Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Twenty-five years into this project and I've just had the strangest revelation

This morning I was listening to my fifteen year old daughter, the violinist who is teaching herself to play the piano, while she was amusing herself at the piano.  She was playing Clementi's Sonatina in C Major.  If you've ever been a piano student you'll be familiar with this staple, but if you've forgotten, or have never taken piano, it's this one:

The interesting thing was that she was transposing it on the fly into a minor key, "Because," as she said later, "minor keys are more interesting than major keys."

This child started studying violin when she was seven years old, AND she's my only child who really gets math.  She also draws, tells stories, writes poetry, daydreams . . . so she's not really the kind of person we tend to think of as a "math person."  It's something she works on, not something that comes naturally to her.

But that's the point -- a bit of work and she gets it.

I wonder how much connection there is to her learning to play a musical instrument -- specifically the violin -- and her ability to get math with a bit of study, instead of struggling and struggling to understand it with indifferent results.

Also in the back of my mind is what I've been reading and hearing from several sources the last couple of years about music and gymnastic being the foundation of an education, and I'm guessing she's benefited in more than just this way by early musical training.

So here's the revelation that's so strange to me, the bibliophile:

If I had it to do over again, I'd invest my money in music lessons for the children before investing in books.

I'd use the public library more and start building our home library when our income made that possible, instead of the other way around -- building our home library when the budget was super tight, and not providing music lessons until is was too late to benefit the older kids.


  1. I started the video and both boys came running. Now SHD is dancing. LOL

    At what age would you have started music lessons? Do you have a specific instrument in mind? Neither of my boys is reading yet. We can't fit formal lessons into the budget, but we are rather a singing family and we also have musical relatives that might be willing to do a little something from time to time.

    Really, I think I ought to be working on building habits of listening to good music and reading poetry aloud before I try anything else. So, I guess my questions are just for future reference...? :)

    1. Yes, I think you're on the right track with the singing and the poetry. Also I know y'all learn solfeg (? -- I don't know how to spell that), and I assume you'll be teaching the boys to read music. I know you know that the voice is an instrument, so even if you're never able to afford formal lessons on piano or whatever, what you're already doing is really good.

      For listening, have you checked out Ambleside's composer studies yet? There are lots of links to free streaming or downloadable stuff, so there's plenty of good music y'all can be listening to. http://www.amblesideonline.org/ComposerSch.shtml

      Also, encourage the dancing. If you know any folk dances that y'all can do together, teach them -- that's both music and gymnastic. This is one area where I've done next to nothing, except that we all know the Virginia Reel and we occasionally (like MAYBE once a year) do some square dancing. This is a whole lot harder if you're not part of a dancing community, and we aren't. But just yesterday I remembered learning the Cotton-Eyed Joe in PE class -- it's a kind of line dance, so you can do it with any number of people (including no one but yourself). Turns out it's an old, old Southern thing -- goes back to at least the early 1800s and probably long before that. The Virginia Reel is based on Roger de Coverly which goes back to at least the 1600s in England and Scotland. Any way, Cotton-Eyed Joe is so easy that little ones can learn it.

      Do either of you play an instrument? If so, that would be the best place to start -- sharing your love with them. It's relatively easy to find a free piano, but keeping it in tune is harder. On the other hand, a beginner's tool kit and some lessons are fairly inexpensive and if you get reasonably good at it, as a bonus it can be another source of income.

      You can get a decent guitar for not too much money, but I would never buy a cheap violin for a kid to learn on. A cheap one is hard to play and even if you do it really well, it never sounds beautiful, and that would be awfully discouraging, not to mention bad for their taste.

      My mom suggests not starting formal lessons on piano before age 8 or 9 unless the child is passionate about it. Before that, just playing the instrument together, letting them learn how to make music even before they can read it is really important. The Suzuki method works like that -- the parent models playing the instrument and teaches the child to play tunes he already knows by showing him where to put his fingers.

      Recently Andrew Kern said (I think it was in that video series on teaching from a place of rest) that anything you want your kids to be doing as adults you need to expose them to and give them plenty of experience in before age 10 or 12. If you wait till after that age, they're liable to feel too self-conscious and awkward to be able to throw themselves joyfully into unfamiliar territory so they can learn well. I think that's true in general, so it's a good thing to keep in mind.

    2. Very interesting! And helpful for getting the wheels going in my head. :) Neither of us plays, though we do have a mandolin that A was going to teach himself. Then we got married and had kids and it's just sitting in its case!

      We do sing a lot, with lyrics and with shapes (solfege- it's French so it needs the 'e' on the end!). It's looking like they'll be learning the shape-notes right along with letters & numbers!

      Dancing is a great idea. I remember learning square dancing in school... I don't think I can actually remember any steps! But our church has dances a few times a year. And I do know the Cotton-Eyed Joe.

      We'll start with that, and with listening. They've already heard some of the more popular composers- Handel (Messiah, of course), Listz, Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart... I'd like to do more. I'll check out AO.

      Thank you!

  2. Thanks for this. We are investing in music lessons, and I always thought the books had as much importance, but I totally see your point. I also see how much piano lessons are benefiting them, and this year I will try to buy music, not only books.


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