There exists in my adult students a special phenomenon that I have affectionately labeled The “Should” Syndrome. Symptoms of this syndrome include excessive self-doubt, narrow judgment regarding what is going well with their playing, and when their frustration is at its peak, passive aggression toward their teacher when she tries to give them a compliment. It is always interesting to note the difference in attitude between the kids I teach and the adults I teach. Some of the adults enjoy music as much as the kids do, but there is always an air of self-consciousness about their age and what they don’t already know (read: what they “should” already know by their age). Mistakes in lessons are immediately followed by apologies. Comments are made about how they may be “too old” to still be trying to learn this. They lament, “I would be good at this now if I had just started playing when I was young.” Etc., etc., etc.
Kids, on the other hand (especially the younger ones), rarely apologize or even acknowledge their mistakes. An eight year-old who gets a new guitar rips it out of the delivery box and immediately starts banging on it and sliding his fingers around the fretboard, experimenting with the different sounds even though he doesn’t know anything about the instrument yet. This is because he is too busy being interested in this new, alien thing in front of him than he is with what the world’s expectations of him regarding that thing are. A thirty-eight year-old often comes to their first lesson waiting for instructions and not doing anything until the teacher instructs them to, for fear of looking silly. Ultimately, this is not such a bad thing, but they don’t feel free to experiment and connect with their guitar on their own level because this way might not be the “correct” way. I see this in my more experienced adult students too, as well as my musician colleagues. Once you’re older, your personal responsibilities and psychological demons start to cloud your connection with your art. As adults – both beginners and professionals – we are all familiar with the following scenario:
It’s a weekday afternoon and I need to squeeze in some practice time in the only free hour I have today. As I pick up my instrument, I remember for the third time that the rent is due tomorrow and I’m still waiting for that one check to clear. There’s nothing I can do about it now, but it’s still bothering me. I begin to warm up by playing some scales. As I play and some notes don’t come out as well as I would like them to, I begin to tense up my hands and body. Then the tension makes it even harder. I watched a YouTube video of a ten year-old prodigy playing faster-than-lightning this morning. I’m at least a decade older and I can’t play these scales nearly that fast. My mistakes don’t just feel physically uncomfortable now. I feel silly for making them, as if someone is in the room with me and judging me for being a bad person.
Speaking of being a bad person, I got into a fight with my significant other yesterday and said some mean things, and along with the rent, that’s on my mind too. I look at the clock and I have half an hour left. I still feel silly about those mistakes with my scales, but now it’s time to move on to the pieces I’ve been working on. I still don’t like my sound right now, but I know I have to get this work done.
The phone rings as I’m ten minutes into working on this piece. There’s an issue with a project I’ve been assigned to at work and I need to put down my instrument and go to the computer to solve it. I could fix it later, but my boss will probably want it done right now, and I don’t want to look bad. I’ll need to practice everything another day, even though my sound is still not great and I only have a few days before my next lesson. When will I ever sound like that kid in the video? What am I even doing with my life?
Young children don’t go through this thought process when they play. Children do not have all of the subconscious biases about how the world “should” be, like adults do. They do not separate the everything in their environment into strict categories, like adults do. They do not have a defined idea of who they are yet, so they do not exclude possibilities and pursue their interests without hesitation. (A friend of mine who teaches elementary school told me a story about how on the day before winter break, she had her students cut out and color pictures of holiday objects. The choices included Christmas trees, menorahs, etc. When a boy from a Jewish family chose a Christmas tree, she inquired as to what made him choose Christmas symbols rather than Hannukah ones. The boy stared at her, puzzled by the question, and said “I just think that the tree is pretty”. What many adults would assume he “should” choose did not even occur to him!)
Because of this openness, children have an extreme advantage when it comes to learning anything, and they absorb information like a sponge. The advantage to starting to play music when you are younger, then, is not because people eventually become “too old” to learn – the advantage lies in the fact that the more time you spend studying music when you are a child, the more time you’ve spent building a connection to music without ever questioning your worth at it or having to deal with adulthood’s endless distractions. This connection causes a snowball effect of positive experiences, which slowly creates a positive self-image regarding music for an individual once they have reached adolescence and eventually, adulthood. By this time, they are not trying to learn music – they are a musician.
What is the solution, then? Obviously, we cannot do a System Restore on our minds to make ourselves stop thinking like an overly self-aware adult.
Recognize that even if the voice inside your head has some unhelpful things to say, you can learn to silence it and just enjoy the music. Think about all of the things that you enjoyed as a little kid with unbridled passion and how you approached those things. Have fun and stop the adult voice in your head that says your picture is “wrong” because you didn’t color in the lines. Play like a child…
Rianne M. is currently giving guitar lessons in NYC to adults and children, and occasionally blurs the line between them with her teaching styles. Contact us today to schedule a lesson with her!
The oldest instrument in the world is the flute; to be specific, a couple of 42,000 year-old bird-bone flutes found in a cave in Germany. The last few centuries have transformed the Western concert flute from a hollow stick or bone with holes in it into a shiny, intricately wrought metal tube with a complex mechanism of keys, springs and rods. However, the musical character of the flute is still closely tied to its history as a ceremonial instrument and with the natural world of wood and bird-bones from which the earliest flutes were fashioned. With its shimmering tone and ability to play very high and very fast, the flute can evoke the calls of birds, rolling hills and soaring skies, while it’s dark and smooth low register conjures up an air of mystery and ritual.
