18. MUSICAL EDUCATION AND “THE TONE-DEAF”: Either Ideally, or Not at All!
A few videos in which my 3 year old students play several challenging pieces from sheet music with both hands were placed onto our website. What response did I receive from my colleagues? A bunch of irate reviews! They were indignant: the children didn’t have “proper hand positioning,” had rhythm and tempo inconsistencies, didn’t articulate the phrasing artistically and did not follow the dynamics. But please tell me, why should any of these things be relevant to a three year old!? Toddlers that haven’t learned to speak clearly yet are able to read sheet music and play on the piano using all ten fingers of both hands. Not only that, but they feel confident and comfortable doing this, as if they’re playing with their toys! It appears that the educators and professionals didn’t understand exactly what they were seeing.
In order to learn to walk and run, at first the child crawls and falls, and it doesn’t occur to anyone to criticize him for it. Where do teachers get the idea that in the very first steps the student must move with the grace of a ballet dancer? Where did this completely unnatural notion about the development of skills come from? In their opinion, kids don’t have the right to develop a skill gradually, but must be born with a complete understanding of sheet music and rounded hands. And if a three-year-old toddler can’t follow the rhythm and phrase, they think that he is being taught incorrectly! Either he needs to play ideally, or not at all!
What is the result of such a frame of mind? The overwhelming majority of children do not play at all. I’d already decided: so what if my toddlers can’t play ideally? What’s more important is that many of them can play, and with enjoyment. And once they develop their coordination, the language of music will become as accessible to them as their own thoughts.
It later turned out that my colleagues couldn’t have reacted differently. Digging around in the history of the development of the art of music, I discovered that music pedagogy is one of the oldest and most dogmatic relics of the past. At the time, live performance of music was an important part of peoples’ recreational activities. Every self-respecting person hoped to attain at least some type of music education, and to learn to play some type of music instrument. During those faraway times, a person that couldn’t play anything was simply considered to be uneducated! Music geniuses were the measure of success in music education. Little Beethoven was tormented as a child just because he couldn’t be the “second Mozart”; he received merciless spankings when he made mistakes!
Half a century has passed, and the world has long since changed, but music education remains as it was. People have progressed to automobiles, contrived a worldwide satellite network, cyber space, and global business. In the schools, computer programs and games have long been used as aids in teaching. Yet, music education has remained as the prim and proper old lady, persistently nagging, “Practice makes perfect!” and waving her cane at the student’s hands.
This is how I gained a serious interest in the influence of musical art on technical progress, and especially the role of pedagogy in this process. The dear, conservative manners of general music education gradually showed me its real face, which is seriously threatening the development of all musical art.