Developing the Ability to Concentrate Through Music

Concentration is the ability to direct the attention in accordance with one's will. It is the ability to focus the mind on one subject, object or thought, and at the same time exclude from the mind every other unrelated thoughts, ideas, feelings and sensations. 

Concentration is an ambiguous and somewhat abstract concept. You can't see or touch it - you can't smell or taste it, but you know it is there. It is often very misunderstood. Over the years, I can't count the times parents have complained to me their child wasn't "born with concentration". This is one of the biggest misconceptions about concentration - you are not born with focus - it is an ability, which CAN be nurtured and developed. 

"If he or she really goes about it in earnest, anyone can cultivate ability in ten years, I believe. Even in one year, shortcomings can be changed into good points if only we set our aims high enough. Continuing for ten years, we can become outstanding indeed...There is no limit to our shortcomings. Until we die, we should spare no time or effort in changing our weaknesses to merits."
                                                                                                                                       ......Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

The study of music is an excellent tool to aid in the development of concentration skills. Key to Dr. Suzuki's educational philosophy is to use music to build the individual. It is not about learning to play pieces, but to build skills such as concentration, focus, and listening through the medium of music. This requires a strong, positive, open, objective relationship between the teacher and parents. If this is established, much can be accomplished. 

Tips

Acceptance

  • The first step is to resist the natural tendency to deny there is a problem. I have worked with short-attention-spanned students of all ages, ranging from three-year-olds, to those in their sixties. This includes those with Asperger's Syndrome, ODD/ADHD and other disorders. It is not easy, but with careful planning, patience and perseverance, the inability to concentrate can be addressed. 

Try to make practice a part of your everyday routine

  • Young children can usually most-often concentrate for somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes at a time.
  • Try to practice every day. Consistency goes a long way to creating success. If you have to miss a day, don't dwell on it. Put it behind you and start the next practice with an open, positive attitude.
  • Find a time that works best for your family.

Be enthusiastic and engaged.  

  • Approach each session ready to support, motivate and praise even the smallest effort.
  • Try to treat practice time as a special time for you and your child.
  • Turn off all electronics and eliminate all distractions. 

Follow the teacher's agenda

  • When working with young children, I try to follow a carefully orchestrated lesson plan, always starting with what I consider to be the most important elements, progressing towards the less vital. Following the same agenda in the home produces consistency, and a sense of familiarity. 
  • Make the goal "quality" and not "quantity". If the development of ability is the focus, progress will occur. Haphazard study is never beneficial.

Take small steps - do one thing at a time

  • Understand that in young children, even a small increase in the ability to concentrate can be a major accomplishment.
  • Do one thing at a time - set small, achievable goals. Over-teaching and over-complicating are adult traits that need to be kept in check. 
  • Break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces. 
  • Find joy in and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments.

 Do not dictate a designated amount of time for practice 

  • Far too many parents receive the “advice” from teachers to set a mandatory daily practice time (30, minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes). Who is to say though, that 15 minutes of focused practice isn’t better than 40 minutes of filling time, just to get to the end of practice.
  • The length of the piano lesson and the in-home practice session should be revolve around the child's attention span, while taking small, gentle steps to increase time at the piano. 
  • Avoid practice goals being set in minutes. Set the achievement for something such as playing the 6 measures without any mistakes.

 Be positive -  help avoid discouragement 

  • It is perfectly normal for children to feel discouraged during piano practice times. Do not allow their frustration to heighten your senses. 
  • Always do your best to ignore the negative and celebrate the positive. Children learn very early in life the concept of "pushing their parents' buttons". They will often use negativity to generate a reaction. If there is none, the negativity may soon disappear. 
  • There are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days. Celebrate the good ones and never dwell on the bad ones.

 Bribes?

  • As a teacher, I have wrestled with the concept of bribery for quite some time. I have also had many discussions with other music educators about this subject. At this time, I'm not for it nor against it. My tendency, however, would be to keep it reserved as a last resort.
  • I have seen bribery produce results and I have seen it fail miserably. It does depend on the child and the nature of the bribe.

 Don't raise your voice 

  • The surest way to discourage a child from practicing is to yell. Raising your voice escalates the tension and insecurity in practice time. Do your best to remain calm. Children can sense your tension so as yours rises, so do theirs.

 Believe

  • Have faith in the philosophy, the value of consistency, in yourself and your child. 
  • Remember that the nurturing of skills is a long-term process. Patience combined with time and attainable practice goals produce a recipe for success.