Foundational Ideas of FiddleQuest

Considering ‘opportunity costs’ in music

Opportunity costs refer to what alternatives (or opportunities) we are giving up when we make a choice.

If I spend $75 on a shirt, the opportunity costs are, say, dinner out for my wife and me.

If I go for a bike ride, the opportunity costs are fixing the broken fence in my backyard.

My favorite blog is by Seth Godin. A few days ago he wrote about how an extra 30 minutes to make an email marginally better is not as good a use of time as learning a new skill.

Just a few days before that, he wrote about the importance of not being average or mediocre and the importance of continually raising expectations.

It occurs to me that these 2 messages describe the tension that exists for violin students, parents and teachers.

What is more important — A) getting the song to excellent or B) going to soccer practice today?

It is difficult for a teacher to make this judgement for how good something should be because 1) we don’t incur any of the opportunity costs and 2) we often don’t even know the opportunity costs.

Work harder on the song and not watch Netflix? Yes. Work more on the song and not go to soccer practice? Probably not.

It is more convenient to have one standard (e.g. ‘Perfection’), but making the opportunity costs for each child affordable is a better strategy for keeping kids playing music.

And the best way for teachers to consider opportunity costs is for parents and teachers to talk about it.