5 Minutes With Christina Lai

Music teacher and early childhood trainer and lecturer, Christina Lai shares her personal experience on parenting.

words viona wang

Hi Christina! How old are your children now?

My daughter is 30 and my son is 25.

Now that your children have grown up, did you wish you could do something more as a parent when they were growing up?

I have wondered if I might have delayed my daughter’s request to study in the US immediately after her “O” levels, just so my husband and I could have spent more “growing up” time with her. Having said that, we can’t be more proud of what she has made of herself today. She got her Masters in Architecture from Harvard, she’s married to an American architect and they have a 16-month old son (pictured). She’s a happy working mother. We had embraced her independent nature and her positive attitude towards learning through her growing years at school and that helped our decision to let her “spread her wings.”

As for my son, he might have benefited more from a stricter enforcement of discipline when he was at school. He went to the Australian International School (AIS) and although he “blossomed” into a more confident person, he could have been a little more ambitious academically, in my own perception of course. However, we are happy that he attained a Diploma in Audio Engineering from the local School of Audio Engineering (SAE) and is in this line of work.

As a parent, you always wonder if you could have done more for your children but in the end, you count your blessings when they are living fruitful lives.

How did you decide on which musical instrument to introduce to your children 
when they were young?

They both started with the piano for the simple reason that I was teaching piano. My daughter picked up the violin and the guitar for her own pleasure. She still plays the piano. My son had a wonderful and inspiring music teacher at AIS who encouraged and gave him the opportunity to play the full range of the recorders (from descant to bass). He moved on to play the complete range of the saxophone (from soprano to bass). My husband plays the flute but neither of us “pushed” our children into playing any instrument.

Music has always been in our home and we went along with the children’s instrumental choices and their decisions for “no exams after a certain grade.” To us, the ability to play the instrument well matters more than paper qualifications.

With 30 over years of experience in teaching, your main objective is to inculcate in your students a self-learning approach. How does it work for children in two age groups: 3 – 6 and 7 – 12?

Beginner piano students (ages 5 – 8 years) follow my instructions of technique, aural training and fundamentals of theory. When they get to the intermediate stage, they begin to apply theory to practice through analysis of their repertoire. As they progress, we move towards a “discussion” approach of piano technique and stylized playing. Through this progressive discipline, piano playing becomes self-learning rather than simply being instructed.

The most “natural” aspect in young children (ages 3 – 6 years) is their rhythmic sense. If you don’t hone this innate quality from young, they “lose it” when they become self-conscious. For this reason, preschool Music & Movement teachers must have the ability to recite rhymes and move rhythmically and expressively in all activities. They must understand the basic elements of music like beats, accents, regular 4-beat phrases, tempo and how to apply these elements in rhymes, songs and dances or movement routines. You will be amazed how quickly children pick up these skills, if well-taught. Towards the end of Kindergarten 1, they are capable of applying these elements with minimal guidance. They will self-learn. (More will be explored in my session in the AFCC Parents Forum.)

What is one parenting method you think Singaporean parents should change?

The belief that “I want my child to play for enjoyment (fun)” when they sign the child up for an instrumental lesson. It is the most misunderstood perception. Learning to play an instrument is not easy. Think of the thing you enjoy doing, be it cooking, sewing, dancing, rock-climbing, etc. Chances are you are quite good at it. The key phrase is “good at it.” So enjoyment does come, but only when you are “good at it.” For that to happen, the hard work (blood, sweat and tears) precedes it.

What is the best parenting advice given to you?

Enjoy your children’s company whilst they allow you to do so. A loving, happy childhood
stays with you throughout your life.


Christina will be conducting a session on ‘Nurturing Language and Literacy Through Music’ at AFCC 2014 Parents Forum on 1 June, 12 – 1pm. Click here for more information.