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#1235934 - 07/23/09 12:48 PM Why Kids Don't Make Music
Piano World Offline



Registered: 05/24/01
Posts: 5636
Loc: Parsonsfield, ME (orig. Nahant...
From Music Trades Magazine ...

Why Kids Don't Make Music:

A broad national survey of high school children offers new insights into why they drop out of music programs or never join in the first place.


  • 38% of students said they didn't participate in music because of a lack of time.
  • Another 36% cited competition from other activities, particularly sports.
  • 12% said they didn't like the instructor.




If you are thinking "This is nothing new to us", your are right.
The above survey was conducted 50 years ago.
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#1235941 - 07/23/09 12:58 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Piano World]
FormerFF Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/26/08
Posts: 476
Loc: Roswell, GA, USA
Whee! Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose, I suppose.

- Matt, father of two
Allison, age 9, beginning pianist
Stephanie, age 7, beginning guitarist
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Piano self teaching on and off from 2002-2008. Took piano instruction from Nov 2008- Feb 2011. Took guitar instruction Feb 2011-Jul 2013. Can't play either. Living, breathing proof some people aren't cut out to make music.

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#1235950 - 07/23/09 01:18 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: FormerFF]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7410
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Heck, Frank, I was a student (kid) when this survey was conducted. I could have told you this!

We had tv's, we had portable radios, at last(although they had vacuum tubes and had big batteries), we had 8 track tapes for our cars. We had new fangled LPs and FM radio. We had places to go and things to do!

I had made myself a little one transistor radio so I could listen to the top 40 while I walked to Saturday AM orchestra practice.
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#1236001 - 07/23/09 02:47 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Piano World]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Piano World
From Music Trades Magazine ...

Why Kids Don't Make Music:

A broad national survey of high school children offers new insights into why they drop out of music programs or never join in the first place.


  • 38% of students said they didn't participate in music because of a lack of time.
  • Another 36% cited competition from other activities, particularly sports.
  • 12% said they didn't like the instructor.




If you are thinking "This is nothing new to us", your are right.
The above survey was conducted 50 years ago.

But the thing that has changed is that 50 years ago you could not by an inexpensive keyboard, try lessons to see if it is something you like, THEN save for a good instrument.

Unlike many and perhaps most in this forum, I see this change as a positive one. It levels the playing field. smile
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#1236118 - 07/23/09 05:36 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
William A.P.M. Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/09/08
Posts: 554
Loc: Ecuador
^good point Gary. I think many can agree with us that acquiring something like an electronic keyboard is relatively inexpensive. I say this, especially considering how the youth in my area chooses to spend their money, and having observed what kids from 12-18 do around here in Fresh Meadows.

Music isn't a priority to many kids who grow up thinking really about money and a career , if they care about that. The ones that don't even care about a future, may concentrate on music , but usually hip-hop and rap, as I've noticed with some younger ones in my area.

I have to assume that 50+ years ago, a piano might have been something to treasure, and quite expensive for anyone. This is definitely not the case nowadays, but there are very few people who take this instrument seriously once they've acquired it.

My other issue is that teaching piano is still a career but we certainly have to charge for it. I remember even when I was 13, I was paying for my private lessons, and my parents thought it was expensive; but as long as I was serious about it, they didn't mind so much.

I can imagine that there are quite a number of kids who might be inclined to take music lessons, but money becomes an issue. My youngest sister recently decided to start taking piano lessons, or wanted to take piano lessons, but my parents refused because they said it would be a waste of time and money. I don't have the time to teach her, but if I did I would. But this is another case of what happens if parents start thinking it is costly.

I don't charge an arm and a leg, but when people hear $50 or $60 or even $100 like someone in my area, people think twice about it.

Lastly, I'd think that piano is generally associated with classical music, and the great majority of children and adoloscents nowadays take a bigger interest in main stream music like rock, hip-hop, rap, etc ... It's quite hard to make someone really interested in classical music, and have them study in depth. Things like Beethoven's 'Fur Elise' and Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee' have been accepted by many as popular tunes so that's why I guess nobody really neglects these pieces, and have become almost 'hip-hop' items, if that's correctly said. Other than that, I'm not sure through which 'window' other kids can see and appreciate our kind of music.

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#1236142 - 07/23/09 06:20 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: William A.P.M.]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
William,

Good to hear your thoughts. smile
Originally Posted By: William Penafiel

I have to assume that 50+ years ago, a piano might have been something to treasure, and quite expensive for anyone. This is definitely not the case nowadays, but there are very few people who take this instrument seriously once they've acquired it.

