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 a musical journey that I have previously described then they would have all the independent musicianship skills, 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 iintelligent brains and the physical mechanics of their chosen instrument would just 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 confidence, 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. This is totally necessary for creating a self determining confident adult. As we know, 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 in some form or another on the guitar and then re- emerges as something of their own in their own improvisations and experimentations. Music can become a powerful tool for becoming as you grow into your adult self and the discipline and concentration required to learn a instrument well, creates transferable skills. It is also a great social thing and can become the cement that binds new friendships and 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 absolutely 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 also social and emotional plusses to. Teenagers who are absorbed in healthy “passions” tend not to be causing trouble and tend to have higher self esteem and confidence . It also provides a place of meeting between peoples and different cultures and can be a force for peace and positivity. Barenboem’s orchestra for Jewish and Palestinian young people, being a case in point.
I have found that my private teaching practice has catered regularly to children with additional needs. This is partly the sound, gradual, holistic and spiral nature that is the Kodaly methodology but it is also, I think, down to how I teach as an individual. I use my Montessori training and largely 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 . The Kodaly approach fits so well into this and can use all learning styles (physical, visual, kinaesthetic, auditory) so that I create lessons that are unique for that child’s individual needs. Sometimes I even use meditation within a session to help – I taught a girl with brain injuries and 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 words ( a lot of severely dyslexic children find mastering reading music a near impossibility). Now he does recorder duets from scores with me, song writes, follows complicated rounds and improvises. Music reading is still always somewhat of a challenge- but he achieves. He has learnt concentration and joy in learning through our time together. By having no judgement and praising and drawing out the smallest of achievements and personal qualities it is amazing to see how over time, what that individual can achieve. I suppose what I do for these children is music therapy without calling it that.
Many adults think they are not musical or that they can never sing . This is a complete load of self imposed rubbish as far as I am concerned. With the gradual and pentatonic approach to music learning- and learning through your 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 etc. Apparently there is a place in China where the dialect is so subtle that everyone in that region has perfect pitch. 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 education and because they are adults they like having the reason why they are 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 these last three series of blogs I have shown how music education empowers individuals, aids learning in other spheres and grows people. It hopefully shows how a sound 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 can be a modus operandi through which so much else can be savoured, learnt and experienced. I hope one day this 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 ( sing ing and speaking!) to further this.
Next time I go back to my own songwriting journey and look at what has been happening lately.