I’d like to tell you about Mr. Clark. I was in 9th grade sitting in history class probably drawing my teacher getting eaten by a T-rex and showing it to my neighbor when suddenly the final bell of the day rang. Like clockwork the entire class stood up and rushed out of the classroom as our teacher shouted “And don’t forget to read textbook page 156!!” in a decrescendo as we distanced ourselves further from the classroom into the hallway.
As I was making my way down the brick laden corridor I was stopped by a man in his early twenties who asked “Are you Harry Rios?”. I said “Yes”. He said “Hi, I’m Mr. Clark. I run the 9th grade Men’s Choir.” As I’m thinking ‘what kind of school runs just a 9th grade men’s choir? What happened to all the other grade--” my thoughts get cut off with “I heard you were in the middle school choir from some of your former classmates and that you were pretty good and I’m in need of some good singers for our choir”. I had defaulted to joining choir in middle school because P.E. was full and it was the only elective still open as a requirement. Comes to turn out I was good at it and actually enjoyed it but I grew up with some stigmas about being in choir like it was only for girls (which turned out to be stupid because it’s actually a great way to meet girls.) A lot of us transferred over to the same high school so the guys in the new choir must have told Mr. Clark who I was.
He asked me “How would you like to join us?” I said “Um I don’t know. I was sort of done with choir ya know? I didn’t think about coming back after middle school”. He said “Well let me tell you we’ve only got a few guys and could use some help. But most of the guys in there you already know from middle school and the kind of stuff we’re working on is pretty cool. You should at least give it some thought” I recognized right off the bat however that even though he’d already gone through great lengths to come meet me personally, I didn’t feel like he was being pushy. Despite this feeling I was still apprehensive and said “ok. I’ll think about it” as it was the easiest way to just finish the conversation. He said “Ok. Then I’ll see you here again tomorrow and if you want, we’ll go straight to the choir room after class and I’ll introduce you to everyone.” Then I thought to myself ‘Oh crap he’s serious!’ “Uh--ok!” I said agreeably.
The next day, with outstanding punctuality, Mr. Clark was standing right outside the door of my 6th period history class. As all the students rushed passed, I met him in the hallway. Smiling, he said “So, did you think about it?” I said “Yeah.” Even though honestly I forgot. But I thought to myself ‘What’ve you got to lose? Choir was fun last time. Plus, you were pretty good at it.’ I said “Let’s do it!” And the rest is history. Needless to say I was still in choir up to my Junior year in college while still majoring in piano performance at Stetson. It ended up being one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever experienced and had a tremendous influence in my path to becoming a professional in the field of music.
I wanted to tell you this story to give some context to the points I’m going to make. I excelled in music because I loved music. And one of the reasons I loved it is because it was fun for me and I was pretty good at it. A lot of the things others would struggle with came really easily to me and that part of it instilled in me that I could bring value to the music world. Some of you may feel the same but you never had a Mr. Clark come up to you and hand you the gateway drug into your passion on a silver platter. Or maybe you did but rejected it out of some stupid stigma you grew up believing. Or maybe the person is not you but your child who you see the potential in but you don’t want to push them for fear of losing their trust. Maybe you want them to have the discipline and the order that learning a musical instrument brings but at the same time you want them to have a childhood. Maybe you just want them to have an outlet to make friends. Hopefully you’ll take away from reading this that these things can be achieved by communication, observation and taking a laid back approach to getting your kids into music. Let’s dive right into how we can quash out fears of being “too pushy” on our kids so they can enjoy some of the social benefits of taking music lessons of any sort.
I want my child to be involved in music but I don't want to push them for fear of losing their trust
It is paramount that you be able to effectively communicate with your child about where their real desires lie so you don't lose their trust. I recently departed with a student who I’d been teaching for several years. We’ll call her Meghan. Meghan has great technique at the piano and initially got into it because she loved seeing her friends and neighbors play effortlessly. She also is an athlete who loves volleyball. As it turns out not only does Meghan love volleyball but she’s really good at it and excels greatly in it. Naturally I would gear our lessons to use terminology that she understood from practices like “follow through” and also explain how practice makes perfect by asking how long it would take her to perfect a “punt” of the ball. if a student has other interests i.e. dance, volleyball, surfing I make sure to talk about those things as often as possible by finding the similarities between those disciplines and music. It A) keeps them engaged to understand the concepts you’re trying to show them and B) You’re coming from a place of understanding them.