Even though my grandmother was a piano teacher, I would never have been able to start if my parents had been forced to by a piano. My aunt sent me hers. It was shipped down from New Jersey. And I promise you and everyone else in this forum that good DPs play a heck of a lot better than it did. My parents "sucked it in" and got me a much better upright by high school, but even then I struggled with my teacher's Steinway grand, every lesson. It contributed to a great deal of tension. All grands felt slow, sluggish, hard to play. Hers was especially awful, because it had a dull treble. It was not until I had regular access to a grand, in college, that I discovered that grands are really much easier to play. This is why I don't like uprights. I hate them. They feel faster if you only play on them, but they are not. They can never have the full dynamic range of a good grand. The "soft pedal" pushes the hammers towards the strings and so does nothing more than knock the whole action out of regulation, hammers hitting vertically won't repeat fast enough, and so on.

This is why I run counter to almost all our teachers here in not being solidly in the acoustic camp and agaist DPs. I lose a lot of what I can do on any DP (not counting the very expensive ones that I have never even tested), but I also lose a huge amount on uprights. Once you hit the big Romantic works, they just don't sound right to me on anything but a good grand.

So for all but very rich kids, you are NOT going to get beginning students who are playing at home on ideal instruments. If only this were not so…
Quote:

My other issue is that teaching piano is still a career but we certainly have to charge for it. I remember even when I was 13, I was paying for my private lessons, and my parents thought it was expensive; but as long as I was serious about it, they didn't mind so much.

Lessons were a big sacrifice for my parents too. The reason I only have one degree is that when I completed four years, I was in debt even WITH scholarship money. I was frightened by the thought of taking on more debt without having a solid job to pay things back. It really hurt to watch other students who wer not considered nearly as talented as I was go on with a relatively free ride through graduate school. One of my friends glided on in this way and went directly into a comfortable teaching position at a music school in a well-known university. Meanwhile I was scratching and clawing for jobs that would allow me to escape working in jobs not related to music.

I think this is why my main interest is in beginners, and usually young ones. I want them not to be cheated out of an opportunity just because their parents do not have a lot of money.
Quote:

I can imagine that there are quite a number of kids who might be inclined to take music lessons, but money becomes an issue.

Absolutely. In a simplistic world, the kids who "deserve" a chance have enlighted parents who also have enough money to take care of all related financial matters. In my experience, having a nice piano at home means that and only that. It is NOT a guarantee of a "fire in the belly".
Quote:

My youngest sister recently decided to start taking piano lessons, or wanted to take piano lessons, but my parents refused because they said it would be a waste of time and money. I don't have the time to teach her, but if I did I would. But this is another case of what happens if parents start thinking it is costly.

Of course.
Quote:

I don't charge an arm and a leg, but when people hear $50 or $60 or even $100 like someone in my area, people think twice about it.

You can't explain to people who have no financial problems how much $50 or less is to people who simply don't have that kind of money. Right now I am waiting for a student whose mother drives a beat up car just to get her son here. This is not unusual where I live.
Quote:

Lastly, I'd think that piano is generally associated with classical music, and the great majority of children and adoloscents nowadays take a bigger interest in main stream music like rock, hip-hop, rap, etc ... It's quite hard to make someone really interested in classical music, and have them study in depth. Things like Beethoven's 'Fur Elise' and Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee' have been accepted by many as popular tunes so that's why I guess nobody really neglects these pieces, and have become almost 'hip-hop' items, if that's correctly said. Other than that, I'm not sure through which 'window' other kids can see and appreciate our kind of music.

This is where race and financial matters becomes evident. When you think of "classical music", a term I really hate, and you think of famous black or African-American pianists, who do you think of?

I think of Andre Watts. Then I get stuck.

But the moment you turn to jazz, suddenly you have Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ellis Marsalis, Jr., just for a start. You can go on and on. It can't just be coincidence that this racial and cultural divide, as it USED to be, was hugely connected to two different economic worlds. So for me I prefer to think of myself as someone who opens a window into a world of just playing the piano, and my students get to decide if they want to play just for fun, to play traditional music, or go off on any number of different paths.

It appears one of my students is going to be accepted, at least in a minor, in composing and arranging, and that is what we concentrated. He's not a good player, because that was never his goal. But he is writing his own music, and that's an exciting change from adult clone after adult clone entering piano competitions!


Edited by Gary D. (07/23/09 06:21 PM)
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#1236146 - 07/23/09 06:27 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11810
Loc: Canada
Good post all round, Gary. For the last part that you wrote - I was looking out the window just before reading the article asking why kids "don't make music". There was a bunch of them lined up in the courtyard trying to do some kind of complicated choreography to music they had going, dancing and singing their hearts out, in full concentration. Kids absolutely do make music. They are heavily involved in music. The article actually says that kids don't stay in music programs. Is that the same thing as making music?

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#1236164 - 07/23/09 06:55 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
William A.P.M. Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/09/08
Posts: 554
Loc: Ecuador
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
This is where race and financial matters becomes evident. When you think of "classical music", a term I really hate, and you think of famous black or African-American pianists, who do you think of?

I think of Andre Watts. Then I get stuck.

