music learning

About four years ago when he was 6 or 7, Jake asked me to show him how to read music. He'd already been making music of his own for some time, but he'd seen me playing songs other people had written and thought he might like to learn how to do that. I sat down with him to explain how it works, but we both very quickly became frustrated because he was having trouble making sense of the terms and concepts. So we dropped it, and he continued to occasionally make up his own music. I was actually a little relieved, because I figured the longer before he brings his left brain into it, the more he'll be able to expand on his intuitive abilities.

Yesterday morning I was sitting outside on the porch when he yelled at me from inside with a tone of urgency in his voice, "Mama, come here, I need you!" I yelled back, "What do you need?" He yelled back, "I need you to come here to the piano!" The thought flashed through my mind that maybe something had been spilled on it, or who knows what. I yelled, "Is it important? I'm right in the middle of something." He yelled back, "I want you to show me how to read music!" Well, I thought, I guess that's pretty important, so I went inside and sat down with him and explained to him how the keys correspond to the lines and spaces, what the base and treble clefs are, what the time signature means, what a measure is and how it can be divided up, etc. He understood immediately and was playing the song in the video above in about ten minutes.

I left him to work out the next several songs on his own, popping back in occasionally when he had a question. He repeated the same phrases over and over until he could play them to his satisfaction, and I remarked that the repetition was creating muscle memory, so that eventually his brain would be able to almost instantaneously tell his hands what to do when his eyes saw those notes, without him thinking about it or even really trying. I think that's a nicer way of saying "practice makes perfect," which to me is a phrase that evokes a feeling of having expectations put on you, probably based in my own music learning experience in which practicing was practically a moral mandate, and that being perfect was the important thing, rather than just enjoying playing.

He played throughout the day, off and on, every so often taking a break to rest his arms and mind. He said that one of the things he likes about learning this way as opposed to going to a class is that he can better accommodate his own needs when he's not tied into someone else's schedule.

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