CLASSICAL GUITAR STUDY: ATTITUDE AND REALITY
by Sonia Michelson
Note: This publication is shared with the permission of the author. Numerous editorial changes have been made to reflect stylistic changes that have taken place since its initial publication in 1981.
Through music a child:
Enters into a world of beauty
Expresses their innermost self
Tastes the joy of creating
Widens their sympathies
Develops their mind
Soothes and refines their spirit
Adds grace to their body.
-National Child Welfare Association
Learning to play the guitar is an exciting undertaking for both student and parent. And understanding music can be an exhilarating experience. However, any worthwhile accomplishment takes time and effort. So patience is one key word to growth and ultimate success.
The greatest problem for students, teachers and parents alike, is practice: how to get enough practice, how to use the time effectively and how to enjoy practicing. Practice hours are limited and all of us have busy schedules. How then, can we make the most efficient use of the available time.
Below are some helpful suggestions for both parents and children. Success at lesson time and at home will depend upon your attention to all these ideas. Your attitude and commitment will insure that your child 01 practice well. And with regular practice your child will learn to play the guitar beautifully and enjoy music for years to come.
AT THE GUITAR LESSON
- Bring a notebook to the lesson so that you can write down not only what is taught, but how it is taught. Your child needs to feel that you are involved and really care about their progress.
- Please refrain from making musical corrections or comments about your child’s playing. This is the teacher’s job during the lesson and your job at home, be especially careful to avoid making expression of disappointment or delight while your child is playing, Any kind of emotionally charged exclamations- whether positive Or negative – will distract him, break their concentration, and remove their attention from playing the guitar.
- If there are behavior problems at the lesson (short attention span and restlessness) please leave the disciplinary task to the teacher. If, however, your child is testing to see how much he can get away with, then a single word from you will often help.
- Please come to your lesson a few minutes early in order to listen to the last portion of the previous lesson. Quiet listening will help your child realize the purpose of coming to the lesson. At the conclusion of the lesson, please leave quietly in order that the next lesson may begin promptly.
- If there are questions about the material being covered during the lesson, please ask the teacher. If the parent wishes to discuss some other aspect of the teaching and learning experience, please call the teacher for a phone conference.
- Parents are the key to success. However, the child is expected to come to the lesson ready to learn, Attitude is all important.
- The parent who accompanies the child to the lesson is expected to be the child’s home teacher.
- Continuity and regular lessons are very important to your child’s progress. Each lesson is prepared with much thought and individual care. Please make every effort to attend each weekly lesson.
“It is in the first years of the primary school that the first laying of foundations, the collecting of the first, decisive musical experience begins.
What the child learns here, they will never forget; it becomes their flesh and blood. But it will not become merely their own individual possession.
‘What the child receives at the primary level becomes, at the same time, a component part of the public spirit’ – Sandor Imre
It will affect the public taste of the whole country. This very idea warns us that the very first music lessons are to be chosen with special care.”
– Zoltan Kodaly
The Selected Writings Zoltan Kodaly
On Teaching Children:
The greatest duty and joy given to us adults is the privilege of developing our children’s potentialities and of educating desirable human beings with beautiful harmonious minds and high sensitivity.
I believe sensitivity and love toward music and art are very important things to all people whether they are politicians, scientists, businessmen or laborers. They are the things that make our lives rich.
– Shinichi Suzuki
- During the week daily listening and practice are essential. The parent is expected to emphasize the importance of listening to the cassette tape. Please play the tape daily for your child. The importance of daily listening cannot be overemphasized: in the absence of written music, the cassette tape or recording is all the child has to go on before he reads music.
- As Dr. Suzuki has noted, ” An ear for music is not innate. It is an aptitude which can only be developed by listening. If a child is to learn to play, he must first learn to listen, to hear each note accurately.”
- Do not try to play along with the tape. This will cause frustration if the child cannot keep up with the guitarist on the tape. First listen to the tape carefully. Sing the song with your child and clap the rhythm, using the rhythm syllables (ta, ti-ti ). Then use the Sol-Fa hand signals after you have finished listening to the tape.
- Be sure and use some eurythmics, hand clapping and marching at each lesson. Always try to include some type of singing or circle game at each practice session. These games are the joy of music to young children.
The emphasis placed upon rote material is due to the realization that if music does not give pleasure to children, the teaching of skills is pointless, according to Lois Choksy in The Kodaly Method
Plato, in The Republic said with telling effect, “Avoid compulsion and let early education be a manner of amusement. Young children learn my games; compulsory education cannot remain in the soul”
And more recently Jean Piaget wrote, “Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him”
“The remarkable aspect of learning by play is that it is never lost,” said Maria Piers. “Later lessons acquired in school are forgotten, but the things we learn in play -hard but playfully won – we never forget”
- Do not overlook the Curwen hand signals. These indicate the musical intervals in a spatial context.
- Play ahead on the tape so that your child learns the songs before he is asked to perform them. Listen to at least six songs ahead on the tape, in advance of the piece your child is currently studying. When your child has the melody of the song in his or her memory, then he is ready to play it on the guitar.