But the moment you turn to jazz, suddenly you have Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ellis Marsalis, Jr., just for a start. You can go on and on. It can't just be coincidence that this racial and cultural divide, as it USED to be, was hugely connected to two different economic worlds. So for me I prefer to think of myself as someone who opens a window into a world of just playing the piano, and my students get to decide if they want to play just for fun, to play traditional music, or go off on any number of different paths.


Excellent point. I personally have never taught piano music besides classical or jazz, but I understand what you are saying. That idea is why I love, and simply am obssessed with teaching a wide array of composers and styles to my students. This way they get a feel of what they truly like.

In all honesty, your opinion on a racial cultural division and economic division makes perfect sense to me. I mean, why can't jazz be considered another style next to minimalist or romantic? Art Tatum alone has contributed a lot to piano and the art of improvisation. Should 'classical' composers employing jazz techniques or improvisatory techniques be considered jazz composers? another entity separate from 'classical music'?

I think that piano music is piano music, and the styles are different. For all I know, the late Cage works have little or no 'traditional structure' behind them; yet they are considered classical works. Something like Tatum's own pieces and arrangements which are much more romantic in style and structure are simply called 'jazz music', and cannot be classical. That seems to be a big problem for me.

That issue starts with racism and class division and the supposed lack of education. You are completely correct in this respect!

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#1236180 - 07/23/09 07:20 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: William A.P.M.]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Gary, I'm a newbie at this forum, but your post really struck me at the end when you talked about different worlds. A lot of the standard piano repertoire isn't "my music" either, and I grew up with classical lessons and in a family that loved classical music. My "people's" music is opera -- that's what my family was raised with, and we're all working-class Italians. Other than that, it's ragtime and a lot of 80s arena rock. And a lot of that music, ALL of those bands, have keyboards in them.

But the way I was taught music was that it was a closed canon of classical music written by dead people. You didn't add to it, take away from it, interpret it, and it didn't evolve. It was presented like a corpse that I would pick over and study and that had nothing to do with ME.

I'm only beginning to really think about my musical education and why I walked away from it more easily than I should have despite coming from a profoundly musical background, having a great deal of ability (if I say so), and to this day being eager to go listen to opera singers and operas and collecting good rock, Baroque, and Renaissance music. I've totally fallen for Haendel, Art Garfunkel, Russell Oberlin, and Neal Schon! How's that for wide-ranging?

The music that was presented as "piano music" was almost an incidental product that the machine made, and I didn't even realize that's how I was viewing it. I was just there to mechanically reproduce it as a series of hand shapes in space, like a machine operator. The noise the piano made was just diagnostic, used as feedback to tell me whether I'd made the right shapes correctly.

I love using my hands, and I was (and am) a hyperactive perfectionist, so I stuck with it. But the only times I ever really FELT anything, sat back thrilled with the sound itself, was when I played Scott Joplin or Billy Joel. Joel was a one-time thing permitted by my teacher, and I didn't find Joplin's sheet music until I stumbled on it myself in college. Now, I want to buy myself a clav and get back into it, and I can tell you that the stuff that I'm excited to mess with isn't anything in the standard canon. I want to try playing "Con rauco mormorio" and "Dove sei," two arias from "Rodelinda." Every time I hear Journey's "Stay Awhile" I start thinking of what the bass should sound like and what sort of left hand I want to put under it, whether the melody should be done as faithfully as possible, and how to reproduce the ringing quality without the vocal ability to sustain a note until the singer runs out of air. I've driven home from work every day wondering how I can do a messa di voce with a piano when I get one!

That wasn't taught to me. NONE of that joy was taught to me. No playing around, no newness, no invention. Piano music was a closed canon of dead people like waxwork saints, and I was responsible for reproducing it, like a paint-by-numbers of Great Works of Art. I never studied transcription, I never was given anything by my teacher and told, "Here's a melody line. Try to adapt this. Just see what kinds of left hand work you can put under it. And next week, maybe we'll talk about which one you liked best." She had no idea what music consisted of when I was a kid. Why would someone teach music -- LOVE music -- and not stay current on it?

I hate saying this on a piano forum, but piano music just left me dead since it was this brittle, untouchable canon. I never listened to it for pleasure. One little bit of Simon and Garfunkel would have made such a difference.

I mean, I know that the accepted canon of "here's YET ANOTHER piece by dead guy #3,405" is often the best stuff to study to get your chops. Nothing but nothing fills up your toolbox with better quality tools than that stuff. But once you HAVE the tools, what the hell are you going to do with them?

The story about one of your students is a great example. I admire the bejeezus out of Andre Watts. But I'd much rather be able to do something like what Sarah McLaughlin does -- sit down and MAKE THINGS, and have fun, especially things that are vocal or vocally driven. (There's a reason why I love opera, Freddie Mercury, Art Garfunkel, Cass Elliot, and Steve Perry so much.) The possibilities for the piano extend so much further than Yet Another Piece of Technically Impossible Classical Music. Teachers concentrate on fifth- and sixth-rate classical composers whose music is nothing but a technical exercise while ignoring people like McLaughlin, Paul Simon, and even non-piano classical stuff.

