Last week I discussed strategies we use to set musical goals for our adult students. Read that post HERE. This week we will talk about setting goals for a younger music student.
One of the most basic desires we have as parents is to want our child to want to do something. We want our child to know the feeling of being truly excited about something. Passionate about something. And generally we are dreaming about something other than their iPhone or the latest computer game. We are wishing for something that will nurture their mind, body or spirit.
Problem is…your child is a child. Five years old or maybe ten. And at this stage, they’re job is to explore and explore lots. And exploring does not often mean returning in a focused way to any one particular activity (again…not including Instagram). So what happens is that they become excited about soccer for a couple months and then they see a baseball game and that changes everything. That soccer ball just sits in the front hall no longer enticing your child outside. Or maybe they say they really want to play piano (often because they see their friend play it) so you get all pumped that your child might indeed be interested in the arts. You sign your child up for music lessons, maybe pony up a couple hundred bucks for a keyboard, then like clock work, within four months, your child instead wants to play drums! What! Now you need to buy a drum set?!
In my experience working with thousands of kids at Brooklyn Music Factory, this is absolutely normal & in fact, we anticpate it. But, we continue to strategize ways to build focus and engagement. Here is what we have discovered.
There are two rules to keep in mind when your child embarks on the journey of learning to sing or play an instrument for a prolonged period.. more than the exploratory three months. We have observed this primarily with the younger set of musicians (ages 5 – 13) though these ages are not absolutes & gender can play a role. Girls will generally build sustainable habits, taking responsibility for their music practice a bit earlier than boys.
RULE #1: Children = Explorers
The first and most basic rule is that our children are not us. They have not yet developed thirty or forty years of opinions about the world around them. What is good, bad, interesting, boring, fun, fake, friendly, or mean. They need to explore and experience on their own in order to even begin to form an opinion. Music is extremely tactile. Instruments are incredibly fun because when we touch them in a certain way, they can do magical things. Singing is joyful because our body makes sounds (and often in concert with others) that can be truly surprising. We, as parents, need to be open to lots of exploration. Kicking a ball one day, strumming a guitar the next, doing finger painting the next.
And yes…this can be the tough part, because, some of these activities are outside our areas of interest or require some effort (you have to sit with your child while she sings her heart out to that YouTube video even if it’s loud and off key…way off key).
And yes…this means that rarely does a child ever just want to do one thing. We have worked with lots and lots of kids at Brooklyn Music Factory. Never has a child entered the building and been focused exclusively on making music on one instrument. Sure, there have been kids that join a band and are extremely focused on how they can contribute on guitar (their current passion). But, eventually, they always gravitate to other instruments, wanting to explore what it feels like to get their hands on a bass, drum set (absolutely everyone wants to whack the drums!), or grab a mic. And this exactly why we build our music lessons around games that move through the entire studio, building fluency by playing a rhythm exercise on the drum set one day & tackling a melodic ear training game on the piano the next week.
Exploring the entire music studio with a focus of executing skills on the child’s chosen instrument of focus is essential to maintaining interest and building prolonged interest.
RULE #2: Children Are Motivated by Social Benefits
Your child is not motivated by ‘progress’ OR advanced technique. In fact, in our observation, these terms have little to no meaning to young learners. They respond to two key ingredients: fun & social benefit.
Kids value the social benefits: The attention they receive. The hug they get after a show. The new friends they make playing. The fact that they can communicate in their own language with other musicians (music is a language just like any other). The thrilling sense of teamwork after rehearsing as a band their entire gig song without any help from an adult.
Let’s be clear because this can be a difficult pill to swallow for us adults. Your child does not care about getting to the next level OR becoming the best. They may pay it lip service but I’d bet they are merely parroting the adults around them. They are not evaluating whether or not they are improving on their instrument. Whether their technique is becoming more fluid. As they improve, what they are doing is realizing the sensation they feel and the increasing opportunities to feel the benefits of by music.
And so this brings us to the title of my post today, does your CHILD have musical goals? And the simple answer is no they do not. Their goal in life is to explore and find experiences that make them feel excited, loved, curious, magical.
Setting musical goals for your child is the job of a good teacher. Weekly goals that help your child move towards those positive musical experiences more and more often is essential to any good music lesson.
These observations are based on working with thousands of kids at Brooklyn Music Factory. It’s why we embrace fun over efficiency. It’s why we strive for quality of experience over quantity of material ‘learned.’ It’s why we see the path to learning musical expression to be a life long journey that can change one’s character, not, an extracurricular activity that merely shows a well rounded child.
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