CBMS and HUMS will record our concert music (snowed out concert) on Thursday 3/10!
As a public school music supervisor, I saw firsthand the shift in our education system toward an emphasis on “constant student engagement” in the classroom. To this day, there still is this push to keep students busy from the moment class begins to the dismissal bell. Teachers are worried about the possibility of moments where students don’t have something specific to “do” and aren’t producing something concrete — especially when a supervisor walks in.
Ultimately, there is a huge problem with this education model. Schools have become too concerned with the business of keeping students busy and labeling it “engagement.” In a culture of immediate gratification, smartphones, social media, and streaming everything, I believe we are perpetuating a fast pace of life that will prevent our children from thinking slowly and critically, and hinder their ability to think and reflect independently on any topic. Students expect to be put to work at every moment, and don’t get used to what it really takes to learn something challenging. Even homework is an exercise in multi-tasking alongside listening to music, watching TV, and streaming shows.
Often it takes silent effort, reflection and mindful thought to truly learn something — habits of mind that are difficult to qualify as “engagement” on an observation report or a report card.
Luckily for schools and the communities they serve, musical instrument instruction provides students the time and space to devote themselves completely to the study and understanding of one specific thing. In order to improve on an instrument, students (and parents) must carve out time each day for solitude —something that is definitely becoming a lost art in our culture.
The constant connection that technology provides makes it even harder for children (and their parents) to spend time completely alone. The thought of going into a room all by themselves is enough to prevent a child from practicing altogether, yet the importance of overcoming distractions through concentration and even separation may be the most important skill they can learn in school.
Here are a few ways parents and teachers can build their students’ tolerance for solitude through music instruction:
Make sure students have a clear goal for each practice session. Solitude without a purpose slowly kills creativity, especially in young people. No one wants to sit alone and work all by themselves without a reason to deal with the initial discomfort that comes with it. Students should start with one goal and put a timestamp on it — and teachers should be clear with their goals for each student. For instance, a teacher can assign 4 measures of an etude at a specific tempo for the week; each evening the child’s goal could be to work it up to X tempo in X number of minutes.
Slowly build up tolerance for solitude. Depending on the person, one minute may be the threshold for sitting alone on the first day they try it. But they can work up to two minutes the next day, then three, and so on. Anyone can handle one minute of alone time — an instrument can be put together and cleaned; music can be perused and listened to, etc. Children should work up to ten minutes a day of practicing in solitude, then extend it to a new comfortable time. Ten minutes a day of solitude and mindful practice of an instrument will yield amazing results over an extended period of time.
Explain the importance of solitude. Whether you have a child who really is driven at a young age to be great at something or a child who is just starting their musical journey, it’s important to explain that solitude and deliberate practice are absolutely necessary to becoming great at any craft. Solitude is not about being a hermit and avoiding other people — at least not for great lengths of time. But the solitude and concentration applied in music practice is key for musicians to develop their skills and become mindful learners in general. There is no substitute for solitude and spending time alone with things; mindful time spent thinking about concepts and working on a craft with clear and specific goals in mind is the only way to become great at anything.
Interestingly, it is a decrease in external stimuli and an increase in solitude that can facilitate creative play. What initially may seem like “boredom” soon can become a beautiful leap into a child’s inner creative space. When a child can’t watch TV or play video games and isn’t over scheduled by their parents, imagination and creativity takes over — they are capable of dealing with the alone time that it takes to become great. Instrumental music practice creates a bit of this space in every child’s day with help from schools and families.
It is rare to find ourselves alone in this world of constant interconnectedness. Children need more solitude and less external, electronic, and structured adult-world stimulation. That said, solitude should not be confused for being completely alone — we are never lonely when our mind is engaged, and there is much strength that is derived from relying on our own mental resources. Making music instrument practice in solitude a daily part of childrens’ lives will help build strong musical skills, cultivate creativity, and build self-reliance — three priceless gifts that they will treasure forever, whatever field they choose to pursue in life.
Ten practice tips!
That said, learning an instrument requires skills and traits that children may not have experienced yet — and that parents haven’t thought (or known how) to teach. That’s the beauty of instrumental music instruction, especially as part of school curricula. However, it’s important that parents are prepared for that moment when their child plays their first notes … and they don’t sound all that great.
Here are 3 things parents need to be prepared to understand about their child learning a musical instrument:
There will not be as much immediate gratification as your child is used to…and that’s okay. Our children live in an immediate gratification world. Everything is at their fingertips — they press a button and something happens immediately. Although we all have chosen immediate gratification over delayed gratification (and vice versa) at some point our lives, our younger generation is not presented these choices often enough. If our children pick up an instrument for the first time and can’t make a sound, they are liable to stigmatize themselves as “non-talented” or incapable of becoming successful at music — and want to quit immediately.
But that’s not the truth.
I believe that intelligence is not the primary predictor of success. It is the ability to persevere in hardship, persist and learn after failure, and have a resilient spirit in the face of obstacles. If we can help our children stay focused on creating beautiful sounds on a musical instrument (even when that goal is farther away than they would like it to be), they will develop grit that will serve them well throughout their life.
It’s crucial that we help our children understand the concept of delayed gratification, and musical instrument instruction is perfect for this. Some musical concepts require weeks of practice before children feel that incredible satisfaction from a successful performance. In a world filled with streaming Internet and fast food, learning an instrument helps “slow life down” a bit — and that’s something that parents should not take for granted.
Practicing will become difficult if it is not part of a daily routine. If children leave school understanding the importance of having daily routines and how good habits are formed, teachers and parents will have done a great job. Music practice is something that must be incorporated into a daily routine along with homework and brushing teeth. Experts say it takes approximately 21 days to create a habit (as long as it happens for 21 days straight), so it’s important for a practice routine to be incorporated into a child’s day immediately upon receiving their instrument. Creating this routine is one of the reasons why the first two months of being a music parent are so important. Start with 5 minutes of playing a day and see where it takes your child.
Your child is talented, and all children are capable of becoming musically competent. Plenty of studies have been done to disprove the theory of inherited talents and innate gifts. Parents can impact their family’s “gene pool” and change their family tree if they so choose. There is no evidence that exists to prove that musical talent is inherent, but it is also true that everyone doesn’t always have the resources and tools to become great musicians. If music is offered in school curricula, and parents help their child practice at home in small ways, all children can have a true opportunity to realize their talents — both musical and other. It’s unfortunate that studies in neuroscience were not as advanced when we were kids — too many current day parents thought they weren’t “talented” when, in fact, they just needed more time with their craft and some minimal support.
Understanding these truths should be liberating for parents and their children, and take some stress off the first few weeks of learning a musical instrument. To become skilled at a musical instrument — and to become great at anything — one needs to struggle a little, so allow your child to do just that. They need to sound bad before they sound good; they need to work on things just beyond what they are capable of in order to get better and smarter, and that means they need to delay gratification a bit and embrace struggle in order to grow as musicians and as human beings.
There will be some hard days, but there will be far more amazing moments and beautiful music making down the road after what may seem like some initial frustration. Parents should treasure the fact that music is offered through school, and that it offers their children ways of learning that no other subject can.
Parents who make a long-term commitment to music instruction gives children the tools to succeed in music — and therefore in life — and is one of the greatest gifts they can give this year.
Find the original here!