Like I said, I've just been thinking about this a lot lately since I've started mulling buying a clav in earnest and having a piano around again. The idea of sitting down and mechanically reproducing one more goddamned sonatina as practice drains me dry. I'm sick of being a machine operator. I'm tired of viewing the music as just an incidental waste product that the machine makes which has value only insofar as it can tell me whether I've moved my hands properly or not. I'm tired of doing paint-by-numbers of the great masters. I want to try something different. There's so much more.

Also -- a quick addition to my post -- name me one female classical composer. Most people can't even name one. No one learns about Barbara Strozzi or Clara Schumann unless they go looking. Or a female classical pianist. A few come to mind, but not many.

But women in contemporary music, including as composers, are a lot more numerous. (To say nothing of the many women in opera.)


Edited by J Cortese (07/23/09 07:27 PM)
Edit Reason: typo! :-
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#1236264 - 07/23/09 10:51 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: J Cortese]
1RC Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/06
Posts: 502
Loc: Alberta
My one experience introducing a beginner to classical music:

She's a friends little sister, I think 12 or 13 years old. She's playing on a plastic keyboard and had lessons for a few weeks, seems to be testing the waters. I took a look at the book she was working through - got the basics of notation, and some simple nursery rhyme type tunes.

I got the impression the nursery rhymes weren't interesting for her, so I figured maybe she could try Bach's WTC bk1 pre1. Printed it off of IMSLP and just gave it to her, didn't even have time to play it through.

A few weeks later she's telling me how much she loves the piece and now enjoys classical music. Her teacher did a good job! I was stoked to see my little nudge worked out so well. The piece is easy enough to play that she could have the experience of playing something more colorful and musically interesting, something she can show to family and friends.

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#1236286 - 07/24/09 12:13 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: William A.P.M.]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: William Penafiel
I personally have never taught piano music besides classical or jazz, but I understand what you are saying. That idea is why I love, and simply am obssessed with teaching a wide array of composers and styles to my students. This way they get a feel of what they truly like.
[/QUOTE

The greater the range of styles of the music you teach, the greater chance students have of finding their own path and perhaps even their own voice.
Quote:

In all honesty, your opinion on a racial cultural division and economic division makes perfect sense to me. I mean, why can't jazz be considered another style next to minimalist or romantic?

To me it is. Once we got past 19th century Romanticism, which of course is still hanging on in one form or another right through to the present day, music began to branch off in countless directions. I'm very uncomfortable about where things are going right now, but that may be because of my age. smile
[QUOTE]
Art Tatum alone has contributed a lot to piano and the art of improvisation. Should 'classical' composers employing jazz techniques or improvisatory techniques be considered jazz composers? another entity separate from 'classical music'?

I don't think so, and as I've said before, if I had my way the term "classical music" would be forever banned as meaningless. My view is more of a "musical descriptivist". I like using terms and categories to try to help describe music, no more, and we both know that composers themselves have objected to labels. Debussy did not like the term "impressionist".
Quote:

I think that piano music is piano music, and the styles are different. For all I know, the late Cage works have little or no 'traditional structure' behind them; yet they are considered classical works. Something like Tatum's own pieces and arrangements which are much more romantic in style and structure are simply called 'jazz music', and cannot be classical. That seems to be a big problem for me.

It's a problem for me too, and I just don't see it that way. The word "classical" makes it seem as if there is one tradition, somehow winding through time like a broad river, and that anyone who deviates from that "river" is not longer as important. Or that such deviation will keep music from being of lasting importance. By looking backward we can see how utterly horrible people in each time period were at predicting what music would "last", and that includes composers making judgments about their own music. smile
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#1236288 - 07/24/09 12:19 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: 1RC]
Erus Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/26/07
Posts: 386
Loc: Mexico
I had some trouble trying to make my point, here it comes anyway.

I think there is no longer a NEED to learn how to play a musical instrument, or make music at all.

If you want some music, you can get it easily: from the internet, cds, radio, whatever. People has had these providers for quite a while.

I think the current approach to learn/teach how to play an instrument is very similar, if not pretty much the same that was used before the above mentioned providers existed.

Kids don't need to learn to play, neither do adults. It can be very nice to be able to do it (I've been playing the piano for almost two thirds of my life, have been teaching for 3 years), but why should they choose to do so?

Because it's fun? Because it can have some benefits? Because it can be a career? The same can be said about pretty much EVERYTHING.

Why should people know about the basics of human metabolism? Why should people worry about how the universe started? Why should people worry about how their cars or ipods work?

Why should we get into sports? Yeah right, sports are important in education in the US. Do everybody in the US practice a sport after school then?

