1. Music lessons are extra curricular.
Myth. Music lessons are a fundamental part of education in the same way that vegetables are a fundamental part of diet. People who ‘never eat vegetables’ may claim they look and feel fine (and are probably being honest when they do so), but that is because they have no idea how they could look and feel if they were to eat better [and exercise more]. It’s not one month, or three years, that make the difference: it’s a lifetime commitment. Children that copy their friends’ homework and get their information at the expense of other people’s hard work might not get caught, might graduate, get a degree, a job, and live their entire existence in a state of blissful mediocrity. The people who see the issue are the ones that are blighted with the lazy and self-absorbed nature of their colleague. The people who worked hard to get to the very same place, and have to watch the assery up close and persistently, are the ones that have to deal with the chosen self-indulgences of their associate.
The lack of musical education affects your life in exactly the same way. People who haven’t had it might see minimal difference in their lives. Those who have had music education have the necessary light to see the lack. People who have had five or more years of musical training don’t frequently regale others with woeful and regretful tales of their lessons and all the uselessness they suffered over the course of the education. But how often have parents come to their child’s teachers wishing they had had more music education in their training? How many times have you heard adults (with or without kids) wishing that they had ‘stuck with it’ for just a little longer? The lack is there. Will you be shunned from social events and ostracized at benefit dinners because you can’t read music? No. Will no one date you because you can’t carry a tune? Can’t tell Mozart from Prokofiev? Brubeck from Jarrett? No. It might not affect your ability to get a job, your basic ability to appreciate music, or your ability to interact as a normal human, but the depth of your character, the flexibility of your soul, and the organization and discipline of your mind are fundamentally broadened and strengthened when you are musically educated.
2. Sometimes, music is just for fun, and that’s ok.
This is not so much myth as it is a horrid misuse of English. ‘Fun’ is a subjective, descriptive, term, and frequently refers to something that requires no functional effort, or something that completely masks the function of the activity. The latter one, in particular, irks me in eighty different directions. For example, ‘games make learning fun.’ (I’m actually cringing as I type this.) Sports make social skills easier to learn [because it’s a game]. Yes, sports and games are fun. They should never be the predominant reason you or your child is willing to learn something efficiently and well. Games are tools; when you use the tool because the tool is fun and the goal of the task becomes secondary, then you are misunderstanding that tool, as well as your time investment. The importance of understanding process, progress, and loving each for what they are – not because the two have to be masked in order for growth to occur – is crucial for maturity in every area of development.
I have no problems with doing things for fun. I take issue when I am told that learning should be fun. It is fun; for some people, it is fun all the time. For others, only infrequently. Learning requires discipline and the ability to fight through resistance, because by definition, when you learn something, you are expanding your current comfort zone. Masking the uncomfortable aspects of this activity lessens the lesson. ‘Should be fun’ goes hand in hand with wanting to spare everyone the suffering inherent in frustration and stress. Stress is a natural part of life. Avoiding it by hiding it or dressing it up in order to make it easier to bear is exactly the same as George Costanza riding around in that motorized wheelchair.
3. Some people are just better, no matter how hard you work.
Fact. Does it suck? Yes. Does it mean I work less hard, care less, want to be better less fervently? No. I don’t do things because I want to be the best. And neither should you. Competition is a great motivating tool, but it is not why improvement is important. Getting better all the time is a purely selfish act, and in that sense, it means your time is wasted if you are comparing yourself to others at every moment. That’s not improvement. That’s beating someone else, and while they may have a whole mess of awesome wrapped up in what they do, they aren’t you, and you won’t beat them that way. Do what you do, be amazed by what others do, and just get better. That’s all.
4. If I don’t hate my mistakes, I won’t fix them.
Fact. A teacher is only there 15-20% of the time, if you’re lucky. You can practice for hours and hours and improve only minimally if you aren’t extremely focused during your practice time. That means you have to be in charge of how well you listen, what you tolerate, and how you go about fixing things. Discipline and standards. At all times.
5. If practicing becomes a screaming, fighting, ordeal, then it’s best to take a break. Maybe we’ll go back to it, but it’s better to not make things ugly.
Myth. Different characters respond to situations differently. Discipline is a funny issue in that some kids incorporate it more easily into their routine than others. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t apply to the kids who don’t take to it as well. Ugly situations, when it comes to practice time, are opportunities for children to learn boundaries, and for adults to practice setting them. Are there ways to mitigate disaster? Yes. Is it possible to avoid a scream fest when it’s practice time? Yes. Does it take work, time, and a lot of drive? YES. Will there be occasional fails? Of course. Commit or don’t. Do you have to pick your battles? Yes, but make sure that the battles you choose to lose are wins that your kid can afford to have.
6. Music is less valid as a profession because it isn’t necessary, isn’t popular, and has a scarily low average income rate.
Myth. Well, fact. But no: myth. Ok. One at a time.
Music is so crucially necessary, our world would devolve without it. That’s not fact; that’s my opinion. But music is everywhere. It’s in everything, all the time. Whether or not you acknowledge it as crucial has more to do with where you are in your life and development than it does with the reality you currently occupy. I don’t know that we would devolve, but based on how important it is, I can easily imagine de-evolution occurring if we were to spontaneously find ourselves permanently and completely lacking music of any kind.
