by Christine-Guest Author
Music is such a complex means of expression. It can arise from so many varied emotions and feelings and at times seems to spring out as if by accident. My son, Ezra, who is 7, always seemed to have music rising from within himself from early on. He loves to dance, sings continually while playing and set out to play cello from the moment he saw the instrument played on television. As a toddler, his grandma gave him her ukulele and he played it like a cello, fashioning a bow out of a drumstick. We later bought him a toy violin and he played that too like a cello.
When Ezra turned 4 we decided to try out some first formal lessons. Fortunately for us, his first cello class was a group introduction to holding the instrument, noticing rhythms, dancing and basically just having fun while the teacher sang or played along. His interest in the cello continued, so we decided to pursue the next step: cello lessons with a private teacher.
Though it seemed to happen quickly, this was a very big step in our son’s homeschooling. As an unschooling family, my husband and I want our children to pursue interests from their own initiative first and foremost. However, as neither of us were able to instruct him on playing cello correctly, we decided it was time to seek a teacher for him. Throughout, our main question, the one we came back to time and again was: Is he having fun and does he like to play his cello?
And time and again, he’s shown that he still possesses the motivation to continue. Now having had lessons for nearly 3 years, we have come a long way, since his days with his grandma’s ukulele. Through his private lessons, he has learned how to read music and has shown that he wants to challenge himself beyond what’s expected of him. But, with each lesson book completed, more and more challenges arise and the same question pops back into our heads. We are continually attempting to balance the need for structure in music learning with the need to keep Ezra’s natural enthusiasm alive.
To be sure, there have been times, when I have had to remind him about his choice to continue cello, times when he has complained about practicing or become hard on himself for not being able to play a piece fluidly yet. And so far, he has not wavered or asked to discontinue cello, as he has done for some other classes he’s taken. My husband and I try to instill the idea that if you ask to sign up for something, give it a chance and if you say you want to continue, make sure you are putting your effort into it too. It’s like the saying that goes you only get back what you put in.
However, the notion of pushing a child to music remains in the back of our minds. We’ve seen other children who have had to endure this kind of pressure and so, we try to step outside of our daily routine to examine things and examine our methods of ensuring Ezra’s class requirements are met. At times we compromise, but at other times, we keep the standard that his teacher has set and wait to see if the challenge might be a motivation in itself.
One of the things that has become a blessing for us is Ezra’s Suzuki based lessons. Through this method of teaching, a child is given the chance to begin their experience with music by ear naturally. Note reading is not started until at least lesson book 2 and a high priority is placed on parental involvement during lesson time and practice time as well.
In my opinion, these are qualities that fit right in with the unschooling philosophy: letting a child experience something naturally in his or her own way and the idea of the parent as a supportive guide. And this is exactly what the parent’s role is during a Suzuki lesson. They listen in, take notes if necessary to remember any pointers or tips that teacher gives, and serve as a guide for the child, who has been given the very special responsibility to learn and care for a complicated and expensive instrument. Lessons can be tailored to fit a child’s needs and learning style if need be. Ability is more important than age when determining a child’s level of instruction.
As with many types of learning, a key component to playing an instrument is regular practice. Just like learning a sport or perfecting the skill of writing, repetition is a way of forming good habits, such as positioning the instrument, posture, and listening skills, which help a child understand the various nuances of music being learned.
Students are asked to listen to an accompanying CD that includes all of the music from the book the child is studying. It’s very much like the process of “strewing” that unschoolers often engage in. But instead, it’s just playing the CD at home or in the car during ordinary routines that makes the music a part of the child’s consciousness, therefore making it easier to recall at lesson or practice time.
However, the Suzuki method can vary somewhat, depending on the teacher. When choosing a teacher for your child, ask to have a trial lesson or if you may be allowed to observe another student’s lesson. And more than anything, always be aware of your child’s desire to make music. This is something that unschooling parents are most surely well aware of from having spent lots of time observing their child’s interests in other pursuits.
There will be times when interest in making music will wane a bit, perhaps when a child begins tiring of playing the same pieces over and over again. This has been the case with Ezra usually near the end of a book, or when he hasn’t had an opportunity to perform for awhile. If this should happen, take the opportunity to speak to your child’s teacher and ask for ways in which a new related activity could be introduced or a new challenge can be created for the child.
Breaks from practicing seem to be beneficial for Ezra, and since summer is usually a time for less formal classes and lessons, we usually take at least several weeks off from practice at this time. You may wish to experiment with this idea for your child, too.
The Suzuki method may not be for every child’s learning style. But, it can be a part of a child-led learning environment if the child’s desire to make music is not hampered by unnecessary pressure or competition.
When a child expresses music from within, this becomes the most motivating factor of all. Allowing the free flow of music in a child’s life is allowing a child to experience the satisfaction of understanding music as a most complex form of expression.
Christine lives in Oak Park, IL with her husband Rey and is the proud mama of two unschooled children who teach her new things about life on a daily basis. She keeps an ongoing journal of their adventures at life-is-learning.blogspot.com.