It is not about kids not wanting to make music, it's a MUCH bigger problem.

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#1236301 - 07/24/09 01:09 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: J Cortese]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: J Cortese
Gary, I'm a newbie at this forum, but your post really struck me at the end when you talked about different worlds. A lot of the standard piano repertoire isn't "my music" either, and I grew up with classical lessons and in a family that loved classical music. My "people's" music is opera -- that's what my family was raised with, and we're all working-class Italians. Other than that, it's ragtime and a lot of 80s arena rock. And a lot of that music, ALL of those bands, have keyboards in them.

My philosophy: start with what you love, see where it leads to. For all I know SOME of my students may feel the same way about the way I teach, and those may be the students I am never able to get to practice, or even care about what I/we do. I just try to beat the odds each year by finding more different things of interest to hook more people. The trick is to find things that people can play (in the beginning) without an incredible amount of work, to get them going. We are all, to some extent, trying to re-invent the wheel, or just find out what the wheel really is.
Quote:

The music that was presented as "piano music" was almost an incidental product that the machine made, and I didn't even realize that's how I was viewing it. I was just there to mechanically reproduce it as a series of hand shapes in space, like a machine operator. The noise the piano made was just diagnostic, used as feedback to tell me whether I'd made the right shapes correctly.

That's pretty depressing.
Quote:

I love using my hands, and I was (and am) a hyperactive perfectionist, so I stuck with it. But the only times I ever really FELT anything, sat back thrilled with the sound itself, was when I played Scott Joplin or Billy Joel.

Have you ever listened to Joel talk about his background? You might be surprised at how "traditional" it was. What kept you from continuing to explore the music you liked? No one ever stopped me from playing anything that interested me. It sounds as though you never became a very strong reader OR got very advanced at playing "by ear".
Quote:

Teachers concentrate on fifth- and sixth-rate classical composers whose music is nothing but a technical exercise while ignoring people like McLaughlin, Paul Simon, and even non-piano classical stuff.

I think you've been around the wrong teachers. I don't ignore any kind of music or any composer. The problem with my students is that they bring in all sorts of music which they want to play, but they don't have the skills to do it. *I* play the music for them, at sight, sometimes note for note, sometimes using the written music as only a guide while improvising a lot. Only a few will do the work it takes to enable themselves to play the music that THEY want to play.

One teacher here, Diane, I think specializes in teaching at least some of the styles of music you mentioned. Regardless, if you get the RIGHT tools, you won't be limited to someone else's choices. That's why you bother to get the tools.
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#1236515 - 07/24/09 12:32 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: Gary D.

Quote:

The music that was presented as "piano music" was almost an incidental product that the machine made, and I didn't even realize that's how I was viewing it. I was just there to mechanically reproduce it as a series of hand shapes in space, like a machine operator. The noise the piano made was just diagnostic, used as feedback to tell me whether I'd made the right shapes correctly.

That's pretty depressing.


It sure is. I'm glad I still always loved music itself; I just wish my education had been different. My entire arts education was like that, though. I hesitate to make any value observation on this board because I don't want to exercise judgment on something like this, but it was a very ... catholic-school way of approaching things, which constituted most of my education. They were great with grammar and math and other value-free rule systems, but the arts education I received was abominable. We read or consumed NO arts materials that were newer than about 1920, and the bulk of it was much older -- we were encouraged to consume NO books, plays, or music that would cause us to reflect on the world in the present, really. :-P

My piano teacher, upon reflection, was an ex-nun and very much adhered to the same attitude -- arbitrary rule systems uber alles. I had no thoughtful arts or literature education whatsoever; everything I got in that vein was from my family or on my own.

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I love using my hands, and I was (and am) a hyperactive perfectionist, so I stuck with it. But the only times I ever really FELT anything, sat back thrilled with the sound itself, was when I played Scott Joplin or Billy Joel.

Have you ever listened to Joel talk about his background? You might be surprised at how "traditional" it was. What kept you from continuing to explore the music you liked? No one ever stopped me from playing anything that interested me. It sounds as though you never became a very strong reader OR got very advanced at playing "by ear".


I don't imagine it would be too surprising; his technique is obviously that of someone with classical training.

I think a big part of why it didn't occur to me is just that I was a very obedient kid and wanted to excel at what the adults told me was of value. Couple that with a working-class background that caused us all I think to devalue what was really important TO US (opera and arena rock -- the idea of opera being elitist still confuses me), and I wasn't likely to associate any of it with what I was told from a very young age was valuable.

Also, and this is very important, I was extremely good at science and mathematics, which was a massive source of competition for my time. When I went into college, I began from the get-go in physics. I ended up with an MS in high-energy physics. That ate my life in a big way, which left absolutely no time for thoughtful ruminations on the arts. (Although the minute I got to college, that was when I grabbed a collection of Joplin's sheet music and started working on that on my own.) After that, languages became a big competitor; I'm one of those people who can pick up languages easily and have spent the past few years focusing on Welsh and Middle Egyptian.

