Twinkle, Twinkle Musical Star

Share

Synopsis

Early musical nurturing spreads a wide creative ripple through life.

Q.  How many music teachers does it take to unlock the door to a child’s creativity?

A.  Just one. But only if the teacher can show the child there isn’t any door.  

_____________________________________

AMY BESHARA HAS BEEN TEACHING violin, viola and piano to the children of Montclair, New Jersey, for ten years.

However, she doesn’t call it teaching. She calls it Getting Out of the Way.

“Kids are innately creative,” she says. “Your job as teacher isn’t to instill an artificial entity called ‘talent’ but to facilitate the creativity that’s inside the child to begin with.”

Beshara believes all children possess innate musicality in the same way they are born with innate language ability.

“The way we learn music is similar to how we learn language. We observe and absorb patterns, repeating them and becoming adept at their use first with ourselves, then others. All a child needs is exposure to the language — or the music — and interaction using it.”

The key element is interaction, which Beshara initiates at Lesson One by helping students perceive a personal relationship with basic musical elements. She calls it “making your own musical paint box”. And the mixing of artistic media is intentional.

“I do a lot of work with scales and chords, not just so they’ll memorize them, but so they understand the relationship of the notes to each other and recognize the function of each note on their instrument internally, aurally, inside their mind. The goal is for them to be proficient and equipped to use those scales in whatever way they might choose.”

In its truest form, she says, that choice is inevitably shaped by the student.

“I’ve heard from more than one parent that their child plays the violin to unwind from a stressful day at school. My challenge is to help the student use the instrument to express the emotions and feelings they have in their life – a skill that’s going to make them a more effective musician in so many ways.”

Beshara believes technical instruction can reach a deeper cognitive level with young musicians. “Having kids play loud, soft, fast, slow, long, short … these are technical aspects of music that give the student a sense of control, a sense of being in touch with a feeling or state of mind … a way to think about the music they’re making as more than exercises outside them but as something coming from them.”

To critics who insist that a musician can only be “creative” after years of training, Beshara responds:  

“Creativity starts the moment a child sings their first song or plays the first note on an instrument. A child can take a simple tune like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and play it many different ways. They enjoy finding the ways! Variation and improvisation are a huge component of my teaching, because they’re so vital to what we do as adult musicians. Why would you keep those elements out of early music education?”

Beshara’s training at Manhattan School of Music and Trinity College of Music, London, was focused on standard Western European classical repertoire and pedagogy. She didn’t feel the urge to explore her own musical creativity until discovering — quite by accident in her early twenties — the fiddle music of Cape Breton, Scotland and Ireland.

“Fiddle tunes pack so much energy and passion in a small musical space,” she says. “I saw that what I wanted to say, I could now create music to do that. For my students, it’s about making sure they know from the start that they don’t have to wait 20 years to play music that speaks to them or about them.”

Beshara sees the traditional lesson format as more than rote information transfer between teacher and pupil. By offering children the chance to be creative in a positive group setting on a regular basis, learning music becomes a subtle yet powerful tool for imprinting patterns of cooperation and innovation.

“As they get deeper into their music over the years, these are kids who are going grow to be clear thinkers, risk-takers, communicators. They’re going to be exerting influence in their classrooms, their social networks, their work places.”

The humble music lesson as a community-building mechanism for the future?

For millions of young people (and adults) throughout the world, it’s happening every day.

As naturally as singing do-re-mi.

 _____________________________________

Amy Beshara’s tips for stimulating creativity in beginning music students:

·     Ask for more. “I’ve learned how to first listen, then find something good to say about their attempt, then ask for more. Just speaking that way eliminates the negative and keeps a child open to suggestion.”

 ·    Don’t be afraid to blend. Beshara incorporates aspects of Suzuki Method, Dalcroze Eurythmics and the Mark O’Connor Violin Method into her teaching. “There are many ways to teach music, because there are many ways to learn it. Teachers need to be as receptive as students to new ideas and new uses of older ideas.”

 ·    Color outside the staff lines – literally. “We doodle!” Beshara has students draw pictures of the sounds they’re making – note passages, chords, scales. For students whose proclivities are visual and not auditory, being able to access a learning strength is a plus. She also encourages dance and expressive movement, via her Dalcroze training.

 ·    Celebrate eclectic. Beshara spices standard classical repertoire with folk tunes from around the world. “You wouldn’t expect a child to become fully literate by having them read only one type of book or only one style of writing. Musical literacy happens when children have as much exposure as possible to as many kinds of music as possible.”

 ·    Leave the gate open. At the end of each lesson, Beshara allows time for students to make up a new song. “They may see it as a reward for doing their assigned material; it’s really a way to keep them in touch with their own thoughts and how they can use music to express that.”

Image: Amy Beshara and her student

Tags: education, music, musicality

blog comments powered by Disqus