Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Mummy does not know best!

Can you show me again how to do this, darling? I still cannot do it!

A few years ago my oldest friend decided it was a good idea to start learning an instrument with her children. Her youngest, then 9 and fiercely competitive had just decided to take up the guitar. Much cooler than the recorder – which is what her older sister played.

My friend lives in a rural area and has to hang out during her kid’s music lessons. As she had to observe the lessons anyway, she felt quite inspired to try out what she had learned at home – secretly also hoping that her efforts might rub off on her daughter, too.

Unsurprisingly this had the opposite effect! Of course, my friend was ahead of her daughter – she knew how to read music, could accurately reproduce rhythmic patterns etc.

Did I mention my friend’s daughter is highly competitive?
So, rather than inspire my friend brought out the competitive spirit in her daughter. She wanted to help her child by showing her daughter how the piece should sound, what the teacher meant etc. only to induce stubbornness and indeed the odd tantrum.

In her case the opposite strategy would have been more effective. Children, in particular competitive ones enjoy a bit of one-up-manship. 

Try to get your child to teach YOU, pretend (or maybe you do not even have to pretend) that you do not understand something, make a few deliberate and silly mistakes and you might have a delighted music student at hand who is enjoying their new found superiority and is showing off their musical competence with delight.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Importance of Music - the National Plan for Music Education revisited

For some potential last minute changes in my book Parents Survival Guide to Music Lessons regarding the new Music Hubs, which are replacing Local Authority run Music Services/Music Trusts I revisited the National Plane for Music Education - simply entitled The Importance of Music.

Here is the overview of the Plan's core roles taken from the document:

Core roles
a) Ensure that every child aged 5-18 has the opportunity to learn a musical 
instrument (other than voice) through whole-class ensemble teaching 
programmes for ideally a year (but for a minimum of a term) of weekly tuition 
on the same instrument.
b) Provide opportunities to play in ensembles and to perform from an early 
c) Ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young 

d) Develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that 
choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area. 

Extension roles 

a) Offer CPD to school staff, particularly in supporting schools to deliver music in 
the curriculum.
b) Provide an instrument loan service, with discounts or free provision for those 
on low incomes. 

c) Provide access to large scale and / or high quality music experiences for 
pupils, working with professional musicians and / or venues. This may include 
undertaking work to publicise the opportunities available to schools, 
parents/carers and students.

What I am really missing in the plan is a clear commitment to instrumental music teaching, including 1:1 lessons. Why does not one of the core roles read simply:
provide instrumental music tuition for every child?

Of course, the reason is funding. Whole class-lessons are cheap - in particular if delivered by a salaried primary school teacher who has been on a CPD course. This is not to detract from the value of group lessons or whole class teaching as a taster for an instrument. Of course group lessons are a valid way to teach students, in particular beginners can benefit and there are many very positive aspects to group lessons, such as having a ready made ensemble to hand in the lessons.

Much of a song and dance (geddit) is made in the document of progression of talented students onto schemes like the MDS (Music and Dance Scheme) and NYMO (National Youth Music Organisations), like the National Youth Orchestra etc.

But, the standard required for inclusion in the MDS (Music and Dance Scheme) is very high and to be allowed to even audition for any of the National Youth Music Organisations you need to achieve a distinction at grade 8.

 The DfE currently supports 2000 students with MDS bursaries. These students attend either specialist music schools, e.g. Menuhin, Purcell, Cheethams, or CATs (Centres of Advanced Training), i.e. the junior departments of the national conservatoires, e.g Junior Royal College of Music, Junior Guildhall etc.

There are around 11.000.000 children living in Britain. 2000 children on MDS is a tiny number. And they won't have reached the standard required by a Junior Conservatoire by having whole-class ensemble teaching (ideally for a year).

p.s. 1:1 lessons get mentioned in a diagram on pg 18 of the plan, but a 'find search' of the term revealed no other mentions

The new redesigned Cover. Replacing a smiley little girl with pig-tails. She was cute, but I do like this one better.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Social Meejah Presence

My lovely friend and PR head honcho Katie Bond from Bloomsbury told me to pull my finger out and get on the case with my social media presence. As the author of the up and coming Parents Survival Guide to Music Lessons I need of course all the help I can get - and as Katie is a legend and award winning publishing PR her words need to be obeyed!
So I dutifully put some thought into what to call my blog, how to set up get another FB page get a 'Google+ page and of course a Twitter account. The next step is to establish myself as a mumsnet blogger. Apparently Mumsnet is where it all goes down.

One of the questions going through my mind was - by separating the personal from the professional am I diluting my 'digital identity'? I guess the answer is a slightly mealy-mouthed 'yes' and 'no'. Prospective readers and 'likers' on FB, Twitter and Google will want to hear my thoughts on music and music education and will most likely not be interested in private in-jokes between myself and all my globally scattered friends.
so here it goes:
the FB page https://www.facebook.com/#!/MusicalFamilies
Twitter @musicalfamilies
Google + Elizabeth Lawrence

Blame it on the Boogie!

I recently heard the most tragic tale of a music education cut short by parents' and teachers' intransigence. A dutiful 14 year old pianist had reached grade 8 - a very good achievement for that age - and was becoming increasingly frustrated by his old-fashioned (and dare I say it old) teacher. He wanted to play different repertoire and was drawn to Trad-jazz and Boogie-woogie. His teacher flatly refused to teach that type of repertoire, the parent refused to find another teacher. Consequence - the child stopped and never touched a piano again. Granted - this story is from the late seventies and times have changed, but I wonder for how many readers this will strike a chord? (sorry for the pun)
Finding inspiring pieces and making sure your child is learning to play in a genre they love is paramount in keeping them going. There is no point in forcing a Metallica fan to play dainty Haydn sonatas. When I take a prospective student I always enquire about the repertoire they want to play or sing. If the answer is Jazz or Musical Theatre I usually decline to take them on. Not because there is anything wrong with these two genres, but because I do not play in those styles and because I don't feel that I can teach it adequately. Luckily today you can find teachers to instruct you in more or less any style - so before you embark on lessons try to clarify for yourself and your child what genre they are most interested in. Playing pieces you love is one of the best motivations for practise there is!