Just typical stuff, I suppose -- cultural and time constraints, and the constraints of my own personality. I can't blame anyone really, but in retrospect, there were ways that it could have been dealt with better. I know that, even if I had had the opportunity to integrate the music I loved into my education, I'm not sure I would have taken it unless it was presented in a way that made clear that it was respected and "real." Working-class people are always told that what we love is lesser stuff; and we can sometimes be eager to shed it in pursuit of legitimacy.

If you are integrating jazz or contemporary music into your students' educations, you'll definitely want to make sure that it's not in a way that makes it seem, "Okay, we'll do a little fun, trivial slumming in your neck of the woods before getting back to the real stuff." It's hard for one person to fight against a whole culture that devalues entire groups of people. It's a hard thing to do; I'm not sure anyone could have convinced me that Foreigner or Verdi was appropriate for piano. I'd spent too long seeing it looked down on. That may have just been something I had to realize on my own at middle age.

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Teachers concentrate on fifth- and sixth-rate classical composers whose music is nothing but a technical exercise while ignoring people like McLaughlin, Paul Simon, and even non-piano classical stuff.

I think you've been around the wrong teachers. I don't ignore any kind of music or any composer.
The problem with my students is that they bring in all sorts of music which they want to play, but they don't have the skills to do it. *I* play the music for them, at sight, sometimes note for note, sometimes using the written music as only a guide while improvising a lot. Only a few will do the work it takes to enable themselves to play the music that THEY want to play.


I am beginning to agree with you. Reading this forum has been a revelation to me, to hear so many teachers talking about this as a seriously interesting arts-education thing instead of just mechanical. The older I get, the more I realize how awful my arts education was.

I'm just glad that I never lost my own love of music itself.

(BTW, I no longer have the slightest IDEA whether I play by ear or sight-read. I do know that I can read music (or could, anyway) but that playing something first-off by just propping the music up in front of me was never anything I could do. I would always have to hear something first before having a go. Once I'd heard it, the sheet music was more of a memory prompt than anything. Is this playing by ear?)


Edited by J Cortese (07/24/09 01:37 PM)
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#1236590 - 07/24/09 02:17 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
I apologize for talking so much; I'm just doing an awful lot of thinking about this, and listening to everyone here is making me do even more.

Originally Posted By: Gary D.
The problem with my students is that they bring in all sorts of music which they want to play, but they don't have the skills to do it. *I* play the music for them, at sight, sometimes note for note, sometimes using the written music as only a guide while improvising a lot. Only a few will do the work it takes to enable themselves to play the music that THEY want to play.


It never became clear to me nor was made clear that this was an option. Part of that again is probably my own personality -- but I do wish it had been said explicitly.

My experiences in graduate physics were much the same, only more so. You got a PhD, and then ALL that was acceptable was to remain in academia for the rest of your life, isolated in an ivory tower, remote from common mortals. And these people didn't just imply it -- they SAID it. Leaving and going into industry was for lesser beings who had "failed" and "couldn't hack it" up in the rarefied atmosphere of academia. They SAID things like this!

My music education only implied it, but it was the same thing. You filled your toolbox, and then I suppose if you couldn't hack it, weren't up to it, or were otherwise content to live a lesser life, you could play contemporary music and be happy with just that. But if you were really serious and wanted to achieve, well, you worshipped Vladimir and Andre and devoted yourself to becoming a clone of them.

Again, it was probably my own personality that led me to swallow this so unquestioningly instead of kicking back against it -- although again, the second I was free of that control, I must have made a beeline for Joplin without even realizing that was what I was doing. Looking back, I don't think I "stumbled" onto anything. Pattee Library is massive; you don't just stumble onto a damned thing in that place. You go searching.

But for an instrument that's inherently machinelike and sat at instead of being held or blown into, and that takes SUCH an enormous amount of technical training to master, I think it's vitally important for it to be taught in a way that makes ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that Paul Simon and Gregg Rolie are as much legitimate role models as Andre Watts, and that they aren't simply what pianists who can't hack it choose to do with their lives. These people are achieving, admirable musicians and not just failed concert pianists -- just like industry PhDs aren't simply academic failures.

The fact that I consider this a revelation probably says more about me than about my teacher. But if you have students with the same inclinations, they may need to be told the same thing out loud: work at filling your toolbox, but you are then free to do ANYTHING, and if you choose not to shoot for a classical concert career, it will NOT be because you are inadequate. One can be a successful contemporary pianist without having first realized that one was a failed concert pianist.

Again, sorry for talking so much ...
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#1236824 - 07/24/09 07:57 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Piano World]
JCR Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/14/08
Posts: 1
Loc: Clovis, CA
Someone once said that 80% of solving a problem, is correctly identifying the problem. Could it be that the real problem to address here is "Why aren't more adults making music?"

