Getting out of music lesson lethargy and going beyond the lesson.
Often a parent will ask about what can be done when a student becomes lethargic about their instrument, taking music lessons, or practicing. It’s a good question and not an easy one to answer.
What I notice; Students who have the most success, and continue to exhibit enthusiasm for music studies, are those who use the skills they develop in class to become involved in music activities outside of the music lessons. Period. Hands down the quickest developing students are those who go beyond the music lessons for a music learning experience.
I always have a handful of students who use YouTube to develop new skills and learn songs, lead solos and techniques. Some get involved with school or church music programs in addition to their music lessons, They go beyond the weekly music lesson. They take the skills I’ve shown them in class and they put the skills to use in playing music with others in a consistent way. Playing live with others helps them to learn from making mistakes and correcting the mistakes.
Outside music activities keeps them motivated to learn more. It’s also more fun when playing with your peer group.
But, where does this happen?
That’s the tricky part, and the most challenging aspect to this dilemma. Sometimes it’s just organic. Young people form garage bands, or they go to public or private schools that still invest in music & arts programming, so there is daily exposure to playing music with classmates in jazz band, or group ukuleles classes, etc.
Examples: Currently I have one student who uses YouTube for extra lessons in songs he’s interested in. He plays music with his older brother and pursues music at school. I can’t keep the kid still in class because his mind races with music all the time, and he always wants to show me new things he’s learned – on his own. That’s a dream guitar student.
Another student, who has developed very quickly, sought out and found a music store that offers free community jam band experiences on the weekends. He’s getting weekly experience in working with a drum beat, bass players and the interaction that’s needed to perform a piece of music. This student is always motivated to learn more. No signs of lethargy with him. I wish I had more students like him. He went beyond the music lesson.
But those examples are few and far between. Performance preparation can be a real motivator, but many students are part of growing home school communities that don’t offer performance opportunities like talent shows or organized music activities. While churches often have church bands, they seldom invite young people to participate. I’ve been booted out of four churches in the past 25 years where I taught music to young people – and none had the slightest interest in any of the young people I worked with for their musical abilities. Not even a bit curious about their talents. And many schools also neglect and underfund music education as frivolous when compared to more “serious” studies like math, science and robotics.
If community leaders in schools, churches, politics and home styles send out these messages to kids, why would they be motivated to continue to pursue their instruments with any enthusiasm?
If I accomplished anything with Strings Attached project, I hope I demonstrated that lesson lethargy can be helped by putting together music recordings with students, group ensembles, or recitals & community performances at a library, ice cream parlor, a nature education center, or a park. Simple community performance gatherings help keep some young people a little more engaged in learning and motivated. I’ve retired from that involvement, but look through the decade of Strings Attached pages here on this website and please feel free to borrow the ideas to do it yourself!
Parents would also be surprised to know how many students report they don’t hear any music around the house. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of music appreciation within many home environments. That also sends a message to young people and creates a lack of familiarity with music genres and classic songs.
What you can do! Encourage and support a garage band. When I was young, my parents and neighboring parents sacrificed their peace and quiet and allowed the kids to make all kinds of musical noise in the basements. We must have driven them crazy, but without that support, none of us would have cared half as much about learning our instruments.
Create a music talent show at the local coffee shop, ice cream parlor or at a community event. Don’t wait for someone else to do it, because they probably won’t.
Let your school, home school group or church pastor/priest know that you think music education is important and they could help that education process by being more supportive with space or involvement.
Lastly, let music be heard in your home. Get out some of grandma and grandpa’s hippy vinyl from the 70’s and let the kids hear Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Chicago and Janis Joplin. And/or jazz, country/western, or folk. You never know, they might really like the stuff and want to learn how to play the songs!
While sports activities are great for kids, they do come with some injury hazards. I’ve received sudden emails from parents over the years that a student would need to take a month (or more) away from lessons because of hand, wrist or arm injuries suffered while playing with after-school sports teams.
In the past few months this has happened a couple of times – but now I have a new proposal to respond with: “Use the time to let the student experiment with creating music on Soundtrap for Education.” Soundtrap allows a student to experiment with creating their own music using live, loop or midi clips of music that can be patchwork-assembled into an original music composition. I recently became certified as an instructor on Soundtrap through Hal Leonard Publishing, and now use the training to introduce students to Soundtrap, especially if they’re unable to play instruments because of arm or wrist casts from broken bones or bad sprains.
Using the Soundtrap technology allows students to experiment with timbre, tempos, keys, dynamics, music editing, creating moods with music, and instrument use in ensemble composition. They also become introduced to ideas about scoring that are used in film, commercials and the background tracks of our daily lives where music is heard, but often not focused on.
Unfortunately, student Enosh experienced an injury recently and his parents emailed me that he would be away from lessons for a month while he healed. Enosh and I used the time instead on Soundtrap and within a few lessons, Enosh was using his creativity to come up with music themes. Together, we expanded the themes into A, B and C sections, interludes and tried out the sound of various instruments, being aware of the emotional differences that instruments & music makes to the listener.
Here are a couple of Enosh music pieces created on Soundtrap:
After the injury healed, and Enosh got back to his regular guitar lessons, he continues to update and edit his pieces. He seems to continue to enjoy creating new pieces and experimenting with sounds.
But don’t wait for an injury! (Let’s try to avoid that.) Please feel free to contact me to discuss some lessons for a month on Soundtrap to see what your young person creates!