dec 22, 2012
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
96 posts

I think competitions are most appropriate for ages 11-12 and up. The main benefits of competitions are feedback from experts who don’t know you (the jurors) and learning how you compare to the general population of serious musicians in your age or length-of-study category. Adolescents are beginning to think about career possibilities, so having a realistic assessment of where they stand is a good idea. Developmentally, they’re in a place where feedback from knowledgeable adults outside their familiar circle is extremely important.

For younger children, these things don’t really matter. At the younger stages the students would be just as well served by extra performance opportunities. And the younger age divisions of the competitions themselves can be crowded with “wonder children” whose parents and teachers push them nonstop so that they compete extremely well and sweep all the prizes but hate classical music by age 11.

If this 4-year-old just wants to perform, why send her to competitions at all? There are so many ways for her to have a positive performing experience without the extra rigamarole (or expense) of competition.

Barb said: Dec 22, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

I like Sue’s answer.

I find our local music festival a very positive experience. There is an option to enter non-competitively or competitively. My students who have participated have chosen both (my students have happened to be ages 6—12, and this year an adult is considering entering—non competitively).

Usually we get top notch teachers adjudicating who give excellent feedback and instruction to all, and a number score to the ones entering competitively. They usually have a lot of good things to say and then choose one thing to offer help on. On the written sheets, they may be a bit more detailed. This is a huge value.

Another value is that the music tends to get polished to a higher degree than usual—most kids (and parents?) usually put out a greater effort. For the youngest ones, they probably don’t feel a lot of pressure, but the ones that are more competitive will feel the pressure more than in a regular recital, and learning to deal with that will help to prepare them for auditions down the road if that is the direction they head, or many other pressure situations they will encounter in life. Maybe starting young will make them more comfortable and feeling less pressured later?

One of my students, at age 6, wasn’t sure if she would like to enter competitively or not. “What if I don’t win first?” Hmm… Her mother and I reassured her that that really didn’t matter. But she did, in every category. And then the second year, though she did later discover she won the scholarship for strings in her grade again, she didn’t place first in every category—which was a GOOD thing, I thought! To learn to gracefully accept the adjudicator’s choice, even if you disagree (all gave good performances). I have always found the performers and their parents to be supportive of one another in our festival.

And then, there is the possibility of being chosen to perform at the awards concert at the end of the festival (some of the best and most interesting performances are chosen by the adjudicators). Last year this gave one of my students an opportunity she had never had—performing for an audience of hundreds!

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Kiyoko said: Jan 25, 2013
 84 posts

Wow, a 4 year old competing? Did she have a lot of fun playing and preparing? I read your blog too. My mom was somewhere between a tiger mom and snake mom. I’m a parent myself now and I have to admit, I loved rock climbing!

Irene said: Jan 28, 2013
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

competitions are so valuable, provided we joined the good ones, where the judicators gave score sheets and comment on areas for improvement. i usually enrol competitions where we get score sheets and comments at the end of it.
sometimes, she win, sometimes she didnt. and when she didnt win, i wanted to buy a present or something for her to cheer her up, but my mother reminded me that when she didnt win in a competition, she already “received” something. that is, it is okay not to win.
and when she did win, i reminded her that winning is not everything but the effort that you have put in. the journey is the destination. at 4 year old, she paused for a while listening to my advice.. she nodded her head and happily claimed that she won a prize. we are still learning. i have not exactly explain the concept of competition to her yet, maybe when she is 6.

Sophia said: Jan 30, 2013
Sophia Kim
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Vancouver, BC
16 posts

They can be healthy, as long as the preparation and mind set is appropriate and encouraging, so that the experience is a positive one. A lot of students, they find performing scary, so it’s important to encourage that it’s part of learning an instrument.

Jeremy Chesman said: Jan 31, 2013
Jeremy Chesman
Suzuki Association Member
Organ, Recorder, Voice, Harp
Springfield, MO
24 posts

It’s hard to do, but as long as the focus is not on winning, I think it can be a good experience. I like to have my students come up with a goal before they start (no memory slips, certain tempo goal, etc.) and then they compete with themselves as to whether or not they meet that goal. Only one person can win, even if everyone plays amazingly.

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