When kids don't see making music as a valuable part of the lives of the adults they live around, they are unlikely to be motivated to stick with it themselves? It's the old "do as I say, not as I do" thing. And kids are onto that scheme.

Perhaps it would be worth starting a new Topic: "Why Aren't More Adults Making Music." And right after that could come the discussion of the solution, "How to Get More Adults Making Music."

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#1236906 - 07/24/09 11:25 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: J Cortese]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: J Cortese

It sure is. I'm glad I still always loved music itself; I just wish my education had been different.

I'm not sure that my education was much different than yours. However, I am a rebel, through and through, so it was not possible for me to resist exploring on my own.
Quote:

My piano teacher, upon reflection, was an ex-nun and very much adhered to the same attitude -- arbitrary rule systems uber alles. I had no thoughtful arts or literature education whatsoever; everything I got in that vein was from my family or on my own.

I think I got everything important on my own. I went to school, sat quietly and appeared to cooperate, then got acceptable grades by doing a minimum amount of work there. I hated school.
Quote:

If you are integrating jazz or contemporary music into your students' educations, you'll definitely want to make sure that it's not in a way that makes it seem, "Okay, we'll do a little fun, trivial slumming in your neck of the woods before getting back to the real stuff."

(BTW, I no longer have the slightest IDEA whether I play by ear or sight-read. I do know that I can read music (or could, anyway) but that playing something first-off by just propping the music up in front of me was never anything I could do. I would always have to hear something first before having a go. Once I'd heard it, the sheet music was more of a memory prompt than anything. Is this playing by ear?) [/quote]
Let me turn this around: are you unable to read a book because you have not seen a movie about the book? Or have not heard someone else read the book? Reading allows you to play music you have never heard. If you can't do this, you can't explore music without having someone play it for you.

On the other hand, if you ONLY read, you can't change anything that is written. You can only play what someone else has notated. Being able to play something you have never heard, just from reading the music, and being able to play something you have never seen, just by hearing it, are the opposite ends of what I think a really well-rounded musician should be able to do. However, as you very well know there are players who can't read but who play very, very well. I believe they all wish they could also read music, but to put them down as less than excellent musicians would just be stupid.
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#1236907 - 07/24/09 11:30 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: J Cortese

It sure is. I'm glad I still always loved music itself; I just wish my education had been different.

I'm not sure that my education was much different than yours. However, I am a rebel, through and through, so it was not possible for me to resist exploring on my own.
Quote:

My piano teacher, upon reflection, was an ex-nun and very much adhered to the same attitude -- arbitrary rule systems uber alles. I had no thoughtful arts or literature education whatsoever; everything I got in that vein was from my family or on my own.

I think I got everything important on my own. I went to school, sat quietly and appeared to cooperate, then got acceptable grades by doing a minimum amount of work there. I hated school.
Quote:

If you are integrating jazz or contemporary music into your students' educations, you'll definitely want to make sure that it's not in a way that makes it seem, "Okay, we'll do a little fun, trivial slumming in your neck of the woods before getting back to the real stuff."

I don't teach that way at all. That would be absurd. I see my role as a facilitator. I try to help students find their own path and then follow it.
Quote:

(BTW, I no longer have the slightest IDEA whether I play by ear or sight-read. I do know that I can read music (or could, anyway) but that playing something first-off by just propping the music up in front of me was never anything I could do. I would always have to hear something first before having a go. Once I'd heard it, the sheet music was more of a memory prompt than anything. Is this playing by ear?)

Let me turn this around: are you unable to read a book because you have not seen a movie about the book? Or have not heard someone else read the book? Reading allows you to play music you have never heard. If you can't do this, you can't explore music without having someone play it for you.

On the other hand, if you ONLY read, you can't change anything that is written. You can only play what someone else has notated. Being able to play something you have never heard, just from reading the music, and being able to play something you have never seen, just by hearing it, are the opposite ends of what I think a really well-rounded musician should be able to do. However, as you very well know there are players who can't read but who play very, very well. I believe they all wish they could also read music, but to put them down as less than excellent musicians would just be stupid.
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#1236927 - 07/25/09 12:52 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Gary D.]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Originally Posted By: J Cortese

It sure is. I'm glad I still always loved music itself; I just wish my education had been different.

I'm not sure that my education was much different than yours. However, I am a rebel, through and through, so it was not possible for me to resist exploring on my own.


Wow. In my neighborhood, academics WAS rebellion. My exploration bug was caught by going beyond what was taught in class, and I had a geek-tinkerer for a father. (He was also the opera nut.) The difference I think was that all that ended up supporting the classwork, which took minimal effort. Compared to most of the little monsters who were my "peers," the company of adults was a relief. I didn't so much hate school or learning as hating the other students and just finding school boring. But that was SO easy to supplement.