It’s an amazing feeling to play an instrument with such deep history, but that’s only part of the flute’s story…
Over the last century there has been increasing interest into the sound-world of the flute beyond its beautiful and rich tone. When I first began delving into this world in my early years of college at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and more recently at the Manhattan School of Music, I was astonished by the variety of possible sounds: the low beat of a distant drum, the sound of a passing jet, gentle rapid fluttering (the sound of amplified hummingbird wings?), very high whistling, the crisp POP of popping corn, a train horn, a siren… the list goes on (and beyond easy comparison with environmental sound). These sounds are known as extended techniques, and the flute has one of the most diverse ranges of extended techniques of any instrument. Extended techniques have been increasingly explored by performers and used by composers over the last century because as well as being fun sounds in themselves, they broaden the expressive possibilities of instruments. If you think about it as an artists’ paint palette, extended techniques have broadened the color range of instruments from the primary colors of traditional tone to a vast range of mixtures and shades.
As well as expanding the expressive potential of instrumental music to fit with our ever-changing world, extended techniques can be extremely useful practice tools. An important reason for learning music is that it sharpens our ears and it teaches us to listen. However, the attention to detail necessary for productive practice can be frustrating for students, and this is where extended techniques can be very helpful. Incorporating extended techniques into learning an instrument can re-introduce the freedom of play into a context that can quickly become obsessive and un-creative. Sometimes when that high note just won’t come out the way we want it, rather than repeating it over and over and becoming annoyed and disheartened, playing a few multiphonics (for example) can help press the re-start button: refreshing the ear, re-connecting with a spirit of experimentation and in this case approaching the issue of air-speed (the problem behind the troublesome high note) from a totally different angle.
Learning an instrument is many things, and it is something different to everyone, but without a doubt it should be fun and creative! The best music comes from a place of imagination as well as great technique!
Andrea W. is now available for flute lessons in your home or online. Contact Music To Your Home to schedule yours with her today!
MTYH Viola teacher Carrie D. has been playing viola since age 6, and she’s pretty passionate when it comes to all things having to do with this cool instrument. Here are her thoughts on why viola is a great choice for your musical journey:
Want to play the violin but can’t sing that high? Want to play the cello but don’t feel like lugging it around? Here’s a solution for you: viola!
A violin and viola look pretty much the same, so what exactly is the difference? Kindly referred to as a “larger violin” or “smaller cello,” the viola is the perfect choice for many reasons.
- It’s unique. Not many people start out playing the viola, and so you and your instrument would be one of a kind!
- Because the viola is “in between” a violin and cello, it comes in many sizes and lengths for all types of people, tall or short.
- Violists get to play violin music, cello music, and our own music. Because of this, you will learn how to read many different clefs, giving you the upper hand in future music theory classes.
- Being able to perform a wide variety of instruments’ music also means violists are adept at playing many different genres of music. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century, rock and roll, Broadway, and much more!
- Composers today love to write for the viola, and the “new music” scene is an ever-growing part of the current musical community. Some of these pieces may even include electric viola.
- Beautiful things are associated with the word “viola:” Viola (the flower), Viola Davis (the actress), Viola Thompson (the baseball player), and even a character named Viola from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night.
- While lots of musicians are focusing on playing the melody out front, violists get to play the harmony. They are good at supporting and helping other instruments, proving us to be true team players! This also makes the viola a great instrument for people who are shy and like to blend in.
- Music to your Home (MTYH) has viola teachers available and excited to start teaching YOU today!
Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Music to Your Home is lucky to be able to work with musicians from around the world, and Alejandro M. comes to us with words of wisdom from Argentina. Currently he’s a professional guitar player and teacher living the dream and gigging all over NYC.
Why do we spend all those hours practicing and learning how to read music? Well, I guess there are a lot of reasons we take piano lessons or lessons on any instrument for that matter.
For most of us, we started learning an instrument because our parents forced us to, or it was just another activity we couldn’t wiggle our way out of at school. But for some people, learning an instrument is a great outlet for creativity and an opportunity to tap into our talents.
Some of us love the challenge of sitting at the piano and reading a new piece of music for the first time. Maybe it’s a song you heard on the radio or in a movie or perhaps it’s something you grew up listening to. Being able to recreate that sound and moment in time can be a very rewarding experience. Music has a way of bringing back emotions we felt at certain times in our lives. Being able to create those moments yourself, without the help of itunes is very empowering.
Playing an instrument and making music in general can be an amazingly peaceful experience if you want it to be. I have played piano since I was 9 and learning those notes at the beginning was tedious to me. It took me about 4 years of constant reminding from my parents to practice until I realized I actually had a talent! So after all the hard work and practice I found that learning new music and even playing old songs became much easier and enjoyable.
For young students, playing the piano can have advantageous effects on the development of the brain and can also help build self-confidence. Those same effects are realized by adults too, but as an adult I find now that sitting at the piano and playing the songs I like is a major stress reliever.
No matter how long or stressful your day might have been, if it was the late subway, the long commute, the snoring guy on the bus – sitting and playing an instrument can take you away from all the things in your life that are causing you anxiety, even if it’s only for a few minutes. So next time you’re feeling stressed, find your favorite sheet music, sit down and play and try to find your inner peace.