GUEST COLUMN: Participation, practice and musical achievement

The “putting kids in” ideology doesn’t work for the study of music

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Perry Music Studio teaching little fingers to play the piano in the town of Summerland.

It has been a great two decades and, as a teacher and a Summerlander, I am grateful for everything my students and their families have taught me. It’s been an awesome ride and I’m looking forward to the next two decades.

As much as times have changed during the past 20 years, many things remain the same.

In 1998 there were concerns that video games were destroying young minds and that children needed to spend less time in front of the screen, whether TV or computer.

In 1998 there was great interest in enriching the minds and creativity of children.

In 1998, families worked hard to find balance with one or two athletic activities and music or art.

In 2018, there is even more of a struggle to find that equilibrium.

In an effort to ensure that their kids have the opportunity to try everything to find something that sparks their passion, parents are putting their children into numerous activities.

This mentality of “putting kids in” is pervasive.

Putting children into a team sport is a great way to foster relationships that often last a lifetime, not just for the kids but the parents as well. It nurtures a sense of identity and team spirit.

The participants are directed by a coach, they get to hang out with their friends and there is no homework or practicing required. Children go, do and come home.

However, the “putting kids in” ideology doesn’t work for the study of music.

Music lessons involve a once-a-week session and then daily individual practice to reinforce the concepts learned. It is a lesson, like school, with material to learn and to remember.

I’m always surprised to hear a parent tell their child to have a “good practice” as they leave them at the studio door. Practice is what happens at home.

So, where’s the fun? Why should a child forego externally directed activities to slave away at scales, arpeggios and junior sonatinas?

Recently, there has been a great deal of buzz in how music affects the brain.

Scientific studies, including MRI brain scans, show how both sides of the brain light up when playing music.

It’s been proven that children who study music perform better in school, are more self-disciplined, have better memory and self confidence. Further, playing in a music ensemble, like a school band, fosters the same sense of unity and relationship building as found in team sports.

The joy and fun of music is in the mastery of the instrument and the achievement of being able to play a piece that not only requires technical prowess and ability, but expresses inner emotions that cannot be put into words.

However, in order to reap the myriad benefits of music, effort is involved.

The study of music is just that, a study. Anyone can take lessons and learn proficiency at an instrument, provided they make the necessary effort. For some of us, there is more effort required, others less.

Regardless, being able to make music is a gift that will provide solace, pleasure and camaraderie long after the days of being able to engage in physical activity are over.

I don’t have any problem with sports or athletic activities. We must encourage our children (and ourselves) to exercise different parts of our bodies and brains.

My concern is the mentality of “putting in” and focus on fun with which we are approaching all childhood activities. Of course having fun is great, but we need to remember that fun and work are not opposites: fun is the result of work.

Let’s be sure to introduce our children to the rich sense of satisfaction that results from top effort. It is time to stop just “doing” and “putting in.”

Let’s make sure we are teaching our children self-discipline and self-direction.

In putting forth their best effort, they will find fun and fulfillment in whatever they do.

Anita Perry is a music teacher in Summerland.

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