Daily Bow: Are Tiger Children Better Musicians?


By now, most of us are familiar with Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mother” approach to parenting. The issue has raised a good deal of controversy, particularly because the harsh manner of tutoring and raising kids has in ways proven very effective.

[E]ven when Western parents think they’re being strict, they usually don’t come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.

We’ve all met that violinist or pianist of some Asian descent (generally Chinese, Korean, or Japanese) who plays seemingly flawless with technical perfection. Is this a testament to the countless hours of drilling with the looming shadow of the mother hanging overhead?

Perhaps so…

And yet, does the “Tiger Mother” approach make sense when developing a mature musician? One of the unquestionably important qualities it engraves into the mind is discipline. However, there is a lot to the “Tiger Mother” approach that could be detrimental to a musicians’ development, particularly its emphasis on very limited social interaction.

Music is about communication, about connecting with the composer, the audience, and oneself. A musician that plays with perfect technique can easily fall flat musically and emotionally if he or she lacks sufficient development of character and understanding.

Not every mother believes donning the role of the tiger is the best way…

That’s it then. I shall unlock the door to the room where my children have been practising their musical instruments for five hours a day.

Emerging blinking into the sunlight, they can now slob in front of the television eating pizza for all I care, because the latest parenting guru on the block is telling us that none of that pushy Tiger Mother stuff makes any difference…

It’s only a few months since Amy Chua told us in her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that her children were playing the piano in Carnegie Hall and top of the class purely because she had shown no mercy to slackers. When her daughter came second in a maths test, she made the child practise 2,000 sums that night so it would never happen again. It’s the Chinese way, she explained, failing to mention that she and her husband and herself were Yale law professors.

Personally, I would be thrilled to have a child come second at maths, and would be delighted to hear any of my offspring play the piano at home, if not Carnegie Hall. Occasionally I wonder what might have happened if my brood had been adopted by a tough woman like Chua who would not allow sleepovers, social networking and all the other time-wasting activities — which, after all, serve a vital educational purpose in that they teach children how to rub along with other ratty, critical but essentially endearing people of the same age.

Caplan argues that people are made of pliable plastic: they may be pushed around but they spring back into shape. But every push leaves its mark.

Do you think the “Tiger Mother” approach is effective in developing musicians? What are the advantages and drawbacks?

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4 Responses to Daily Bow: Are Tiger Children Better Musicians?

  1. Brianna Richardson May 27, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    I think that while the “Tiger Mother” approach to parenting may yield impressive musical technique – and perhaps even talented musicians – these children may not have a chance to savor their childhood and develop skills needed to become well-rounded adults in today’s world. Modern musicians need to have more than just technique and musical discipline to be successful in the challenges of our current musical climate. They also need to know how to survive within the general population, and network with their peers.

  2. Cellimom May 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    As one of the music mom, I know the advantage and disadvantage. I am not a Tiger mom who lock the door and pushed without any mercy, but I perferred to stay at his practice time during the first few years. Maybe I am a Cat mom. Also, his first teacher never allowed to play out of tune which I appreciated. In addition, there was a kind of Cat camp, too, for my kid, which is more strict than me. My kid has developed music study and social relationship very well within such surrounding. Now he commits everything by himself and I am a sleeping Dog mom.

  3. Colin Cronin May 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Discipline is very much necessary to focus on early on, especially if the student starts young. However, after a certain point, the overhanging parent/mother can do more harm than good. For myself, too much authority led me to rebel against studying music. I lost a few years of musical development due to my desire not have anything to do with music during that time. After the foundation of work habit has been established, the student should be allowed more freedom, which will allow him or her to expand their creative horizons. Some things cannot be forced upon or even taught to a student. They must be learned.

  4. Mike May 28, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    While demanding perfection can lead to extremely high performance in school and in music, I’ve seen it lead to kids avoiding trying anything new for fear of making mistakes and not being perfect right away. If a child doesn’t take risks, he/she will likely turn into an adult that always chooses the safe or sure thing. Personally I wouldn’t want that for my child – being afraid of failure can be a huge impediment to success.

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