Thursday, September 9, 2010

Groove is in the Heart

Our family has a bit of a musical inclination. My husband plays several instruments quite well. I have played piano from the time I was about 5 years old and recently took up violin. It seemed to be pre-determined that our children would be musical.

JT started showing signs that he was interested in playing piano at a young age. We signed him up for lessons. In the beginning he played regularly, with no reminders from us. He often wrote his own compositions. He didn't always enjoy the assignments his piano teacher gave him, but that seemed normal to me...I never liked much about my lessons either! He told us he'd like to try other instruments. Over time he learned some guitar, violin and drums. I insisted he continue with piano. He had such a talent, I couldn't stand seeing him give it up.

I started to realize he wasn't sitting down to play on his own anymore. In the past, even when he resisted playing the assignments, he would still sit and play his own compositions. I felt that he was losing his love for music. Was it my fault for insisting he continue with the lessons? His teacher had a different philosophy about music than we did. That didn't surprise us, we don't find common ground in matters of education with most instructors. But at his last lesson, she insisted that "real musicians" play from the music (meaning printed material). JT prefers playing by ear and is quite good at it. This comment rubbed me the wrong way for many reasons. My husband rarely plays from music. I would argue that few jazz musicians play from music. Improvisation would be unknown if all 'real' musicians played that way.

While all of this was weighing on my mind, I began reading a wonderful book. "Learning at Home: A Mother's Guide to Homeschooling" by Marty Layne. This is an excellent book for any homeschooling family. In Chapter 6, The Arts, Ms. Layne says, "If your child no longer wants to play an instrument, then accept your child's decision and move on to another activity. This may be difficult to do because many of us have been taught that a child can't really make a decision about whether or not he likes an instrument until he's played it a while." continuing later in the paragraph..."Music comes from the heart. If a child's heart is not in it, if the heart does not sing, then the music can't come through."

With the strict structure of the lessons and practice schedule, JT's heart could not sing. We offered him a deal. If he would sit down and play for fun, whatever songs he chooses, thirty minutes a day, three days a week, we would let him quit taking lessons. He agreed happily.

Some may think he's lazy or lacks the discipline and we should force him through this dry spell. I don't think that's the case. Why should he do something just because every one else thinks he should? Isn't that part of the joy of homeschooling? Not having to do what others think we should do?

One last quote...from the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus",
"Playing music is supposed to be fun. It's about heart, it's about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it's not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page. I can't teach you that other stuff."

Let's apply that to education and learning...It's not about words on a page. It's about exploring and absorbing and applying. It's about excitement over the connections we can recognize in what we are reading. It's about those 'ah-ha!' moments. It's supposed to be FUN. It comes from the heart.


Lisa said...

OMG!! You are living my life, lol!

We just went through the same thing. My DS10 is a lovely piano player, recently placing first in a local competition. But he plays almost entirely by ear (which was the whole point of our starting with a Suzuki teacher).

As he got more advanced, she started lecturing him that he was going to have to sight read -- he'd never play Bach by ear. Well, he does play Bach by ear, thank you very much. Our last few lessons in August were spent with her lecturing him quite aggressively about how, if he didn't improve his sight reading, he wasn't going to be able to advance any further.

This kid is so passionate about music, and plays for the pure joy of it, so I couldn't bear to keep watching these lectures. We quit. My husband worries that we're losing all forms of structure and discipline for our kids (we homeschool now too) and they will eventually become ungovernable, but he does agree that music isn't the place for such strictures.

Right now I'm looking for a new teacher, but I may rethink that after reading your post. It's so hard to find a teacher who is prepared to follow the child's lead, keep the passion burning and the fun alive, allow flexibility, yet still help the child to reach his greatest potential. Does such a person exist? They all seem focused on preparing them for the next exam, as if that won't suck the pleasure right out of it (I know from my own experience with classical piano lessons).

Sorry to be so wordy, but you "struck a chord" with me today (pun not really intended, but I like it, lol).



Cyber Momma said...


Thanks for your comment! It's good to know I'm not the only one slipping away from structure and into the unknown. :-)