It is a pleasure to introduce our readers to guest author Dave Orrett, music teacher and entrepreneur. He has many interesting insights related to music education. In this article, Mr. Orrett touches on short-term vs. long-term goals. How does a students view these important aspects of the learning process? How does a teacher view these aspects of the learning process with their students?
HIDING THE BROCCOLI INSIDE THE MASHED POTATOES
As a Music School Director (and former teacher of 15 years) I’m often asked for advice on how to set up a child to succeed in music education. What are the obstacles he or she might face and how can we help that child overcome them? There are many of these, of course, including motivation, parental involvement, relating to the style of music, self-sufficiency and more. But today, I will focus on a big one and go into some detail in the hopes that it will help.
As adults we have had life experience teach us about the value of longevity, perseverance, and long- term goals. It is important that we differentiate this from a child’s point of view. Simply put, most children cannot see much beyond the now. This doesn’t mean they can’t theoretically grasp the idea that they are working on something now in order to enjoy it in the future, but mostly they truly respond to things that stimulate them today. Grown-ups might spend 5 days hurting at the gym a week in order to be ready for beach season months away, but the idea of “short-term pain for long-term gain” is only a concept to a child and not one which will likely be sustainable or successful.
So then, how do we teach music to a child which includes the critical balance of short-term fun with long-term building of technique, music theory, etc.? I like to use the expression “Hide the broccoli inside the mashed potatoes.”
When I was young my mother would literally do just that to try and get me to eat my broccoli. First, she would try things like “You need to eat this broccoli to grow up big and strong”, but at 8 years old I frankly didn’t care. Then she tried the technique of “You can’t have your cookies until you eat your broccoli” which was better but still fell short because, while it got me to eat some broccoli, I still hated and resented every minute of it. Finally, she had the best trick of all. She would put a little broccoli inside some mashed potatoes and a touch of gravy. I honestly barely tasted it! I consumed the broccoli and didn’t mind. (Whether I ended up growing up big and strong is up for debate haha.)
I believe music education (including practicing) is much the same. If you tell a child they need to practice scales in order to one day have better hand technique and theoretical comprehension of what key a song is in, this will almost certainly not inspire. If you tell them they need to do well on their scales in order to enjoy passing an RCM exam, that will help but they will still resent the sunny days spent inside going over those scales. Now, if a skilled teacher can teach a child a song they are excited to learn, but secretly include passages of scale technique required to best perform the song, THAT will almost certainly work.
As a parent at home you can also play a role here. The first and most obvious one is to communicate with your child’s teacher about what music most inspires your child and what tends to excite them when practicing at home. This will allow the teacher to better understand what “mashed potatoes” are to your child in their preparation of a lesson plan. You can also show enthusiasm to your child at home during practicing time about what they are learning. When Mom or Dad likes something it makes it instantly more fun and relevant to a child, and will further disguise any accidental lingering broccoli taste!
Of course, as in life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in music education. Having said that, I sincerely believe that proper understanding and application of the concept of balanced goals, as well as the need to hide long-term goals inside the joy of short-term ones, will go a long way towards helping your child enjoy a lifetime of music.
More information can be found on my blog post entitled “10 Tips to Help Motivate Your Child to Practice”