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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Creative guitar-playing starts at six years old

Too many rules can put us off, just like it did brilliant young Jack

In 2012 a young man fully 15 years old invented a fast and inexpensive test for pancreatic cancer which could save thousands of lives. He is the recipient of the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award, the grand prize of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. His name is Jack Thomas Andraka, and he was born in Maryland, USA in 1997. He played the piano as a child and “like everybody gave up.” He also says that he disagrees “with our bulimic education system learning by rota and then puking up all the facts in an exam.”

After being disruptive and a rebel to the age of 11, young Jack began to behave at school and get high marks. He is still at school of course. He says that he goes to a “really bad school”, not a fancy school at all, with a 50% drop-out rate. None of this appears to have put him off for in addition to his grand prize he won an additional $100,000 in smaller individual categories of scientific invention, and so, amazingly, did his brother, who has clocked up $96,000. Which brings us to his parents and upbringing:

“I am a creative thinker. My parents never told me answers. They told me how to think, not what to think.”

In just a few words, young Jack has given me a lead as to how we could proceed to teach the guitar and other musical instruments to bright young children, the types who are restless, creative and not too keen on receiving precise instructions. Not all children are like this, some really welcome clear direction as to how to do things and feel a bit at sea without it, but there are many others like Jack. After all, here we have a brilliantly creative teenager who gave up the piano, much to his loss and the piano’s.

In his book Compulsory Miseducation Paul Goodman describes in expert detail where much education goes wrong. The book made a big impression upon me. At the time I read it I decided to put some of its conclusions into practise. I encouraged personal creativity in an adult class of beginners I was teaching. This included improvisation and never telling them how to do things unless they asked, which of course they did, but not as often as you might imagine. Why? Because they were all going crazy observing what and how I did everything. By the end of the first year their technical development was on an equal footing with more conventional teaching, but importantly, their creative sense was way ahead. They whizzed around the instrument with confidence and some had developed into budding guitarist-composers and guitarist-singers. My conclusion was that each student felt he or she had developed in a very personal way, without the weight of “doing things properly” hanging over them, but rather the greater confidence which comes from “doing it my way”.

….Which brings me back to Jack and the young Jacks of the musical world. We can ill afford to stifle creative talent in young children by loading them with endless lists of how to and how not to do things. I ask myself now: what does a young child really need to know to play with confidence and accuracy? This is the same question posed by Venezuela’s pioneering learning method El Sistema which in effect turned learning on its head by encouraging young children barely able to play to sit alongside accomplished teenagers in a symphony orchestra. Many of the players of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela who caused such a sensation at the BBC Proms were brought up like this in an all-embracing culture of learning. I know this from first hand experience since I played with various of the Venezuelan youth orchestras myself.

My experiences with the Venezuelan Youth Orchestras were wonderful – a whole story of their own for another time.
16th June, 2013, London

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2510 .
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