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Ideas on Learning

The importance of teaching kids how to jam

I grew up going to theme parks. Sea World, Disney World, Busch Gardens and other Florida cultural institutions.

I was fascinated by the animal shows — dolphins, killer whales and parrots that would do any number of tricks on command.

Those animal shows must have made an impact on me. Because in high school, I raised and trained exotic birds.

I quickly learned a fundamental rule of animal training that made me understand the magic I witnessed at the theme parks. The animal performances were a collection of instinctual behaviors that the trainers encouraged. Every trick the trained animals did in the shows could be seen in the wild.

As it turns out, this knowledge of animals is helpful in raising and teaching children. When you understand instinctual behaviors of children, you can more easily guide them in the direction that you want them to go.

There are so many instinctual behaviors that make kids natural musicians. They love to learn new things. They are explorers. They are natural mimics.

The natural instinct that violin education has primarily relied on for motivating students is performance. Children have a natural desire to be seen and heard, to stand in front of people and demonstrate their talent.

Performance is a reliable incentive for motivating students. But the opportunities to perform quickly dry up once students leave school. And, for most, music without performing makes their skills feel irrelevant.

There is an even stronger, deeper-rooted instinct in students than performing. It is the need for connection and community. Playing music socially with others -- jamming -- helps students form the connections they seek. Because jamming requires only 2 or more musicians, it is significantly easier and more convenient than performing. And, unlike performing, the opportunities to jam with friends and family only grow more abundant as you age.

Helping students become skilled, confident, recreational violinists is relatively easy (and fun) and does not preclude them from becoming performers. More importantly, though, it does not run the risk of making their music skills feel irrelevant.


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