Little Boxes

Q: Why aren’t kids taught how to make their own music?

A: Because adults don’t know how to teach them. Most adults don’t make their own music, and they don’t think making your own music is important. Of the few who do think it’s important (or fun), most are sure it’s much too complicated a skill for kids.

I’m a great fan of music software. You don’t need an orchestra to produce magnificent sonorities, dazzling melodies, sophisticated harmonies, and propulsive rhythms. But you have to learn to use software, and that can be quite a challenge in itself. You also have to learn a certain amount of music theory before what the software is doing will make a lick of sense.

Kids can make their own music perfectly well with song flutes and xylophones. No training is required. Oh, and they can sing!

I’m sure rhythm sticks are still used in a few kindergarten classes. I’m sure kindergarten teachers are still teaching kids songs by singing a line and then having the kids sing it back to them. That’s how music-making began, and it’s how our ancestors did it for untold thousands of years.

Once you graduate from kindergarten, though, music becomes a singularly joyless, highly regimented enterprise. To start with, you’re expected to learn to read and understand pages full of dots and squiggles. That’s a useful skill. You really do need to know about the dots and squiggles, in the same way that an aspiring storyteller needs to learn to read, so she can read stories told by others. But once you start learning the dots and squiggles, it is expected — nay, demanded — of you that you ONLY play the dots and squiggles.

At this point, you’re being trained to be not a musician but a corporate zombie.

I think I want to do something about this. Not sure what yet.

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3 Responses to Little Boxes

  1. Tom Bitondo says:

    Jim, I think you’re on to something very important.

    With the proliferation of all of these tablets and smart phones has come a pile of useless, mindless games for children (and adults). What the world needs is a series of musical education and compositional software disguised as a game…. with different goals which would not emphasize notational skills (and limits!) but rather focus on sheer musicality and fun.

    If anyone can do this, you can!


  2. Ron Greenman says:

    Maybe your best piece to date. Kids are by nature able to handle abstraction much better than adults. They haven’t been fully corrupted by the societal needs for the masses to toe the line, think along linear lines towards goals and all the rat. Music strikes me as a non-musician as a completely organic art form, free from any non-natural classification other than that imposed by people that must classify everything. I could go on but music is just itself. Give the kids some simple tools and they’ll do old stuff hidden among the cacophony.

  3. Bob Foose says:

    What to to do? Rock ‘n’ Roll…kids have already figured out what to do! The classic example is Lennon and McCartney, especially in the first two or three years of the Beatles. They’d learned a few chords, made up some words, put together a band, and made music. I know it’s not quite that simple a story, but that’s essentially what r’n’b, rock’n’roll, bluegrass, c&w…the list goes on, has been and continues to be. But you’re right in a sense. There are always pressures to discourage the full fledged wild creation of your own music. Not the least of which is finding someone willing to listen to it. Having helped a number of fledgling ‘pickers’ over the years, one thing I always told them about what they learned was to ‘mess’ with it…to play like you don’t give a shit if it’s good or not, as long as you enjoy what you’re doing. Not everyone will get rich making hits, but everyone can (and should) be encouraged to try. I feel the same way about cooking, auto mechanics, and wood working, among other things. Oh, and thanks for you articles, books, and blog posts. I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve read.

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