My son loves music. Not just loves…adores, worships, breathes music. He goes to sleep with music playing. For a long time, the one thing that soothed him best was my playlist of (usually loud and fast) songs that I love enough to buy on iTunes. Currently, it is the four Truck Tunes albums that claim his loyalty, but it still counts as music (more or less) , and is still pretty fast and loud. As an infant, rock music is what calmed him down. From the time he was two weeks old, his favorite thing to play with was his activity mat- not because he loved to bat at the dangling things like some sort of immobilized kitten, but because he loved the tinny classical music that it played. We would just push the button on that blinky light box on the side of the mat, over and over, and he would wiggle-dance his little body all over the place. He might not have had control over his arms and legs, but, boy, could he shimmy! Heck, even in the womb, he loved music. If I was around live music, or a good, loud song with a fast drumbeat, he was jumping and jiving all over the place. So, he really loves music. It is wired in. He will sing and he will dance and he will hum songs he is making up and he will tell anyone who asks (or anyone who doesn’t) that he has “sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet dance moves.” (Tragically, he actually dances like a rhythm-free boy who is having an encounter with a pretty feisty electric eel, but ssh, don’t tell him that!)
Neither the love of music or the pathetic dancing is a big surprise. My husband plays the flute and the piano, and thought about becoming a professional musician. My contribution to the musical gene pool was the rhythm deficiency and really bad dancing. So, naturally, we decided that music lessons were important. (This was my husband’s only child-rearing decree, pre-birth: “I don’t care if we don’t eat, we WILL be paying for music lessons.”) Our son was blessed with a preschool where the teachers played the guitar and sang every day, and he decided the guitar was what he wanted to play. So for his fifth birthday, we spent an extravagant amount of money on an extremely nice half-size Taylor guitar (because after birth and the toddler years of plastic drums and tinny xylophones, my husband expanded his musical decree to include “children should only play real instruments”) and we set out to find a guitar teacher.
We found a young musician who had started a rock guitar school, using the belt method from martial arts as an incentive and a way to track progress. Perfect! Our son also thinks he is a ninja, so he liked the belt idea. Brian and his wife, Sophie, have been brilliant with our son, who, at just a hair past five years old, started as their very youngest (and perhaps most flibbertigibbety) student. And although they do not appear to have suffered dramatically from this ongoing experience, I am sure that I, at least, have been traumatized for life by…practice time.
We all know the pedagogy- music is good for the brain, it builds neural connections, helps with mathematics and motor skills, engages kids in learning, connects them to school, and, as a teenager, a guitar is a great aid in picking up chicks. (Wait, maybe they did not talk about that last one in my education program.)
The reality is a bit different. “Let’s practice now!” said no child, ever. Not even, “Well, okay, I will calmly practice if that’s what time it is.” Probably even Mozart as a child refused to practice. (Didn’t I see that in Amadeus?) The whole concept of practice is met with tears, screaming (“But I am not done with my Legooooooooooos!”), sniveling excuses (“I cannot play until I have a drink of water, another graham cracker, a kleenex to blow my nose…”), and so on and so forth, until, eventually, some sort of instrument torture that does not sound at all like the lesson happens.
Let me transport you to the scene, through the magic of audio transcription:
“Sit up straight. No, straighter. No, you cannot play properly when you are oozing off the chair and sliding under the coffee table.”
“You dropped your pick inside the guitar? No, we’ll get it out later. Here’s another one. What do you mean, you dropped that one inside the guitar too?”
“CCRRRRAAAAWWWGGGGKKKKKKKKKKspranggggggggg!” “Dear God, what are you doing to that instrument? No, that is not a good note.”
“Your fingers are not going to fall off if you do the fingering exercises and play the chords fifteen times. No, they are not going to bleed either.”
“Here’s the rhythm: da…da…da…da…! Listen to the metronome. No, the metronome is not a distraction. Da…da…da…da…! LISTEN! Does DaaaaadidididiDeeeeDeeeeeDADADADADAdipdipdipdidididaaadaaaaaaa sound like the same rhythm to you?”
Eventually, some actual notes happen, usually five seconds before the timer for the end of practice time goes off. Sometimes, he sounds pretty decent. He has written a couple of deeply random songs, all of which are accompanied by some extremely fancy rock and roll, guitar god kind of moves that he seems to have picked up from the ether. Maybe someday, he will even sound good, or good enough to impress those future teenage girls (of whom I plan to disapprove heartily).
In the meantime, he has decreed that he is forming a band. He was slowed down slightly by the fact that he only has one friend who takes music lessons, and he is learning to play the piano. But, he regrouped, and, via some Mom mediated and laborious letter writing, contacted his friend to organize a band and vote on potential band names, and so Electric Squirrels was born. Or maybe Mustang. They are still hammering out the details. In the meantime, I’m investing in some earplugs.