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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Music makes some parents mad

- while for the child it's like driving a fire-engine

The path to instrumental accomplishment is strewn with obstacles, whereas the one to virtuosity eases the nearer you get to the finishing line. What this means in straight language is this: if you have an average talent you will have more difficulty getting by, but if you are a whizz kid you will have a clearer pathway ahead.

Consider for a moment the difficult situation, even plight, in which an average child finds him or herself. She loves the sound of music, the feel of the instrument, the idea of making music. She follows instructions (often over-reaching and poorly explained) and achieves reasonable, but not outstanding results.

The sceptical parent makes an obstacle course of learning music

Obstacle number one is already upon us, for some sceptical parents now openly tease the child on the screeching sound of the violin, or the slow progress on the guitar (or whatever instrument they have chosen). Soon they question the expense of paying for tuition since the results are not in accordance with their expectations.

Let us assume these same parents are encouraged by the teacher, and by the insistence of the child to continue the lessons. Now looms obstacle number two: the teacher himself, who can scarcely disguise his impatience with the slow progress. He may insist on a tedious set of exercises in the mistaken belief that the child will benefit and improve as a result.

And still the child persists, now approaching her teens. The parent has one more blow to deliver. "You should be spending more time on your homework and build up something which might be really useful". By "really useful" is meant "your future job".

The parent may draw aside the teacher confidentially and ask the question: "is she good enough to be a professional player?" Needless to say anything short of a ringing endorsement will fuel the belief that the offspring is wasting her time, regardless of the fact that the youngster has yet to consider a profession. Faced with this pressure many youngsters throw in the towel.

Some people think they are Mozart's dad

So far we have discussed the sceptical parent. Now consider the opposite effect: that of the doting parent. This type usually has no first hand knowledge of playing a musical instrument, and may even be living vicariously through the child. The slightest fluency and ability to play a simple tune is greeted with exaggerated praise. The child soon becomes aware how to best please the parents: by playing, either badly or well, it seems to make no difference. Disturbingly soon the parent begins to imagine a glittering future for his or her imagined little genius, and assuming the role of a Leopold Mozart, but with none of his expertise, begins to become more demanding: "why don't you learn more pieces? And how about that Vivaldi music so-and-so plays on the CD, why don't you learn it?" Our little one makes an appalling hash of it, and still the once-doting parent (now more manipulative) cannot see that he is making unreasonable demands, frustrating his offspring, and undermining her true potential.

Why should an average child endure all this? If a child at the age of seven shows an interest in science do parents immediately start considering her a future brilliant mathematician?

If a child loves drawing or fire-engines or running around the playground, is she considered a future Picasso, or fire-engine driver or an Olympic athlete?

Maybe in their dreams parents may wish so but they are unlikely to visit upon the child the sort of pressures I have described above.

Only the performing arts - music, acting and dancing - seem to bring out the extremes in parents' expectations. Most children are talented in an ordinary way in music just as they are in other subjects. Being partial to music myself I would say that the benefits to a child of playing music ordinarily are as great, and sometimes greater, than ordinary accomplishment in other subjects.

Once a child has enjoyed in a relaxed and joyful manner making music to the best of her ability she will never forget that experience and will quite likely return to, or wish to return to it in later life. But if the parent makes unrealistic demands of her, she will remember her experience of music making with hurt and sadness.

So grow up, parent person, let your child enjoy playing music to the best of her limited ability, and you over there, yes you, take off those rose-tinted spectacles and calm down. Remember this, music like all precious human achievement is worth doing for its own sake and for the pleasure of learning. The journey is as worthwhile as the destination, and quite often more so. Please don't confuse the two.

Where does all this leave the whizz kid? Onwards and upwards - but that's a story for another time.

Cadiz, Spain, 7 April 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1168 .
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