I had a rehearsal with my bluegrass/Irish folk band this week. We did it in broad daylight, because we needed some pictures for our website (yet to come) so that people who have heard our performances (yet to come) can check us out. Yes, it is quite a futurologic thing, this band, but nevertheless, there we were, on a Saturday afternoon, rehearsing in the private pub which is part of the house of one of the band members. And because the rehearsal was in the afternoon I took my wife and kids, and so did some of the other band members.
So while five musicians tried their best, five kids aged 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 were running around and occasionally some of them sat down in the pub (fun to write such a sentence as a father) and listened for a while. And when the rehearsal was finished, the boys aged 3 and 6 were building their own party in the pub, strumming their little guitars, while the girls aged 2 and 4 jumped around (indestructible gender conventions).
Idyllic, yes – it was summer, musicians and those attached to them sat in the garden eating home-baked scones, talking and looking at the meadows surrounding the house, while the kids were toying around with balls, plastic tractors and musical instruments.
But for me it was also a glimpse into the early stages of learning “musicking”. I firmly belief that learning to play music should not be seen as a form of education but as a kind of habitual play. I hope my kids learn what it is to play music because they see and hear their parents fiddling and whistling around just for fun, because they are allowed to bang the piano occasionally, because they have their own “guitars” (ukeleles should be major musical devices in any household with children), because they make up their own songs.
Quite a lot of the interviews I do with people about their musical biography confirm this idea. Seeing and hearing your parents, or your neighbors, perform music; playing musical games; singing, clapping and dancing around with someone inspired by music (never mind the “level” or the “quality” – as long as it is fun it’s alright) – in many of the stories that seems to do the initial trick.
So when one of my neighbours asked me tonight if I could tune a children’s guitar they were going to send to their 6-years old grandson I happily agreed, even if the guitar was something in between a toy and a real instrument and difficult to tune at all. I told them that the tuning was not the important thing. The important thing is that the 6-year old kid will have a guitar to run around with, to drop on the floor, to strum, to make silly movements with, to talk and dream about, to impress his friends with. If the guitar sticks around, at some point he will get a better instrument, and maybe a teacher.
To learn to play music you just have to play.