Music and Your Homeschooling
by Mary & Michael Leppert
Including music in your life has two purposes: To gain a richer family environment and to gain musical skills. The latter goal is not necessarily to be a virtuoso, but to enjoy music as more than a listener. Anyone who plays an instrument, at any level, realizes the subsequent insight and pleasure to be gained when attending concerts and listening to recordings. There is no parallel for knowing music from the inside. But learning to play is not accidental; it is the result of will and action and is one of the best esteem builders possible.
With our own son, we didn’t allow him to listen to rock ’n’ roll past the age of about 4. Therefore, he developed a love of classical music from the beginning of his musical life. One day he and I (Mary) were listening to a song in which the female singer said something like “If you leave me, I’ll just die.” Lennon asked me what she meant by that. “Was she really going to die?” In a moment of revelation, I realized the song lyrics had literal meaning to him, and that it was important for me to be much more attentive to what I listened to.
From then on I played only music that I was comfortable having him hear. Most of us Baby Boomer parents come from the “drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll” generation—not that we necessarily promoted that point of view, but those three elements so surrounded us in high school, college, and young adulthood that they were essentially pillars in the development of our modern “culture.” When we become parents, we must willfully draw a distinction between our listening to music for emotional pleasure and choosing music as a cultural element and influence on our children, ourselves, and our families.
Music in the Nineteenth-Century American Home
Besides music at home, there was also music at church. Some of the greatest music written by Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and other great composers was for use in the church. Regular churchgoers were exposed to much of this great music each Sunday and on important religious holidays.
The Television Age
Even if you were not the one playing music, you still had to pay attention, more or less, over the course of many evenings. You had a place and role—be it as a soprano or tenor, violin or flute player—and a responsibility to fulfill. Each family member was required to lend his or her consciousness to the activity for it to be complete. Once the idea of a family providing its own active entertainment was replaced with the passive, compartmentalized entertainment of watching television or using the computer, the death knell sounded for much of the music-learning value in most families. When shared music stopped being an integral, almost daily part of family life, it was only a matter of time before many public schools considered it non-essential as well.
In addition, many people do not attend church; and even if they do, the advent of more folk-oriented worship music has pushed much of the music by great European composers into the organ bench or music closet, seldom to be heard.
The Case for Including Music in Your Homeschool Life
By now, the “Mozart effect” has also been well-publicized: Dr. Frances Rauscher and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study with college students listening to the first ten minutes of a piece by Mozart, the Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K. 448) before taking an exam. Another group took the exam without music. Their results were compared and it was observed that the music-listening group demonstrated an enhanced ability in spatial-temporal reasoning. This enrichment faded soon after taking the test. However, another study done with preschool children produced a similar effect that lasted for days. One of the conclusions that has been drawn from this is that listening to certain types of music, and music instruction in general, aids brain development in younger children and enhances one type of reasoning in adults. For more information, search the Internet for “Mozart Effect.” One conclusion drawn from this study is that certain types of music aid concentration. Increasing scientific evidence shows that learning and using music in various functions in life aids us in other endeavors. Even without such evidence, most of us realize that teaching and exposing our children to good music is beneficial and, in general, “good for them.”
Music Fosters Self-Discipline
Early on we witnessed one of the greatest benefits of these classes: Self-discipline. Because our son wanted to do well, he had to practice what he had learned in the class throughout the week. He didn’t want to practice every day, but we required that he practice if he wanted to continue the class, plus he realized practice was essential for him to do well. He experienced progressing from being completely inept to developing mastery of each component skill and also learned that daily practice of little bits and consistently building upon those bits resulted in development of his skill.
Today he is skilled at playing piano, trumpet, drums, percussion and cello, as well as composition, arranging and conducting. He is a very well-rounded general musician who knows that no matter how difficult a piece is, by applying the same persistent technique he learned at age 6 in the Yamaha program (see description below), he will achieve mastery of the piece. Of course, he applies this knowledge to other fields of endeavor as well. This ability to master small bits of musical information and build upon them has also helped him develop a healthy sense of confidence and self-esteem.
Critical Thinking Relative to the Musical Art Around Us
One guaranteed way to ensure that your 10, 11, or 12-year-old is discerning enough to choose not to listen to “hate” music is to surround your child with beautiful and “good” music when he or she is 3, 4, and 5 years old.
In today’s funds-exhausted school system, music is no longer available at many schools. The fact that most children experience music only in the “Pop” sense (unless they go to church) is a sad statement of the quality of life in modern times.
What Is Available Today?
Suggestions On Bringing Music Into Your Family.
The underlying principle of this approach is that a person can learn to play without knowing notes or being able to read music. First, get the child enthused and excited, then as natural motivation carries him or her forward, you can add note-reading and other more sophisticated skills. A child’s interest is fanned by sharing a skill with parents; as soon as your child learns a song on the piano, you can help by joining him or her in playing it. Sing or play the recorder or any instrument you may choose. Be enthusiastic, leave your inhibitions behind, and simply make music as a family activity.
For learning church/religious music on piano or other keyboard, Davidson’s Music (www.davidsonsmusic.com) is one of the top programs available. This is also an excellent product for family singing of religious hymns and other simple tunes.
Attend live musical performances. Become aware of the many musical organizations in your area that perform concerts and special programs of live music. Every junior college, university, and medium-sized community has some sort of chamber group or orchestra that provides excellent listening at a fair price. Seeing the instruments as they are played can be an awesome experience and helps make music more meaningful, plus these musicians love to have an interested audience to play to!
Make beautiful music a daily part of your life. Play it, listen to it, attend concerts, read about it, discuss it, and love it. Music has tremendous power to soothe, refresh, and restore—effects that apply to children as well as adults.
Recognize your own set of aesthetics—that which you find pleasing and beautiful—and discuss them with your children. Inspire them to think about this, too. As you listen more analytically, and develop the ability to discern what is actually good, allow yourself to avoid that which you find not beautiful, not pleasing, or just downright offensive. Provide the model for your children to do the same. You may find, as we did, that the music of your youth (or today’s youth) is not appropriate for your children. Don’t hesitate to remove this music from your life. If you really like it, after a few short years (honest!) you can comfortably listen to it again.
If you want to make your homeschooling experience all it can be, we urge you to take some time to investigate the musical opportunities around you and then take advantage of the freedom you have to fill your family’s lives with beautiful music in all of its forms—recorded and live, music lessons, singing lessons, participation in a choir or barbershop quartet, as well as casual get-togethers with other families to make music at home as a means of socializing and just having fun without T.V. or the computer! Remember, this homeschooling experience is yours to create. If some musical outlet that you are interested in doesn’t exist—start it! Homeschooling is at its most pleasurable when it is invented by you and it fulfills a need you and your family have. The values of music are vast and once you add it to your life, your family will never be the same! ■
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