In the end however she made the decision with her parents that if she wasn’t going anywhere for the time being with piano and that volleyball was her passion and focus should be put on this. As a piano teacher I could look at this two ways. I could get butthurt because I’m losing a student or I could look at it from my student’s perspective and understand if I care at all for my students and respect them I would be happy for them. I happen to fall in the latter category. The fact that they have found something they love to do and are good at, at such an early stage in their life is a triumph. But the key to all of that was her parents coming to terms with and letting their child pursue their passion. With communication and observation they know that investing in what their child loves means investing in their child. And to push them elsewhere would risk losing their child’s trust.
Do I wish Meghan stays with piano? Of course I do but the only way she could ever do that is if she has the freedom to step away for a while. There are so many other things out there she can explore and music will always be waiting for her if she ever wants to come back. But the most important thing is that it would be her choice, not someone else's.
Talk to your child but also observe where they spend most of their time thriving. If it is in music then Invest and nourish in that part of their lives. If not, then Invest and nourish in that part of their lives. If they’re enjoying what they are doing they will be more open to others their age that they meet who are enjoying the same things.
I want to instill order and discipline in my child's life but I want them to still have a childhood.
Piano lessons can be a fun engaging way of establishing discipline and order. There are musical journals to help track progress, daily routines, with scales, ear training, technique and memorization that in order to master it takes hours upon hours of focused practice and repetition. If your child is currently in lessons, here are some things can be implemented TODAY in a fun and engaging way that will keep your child engaged. 1) Music Flash cards. You can get some online or cut up some paper and make some yourself. I’ve done both and this keeps the student in a mode where you can give them a pop quiz at random intervals and it’ll keep them on their toes to get the answers correct. 2) The 3 items game (Check out the 5 minute Piano Method for this). It’s where you place 3 small items on the piano while practicing. These could be regular household items like a pencil, stapler and a battery that you can place on the desk of your piano. When you run into a problem area in your practice the goal is to play it 3 times without error. If you play it correctly once, then you remove an item. If you play it correctly twice, then you remove another item but if you play it wrong the third time, you must place all items back on the piano. W 3) Musical hangman. Pretty self explanatory but in case you haven’t played it in a long time it’s basically hangman but use music words like “legato” or “crescendo”. this one can get a lot of mileage but don’t overdo it. Mix it up and use the other two ways in conjunction with this.
I want an outlet for my child to have friends
Some piano teachers often have studios of students where at least twice a year they have recitals. This is a great place for your child to meet others like themselves who are in the same artistic boat as them and potentially form lifelong friendships. This goes the same for guitar teachers, flute, drums or any other instrument you’re likely to get your child involved in mastering.
Have them join a school choir, local choir or if you go to a church fortunate enough to have one, a Children or Youth Choir. In high school I remember taking trips to Washington D.C., The Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and Walt Disney World Resort here in Orlando for choir programs. We’d often take buses and have to get to know one another really well in order to get along. Most of my social anxiety was eliminated because I was around people I knew and in a skillset I was comfortable and familiar with. My personality emerged in choir. Most of the parents who join the Children’s Choir at the church I Music Direct in join because they want their children to hang out with other kids in a healthy, positive environment all while learning how to sing. we play games like musical chairs, hot potato and do picnics with scavenger hunts. What parent wouldn’t love their kids to be a part of that?
With communication, observation and taking a laid-back approach to you can ascertain whether your child will be interested and thrive in music or really any other area of interest. If they currently have no interests, try enrolling them in something musical to see if they like it. Even if they don’t stay in it, you never know if they’ll eventually meet a “Mr. Clark” who will draw them back in. By the way, did you have a Mr. Clark that drew you back into music? If so, let me know how your experience was.
Harry L. Rios
Founder of HarryLRios.com
Harry L. Rios.com
Photos used under Creative Commons from Art&Music*Woo-Hoo, starmanseries, quinn.anya, woodleywonderworks, quinn.anya, devinStein