Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Freedom in learning--even in piano

I have never insisted upon music practice, lessons, etc. for my kids. I've shown them things here and there, provided them with instruments and helpful books and that's it. I know some Montessori elementary schools have a set music time each week (I don't know if the children have the option of going or not) and have structured lessons. I have no clue what sort of expectations there are in terms of what the children do between lessons.

Let me say, though, that the Montessori approach works well even for music learning and a separate set-aside time is not necessary.

My daughter is nearly 13. Years ago, she was working through various kids' piano books, but let it go and as time went on, kind of felt like, "I've forgotten everything," and "I'm never going to be any good at it." She, for some reason, got hit by the piano bug again this past summer and started playing things at our old electronic keyboard (I've had it since I was 10 or 11!) I purchased a few new books and she made her way rapidly through the book for older beginners, feeling great as she went along. Every now and then, I did present little lessons that I hoped wouldn't come across as absolute corrections, even though they kind of were--like holding her hands and fingers properly. I didn't make a huge deal, just answered her questions as to why and took off the pressure by saying, "Don't really focus on it while you're trying to learn a song. If you try to do some little practice things with your hands curved, it'll go better." Taking the pressure off is always so important! Especially with this child! :)

In any case, her hand curvature is better and better and she is playing daily. Not because she has to, but because she wants to. Her progress since we purchased a new keyboard last month--which meant actually playing again because she had grown frustrated in August with the old crackly, inconsistent sound of the old keyboard--has been phenomenal. I offered to find piano lessons for her, but she replied with: "I don't want to have to practise and work on things that I don't really want to do. I just want to play and have fun with it." Piano lessons from outside source = pressure. She doesn't want the pressure. She places enough pressure on herself!

Will she ever be some virtuoso? I have no clue. Maybe one day she'll hit a point where she would like to improve beyond what she's been able to do on her own and then seek out someone to guide her further. But until then, the freedom to progress at her pace with the pieces she wants to learn... Well, I can't think of anything more Montessori than that, can you? :)


  1. I would be interested in your thoughts on sports. Would you coach a baseball team and not "pressure them" on how to hold the bat?

    I can see two different Montessorians feeling opposite ways on this. For example, the ideas that you articulated on one side. Perhaps on the other side, Maria Montessori emphasized children only being given tools they can be taught to use correctly. She did not want children using pencils if thew were not holding them correctly.

    Maybe the difference is in what the child's goals are. Maybe there is a baseball team out there where no one wants to make the child feel "pressured" to hold the bat correctly, but I wonder how many hard-core baseball players they turn out? How many concert pianist had no formal training and were never "pressured" to curve their fingers?

    In realty, very few people are ever concert pianists or baseball stars and what is important is that they enjoy playing the piano...and baseball.

    I can tell you that I have learned more "Montessori ways" to get children to curve their fingers or hold their instrument correctly in music lessons. The fastest solution is to present a situation in which doing it the wrong way is a "problem." For example, if your thumb is in the wrong place when you hold the flute it doesn't balance when you play C#. If you don't curve your fingers, the notes you play with some fingers are louder than others and your thumbs don't reach. In baseball you might show what happens when you hit the ball holding the bat different ways, or standing different ways.

    Like holding the pencil though, I think it is important that you find a way for the child to start doing these things correctly as soon as possible.

  2. Just let her do what she wants to do. Maybe someday she will think that she needs someone who will teach her more.

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