Five Things You Might Want to Know Before Starting Music Lessons.
Have you ever wanted something for your family so much that you planned it before you fell asleep at night and continued the thoughts as soon as you woke up in the morning? I wanted to develop confidence, character and million other qualities in my children but I was young and still learning what it all meant. My own love for playing the violin was something that certainly fell into that category for me. I wanted my kids to experience the incredible flow that came with playing in an orchestra or if they wanted to play in church, at a funeral, for weddings, whatever they wanted to do I wanted it to be an option. Christmas evenings around the fireplace playing Christmas Carols in harmony was a dream. If the kids weren’t trained, there would be no way for them to do this. I searched and found that even at two or three, they could start lessons. I was ecstatic. It wasn’t necessarily part of my dream to see my child playing a solo on a stage, with confidence – in a cute little dress or suit, but it did happen and was a great memory.
I think one lesson I learned during the process of learning to master an instrument is that nothing just happens. You don’t tune the violin and just start to play. Everything is a series of many baby steps forward and a few backward to reach a goal. And without a goal…it is just a wish. If we don’t know where we want to go….any road will take us there. We needed a plan. But as the mom, I learned another lesson quickly, one I couldn’t have really understood as a kid. As soon as you start to get a good pace of practicing and lessons, life gets in the way. You are tired. The laundry is in a pile, clean clothes and dirty clothes accidentally get mixed. The dinner turns out to be a salad or hot dogs, maybe a pizza. Money is tight but the teacher is still ready for the lesson. No practice takes place today. Maybe it won’t tomorrow. When you finally settle the chaos of the day down for a few minutes, your child is mentally somewhere else and they won’t have anything to do with practicing.
What is it that we are missing? Learning to play an instrument is an honor. Right? Haven’t you always wanted to play or at least improve on what you learned in the two years of lessons you took as a kid? And wait…..why just two years? Didn’t you want to practice? Pull up an empty chair and put the ‘child you’ in it. Ok, lock the door so none of your little spies holds this over your head in the future. Now you are alone. Wait….Check under the bed. All clear? Now ask your little self what happened. Why would you have stopped, basically before you started, with your piano lessons. Either you were a normal kid and didn’t want routine and being forced to practice while your friends were outside throwing a ball on the barn across the street and playing ‘outs’ or life got in the way with your parents or siblings – money, illness…. attitude. Ask ‘little you’ when the excitement faded. Do you still love your teacher? Have you checked in on her lately? I am sure she wasn’t one of the ‘old school’ teachers who slapped your hands. So it wasn’t her.
As the years pass, excuses became just that. Excuses. We don’t always remember the ‘why’ behind our choices. Just the consequence.
When we want to achieve something big…it becomes painfully routine. Repeating a musical phrase until you get it can be rewarding in the end, but what kid really has the endurance to follow through year after year if in fact they weren’t putting all their energy into the task and there wasn’t a reward of progress?
As a parent, or a teacher, you have somewhat of an advantage over little people who can write their history on their hands and feet. You know where choices lead or at least have an idea of the possible paths a life can take.
What I found, as a teacher, is that ‘bored kids’ want to play songs they hear on the radio or in movies. They don’t appreciate the songs written a hundred years ago by dead guys. But if they knew those ‘dead’ guys, or a little about their lives, it would motivate them to excel. In the ‘Keepers’ Master Class I write a story about the lives of each of the composers along with their music. Let me tell you. It was tough to make it ‘happy-happy’ for the kids today. Those people lived lives of loss. Bach’s parents died when he was still in single digits and he was shipped off to an uncle…..yet, the man was amazing. Mendelssohn played the organ in the same church where Bach had played and found a ton of Bach’s music in the attic of the church. The man’s integrity made him give the music to all of us and not claim it for his own. Schumann had a mental problem that haunted him throughout his entire life. They all have a story. There is a lot to be said for these ‘dead guys’ and their incredible music and what they went through just to live another day none the less be so prolific in their writing and performing. Handel locked himself in a room and wrote the entire ‘Messiah’ in only days and then he adjusted the whole thing with each orchestra with whom he performed because there wasn’t any consistency with how many violins or flutes he would have each time it was performed…..and then…..he went blind and still gave performances. Give me a break. What does that take? Is there a word that is bigger than ‘passion’ and not negative like ‘obsession’.
If a teacher has repertoire they use for students to study, hopefully she/he has reasons for the songs representing the needed skills. But at the point of demanding popular songs, they usually haven’t developed the skills yet to play ‘whatever’ and if the teacher switches repertoire just to keep the student, and ‘just go with the flow’, it is the beginning of the end. If they want to play the tunes…..do it on their own. I have seen the demise of what could have been a great skill in the buds of developing end abruptly because the child or the ‘child within’ starts to take control and isn’t mature enough to understand commitment and the work it takes to accomplish anything.
I’ve written about a study of ‘choices’ in the Master Class entitled, ‘Selfie Profiles’. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check that out so that you aren’t judgemental when someone sticks their feet in the dirt and refuses to go any further. That behavior might just be a red flag and not a defiant attitude.
Now before you think about popping from one after school event to the next to help your child sort out what it is they ‘want’ to do (today)...I would strongly encourage you to take the Master Class.The ‘Jack of all trade…master of none’ is painful to watch. What a student learns by studying one thing well seeps into the rest of their lives and, although they may end up enjoying music on a deeper level as an adult and maybe not play in the orchestra….just on the back porch,…the structure that has been developed in their brains is priceless.
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