Music, Lessons in Life and Gifted Education
Genuinely excellent education is not restricted to bringing individuals up to a preconceived standard of performance, to “norms”; rather it seeks to encourage each individual to develop standards for himself, to give him a clear perception of all that he might become as well as the opportunity to realize his personal vision. – Talent Development: An Investment in the Nation’s Future
The habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference. – Aristotle
One of the most valuable things my daughters do is take piano lessons. Oh, I don’t really care if they can play an instrument, although I do think that it would be cool if they could also learn drums and upright bass and form a jazz trio. Nope, it is the non-musical lessons that they are learning that are the real value.
1) They learn to work at their own pace. In music lessons, students move on when they have mastered the previous lesson. The students don’t move up based on age or grade level. They can move fast or slow. It all depends on each student’s ability and dedication. This is an important lesson in self determination and self-directed learning.
2) They learn to work hard. Piano does come somewhat easily to them, but being at their own level and pace requires them to practice. Many gifted children do not study for tests and only do mandatory homework. They may quickly write an essay, never edit it, and still get an A. The work is too easy for them. Mastering a piano piece requires practice. This is one of the only times they have to work hard to succeed, but this is a vital skill for life.
3) They learn to overcome obstacles. Learning to play an instrument always gets harder. There are additional chords, greater speed, and new techniques. Some of those can be hard to master. For a child used to mastering academics quickly, struggling with a challenge is rare. Not only do they need to work hard, but they may need to get assistance, spend extra time in an area, and push the edge of their self-confidence. This builds resiliency and earns true self-confidence that they can overcome the challenges they will face in life.
4) They learn to fail and pick themselves back up. What music student hasn’t flubbed a performance? It can be difficult with everyone watching your failure to try again and again until you succeed. But if you give up when you hit failure, you end up with failure and not success. For kids that rarely fail in academics, they expect success to be easy. When it is not, they may not have developed the character to keep trying until they succeed. I want my kids to fail. Then they will learn to succeed.
5) They learn to work as a team with others of similar ability. In a standard classroom, a teacher may create heterogeneous teams of students to work on a project. While this is an important lesson, a gifted student may end up doing most of the work and resenting it. Working with a team of like ability on a performance piece gives the student a chance to do his best in a role as one of many contributors. This is also an essential part of teamwork.
6) They take control of their learning. In a classroom, the teacher usually controls how students learn, when they learn, what they learn, and how fast they learn. In music lessons, the student has much greater control. They can choose the instrument, the musical genre, and how they learn. One needs these skills to be a lifelong learner.
When my daughters perform a piece well or play at a recital, I’m smiling. It’s not just because of the beautiful music, but also due to the beautiful life lessons they have learned. I’ve seen them struggle, want to quit but persevere, and succeed after failure. I’ve watched them choose what songs they want to play, explore a musical genre, and become enthralled with learning it. I’ve heard them perform wonderful solo pieces and join together with a team to create a truly impressive performance. And I smile as I know these experiences will enhance their lives.
A special thanks to Shinko Kondo of Oakland University’s Music Preparatory Division, our daughters’ terrific piano teacher.
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we can make a difference for gifted children!