- For the very young student: make practice times very short. Perhaps not more than five minutes at a time. Two practice sessions a day are highly advisable.
- Limit the child’s practice time to their attention span.
As soon as their attention wavers, switch to another piece or a game, or sing a previously learned song or stop entirely. A song will often change moods. If attention wavers, othing is learned but resistance. Sometimes negative feelings toward the guitar may develop if practice time is pushed beyond the attention span. (You will find that the attention span will grow naturally with the child’s age and increasing ability.)
- Make sure your child’s posture while sitting with the guitar is correct. Always check feet, arms and start with hand Position One before beginning to practice. Be sure the foot stool is the correct height. And once your child starts to read music use a music stand in a well-lighted room.
- The Mother’s or Father’s presence, involvement and encouragement at these practice sessions are vitally important. Display a positive attitude toward your child’s efforts. Guide him toward self-discovery. Angela Diller in The. Splendor of Music noted wisely, ” Don’t teach children, let them learn.”
According to John Kendall, in The Suzuki Concept, it is important that the student become an active partner in their own teaching process. How can this be accomplished? “Fundamentally, through the questions that the teacher or parent ask, such as: “How can you do this?”
Ultimately, every guitarist is self-taught. No teacher can give the final answers; he can only help the student along the arduous road of self-discovery.
Students begin to solve their own problems at the age of five or six. A child does not have to be a genius to answer the question: “Why do we place the fingertip right next to the fret?” Almost all will think of reasons: “To give a better tone [or] so there won’t be any buzzing sound.” This is more useful in every way than telling the child You must put your finger next to the fret as close as possible.
If at a lesson the teacher says to the student, “Practice this five times,” the parent has two options upon returning home: “Practice five times the way the teacher told you” or “What was it the teacher told you to practice?” The latter, of course, is preferable. If the child is vague in response, just keep making possible suggestions as to the correct answer. Finally, the child may answer “Oh, I’m supposed to keep my second finger down during that phrase.” With that statement he has become involved in a process. The parent has succeeded.
- For the older student: help your child establish a regular practice time and encourage her/him to keep to it each day. Listening to the tape or records is important daily also.
- Don’t get into a discussion or argument about practice. Assume that your child wants to learn to play the guitar and that practice is a necessary ingredient toward success. Praise your child when a practice session has gone well. “That was very good. Now can you do it a little better with a warmer tone.” “Let’s listen to the accents and the phrasing.” “You played that arpeggio more smoothly today.”
- Teaching should always be in term of self-discovery. Measure each child according to their own ability rather than in comparison to others.
- Try to set up a mutually agreeable time for you and your child to practice together. If a session does not go well, try not to express anger. The parent might show mild disappointment that the goal was not reached that day because “the teacher asked us to play every day.”
- In the case of the very young pre-school child, practice should take place several times a day for short periods. The mother should try to build practice into the day’s routine just as she manages other aspects of. care and training of the young child.
- According to Elizabeth Mills in The Suzuki Concept, “Dr. Suzuki does say unreservedly that through his concept any child can learn to play beautifully, and in doing so will gain greater dignity and happiness. It is for us, as teachers, parents and humanitarians to provide the environment in which this spiritual growth becomes possible.”
- If practice difficulties arise between parent and child, the burden of staying calm and collected rests on the parents’ shoulders. This requires control and patience but is well worth the effort. Ask the child to perform just one very short but well-defined section, i.e., one line, one phrase, two measures, or just one exercise each day. This establishes a daily routine. And don’t forget, lesson time can be a good place for learning even if practice is not done at home.
- To get the most out of practice: know what to practice. Listen attentively to the teacher at lesson time and practice the material learned in class. It helps to write this down at lesson time.
- Make practicing short passages over and over again an enjoyable event. Take toothpicks or marbles out of a box for every time a passage is played well. Keep charts or give a star for a good practice session.
- The parent’s role toward efficient practice is to be present and undistracted during the practice session. Please understand what is to be practiced and give plenty of praise when something does go right.
- During practice sessions, please concentrate on only one point at a time. Sometimes a parent gives too many instructions at one time i.e., your thumb is not forward enough, your wrist is too low, curve your fingers. As Dr. Suzuki has pointed out, “the child feels that he cannot change all of these things at once and becomes discouraged.”
- Each piece in this course of guitar study has been very carefully chosen. Please do not skip certain pieces during the practice sessions. Each piece builds and assists in the development of technique in the others that follow. In these earliest beginnings we form a secure foundation upon which all later technique rests.
- As Nada Mangialetti in her “Tips to Parents” has suggested: concentrate on one aspect of the piece at a time.
-choose to work on either the fingering/notes
– or the breaths/ phrasing
– or hand position
– fingers and tone projection.
While you are working on one of these aspects, overlook errors made in other aspects. For instance, if you are working on loud/soft, overlook the misplacement of phrasing.
