To Compete, or Not to Compete
Director, The Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas
As music teachers, we are often faced with the inevitable question from parents “When can my child enter ‘a’ competition.
There are 3 types of music children:
1) Those who thrive on competitions.
2) Those who do not care.
3) Those who do not thrive on competitions.
The question should be whether competition is ultimately good or bad for your child. How does competition impact on your child’s progress, your child’s purpose in music study, and your child’s view of themselves in this picture? Competitions do spur some children to work harder, to aspire to greater heights and to “deliver the goods”, polish to a high level, but winning is just a side effect of having successfully achieved all of the above. FAR more valuable than winning is the child’s long term success and his/her relationship with leaning and with his instrument and friends.
Are competitions good because they build mental toughness and prepares them for the “real world”? There is no real world, and not everyone needs to be tough. Competitions can prepare kids to deliver the goods when under pressure but competing before they are ready can be detrimental.
Many successful musicians never won any competitions. Yo-Yo Ma did not win any competitions as a child and Elmar Oliviera won only one – the Tchaikovsky Competition. Does winning count? Indeed, winning always counts, but kids are more successful in the long run if they are acknowledged for their effort. All children have complete control over their effort. They have absolutely no control over the judges or their competitors, (who may have practiced 4 times longer every day for the previous 4 years). I strongly suggest every parent read Carol Dweck’s ground breaking thesis in her best selling book “MINDSET”.
Bärli Nugent, who is the assistant dean and director of Chamber Music at the Juilliard suggested we approach competitions not as simple win or lose situation, but as a “framework for learning”.
Here at Suzuki we have so many opportunities for children to thrive and perform in a nurturing and constructive environment, like group classes, Evening Concerts, Trophy festivals, Achievement week, UIL and more. To quote both Tracey Markham and Gaylon Ritter (both long term, wonderful Suzuki parents) “Listen to your teacher. Your teacher knows your child better than you think”.
A final word from Benjamin Barber:
“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.” ~Benjamin Barber (author and renowned political theorist)