If you’ve been considering music lessons for your little ones but want to avoid the ‘tiger mom’ approach, a music teacher shares her thought process, and why she loves teaching babies!
A few months ago one of our readers wrote to us with one of the most glowing recommendations we’ve ever received:
“[My friend] Teacher Ping is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met — she works with kids as young as 9 months old to teach them music. And while that may not seem all that remarkable, her approach is. She touches the hearts of everyone she makes contact with.
“When she decided to work with 2-year-olds … [she created] a curriculum based on love and play and helping parents to build deep and lasting bonds with her children.
“In Singapore the tiger mum approach is very common. Most people have stories of getting smacked with a ruler and reprimanded. Ping wants to change that. She’s creating a mini movement and helping parents and children enjoy the musical journey. And she donates a good portion of her profits to [an orphanage on the Thailand-Myanmar border through the charity Project Love Asia] and visits there every year to check the kids music. She’s just wonderful.”
With such a ringing endorsement we just had to find out more. After some email exchanges we were delighted to learn more about Teacher Ping, and just what inspires her to teach music to babies and toddlers. Read on for a truly heartwarming story, mamas!
Did you grow up in Singapore? At what age did you start playing music?
I grew up in a small town in Malaysia (Seremban). It was just an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, which my dad commuted daily to for work. Music classes were a luxury item in my family. According to my grandma (Popo), one day she caught me playing a tune on a toy piano given to me as a present. She told my mom “Hey, isn’t that from the TV show?” My Popo insisted that I go for music classes, and my mom agreed. My dad was against the idea, so the money for the school fees came from my mom. I was 4 years old.
What was your experience like with music lessons as a child?
My first music lessons were with a teacher called Ms Hong. It was a group class of kids aged 4 years and above. I remember her as short, because all the other big people seemed to tower over her! She tied up her hair into a bun, and wore these Harry Potter glasses. She had the loveliest smile and I loved going to music classes because she made music at the piano and she was nice to me. When she left Seremban to get married in KL, I remember feeling extremely upset over the loss of my teacher. She recommended me to her colleague, and although I remember her name, that teacher was the start of my terrifying music experience. All subsequent teachers I had were the ‘dragon breathing fire’ kind of teachers! I must ahve been such a terror to my teachers for them to react so fierce with me!
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What made you decide to be come a music teacher? We’ve heard you initially taught kids in a perfectionist manner that yielded good exam results, but wasn’t particularly fun for anyone. What changed?
I am still a perfectionist; I demand perfection, but maybe from a different perspective. It is now my responsibility to be the teacher that is perfect for every individual unique child.
So when I first started teaching in one of the commercial music schools in Singapore, I jumped headlong into it, with no music teaching training and no mentor/coach. I graduated with an accountancy degree from NTU Singapore, but after 11 months of audit work, I quit and became a music teacher. I loved numbers, but hated the impersonal relationship I had with the people around me. I had a few good friends in the place where I worked, but generally, there was so much seriousness, it was a cold environment, and I couldn’t really fit into the corporate world. I hated the idea of dressing up in clothes that I didn’t even like wearing, just to please the bosses and the clients. I figured I have already done my dues, respecting my parents’ wishes to take the accountancy degree.
It was time for me to do what I wanted.
I demanded perfection from the kids so there was much of the ‘Tiger Mom’ kind of attitude. Those students who were willing had great exam results, and of course, that reinforced my belief that what I was doing was right and for the sake of the kids’ growth. However, there was always that nagging feeling of guilt and shame.
Then I started creating a course for even younger kids 2 years old to 4 years old. How do you become a Tiger Mom to such adorable kids? I couldn’t demand perfection from them, because what’s there to perfect when I am supposed to create the space for them to love music?
Bit by bit, I took responsibility for creating the perfect space — the perfect curriculum for the kids to love music. And as a result, I started changing the way I taught my older kids, too. I noticed that my demands of excellence could actually be met and even surpassed when positive teaching methods were employed. I also noticed that the kids’ learning was accelerated.
I was intrigued and continued creating syllabus for kids beyond Baby Music.
What inspired you to create your Baby Music Class?
Pure accident. My friend Anita mentioned that she saw kids in UK learning music at ages younger than 4 years old. I loved her idea, but because didn’t have much of a music background, she was unable to create a music syllabus for kids. I was excited to create a syllabus, and I remember just throwing music concept stuff into the syllabus, just so that it was fun for the kids, and useful to them. I was so scared on my first day of class!
My lesson plans were created about 1-2 lessons in advance before the actual class; my teaching props were made a few days before the class; and over the years, a structure that worked began to form. Today, the Baby Music Class is what it is: I train teachers now to use the curriculum, and I realise the purpose for each module crystallised like magic.
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Because of the organic way the lesson plans were created in the early foundational days, it was very dependent on what worked and what did not work for kids. I got very excited when I saw kids respond positively to certain modules or the way it was being explained. Likewise, I recall being very affected during my early days when something I created didn’t work. But after a while, I became kind of numb to my negativity, because I was so addicted to creating a space for the kids to make music and laugh! The kids’ laughter made me keep pushing forward, creating, testing, creating.
What’s special about sharing music with babies?
Even an 8-month-old baby responds with delight to Baby Shark — what more can I say about the power of music to connect? It is such a delight to see the babies chuckle and respond so well to music instructions!
What tips do you have for parents to a) encourage a love of music in their babies and b) ensure that playing and practicing a musical instrument is fun, and not miserable?
Be the best parent that you already are — and yes, that means sometimes losing your temper at your kid for not practising after days and days of nagging and threats.
Give them goals that are winnable: kids love to win, they love your applause, they love it when they are suddenly aware that something has clicked (watch that glint in their eyes – it’s priceless!).
Reward them when they achieve their goals. Recalibrate the goals from time to time.
Design home practice games that are fun; in fact spend precious time with your kid designing it together.
Most importantly, at every moment possible, give them a hug and say “I love you”, “I’m so proud of you” etc. Your words and actions are powerful fuel for your kids to be the best that they are created to be.