Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Big Payoff To Stinking At Music

I've been sitting on an article called 'Grit 3 - Total Awesomeness' describing how I've been applying Grit Theory to academic skills and cognitive skills.   My thesis is that I know how to teach grit in this space, and the method is exactly the same method I have been using all along even before I heard about the work of Angela Duckworth.

I'm not going to hit the publish button until I can prove to myself that this article is credible.   It seems logical and credible enough to me, and it works, and it makes sense, but I'm really uncomfortable with the proposition that I was a totally awesome genius who stumbled across the elixir of awesomeness.  I think I could follow the trail left by researchers who guided my research, but it would take too long.

In the meantime, it is well know that one of the great facilitators of academic success is music.  When I read Tiger Mom, I thought two things.  First, we need music in this house.   Second, there's no way we're going to do lessons and 3 hours of practicing a day.  We're simply too American, and my two BOYS won't tolerate that [stuff] from me.

Here is my approach incorporating the ground rules:
  1. We start piano as early as possible with Piano Adventures and youtube as the teacher.
  2. I'll wiki and practice a little and figure out how it works until my child surpasses me by about age 6 because I stink.
  3. At least 15 minutes of practice a day, and if we miss practice and have a hard time making it up on the weekends, then I start eliminating privileges of all kinds.  I've let my kids know that anything they possibly want qualifies as a privilege where music is concerned.
  4. At about age 10, the child can pick another instrument if they want to.  In our case, this is band.
  5. Quitting is not an option ever.
Daily practice bring the usually challenges.  My little genius has announced in the past that he will sit in his bedroom in the dark all day and forgo computers, eating, friends, and become a vampire.  I counter with my own practicing while I shout out all of the fun things I'm going to do when I finish.

I've found that 15 minutes a day produces enough adequacy (not excellence) to make practice more fun.   I've also been amazed at how we routinely go from total incompetence with each piece to memorization in about 2 weeks.   The 15 minutes becomes 20 or 30 at times on its own.

The stakes get much higher in 4th grade when we switch to band.  Band is our particular preference, as is wind instruments.  Your choice may vary.

If music is so darn important for your child, why the heck aren't you playing an instrument?  I find the response 'I did play for 10 years' to be inadequate.  So I found used instruments online and bought a really beaten up trombone that we played until it fell apart.   I switched to an old clarinet that I got refurbished and played along for a few years with my trumpet player until he banned me from practice because I'm annoyingly excited about practice and always want to do extra scales and such.

The younger one switched to the clarinet, so I switched to a saxophone.  He's trying to play the notes without squeaking and I'm stopping every third note to consult a fingering chart.   When I played the clarinet, I was pretty good, but in order to teach it, I turn to the internet.  As of right now, the best teaching for an instrument is now on youtube with a bit of searching.  The revolution in education already occurred here.

Since he's got another 6 months before he can join the band, and we've got time, I let him play around with the saxophone.  He said, "It's bigger than I am and crushing me!" so we are now trying the flute. He has yet to play the G on the flute but anytime he wants to put down the clarinet and try the flute, I let him.

This whole experience consists of the same thing we find in math, technical reading or reading comprehension, and science.  Here it is:

We're totally baffled, confused, unprepared.  Have to take breaks to look things up.   We try over and over and over again, piling up mistakes in our stinktitude.  It seems like lots of trying and no success for long periods of time, and then just as we get something, the next song comes along and we're back to total incompetence.

Over time, I can see a new note here, a proper measure or phrase there, or some other improvement. My kids think they stink because they currently do, on this song, which we're working on today, by I see they can zip through the song from last month by memory.  

The older one will one day become the oldest member of the band because he won the war of attrition.  #4 above was the starting point, but our basic approach facilitates continuing in anything. He's not happy because his friends have been quitting every year.  I've explained to him that his role has changed.  It's called being a leader.  You think CEO's get to hang out with their peers all day?  No, the CEO's peers are CEO's of their own companies.  They only meet at Ted talks these days.

The one big difference between academic work and music is that in academic work we spend a lot of time looking at problems, backtracking and filling in gaps, and wondering what is going on in the problem at hand beyond just solving it.   In music, we just play through our lack of knowledge and make a note to figure out what that strange mark means before we leave the piece.  In other words, we use 3 of the core skills in music but all 4 in academics.  I suppose if music were elevated to the status of academic subjects I would use all 4 skills and we would investigate how John Williams designs a phrase.   

Is it possible to teach grit by beating your child into submission, mastering each concept through hours of drudgery?  Maybe in music, with the right kid, but not with my kids, and certainly not in math.  They need lots of room for creativity and interest and imagination, and drudgery is not going to get them there.   In math, we've stunk our way into algebra, at age 8, not to mention quite a bit of other material on the way.

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