Recently I was invited to write a blog entitled “How to raise a music prodigy”. While the cringe-worthy title has some obvious pitfalls, let’s examine the reasons behind it for a moment.
It was immediately clear to me that the person extending this invitation was not a music teacher, but a well-intentioned marketing representative eager to please parents.
Well, I’m here to tell you there are no shortcuts to success in music. Shocker, right? It’s about practice, plain and simple. True some people are more naturally gifted at others at certain skills such as sight reading, pitch matching, vocal tone, and others but anyone can learn. Really. Let me revise that- Anyone can learn IF they put the work in. Reading a buzzfeed article is not going to help the vast majority of children write their first symphony at age 9 like Mozart did sit down. Let’s be real-it takes work. Prodigies are the incredibly rare exception, not the rule. No bulleted list is going to change that.
By the way, Mozart, even with his extraordinary talent, was forced and physically threatened by his father to practice for long hours on the piano throughout the night from a young age. He was then dragged from court to court to play in front of foreign dignitaries and royalty. Of course he was wildly successful and talented, but talk about parental pressure. Not exactly a normal childhood.
Music doesn’t have to be tedious or anxiety provoking to be helping the child progress. In fact, this is the second thing that bothers me about the elusive instant musical prodigy article. The children in our society and particularly this demographic are so incredibly overbooked they don’t have time to be kids. And they put so much pressure on themselves to be successful. The majority of psychological research agrees-children learn best through play and through exercising that creative muscle-the imagination. Frustration, in large doses because of cortisol release and its destructive effect to the neuronal synapses, impedes learning and can often turn children off from lessons, making practice a chore. Dopamine, the pleasure chemical in the brain, also helps the brain to learn and grow. In young brains the movement and visual centers are the first to mature before the areas associated with language and judgment and critical thinking. We can access these more adult brain centers by using activities that draw upon children’s strengths so as to effectively teach them and limit feelings of overwhelm. So it goes to follow that learning experiences should be presented in a pleasurable way, correct? But schools are cutting recess and forcing kids as young as five to spend more time sitting at desks
Most of my lessons with children are playtime (with a hidden emphasis on learning): music games, silly made up songs on the piano, movement experiences for young singers, and other opportunities to learn through play. Once I had a parent ask me why she didn’t hear her daughter playing constantly on the piano during lessons. When I told her we were making up words using notes in the musical alphabet, I got a funny look in return.
Trust me, a positive music experience is so much more valuable than one based on impossible standards of achievement. Support your child’s need for play in music. Society doesn’t need more overbooked children trying to be prodigies, we need more music lovers.