Local Jazz Pianist, Full-time Mum Shares How To Train Kids To Have a 'Musical Ear'

Local Jazz Pianist, Full-time Mum Shares How To Train Kids To Have a 'Musical Ear'

“I have to find new ways to be a better mom and musician and not give up when the situation is challenging. I keep going no matter how tired I am.” 

In her journey from banker to full-time mum to professional musician, Cheryl Ann Spencer’s life has come full circle, after reconnecting with her first love in music in recent years.

The local jazz pianist who is now based in Singapore with her two kids, Christina Spencer, 11, and Charles Spencer, 14, tells theAsianparent that she had spent the last three years pursuing a degree in Jazz Music at LASALLE College of the Arts.

“It was not easy juggling parental duties and full-time studies,” the 45-year-old recounts, in addition to taking up music pedagogy lessons with Ms. Julie Tan (President of Singapore Music Teachers Association). 

Balancing Act Between Motherhood and Music

“In this endeavour, I’ve had to forgo lots of leisure time for practice sessions. My kids also go out less because I need to sit on the piano and push through the practices…(sic),” Cheryl laments.

“The first six months to a year were particularly difficult. I would practice till midnight everyday, but my family and faith kept me going.” 

However, amid the challenges, the 45-year-old quips that it has been a “surreal experience” to be able to pursue jazz music formally. 

Local Jazz Pianist, Full-time Mum Shares How To Train Kids To Have a 'Musical Ear'

After leaving the banking profession for motherhood, Cheryl had reconnected with her first love in music at the encouragement of her late father, a professional pianist, who believed in her flair for jazz. | Image source: Cheryl Ann Spencer

Prior to jazz, Cheryl was a banker in London for close to a decade and subsequently left the profession to take care of her children.  

“My journey as a musician and as a mother is constantly evolving. It is never stagnant,” the leader of Singapore jazz band Evolution Quartet says. 

“I have to find new ways to be a better mom and musician and not give up when the situation is challenging. I keep going no matter how tired I am.” 

“Music is similar to learning a language”

While Cheryl grew up in a music-centered family, she confesses that she never thought that she would one day pursue jazz professionally. 

“My dad never forced music on me and allowed me to be myself,” says Cheryl whose late father, a professional pianist, believed in her flair for jazz. “Therefore, I would like my kids to do what they love.”

According to Cheryl, both her children, Christina and Charles have been learning music since they were aged five.

Local Jazz Pianist, Full-time Mum Shares How To Train Kids To Have a 'Musical Ear'

Charles Spencer, 14, plays the clarinet, drums, saxophone, and piano. | Image source: Cheryl Ann Spencer

On whether or not Cheryl envisions her children to follow in her footsteps as a professional musician, Cheryl says that she will support them in their endeavours “as long as they are doing the right things”. 

She adds: “I am only equipping them with more skills as I believe it is important to be well-rounded. Music is good for their mind and soul.”

jazz music for kids

Christina Spencer, 11, plays the drums, flute, and piano. | Image source: Cheryl Ann Spencer

In the many hats that Cheryl wears, she also teaches music to children—albeit her approach can be considered unconventional. 

Cheryl’s belief is that music education does not have to start with classical music theory and that “music is similar to learning a language”. She explains: “Children are able to call ‘mummy’ before learning how to read alphabets formally. They do not need to learn the alphabets M-U-M-M-Y prior to calling their mummy!” 

“Children need to listen to jazz from a young age. They need to train their ears from young. ‘Listening’ is key,” Cheryl adds.

Tips on Training Kids To Have a ‘Musical Ear’

There are some ways to help train children in having a ‘music ear’, according to Cheryl. 

  • Teach them the pieces with no notes first. Listen, listen, listen. Notes can be introduced later
  • Ask them to copy what you play by ear
  • Teach them to identify the chord tones by ear
  • Practice singing the melody by ear
  • Clap and sing simultaneously

Apart from conducting music classes for her students, Cheryl has also created a series of music flash cards for children called the “Jazz fun Box” and “Jazz Activity Book”—a fun way to teach kids about jazz.

When it comes to exposing and encouraging children to learn music, Cheryl emphasises that kids should learn and enjoy music instead of simply learning how to take the exams.  

“Learning should be organic and experimental as well. We need to understand that each child expresses music in their own way. We need to help each child find their own voice and identity in their instrument,” explains Cheryl. 

For her own kids, Cheryl shares that she would expose them to a new instrument every December holiday when they were younger. 

“It was a good way for me to gauge their aptitude in that particular instrument,” she says. Additionally, Cheryl notes that being a parent truly helps her to understand her students better.

“My wish is for kids to learn and enjoy music in a holistic way instead of it being exam-focused.”

Ultimately, Cheryl highlights that each child is unique and the same method of teaching cannot be applied to every child.

“Most importantly, we must not judge them, we must constantly encourage and believe in them,” she says.

How Parents Can Encourage Their Child’s Love For Music

Grateful for her life experiences thus far, Cheryl says that she would like to give back to society by spreading the love of music, particularly jazz, to the new generation. 

“This is indeed a fulfilling journey for me and I am constantly learning to improve myself as a mother, wife, friend, and musician,” says Cheryl.

She dishes out tips for parents who are looking to encourage a love for music in their children, as well as advice for children and adults who aspire to pursue a career in music in Singapore.   

The advice in Cheryl’s words:   

  • The teacher and student chemistry is important
  • Find a teacher that brings out the best in your child
  • Children should learn how to play music instead of learning how to take exams!
  • Kids should learn to play the music they love. That alone is the biggest incentive to practice
  • They must learn to play the pieces with no score
  • Every kid should learn how to play “happy birthday” – you will be asked to play that many times in your life!
  • Being disciplined is key
  • Put in hard work and time. I believe we can achieve our dreams when we are intentional. We also need to be patient with ourselves; it cannot be rushed. Improvements are visible every 6 months if you practice hard daily (6 months are a good timeframe to evaluate your progress)
  • Be kind to yourself. We don’t need to be someone else. I finally found my own sound and touch after 3 years
  • Surround yourself with positive people who support you
  • People will criticise your playing and style, but you need to be confident to know if it is true. If it is, take it positively and improve


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Written by

Jia Ling

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