NOTE: I actually didn’t mean to work on this post when I logged onto the Dashboard to get a photo for an updated, revamped version of a particular travel-related post on this blog to be posted on my main site, plus I had officially left the music education ghetto in October 2013, but I ended up doing it anyway because I realized that it had been sitting there as a saved draft for three years. I didn’t know that it wasn’t even published yet. So here it is now!
It seems that some (if not many) adults are discouraged from taking or continuing lessons. This is frustrating to us teachers and prospective and current students alike. So while this may sound like we’re beating a dead horse even deader, this subject is absolutely worth addressing because there are still rather silly misconceptions and assumptions swirling around. So let’s break them down, shall we?
1. Expecting quickie results.
It’s normal in this instant gratification/instant download culture to want to see results right off the bat. But learning how to play (read: perform) music isn’t microwave cuisine. That would be just as good as pressing play on the CD player or your iPod. (Nowadays it’s not an anomaly to see toddlers tweaking around with tablets and smartphones!)
Playing music is both art and science. It’s not exactly child’s play! Rome definitely wasn’t built in a day. Even good ol’ Mozart had to take a lot of time busting his chops to get some props in his craft! It takes a while to develop any skills, let alone things that require fine motor skills like music and getting used to concepts that were previously pretty foreign to you. Astute teachers have also observed that intellectual knowledge isn’t always translatable to physical movement. My fellow musician/music teacher friend attests to this all the time. He’s had a number of brainiac students (MDs, lawyers, tech geeks, etc.), yet they struggle with getting their fingers to behave on the keyboard. It takes a while to acquire muscle memory. So just keep at it, be patient, and relax. Take your sweet time. After all, you’re doing this as a hobby. No exams, auditions, competitions, touring, and multimillion record deals to worry about! :)
2. Feeling like a slowpoke
Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes just feel that you don’t measure up. Sometimes you feel like you’re progressing on a limping snail’s pace. Yep, I suppose you can blame it on statistics (used by musical instrument salespeople to hawk their goods) that kids make better and faster music learners. (See myth #3 below.) Well, in some aspects, not exactly. Adults have the advantage of being fully developed physically and having more advanced cognitive/conceptual skills, as well as many years of life experience under their belt, including prior exposure to music. There are routines (such as typing, driving, and ergonomics) adults have already mastered that give them an edge over younger ones that are relevant and transferable to music study or performance.
3. SILLY RABBIT! Music lessons are for kids!
Nope. There have been many studies across the board proving music is great for all ages—from the cradle to nearly the grave. (Again, the results have been manipulated by commerce to get parents to spend, spend, and spend some more on their kids.)
4. Free stuff = good stuff.
Who doesn’t love freebies? Sure, you can scour YouTube for free tutorials, but out of the 1234958123 (or so) videos posted, can you tell which are quality ones? Do you even have the time to check them all out? Here’s where a good, caring, and knowledgeable teacher can help. He/she saves you time, money, energy, and spares you from all that frustration. The teacher has spent plenty of time, money, and countless trial-and-error processes to get to where they are now so you don’t have to go through all that junk!
So you think you can pinch a few pennies by not investing in a good teacher. After all, you just want to play for fun. None of that hardcore pro BS. Right?
In fact, it is especially more important for raw beginners to get a quality teacher to establish good habits from the get-go and to successfully impart completely new, unfamiliar concepts. Having taught remedial students, I can say that undoing bad technical habits is the musical equivalent of stomach pumping. (Almost.) It can be a pretty long, painful drawn-out process. It’s like starting from scratch all over again.
Many so-called free tutorials have poor technique that can really slow you down (or worse, hurt you). You can’t play as well as you’d like. Maybe you’re starting to feel some aches here and there. Barring pre-existing conditions, it’s most likely poor body position or posture.
I taught myself guitar in high school and since I had formal training in music (the keyboard, specifically), I figured that I could pull it off (pun intended on that!). And hey, there were cheap or free materials around that I could check out! I thought I could save a little bit of dough here and there. Though I picked up the concepts quickly, I couldn’t locate the notes on the frets quickly enough. I couldn’t execute some notes. I just had a heck of a time reaching certain ones with my fingers. So I just kind of stopped applying myself to it, although I loved the instrument to death. It wasn’t until I finally decided to have a teacher show me how it was done that I finally found out why I couldn’t play as well as I wanted to—wrong wrist position. Now that I know, yikes, I can’t believe I had that goofy-looking wrist position that just looked unnatural! All bent out of shape! I also had wrong finger positions, especially the placement of the thumb behind the neck of the guitar. No wonder I couldn’t stretch my fingers on the fretboard as long as I’d like! I ended up doing it the hard, long way. Boy, I surely wish I had gotten a good teacher from the get-go!
