Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nourish the Child: Music

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."
-Victor Hugo

I love talking about music education because I can, in no way, be misconstrued as an "expert"! I have very little formal music training, but I have been a voracious reader on the Japanese Suzuki method (that is in rather sharp contrast to the American Suzuki method). I have also taught myslef the piano and penny whistle and I really enjoy all forms of music.

So when it comes to my own children and music, I proceed by intuition more than philosophy, and the results are pretty exciting.

My children are familiar with a wide range of musical styles and can recognize a lot of 'famous' music and composers for the very simple reason that mom and dad listen to 'famous' music for sheer enjoyment and our enthusiasm just rubs off on the little people. (They can also rap and free-flow... thanks daddy... age appropriate lyrics, of course.)

An aunt gave my oldest a very nice children's piano before the age of 1 and it remains a favorite toy for my own children and all visitors. No curriculum needed, it is so natural for children to try to 'play' their favorite tunes on this inviting little instrument.

In the spirit of Suzuki, I play the piano for my children. I play children's songs and I also work (and boy, is it work!) through difficult pieces and they notice the progress I make. I had Isaiah in piano lessons for 1 semester to learn the basics of music reading (he is famously resistant to 'learning' anything difficult from me). His own books sit by the piano and he regularly plays out of them for fun. The younger two patiently wait their own turns to 'play' the piano nearly every day.

This year we invested in this Yamaha Touch Sensitive Keyboard. (Be aware that Amazon regularly puts this keyboardon sale for under $100.) We had to leave our antique piano behind in Kansas and I didn't want to be a year without a piano to enjoy. It was VERY inexpensive, but the quality is excellent. Keyboards, as long as they are touch-sensitive, are wonderful tools for music education. They are superb for self-teaching visual learners. (Sorta hard to explain, but all Yamaha keyboards have a feature that teaches musical pieces with a little screen for you to copy with your hands... you have to see it to get this.) Most keyboards also have a large memory of folk tunes and classical music that you can toy around with. My kids spontaneously play 'guess-this-tune' by turning the piano off after a few bars of a piece have played and trying to figure out what the piece is.

Next year, we are planning to learn the penny whistle (also called the tin whistle or celtic flute) as a family. My penny whistles were all lost in a move years back, so I am pretty rusty. My oldest son wants to learn the penny whistle from me versus going back to piano lessons, and my 5 year old daughter has begged to join. The penny whistle is a particularly good beginner instrument because it is cheap and the fingering is quite simple (simpler even than a recorder, that other excellent and inexpensive beginner's instrument).

This is the book I used 20 years ago to teach myself the whistle:

(Want to know how good this book is? A couple years after picking up the penny whistle for the first time, I was able to join in with a Celtic band made up of adult professional musicians! I am no prodigy, it's just a great book and an easy instrument.)

So generally, my philosophy is- create joyful access to music of all sorts, enjoy it yourself, and watch your children learn. I will never forget when a good friend of mine sharply criticized my musical "method." She asked "what if Tiger Woods' dad, or the Williams' sisters' dad, or Mozart's dad had said, 'well, I just want my kid(s) to enjoy golf/ tennis/ music?"

Personally, I want my children to find their way in this life by their own internal compasses. I encourage, provide access, and give support. I am not out to create prodigies, though I would support one if God planted one amongst my offspring. Rather, I think what we do in our home makes for well-rounded thinkers who, I hope, will appreciate beauty even if they don't make music or art their life's work. (And as someone who chose to make art her life's work... some days I dearly hope my little people do NOT choose music or art as their life's work!!!)

"A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence."
~Leopold Stokowski

"The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial."
~Leonard Bernstein

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