Be Musical or Be Musician?


Recently, at the ‘Neighbourhood Chilli Cooking Competition’ our kids had a chance to present their musical achievements. They showed how accomplished both of them are. Victoria, who just turned 13,  played a violin concertino, while Martin (8) played an ‘ad-lib’ improvisation based on his previous practicing. Both, plus the organizer’s daughter Chloe (10), got a great applause and many neighbours  were positively surprised about their musicality. When I discussed this with some of them, those with young children expressed their very specific desire to have their kids playing piano. 

This got me to think about how such a decision might benefit children in general. 

My opinion is, that starting to think about a child to be playing a piano when it is only 7-weeks old, may not be the best approach. There should be a better understanding of the benefits music can bring to people’s lives. And that hardly could be an idea to (potentially) force a child to play a piano (or any other particular music instrument) – in the first place.

And right here we are getting into a conflict of two approaches. Do you want your child to become a musician? Or is your intention to help him or her to become musical? The first can hardly exist without the second. But it doesn’t work the same in the opposite way. What I mean is – it is hard to imagine a musician who is not musical, who doesn’t have an ear for music, who doesn’t appreciate and enjoys it. But one doesn’t have to become a musician to be able to appreciate, enjoy and benefit from music and musicking.

Although the popular media may make you think, that becoming a professional musician is a great way of living, the truth is, that a vast majority of professional musicians don’t have such a glamorous life. What they do have, is a greatly developed musicality and a love for music. And the truth  is, that music could help many of them to sail through life  with more fun, sometimes even more smoothly.

On the other hand, having a music ability, or musicality, is a great way to enjoy life, to improve and maintain mental and physical abilities – which is available to everyone, not only professional musicians! 

Musicality – as a human quality. Musicianship – as a vocation. Do you see the difference?

I am convinced, that the first, and the most important step is to develop a child’s MUSICALITY! Once that is successfully accomplished, then the rest of it should be much easier and more straightforward. Even daily requirements to practice an instrument would become more fun than a chore. For example our Martin plays whenever he feels like that, even in the morning after his breakfast and before school!

The way to help a child to develop his or her musicality should start at a family – as the Early-Years centres and nurseries don’t seem to practice music as much as it used to be. And only exposing children to passive consumption of music = listening, doesn’t do the most important part of the work.

So what is it what a mindful parent should do to help develop their kid’s musicality? He or she needs to be musical in the first place. And ideally, both parents would be!

That doesn’t mean, that parents with no experience in playing an instrument suddenly start piling up music lessons on top of their growing amount of work when taking care of their family. Although that wouldn’t hurt either …

My idea is this – parents should expose their children, and with them also themselves, to the active music making.

How to do that?

The simplest is to start singing and later, when a child starts walking – add dancing. And above all – have fun! I am sure, that no parents who love their children, would hesitate to impart at least a small bit of their own culture on their offspring. The process is called ‘musical enculturation‘, and this is how it can start.

From our musical perspective, it really doesn’t matter whether those songs you will share with your children, would be from your particular cultural heritage, or they would be from Disney movies, notorious kids tunes, or any other source. The most important part is – they need to have a melody. Reciting words (rap) doesn’t cut it here. Sorry! Because what we want to develop is your kid’s musicality, not his or her language capacity – which gets a huge boost through music anyway.

If you need a little help, or as a next step, it is very good to have around some kind of music instrument, whether something rhythmical (rattles, maracas, small drum, sticks …), or a tuned instrument like a guitar, ukulele, harmonica, recorder …

And don’t be shy to show your small players how to use the instrument. You can learn it right there with them, discover new sounds and rhythms. Share the joy of being together and playing together.

If you need some inspiration, find suitable recordings, use YouTube, Spotify or similar. But be very particular in your choice of songs, and don’t fall into a trap of only listening. Because it is the active music making which will substantially help to develop your child’s musicality, and also could help glue together your family. And in the long run, it will also give you some more free time, while your little musician will spend time enjoying and practicing their music.

As the great German philosopher, writer and composer Friedrich Nietzsche said:

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”


Photo by Alena Darmel, Pexels


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