Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Learning to Play

If “playing to learn” is  the child’s way of frolicking towards understanding with or without an adult by their side, then “learning to play (music, that is)” is the music teacher’s job description. As noted yesterday, teachers who not only understand the importance of the playful playing of music but embody that spirit of play themselves can engage, motivate, inspire their students.


I always begin by playing a children’s game as close to its natural habitat as possible. Simply the fact that it’s indoors in a music classroom that runs by schedule and led by an adult already is quite removed from the street, field, playground with a bunch of kids of all ages just playing and the younger ones learning by watching and doing. So though I often break down learning into some useful sequential steps, I generally just jump in and start clapping and singing, in confidence the kids will join in as they do, using the right hemisphere of the brain to gulp it all down at once.


But I don’t stop there. Once we’ve played the game, this Orff trained adult teacher will extend it into variations beyond what the kids in the playground often do. As mentioned yesterday, strategies like changing the tempo, partner clapping with eyes closed, creating a body percussion interlude as students leave their partner and move to find another, become useful musical exercises, a kind of etudes for techniques and understandings without losing the spirit of play. In stark contrast to dutiful Hanon scales, the music and playful spirit stay at the forefront in the way just right for kids'—and adult’s— preferred method of learning.


But there's more. Some games lead directly to instrumental arrangements of the melodies and accompanying rhythms. Georgie Porgie leads nicely into Haydn’s Surprise Symphony theme, Boom chick a Boom teaches jazz drumming on the trap set, O Mochio introduces the hocketing beat/offbeat shared by two players in Ugandan Amadinda music or Balinese gamelan. Learning to play by playing to learn is not just fun, but supremely effective in achieving musical skills and understandings. By meeting the child in the child and keeping in touch with the child in the adult, the teacher helps nurture the adult in the child and the adult in the adult. A great strategy not only for success in music class, but in helping cultivate children who are wholly children to climb slowly into the maturity and responsibilities of an adult. 


So much havoc in this world is cause by children who were never allowed to be children or were never led consciously into adulthood. So instead of a childlike adult who can both joyfully play and show adult restraint, intelligence and wisdom, we have childish adults throwing tantrums in the halls of Congress, bullying, pouting, teasing, huddling in their hallway cliques excluding others. Failing to create schools where children play to learn and learn to play can have some dire consequences.


Let’s get to work and play!

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