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Establishing an Independent Musician

A quintessential point made by Dr. Suzuki is that music teachers are not just making better musicians; they are making better human beings. This somewhat daunting task may be boiled down to the more tangible goal of creating an independent musician. The establishing of an independent musician begins as soon as that very first lesson.

Young children rely on their parents for just about everything. The parent is their provider and protector. So, in many ways, the parent is a child’s medium to the outside world. They pick up cues from their parents on how they should respond to strange situations. This is very important for a teacher to keep in mind especially when first interacting with a young student. It should not be a teacher’s goal to instantly befriend the child. Rather, the initial main focus should be on the parent. If a child sees that their parent is relaxed and willing to talk around this new and unfamiliar person, so too will they be relaxed and more inclined to talk.

The child sitting in front of the teacher is not merely a sponge waiting to absorb all musical information thrown at him. He already has likes and dislikes. The child probably has a favorite color, a pet or toy that he would simply love to describe in detail if one bothered to ask. By asking a child about topics they are familiar with, a teacher can provide affirmation for the student that they are an independent person.

The affirmation of the individual therefore leads to the introduction of the instrument. The environment that must be created by the teacher at this point should be one of comfortable enthusiasm. The teacher already knows they like the instrument they teach. Now it is the teacher’s job to share that enthusiasm with an individual who has probably not formed any opinion whatsoever on the instrument. Allowing the child to sit close to their parent and placing the instrument in between where the student and teacher are sitting creates a very safe environment. The instrument creates a barrier but is also not being forced in the child’s face. It must be an object of interest rather than fright.

In the field of Music Therapy, the musical instrument is used as the medium for “first contact.” This notion may be easily translated to the lesson environment. Once a safe space has been created the introduction may begin. Any number of things may be done at this point but naming the various instrument parts is always an easy way to start. The presentation of part names should be as neutral as the teacher plucking an A string and then simply telling the child to “pluck the A.”

There is a very powerful psychological change happening at this point of the lesson. In Music Therapy it is called “establishing the touch barrier.” What this means is that, while the child may not realize it, by experimentally “plucking the A,” something that the teacher showed them how to do, they have opened their mind to the possibility of learning the instrument before them. They reached out and touched (tested) the same instrument that the teacher touched (played).

These first steps at that first lesson lay the foundation for the establishing of an independent musician. The teacher has taken a child that is almost totally reliant on their parent, recognized their individuality, and created an environment which allowed the child to approach the unknown instrument on their own terms. The mindset of the child during those few simple actions are the beginnings of what the teacher and parent must cultivate to a grander scale. As the child grows to an adult, they should feel like they have been given the solid background/environment to approach new musical challenges on their own.

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