Participation in music competition is an important part of any music education. I had my fair share of competition experiences starting age 5 to about 25. I was fortunate enough to win a lot of them, including The Juilliard School’s Concerto Competition, Young Concert Artist Competition, and Corpus Christi Music Competition, to name a few. However, like everyone else, there are times I questions the results of the competitions. “Is that a problem of my own judgment?” That would be a question that anyone in music competitions would ask. Well, the truth is, music is very subjective and there is no right or wrong. Once the competitors reach a certain standard, it becomes a matter of preference, or taste, of the judges that will determine the outcome.
As tough as the nature of the competitions are, there is one benefit of music competitions that stays constant: the students learn how to perfect a piece of music to the best of his/her ability, and to learn to be able to perform the piece in front of a judge or an audience under pressure is an integral part of any instrumental studies.
Since it is hard to predict the outcome of music competitions, it is important to educate parents how to prepare their child before entering music competitions. Here are some tips:
- Explain to your child the differences between winning a sports match and a music competition. In most sports, the player/team that scores the most “points” win. On the other hand, since music is a form of art, it is hard to judge “right” or “wrong.” You don’t necessarily score more by playing more notes correctly. The judges are looking at the performance as a “whole,” which includes musicality, rhythm/notes, pedal, balance, just to name a few. It is a matter of very subjective musical taste.
- Stress that the learning experience of the music competition is more important than actually winning. Explain that learning a piece well to the best of his/her ability and to be able to perform well is part of music education. Winning is, of course, very gratifying. But a good musician is more about sharing music with others.
- Try to relax on the day of competition. Parents are usually more nervous than the students during the competitions. Your child will sense this nervous energy. Do not criticize the child for not performing as well as he/she usually does. Rather, tell them that you understand that he/she did the best he/she could, and that is all that matters to the child, the parents, and the teacher.
- Suggest your teacher not to assign only the competition music for a long period of time. The child may get tired of the piece and lose interest. Doing so also hinders progress.
- Practice the whole routine as often as possible at home, from walking to the piano, bowing, adjusting the seat, and bow again at the end of playing. Always give positive feedbacks first, then gently make suggestions.
- Play for others as often as possible so the child is comfortable playing in front of an audience of any size. Start with the child’s best friends!
- Record the performances. Students usually know exactly what they can improve from watching themselves play. Also, ask your child to comment on his/her own playing.
In conclusion, we should do our best to make music competitions a positive experience. We want to encourage our children to use it as a vehicle in learning to play the instrument better, and to perfect a piece of music to the best of the child’s ability. One of the best comments I’ve received from another teacher was that she noticed my students seem to be more confident at the competitions and was not as upset when they did not receive first place. To me, this is more important than my students taking all the top prizes.