Keep in mind that the dropout rates in guitar lessons are much higher than those of piano lessons. (Hey, I’m unfortunately in that number!) The guitar is more physically challenging to play. It’s hard enough with a teacher, let alone without one. So much for playing for “fun.” But I can tell you that you’ll get a lot more done with an experienced teacher!
5. Not trusting the teacher.
So your teacher tells you that you’ve been doing quite well. Yet you just can’t believe your ears. Most likely it’s the old subconscious programming playing tricks on you, thinking that it’s too late for adults to learn (see points 2 and 3 above). Remember that your teacher has been around the block for quite sometime, so he/she already knows what works and what doesn’t. Many teachers have worked with students of different ages, so they have a general sense of what slow, normal, and fast progress is like for these groups.
You may think that the teacher either goes too fast or too slow in introducing materials or concepts. Maybe you feel that your teacher present the ideas in an out-of-sequence fashion. It probably makes you wonder if he/she knows what the bleep he/she’s doing. Keep in mind that things are best taught or demonstrated in nonlinear fashion. Let’s say you’re looking at a house. You have to look at the different angles to get a complete view of it, and that involves hopping around from one place or point to another. You can’t possibly know how the whole place looks like and how everything feels if you just stare at the garage the whole time, not even bothering to check the backyard. Right?
The same thing applies to music. In order to increase understanding (and consequently enjoyment) of music, there are distinct parts of music to explore and dissect.
Another big reason for occasionally “hopping around” is variety. It breaks up the monotony of learning the same old tired stuff all the time, which is a real motivation killer. That’s what exactly what happened to me. I quit piano lessons cold turkey in elementary school. I didn’t feel I was challenged enough. As they say, variety is the spice of life, and it’s no different in music. A good teacher can really spice up your learning process!
6. Music is a huge waste of time and money.
Yes, we teachers sometimes get this objection from the prospects’ or students’ spouses or partners. This probably pretty much explains the usual “let me check with my husband first” cop-out line.
But here’s some food for thought. Think of it as an investment for your relationship to keep it going strong—and then some. It works the same way as romantic getaways. Best of all, music is an affordable and fun hobby you can do together, anytime, anywhere, as many times as you want, and it lasts a lifetime! It’s definitely way more affordable than booking those cruises! Nowadays you can get quality portable instruments and equipment at low(er) prices, which means there are more awesome opportunities for music making!
Plus you’ll have something more original, personal, and thoughtful to give your sweetheart other than just plain ol’ cookie-cutter commercialized flowers, chocolates, and Hallmark platitudes for special occasions. Make original tunes, record them, and burn them on CD for your SO. Or you can do the fine tradition of serenading! You can’t get any more romantic than that! Best of all, yes, I must mention again that these things can be done on the cheap!
(By the way, speaking of cheap, take note, you ladies with men in your lives. At least you won’t have them complain about the old female indiscretionary expensive habit called retail therapy! You have something more useful for everyone to enjoy, plus probably the fellas would appreciate your shopping around for high-tech toys, er, instruments and equipment!)
Music is great not only for cheap dates or lovey-dovey time, but also fun, low-cost staycation time with friends and family. Backyard jams, block parties—you name it. There’s never a dull moment with music.
So you see that music enables you to have more quality time together, sharing an activity in common. Shared experiences strengthen bonds between or among people. Another case in point: video games. My darling (almost-)hubby/D(A)H (as I like to call him) has been bugging me about playing them for the longest time. At first, I did feel “bugged” by the requests. Honestly, I wasn’t really a huge gamer myself. I never really mastered any video games, except one or two Nintendo Game & Watch stuff. (I could only master that Popeye one!) I’ve always liked it, especially the 8-bit music and everything. I’d spend hours in fascination watching my younger brother beat the bosses, old-school Nintendo console-style. But I just wasn’t adventurous enough to try to get really good at those games. I thought it was too overwhelmingly hard to do. It was too much coordination for my poor ol’ noggin to handle. I didn’t really want to part with some of my hard-earned dough to get those games. But my DAH persistently talked me into the benefits of fun and friendship in gaming. I was a pretty tough nut to crack, but I finally caved in, partly because I wanted to please him at first, but his happiness would translate to my happiness and our happiness. Guess what? I started to like it. I actually ended up spending more time together with him. Now we feel a lot closer together. And quite contrary to popular belief that gaming is only for brain-dead couch potatoes, I find it mentally stimulating, even to the point where I get pooped out within just a few minutes of action!
Just like gaming, music does have very high replay value (and yes, pun intended on that!). So let’s get crackin’ and make some joyful noise! :)
P. S. : Here’s yet another link listing more typical unfounded misconceptions of music lessons (especially regarding adults): http://www.soundfeelings.com/free/piano_myths.htm
Read it and weep no more! :)