Musical Development with our students- a parent’s concern
How do we think about a child’s overall musical development? As a music teacher, this is at the heart of what we do each day in the form of purposeful instruction that is planned around specific outcomes. But from the parent perspective, a child’s musical development can seem confusing. I’m not sure why, but even from musical parents of students I teach, the questions surrounding their child’s involvement in music are usually rooted in the experiences they had as children. My guess is that most adults don’t have vivid memories of math, science or other disciplines from their grade school days. But every adult I know can remember very specific musical events from their childhood. And this personal connection to music early on gives parents pause as they question their role in their own child’s musical development. How can parents (and teachers) encourage their kids to begin a musical journey that will last a lifetime? I want to answer this question from the perspective of a child and a parent who have been on this journey; and then examine how this musical journey outlines a model of musical development described by Jessica Baron Turner in her book Your Musical Child: Inspiring Kids to Play and Sing for Keeps.
One girl’s musical journey in prose-
Gabby is a high school senior. Her experience with the piano is outlined in the thoughtful essay below:
I drop onto the worn piano bench, exhausted, and I feel my fingers slide over the cool keys, finding their positions. I watch my hands, trusting their memory of The Song, feeling its story. My stomach drops as the low notes resonate; I tense up with each approaching crescendo and close my eyes with every heartbreaking trill. The Song is my story, my expression. There is no teacher and no deadline, no coach or parent handing out advice. It is my own creation and my own success. What I once treated as a skill to learn is now something that gives me immediate satisfaction. Every stroke of my finger creates a character, every phrase continues the plot. In that moment, nothing lies ahead of me beyond the pages and notes. And when I miss a beat I can keep going, because in my story mistakes are improvisations.
Here is some more information about Gabby’s musical development from her mom’s perspective:
Gabby started Suzuki instruction (classical) at the age of 4 (yes, I am/was that high pressure parent).
She had lessons with three different instructors over the years, the last one being the longest (between ages 9-15).
She stopped taking lessons at 15 because she wanted to commit more time to her swimming and we just couldn’t squeeze everything in (and didn’t want to try).
About six months after she stopped the lessons, we got her some pop music to play – Billy Joel, Beatles, some Disney movie theme songs… She’s been playing this kind of music since, but now she finds/downloads her own songs, which interestingly bridge the classical/pop divide.
It’s really cool seeing her find her own way with the music – how she fits it in her life. Her essay is really true – she’ll sit down for 10 minutes right before school, or come home after practice and play for a while.
The Braid Model-
The Braid Model of musical development was developed by Jessica Baron Turner in her book Your Musical Child: Inspiring Kids to Play and Sing for Keeps:
Imagine children’s musical development as a braid with three strands. One strand of this musical braid represents what children soak up through daily exposure to music in the world. This experiential strand contains music at school and entertainment at home, on the car radio, at a friends house, at the arcade, at the theater, on the playground.
Another strand contains what children learn from music teachers and through other forms of musical instruction. This is the instructional strand.
Finally, the self-discovery strand is what children discover and gain on their own. When they get inspired to make music independently, their own creativity leads the way. This happens alone, with friends, and with us.
If we look at Gabby’s story, and fill in the rest with her mom’s details, we can see how each of these strands has been a part of Gabby’s braid of musical development. Sometimes one strand is more dominant than the other:
When we make a braid, we drop one strand to pick up a different one. The braid itself embraces the dropped strand, holding it in place just where we left it until we can pick it up once more. The braid continues growing as we cross the strands one over another. We drop the one we previously held and pick up the one we released before. All three strands keep coming in and out of the braid until it is complete.
I think this is a beautiful picture of a child’s musical development. Gabby’s mom relates how the instructional strand was the first strand in her musical development at age 4 with Suzuki lessons. But we see that the focus of Gabby’s essay is with the self-discovery strand of music. Both strands are important at different times for Gabby on her musical journey:
Some months, our children study hard and spend a lot of time acquiring new skills in music lessons (the instructional strand). Concurrently, they may also benefit from experimenting with their own ideas and sharing their experiences with us through conversation and demonstration (the self-discovery strand).
And finally, as parents, it’s important to see how these strands weave in and out of a child’s musical development and over time we can keep this braid strong by emphasizing another strand in the braid:
Some months, our children stop lessons, but they play around with music on their own (the self-discovery strand). At such times, they’ll tend to integrate what they’ve learned in lessons…You may find yourself wondering whether allowing your child to take a break from lessons is going to be the beginning of the end. But your child can still be musically active during “experiential” months, listening to music, going to musicals plays, movies, or concerts,…
I hope you will share the braid model with your parents (and teachers) as questions arise. One final word from Turner on the subject:
Over time, the musical braid grows with the inclusion of all three strands. Keeping them in sight or in play guarantees that your child will receive enough stimulation, instruction, support, and reinforcement to pursue his or her musical potential and dreams. When you or your child feel the need to release a strand for awhile, simply pick up another one in it’s place.