In some ways, I suppose it was also involuntary on my part. When I see words or numbers, my brain seizes on them so hard it cramps. Academics were trivial.

Originally Posted By: Gary D.
Quote:

(BTW, I no longer have the slightest IDEA whether I play by ear or sight-read. I do know that I can read music (or could, anyway) but that playing something first-off by just propping the music up in front of me was never anything I could do. I would always have to hear something first before having a go. Once I'd heard it, the sheet music was more of a memory prompt than anything. Is this playing by ear?)

Let me turn this around: are you unable to read a book because you have not seen a movie about the book? Or have not heard someone else read the book? Reading allows you to play music you have never heard. If you can't do this, you can't explore music without having someone play it for you.


To me, music is more linguistic -- unless I hear it, I can't tell how it's pronounced, and the written bits are dead to me. They can be picked up with minimal enough effort; grammar is dog-simple. But they don't breathe.

I guess I am more auditory than I thought. I can read a book without seeing a movie ... but I sure can't learn a language without getting it through my ears, my eyes, every possible way of getting it in my head. But as easy as reading is -- and as addictive as writing is, the ears and mouth are paramount. There's a whole layer to words and music that writing down the mere ideas doesn't even begin to touch. If I'm reading a book in French or Welsh, it's not just the ideas I care about. It's the WORDS, the letters, the sounds, the way they roll around and feel in the mouth and interact with one another. Writing communicates the ideas well enough, but if it's just the ideas I care about, hell -- I might as well just read a translation. That's all written music is -- useful, but a translation. Looking at "llongyfarchiadau" on a page will tell you something, but it won't even approach the juice and joy of getting it into your mouth or your ears.

As an example, I didn't need to see the Harry Potter movie to read the first book ... but once I found the first book in Welsh (and French and Spanish), I haven't bothered with either the movie in English OR the English version of the book ever again. The rare times I watch DVDs, I go out of my way to engage the dubbing in any language they have, and I'll listen to ANYTHING if it's not in English. I once gave my roommate a head tilt when she came home and found me watching one of her sci-fi show DVDs dubbed in German. I don't speak German. The pure pleasure of making the new sounds, listening to them, and trying to detect words and patterns is more attractive to me than anything else. The familiarity of the ideas is only good insofar as it makes me able to follow the new language.

I know. My brain's weird. :-) We'll see what I crank out when the clav gets here.


Edited by J Cortese (07/25/09 01:21 AM)
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#1236942 - 07/25/09 02:07 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: J Cortese]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Also, very quick reply: believe me, you don't need to sell me on the positive aspects of literacy! I definitely don't have to be convinced it's worth learning. I just literally didn't know where I fell on the sight-reading versus by-ear spectrum and was asking which I seemed to be. From what I've said, it's becoming obvious to me that I was much closer to a by-ear player than I ever realized.

I was always able to read music and play from it, but could get any piece into my head so quickly and with almost no effort by hearing it that it was always just easier to hear it once before diving in. It cut huge amounts of time off of the learning curve.
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#1236944 - 07/25/09 02:09 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: J Cortese]
gooddog Online   content
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Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4824
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Sadly, another reason are budget cuts slicing into elementary and middle school music programs.

(Sorry, I don't have time to read the whole thread so I hope I not repeating.)
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#1236957 - 07/25/09 03:13 AM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: JCR]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
Originally Posted By: JCR
Someone once said that 80% of solving a problem, is correctly identifying the problem. Could it be that the real problem to address here is "Why aren't more adults making music?"

When kids don't see making music as a valuable part of the lives of the adults they live around, they are unlikely to be motivated to stick with it themselves? It's the old "do as I say, not as I do" thing. And kids are onto that scheme.

Perhaps it would be worth starting a new Topic: "Why Aren't More Adults Making Music." And right after that could come the discussion of the solution, "How to Get More Adults Making Music."


I think this is worth repeating. Very good point IMO.

What I often see is that kids have more free time today than they used to (although they claim the opposite). It's the parents that are so busy doing other things. Kids need encouragement and role models. A teacher can only provide it for one hour every week.
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#1237105 - 07/25/09 01:14 PM Re: Why Kids Don't Make Music [Re: Chris H.]
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4814
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Chris H.

What I often see is that kids have more free time today than they used to (although they claim the opposite). It's the parents that are so busy doing other things. Kids need encouragement and role models. A teacher can only provide it for one hour every week.

That may be true for many kids, but there is another problem. Many parents seem to think that every kid should be involved in about 10 extra activities, and as a result the kids sort of "shop around", trying this and that, but don't stick to or commit to anything.

It's not enough for the girls to play piano or dance. They have to do both AND take tennis lessons and who knows what else. Their lives are over-structured. Add to that the increasing emphasis on test scores and teaching TO the tests (cramming) and the result is increasingly superficial knowledge.
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