Teenagers who are absorbed in healthy “passions” tend not to be causing trouble.
If the early years and primary school years are the roots and trunk of musical learning then the teenage years are – or could be – when the musical learning becomes the branch that bears fruit.
If a child has engaged on the musical journey that I have previously described then they would have all the independent musicianship, creativity and musicality to express their skills in any number of ways, in any chosen musical genre. All that they have learnt would be held in their musically intelligent brains – only the physical mechanics of their chosen instrument would have to be mastered.
They could soar, express, master any number of musical idioms because their brains would “think” music. This is the point where they can make music their own and be creative with it.
I am not trained to deliver music in teenage years – those pupils who stay with me tend to stay for other reasons. But I deliver children to this point of confident stable musicianship so that they can make music their own onward going journey. I also know from having two older teenage sons that these years are a time of differentiation, of working out what you think for yourself, ignoring what your parents have told you (!!!), and trying on different metaphorical hats. All of it necessary for creating a self-supporting confident adult.
Self-discovery through music
Music is an important part of that teenage journey of self-discovery. In our house I have listened to my boys go through liking heavy metal, jazz, alternative folk, flamenco music, pop – and some classical pieces too. This has all been externalised, first, in some form or another on the guitar, and then re-emerges as something of their own in improvisations and experimentations.
Music can be a powerful tool for becoming. The discipline and concentration required to learn an instrument well creates transferable skills as you grow into your adult self. It is also a great social thing, binding new friendships and opening adventures into places beyond the home.
I do believe that if all children had access to a sound, holistic, musically intelligent curriculum and development programme (such as the Kodaly methodology that I have previously discussed) then music would blossom across the world. Teenagers and young adults would have skills that allowed for dynamic creativity and exploration. Creativity combined with ability would create new fusions and explorations.
There are social and emotional plusses too.
A force for peace
Teenagers who are absorbed in healthy “passions” tend not to be causing trouble. They are more likely to have higher self-esteem and confidence. Making music provides a place of meeting between peoples and different cultures. It can be a force for peace and positivity. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said orchestra for young Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians, is a powerful case in point.
Within the workshop, individuals who had only interacted with each other through the prism of war found themselves living and working together as equalsWest -Eastern Divan Orchestra
I have found that my private teaching practice has catered regularly to children with additional needs. This is partly the ethos of the Kodaly methodology but it is also, I think, down to how I teach as an individual. I use my Montessori training along with my Buddhist and mindfulness training to create something that is unique. I offer these children not only the joy of music, expression and gentle development but also a place of non judgement, unconditional positive regard, deep listening and absolute patience. Sometimes meditation can be included – I taught a girl with brain injuries and found that meditation helped her to concentrate, feel calm and be positive.
I have seen amazing results from children with differing needs. One child who is severely dyslexic learnt to read music before he could read words. (A lot of severely dyslexic children find reading music a near impossibility.) Now he plays recorder duets from scores with me, writes songs, follows complicated rounds and improvises. Music reading is still somewhat of a challenge – but he achieves. He has learnt concentration and joy in learning through our time together. Children gain immensely when they are taught without judgement, and with time to praise and draw out the smallest of achievements and personal qualities. It is music therapy without calling it that.
Anyone can sing
Many adults think they are not musical or that they can never sing . As far as I’m concerned this is a complete load of self-imposed rubbish. With the gradual and pentatonic approach to music learning – and learning through the body (with hand signs), I have taught a number of people who were tone deaf to sing in tune. They may never fill the Albert Hall with virtuosic solos but they can learn to sing to the point where they can join everyone in unison and rounds
Apparently there is a place in China where the dialect is so subtle that everyone in that region has perfect pitch. But pitch can be learnt and acquired – it is not something that you either have or don’t. I have a number of adult pupils for voice and recorder /flute and they thoroughly enjoy learning the skills they were never given in school. Because they are adults they like having the reason for doing something explained to them. They enjoy the theory of the Kodaly approach based on sound musical principles and the way we learn and process.
I hope in this series I have shown how music education empowers individuals and aids learning in other spheres by helping people to grow. I believe that a good music education is not just a right for everyone but something that enriches us far beyond the academic box-ticking of learning that education has become today. Music is the medium through which so much else can be savoured, learnt and experienced. I hope one day this understanding can be embraced and a liberal, creative, holistic, progressive approach to music education can be put into place.
If I grow as a singer song writer then I will use my voice to further this – singing and speaking!
Featured image shows City of Edinburgh Music School String Ensemble plus vocalist performing at the Education Scotland ‘Scottish Learning Festival’ 2016. Photo by Alison Coombes
This is the concluding part of the series which began with a manifesto for radically rethinking music education for the 21st Century