- Dr. Suzuki suggests that during the practice periods at home, the mother should make it clear to the child that she is their friend and helper. She should avoid negative criticism. Her remarks might include such as these: “Let’s see how you can play that better. Remember how the teacher asked us to practice this way every day? Why don’t you play Lightly Row straight through without stops? Just like a recital!”
- In his book, Nurtured by Love, Dr. Suzuki discusses practice and the development of ability as follows:
“My child doesn’t like to practice at home,” complain quite a few parents. It is because they do not understand the mind of the child who thinks that the violin [or guitar] is fun. Parents of this sort resent paying good money just to have the child think it is a mere game. In other words, they are calculating about education, and their attitude discourages the children.
Starting children off with the fun of playing a game, letting the spirit of fun lead them in the right direction is the way all education of children should be started. (Please re-read No. 4)
The thing that matters is the result: that the child acquires the skill happily. If you are formal and strict and have a “this is education” attitude, you will discourage the child.
First you must educate the mind, then inculcate the skill.
- The hardest part of practice is beginning – everyone who practices knows this, one answer is to have the guitar accessible. Brenda Wurman, in her comments about practice states: try to divide the practice session between “practice” and “playing”.
Practice should be a time of undivided attention to a particular phrase or passage.
Playing should be a review of pieces already learned.
- Listening cannot be emphasized enough. A great deal of attention in our society is on visual impressions, and very little on aural development. Listening to tapes and records and attending concerts are extremely important and will help to develop this inner ear sensitivity.
Kodaly, in his system of music education, suggests that singing is one of the very best ways to develop the inner ear and a feeling for pulse. If a child is helped to sing properly and recognizes intervals (Please refer to No. 5) he will listen to their own voice intently with greater concentration on sound. Do enjoy the songs and sing them with pleasure with your child.
- Play listening games at practice periods:
– high/ low
– echo sol-fa intervals with the voice
– echo rhythms by clapping hands or with rhythm instruments ( such as drums, triangle, cymbals, tambourine)
– echo playing of different rhythms on the guitar.
- To help develop the inner ear sensitivity try playing such games as:
– Simon Says
– Hum one of the pieces and ask the child to name the piece.
- Each child develops according to their own time table, an inner rate of development according to Mae Ferro in The Psychology of Early Learning,
“The degree of help needed by each child is different. Please allow for repetition and do not rush the child. (You may be bored, he is not).
Repetition is natural to intuitive learning. The child instinctively repeats to reinforce a skill. He is taking pleasure in learning which can be an exhilarating experience.
Children need time to develop, to test, to explore, to repeat, to reinforce, to acquire and to learn. Time is a precious gift that a parent can make to a child in a world that is moving so fast and in so hectic a pace.”
- When you do use verbal criticism, always give the positive criticism first, the negative criticism last. Even if the child seems to have done everything wrong, find something you can praise him for first. “You sat up straight! Your right hand looked very good. You played it all the way through!”
- According to Nada Mangialetti, children between the ages of 3 and 5 delight in repetition and will not find it boring unless you communicate this attitude to them. Then they will copy your attitude! If you are tired of listening to the same pieces over and over again, please do not communicate this attitude to the child, either by direct statement “Oh, not Twinkle again” or by sighs or groans.
- Dr. Suzuki has said that the word “patience” should never be applied to the learning experience by either the teacher or the parent. Patience has the connotation of controlled frustration. Very few parents show impatience when an infant is learning to walk or to talk. They realize that the child has an inner time table, and he will progress at their own rate.
Yet when the child begins their intellectual learning or the learning of a skill, the attitude changes. Many parents become over-anxious …impatient.
- Although all normal children can learn music, they do learn at different rates. One child may need 500 repetitions to learn something well. Another child may do it well after only 50 repetitions, or 10. The point is that both can learn to do it well.
- Physically the nervous system is not fully developed until age 14, according to Nada Manieletti. What the child sees and hears is actually different from what the parent sees and hears. Intellectually, what may seem obvious to you may be a concept which the child has not yet developed and cannot develop until a certain age. Ask the child to do or to answer only the tasks and questions which you know he can do or answer correctly.
- Or. Suzuki writes in Nurtured by Love “a child who practices well shows it in their playing. You can tell immediately. Practicing according to the correct method and practicing as much as possible is the way to acquire ability.
If you compare a person who practices five minutes a day with one who practices three hours a day, the difference, even though they both practice daily, is enormous. Those who fail to practice sufficiently fail to acquire ability.
Only the effort that is actually expended will bear results. There is no short cut. If the five minute a day person wants to accomplish what the three hour a day person does, it will take him nine years to accomplish what the other accomplishes in three months.
The development of ability is straightforward. People either become experts at doing the right thing, which is seen as fine talent, or they become experts at doing something wrong and unacceptable, which is seen as lack of talent. Depending upon these two things – practice and the practice of the right things – superior ability can be produced in anyone.”
A person should hear a little music,
read a little poetry and
see a fine picture every day of their life,
in order that wordly cares may not
obliterate the sense of the beautiful
implanted in the human soul.