Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Musical Confidence. What's That? Part 1 (The Kids)

In our field of arts-in-education, Beth and I spend most of our days at schools singing and playing, writing and recording with teachers and students. We have been doing this for almost twenty years, so I have had the chance to observe a lot of big, small and medium sized people around music. The results of this “study” are a mixed bag of hope and fear. Today, I will start with the kids and in a subsequent post (Part 2), I’ll focus on their teachers.

I am full of hope around very young children, especially those from 0-8 years old. They still love to dance, sing, laugh and play just like kids have always done. The human spirit is alive and well in these young children. If a musical facilitator knows his or her “stuff”, the majority of kids will gladly join their teacher on a musical ride.

What’s even more important is that these children will clamor for more, recognizing in their minds and bodies an unparalleled joy that only music and movement can offer. I cannot overemphasize the importance of early and often when it comes to music. Especially with this age group, singing and dancing are a way of promoting a lifetime enjoyment of the Arts. Interestingly, it is during this phase of development that we are all singers, dancers and players. It’s not until later that we take on the role of “spectator”. Harrumph. I’ll get to that more in Part 2.

Around the end of third grade or sometime during fourth grade, kids go through a new “growth spurt”. I don’t know the actual developmental name for this period, but I notice that kids get more willful and it gets noticeably harder to engage them, musically. My best guess is that there are societal reasons as well as developmental ones why children change in these years. Obviously, we are competing against pop music and the first stirrings of independence from parents or teachers and an equal reliance on one’s peers. It’s all good, but one’s musical bag of tricks has to get a little deeper in order to keep them engaged.

You don’t have to be a social scientist to see that this is a time when some kids turn off to music. Boys, in particular, might stop singing altogether and gravitate towards sports, video games and rougher forms of make believe play. In the audience, these boys get very fidgety. Unless we are playing fun, interactive songs that have a lot of movement and humor they might start talking and wrestling with one another. Luckily, Beth and I have developed a large repertoire of silly songs and a lot of tricks just for this reason. We can keep them engaged with our “schtick” at least until firth or sixth grade when boys and girls start going through another change – puberty!

Children from 9-12 are called “tweeners” because they are in-between early childhood and the onset of adolescence. In truth, they are growing at different rates, so it is not uncommon to see a large variance of emotional intelligence and other factors which might effect the type of music we play. As such, the music facilitator needs to sense the group dynamic. Where is the energy leaning and where can I lead it?

Trust and timing go hand in hand here but it’s delicate and nuanced. You can see it in the best teachers of this age group. Personally, I like to gain a tweener’s trust by being silly, meeting them we’re they’re at. I’m careful not to cross the line, but I’ll admit to a certain amount of horseplay and yucking it up combined with a moderate dose of cool. Beth and I become their hip aunt and uncle here - adults with a sense of play. This usually involves songs that are more upbeat and feature them on-stage playing parts in the songs. When in doubt, let them get their ya-yas out by laughing at themselves and their peers.

Timing is knowing when to do what and for how long. Our plan always includes a certain amount of character education, team-building or other skills we’re teaching, but we always place our lessons within the frame of fun and participative songs and skits. In another one of my blogs, I talk about “Show and Tell”, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, that music and drama can be very powerful in the hands of a person who knows and senses the energy of the group they’re leading. To some degree, we have to shape our expectations (lesson plans/set lists) around their mood and adapt quickly to changes we sense. To not do so is death by audience revolt!

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to respond here or contact us on Facebook (Beth & Scott and Friends) or via Twitter (@BethScott Bierko).