Friday, October 19, 2012

Year 3: Week 6 – A Sound Only A Teacher Could Love

What’s the worst sound that you can imagine?

How about a class full of 3rd graders trying to play recorder? Or how about this one: a mixed class full of saxophones, flutes, trumpets, trombones and clarinets playing their instruments for the first time as a group?

I’m not going to lie. As a elementary and middle music school teacher, I hear a lot of sounds that aren’t exactly musically pleasing. It’s funny. Sometimes listening to kids play instruments, especially when they are first learning how to play gives me a headache but most of the time it doesn’t. How do you learn to not get bothered by the sounds of developing musicians? Well, there’s a couple things that help.

Sometimes I’m not really listening. There are times when a kid plays something and I need to ask them to play again because my attention was somewhere else. Sometimes it’s another student being distracting and other times I’m focusing on a kids fingering or whether a student is holding an instrument correctly. These things are important to watch for and like my students, I can’t always attend to everything about a kid’s playing at the same time.

Perspective helps too. The amazing thing about teaching students how to play instruments is how quickly most of them improve. It’s like watching a kid learn to throw a baseball. Throwing a ball 20 feet may not be a big deal, but for a kid who a week earlier could barely throw the ball at all, that’s shows a lot of growth. The same goes for musicians. I got kids who may not sound great to you, but compared to how they sounded last year they are doing amazing. If you focus simply on the music a child is producing you will always be bothered by how they sound but if you focus on the child who is playing the music, it’s amazing what you can hear in a student’s playing.

Kids sound good and bad in the context of their experience. A trumpet player who has been playing for one week can sound bad or good. Good for that player is different than good for a college trumpet major but there is still good and bad. That’s something that’s you come to learn with experience.  Knowing what is “good” for a certain level of experience like knowing what is developmentally “good” spelling for a first grader versus and 10th grader is essential to teaching.

I started my 6th grade band student with their instruments this week.  As I listened to the squeaks and squawks, I had to take a moment to think before responding.  Yes, they didn't sound very good, but they were here.  These students chose to be in band and they are excited about learning how to play their instruments.  So as I looked up at my students, I smiled, pushing aside how they sounded and felt excited to be part of my students' musical journey.

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