Classical training isn’t popular. Have you heard what passes for music these days? Yeah, there’s a reason there are so few amazing bands out there (or, conversely, that the amazing bands get less media attention than their fewer faceted competitors). Most dancers will have some form of classical training in their history. Most doctors, alternative medicine or not, will have some form of classical education in their past. There was a time where the science of medicine was reviled like the plague (which, oddly enough, went away with medicine). If we only support what is ‘popular,’ then we really are those two dimensional types at the cool table in high school. Thinking for yourself, doing what you love, what holds your passion – these are core fires that should never, ever, be put out. Popularity is a bullshit concept invented by people who use outside influences to control their self-esteem. And even if we argue that it’s not a bullshit concept, we can’t argue that what is popular never changes. Nobody liked Beethoven when he was alive, men, at one point, wore high heels (for horseback riding or something), how many slaves you had used to be a status symbol, and wearing puffy sleeves was an indication of being a heathen (then it came back for a brief decade or so, and then went back to heathenry…erm, ‘out of style’). It’s ‘subjective,’ and frequently, wrong. But it also goes back to that whole competition thing; if you spend your life in comparison to others, then who are you, really? Do it for you, and to hell with the rest.
We don’t get paid enough. Very few of us make ‘a lot’ of money. I could get into how much I think each profession is worth, and why things are very seriously fucked up in this country. But, let’s just leave it at this: a more balanced pay scale for highly qualified and trained individuals across the board doesn’t mean communism. It means being open-minded and respecting every aspect of our culture, economy, and society. This is not to say that everyone should get paid the same; it is simply to acknowledge that the dichotomies have become too severe. The brilliant and amazing members do not make monstrous amounts of money just because they are that much more worthy, but because of the pervasive effects of popularity and our current views on necessity. Should the high likelihood of low income make you derail your kid’s dreams of being a musician? Your call.
7. Children need to find an instrument that fits them, so switching around is fine.
Myth. Well, misunderstanding might be more accurate. Most children with an affinity for a particular instrument will articulate the preference without an issue. Kids are ridiculously honest; it’s like they don’t know how else to be. Makes our work much less complicated. The ones that don’t know what their particular preference is are more than welcome to play different ones and see which they like best BUT it’s important that this isn’t confused with a child who wants to switch not because of anything instrument specific but because of boredom, not wanting the increasingly challenging practice sessions (ie, roughly, the longer you take lessons, the more challenging the work becomes – depending on how much or how little you practice), or trying to finagle stopping altogether by switching so frequently that the point of lessons at all is lost. For kids who are taking lessons without the intent of becoming a musician, the motives behind wanting to switch instruments become a little foggy, and it can be tricky to decode what’s underneath the desire to change. It’s important to not let your child’s desire for control over something they dislike doing get in the way of maintaining the function of the activity. If that’s what it is, of course. There are plenty of kids who really prefer a different instrument, switch, and are gloriously happy afterwards. If you find yourself switching frequently, then there are probably different motivations going on that need to be addressed.
Another common mistake is switching teachers willy nilly. Granted, there are plenty of legitimate occasions when things just aren’t working, but moving from teacher to teacher in order to find one that fits frequently means that the lessons lose their import. A teacher forms a relationship with her students in the same way any other relationship is formed: over time and repeated exposure. When you trifle with that consistency, you lose the validity of what your teacher has to offer.
The summation of this ‘myth’ is that art takes time and investment. Switching around in order to please the often short-lived desires of the student (regardless of age) dismembers a large portion of what makes art beautiful and worthwhile, and what’s worse, ends the journey before you’ve even started it.
8. Art isn’t for everyone. Just like not everyone is an athlete, also; not everyone is an artist.
Myth. Or grammar issues, again. Not everyone becomes an athlete. Not everyone becomes an artist. But art is for everyone; that’s the whole point. I was on swim team, took ballet, gymnastics, and tennis over the course of my childhood. I am also one of the least coordinated people I know. I look like a monkey on steroids when I try to dribble. My last tennis match involved me staring dumbly across the court, waiting for the ball to be served. Five minutes later, the guy called game because apparently he had been serving all along, and I’d just been too slow and clueless to figure out that those whiffs of air buzzing past me were tennis balls. I am not an athlete. Do I resent my time in the pool, at the ballet bar, on the uneven bars, or fumbling across the tennis court? No. What coordination I do have, I owe to my many hours of struggle when I was a kid. My frustration and lack of natural ability with sports as a child is what enables me to keep any sort of exercise routine now: I know that it sucks, but that it will get better. I know not to compare myself to triathlon or personal trainer types, and I stick to my own goals for every physical activity I try. I appreciate what happens to my body after months and months of hard, consistent, work, because I genuinely struggled for every new muscle and skill I acquired in the journey.
Art is for everyone in the same way that sports are for everyone, math is for everyone, reading is for everyone, and love is for everyone. It’s not a fashion statement; it’s a discipline, a passion, an integral part of human nature, and a fundamental part of our evolution as a species, all rolled into one.
Music is art, and does for us when nothing else can or will.
*special thanks to my amazing friends and colleagues who helped me get the list started. There will be a sequel that deals with more music-lesson-specific aspects of the myth-fact arena.