A couple of moms and I have gotten together and asked a local music teacher (who is a genius but really hates being photographed) to teach recorder to a small group of kids. The kids are just starting out, so we're learning things like tonguing and hand position, as well as basic music stuff like beat and rhythm. Today was our second class. It's way too easy for Big One, although he has agreed to participate when we start playing songs. And it's way too hard for Little One, because the other kids are older than he, even though they're also beginners. So it's not a good fit for either of my kids, but it's really, really fun to have a music class for kids in my house.
I've been thinking about where one draws the line when it comes to allowing a child to guide his own learning. Nine times out of ten, I think kids make the right decisions, and I believe that it's really important to build curriculum based on their needs and interests. Not just important; essential.
But music is a place where I'm not so sure. For me, music is like learning math or a language. Reading music is part of being an educated person, and learning to play an instrument is an essential aspect of a child's education. For me. It is akin to what some families feel about sports, I think: that there is so much important stuff to learn in the process that a child's education is lacking without it.
And learning to play an instrument requires practice, which requires discipline. It requires that you work through a difficult patch because you are reaching for a goal that is somewhere beyond the moment you're in. It's often not fun. In fact, when you're really sweating it out through a technical passage, it can be downright frustrating. What child would choose that?
When Big One first started to play the recorder, it happened because his music teacher at school noticed that he was really ready for it, but his class wasn't. So he started private lessons. This was four years ago, and along the way, I've reminded him to practice, over and over. I've also sat with him through figuring out difficult passages, helped him with reading new and tricky rhythms, and helped him persevere when he was frustrated to the point of tears. He is now at the point where he works these things through on his own, and does it for the intrinsic reward, but it was a long road to get there. If I'd left it entirely up to him, I don't know that he ever would have.
I never let him quit because he's really good at it, and that was evident from the very beginning. My thinking (which I shared with Big) was that some people are born with an ability to do some things easily and well, and those people have an opportunity to live their lives as artists. Mind you, I think an artist could be a painter, a musician, a scientist, a writer, or even a teacher: it just means someone who is doing for a living what they really live for. I told him that because he has a chance to live his life as an artist, he has a responsibility to develop this talent.
Little is anxious about learning recorder in a way that Big never was: he has daily evidence that learning an instrument is a lot of work. We may have to look into soccer for him.