Children & Learning Musical Instruments | An Interview with Sean Johnson

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My world is filled with music. Instruments are in every room. Songs fill my hours. Scales drone into my nights. Among many other things, my husband, Sean, is a guitar teacher. What was a complete foreign language to me has become a huge part of my life. I had very little exposure to instruments as a child. To watch my husband’s love being instilled into my children is a fascinating thing to observe.  Sean is super cute and awesomely cool, but he’s also a music geek. Shhh! Don’t tell him I said so. But alas, it is true. He’s recently been excitedly studying Beethoven and sharing all of his treasures of information with me. It’s been so adorable to me that I asked him to share a bit of his love with you guys here.

Why are you passionate about children learning instruments?

Music is one of the most powerful things we can give our children.  It is something that affects us emotionally, spiritually and physically.  When a child learns an instrument, they then have the tools to make art.  Everyone has an imagination and a desire to create.  Learning an instrument gives them an outlet for that creativity.  To watch a child go from notes to scales to songs to song writing is an amazing thing.  Children could go through their entire lives not knowing that they could impact their world in such a way.

At what age would you recommend starting lessons?

Friedrich Wieck in the late 1880’s wrote a book called Piano and Song.  He was a piano and voice teacher for 40 years and was the father in law to Robert Schumann.  He noted that a skillful teacher can get a 6-9 year old to learn facility and flexibility of the fingers and wrists in 4 lessons. This same skill will take a 10-14 year old 15-20 lessons.  Developmentally, the brain is more pliable at this young age to the technical abilities.  They are also more sensitive to the musicality. I recommend starting lessons when a child learns to read.

I know you love all kinds of music.  Well, maybe except modern country.  😉 What is one reason you appreciate so many various styles?

Exposing children to different styles of music within an instrument encourages multiculturalism.  When they see the beauty and art that has come from various cultures, it promotes respect and understanding.

What is an emotional impact children gain from learning an instrument?

It is a healthy emotional outlet.  In few other areas can a child us a thing like music to wordlessly pour out their hearts.  It is also character building.  They develop long term abilities with simple, repetitive skills.  It has a long term payoff.  Patience, perseverance and self discipline.  It is training body and mind as it combines, art and science and math.  And it is progressive for life.  You can spend the rest of your life studying it and never exhaust its depths.

As a guitar teacher, why do you always recommend children start on the piano?

I believe it gives the best musical and technical foundation.  This is especially true if they decide to pick up another instrument later on.

Why don’t you require practicing?

Although I recommend piano first, I would also say that if a child is passionate about a particular instrument, let them follow that desire.  A long term interest and perseverance is much more important that starting in a particular spot.  I don’t require practicing from my students, because I have not seen long term fruit from that kind of structure.  A child that wants to learn an instrument will be internally motivated to work at it long term.  One that is forced into it, usually will stop lessons as soon as the parent allows it.

Lastly, what additional benefits have you seen in your students?

It gives kids confidence. Over the last ten years, the majority of my students have been junior high guys. Many of them come in timid, unsure, even too shy to make eye contact. As the weeks pass, they begin to see the start of mastering a complicated and challenging thing.  I can encourage them in honest and specific ways. Simple skills build on one another until they are confident enough to play before their families or even in a more public setting. The very way they carry themselves and engage socially within a lesson changes. It is an awesome thing to watch.

Having not learned an instrument growing up, Sean has exposed me to an entire world of beauty and education.  What about you?  Did you learn an instrument growing up?  How did it effect you? Is this a priority for you and your children? 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I really appreciate this post! So insightful… 🙂
    I grew up with lots of instruments around, and my mom always said, “Every happy home has a piano.” As a wedding gift our families pooled together and got us a beautiful baby grand. My son is only 18 months old, but the piano is already perpetually covered in beautiful little fingerprints. I hope my boys grow up surrounded by the love of music. It’s such a powerful thing…

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