ABC: Ardente to Success, Con Forza to Failure


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

In the latest installment of ABC: American Born Chinese, reporter Jonathan Zhang advocates for parents to stop forcing their kids to play an instrument.

Music is something that is felt and heard. It is something that tugs at the heartstrings of others, drawing out emotions of happiness and serenity. But if in the process of creating or performing a masterpiece, the artist’s heart isn’t dedicated to what they’re doing, what follows is something strained and aloof – a product of the artist simply trying to finish the piece.

It’s as if you’re a student who’s simply trying to get the bare minimum for an A. The issue is that music isn’t like math, where, as long you know how to do a problem, your job is done. For a musician, simply playing the right notes of a piece isn’t enough; that’s just noise.

I think many Asian parents are under the impression that music is a means of getting into college, and, if their child happens to be good at an instrument, then it becomes something to brag about for them. But, what Asian parents often don’t want, is for their child to pursue a career in music.

In truth, Asian parents are looking out for their children the best they can. Many of our parents grew up during an era where Asian countries were facing severe poverty; they never got the opportunity to play an instrument, and they want to give their kids that option. However, their experience tells them that it’s not a viable source of income.

In addition, playing an instrument is costly, and it’s amazing that Asian parents are willing to make that investment for their child. After learning how to play an instrument, the child now has a lifetime hobby and develops necessary habits that will help later on in life like dedication, time management and discipline. However, their good intentions are often misplaced.

Music is a means to express yourself, and when kids are forced to do something they don’t want to, they’re not focused on interpreting a piece of music in a way that lets them do so. What they are focused on is learning how to play a song as fast as possible so that they can do something else instead.

Needless to say, music isn’t something that can be learned in a day. Practicing for six hours once a week is useless compared to 45 minutes of practice every day, and 45 minutes of unfocused practice is useless compared to five minutes of devoted practice.

I refuse to recognize anyone who simply plays the correct notes of a piece as a musician. You are an imposter, someone trying to be something that they aren’t. Practice all you want; if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing and devoted to when practicing, your music will reflect that.

There’s something sad about someone who plays an instrument not because they enjoy it, but because they’re forced to play. You can hear it in their music, and you can see it in their movements when they play. I’ve seen so many of my friends quit their instruments because they just didn’t enjoy playing them.

And, although many of my friends wasted hours of their time, forced to do something they didn’t want to do, not all Asian parents force their kids to play instruments. In fact, I’m a testament to this. My parents believed that music was something that should be enjoyed, and always told me that if I didn’t like what I was doing, I could quit at any time. And so, to this day, I still play the piano.

I’ve always wondered whether my friends would still be playing today, had their parents not forced them into it and instead let them find their own way to the instrument. This may sound completely ridiculous, but hear me out. Let’s take the classic example of washing the dishes. Your family has finished eating, and you decide that you want to help out by washing the dishes. However, your parents then tell you to wash the dishes, and all of a sudden, you no longer want to wash them.

Music isn’t something that can be forced onto someone. I believe that someone should find their passion for music themselves through something like an inspiring performance or a first lesson. I know that my words may fall on deaf ears, but to those that hear me, please, stop forcing your kids to play an instrument.