Why Your Kid Isn’t Going To Make It In Music

This was the original working title, and the idea I had in mind the entire time I was writing my book, Get The Most Out Of Music Lessons.

As a private music teacher for more than 25 years, I’ve had a chance to see why kids – and people in general – fail at music, especially people trying to learn modern, non-notated styles like rock and country, on guitar, piano and bass. And it’s not what you think.

Today, at most private music schools, if you walk in and say you want to learn rock guitar or piano, they sit you down with a teacher and a book of staff notation, and you basically do nothing but read for your entire lesson, every week. This is just wrong on so many levels. Students who want to learn to play modern styles on modern instruments get shoehorned into outdated, classically-based methods that stifle all of their creative instincts.

Your kid is on the Reading-Method Merry-Go-Round.  First series: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4. Second series: Book 1, Book 2 … Just keep reminding yourself, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts. His friends at school have formed a jam band, but your kid can’t jam. You took your kid to see his teacher’s country band. No one was reading music. What’s the deal?

Another problem, many teachers and bloggers say the reading-method books are not that good, by themselves, for developing strong technique and good sense of rhythmic timing on guitar or piano. At least, they are seldom used effectively. No method book, by itself, has enough rhythm exercises to make you a strong, confident picker, strummer, or keyboard player.

The whole problem with using reading methods to teach modern music is it’s just backwards. It’s reversing cause and effect. The sheet music you buy for modern songs was all written after the fact. The original artists had nothing to do with producing the copy you’re reading in staff or tab. The publisher hired a transcriptionist to reverse-engineer the parts, instruments by instrument, from the recording. That’s the music you’re reading. Did you know that? This is an important clue to what it takes to learn modern music, as opposed to classical music. You’ll never pull a modern rabbit out of a classical hat.

There are so many misconceptions and biases about music education in the modern age that it’s impossible to list them here. Traditional, classically-inspired biases and priorities fly in the face of modern realities in the music business – the music you hear in clubs, in the streets, and on the radio. Educators have been writing for a long time about the need to update music education in light of how modern music is composed, recorded and performed.

Other reasons why kids fail have to do with whether they have an instrument that’s right for them, that they like, and is set up properly (on guitar). They have a decent amp. And here’s a really important one – the kid has to listen to a lot of music played on her or his instrument. I’ll go a step further. The number one main indicator of whether a kid with an axe who’s old enough to play is going to be there jamming out in a year is – believe it or not –their familiarity with an established professional repertoire in rock, country, blues and related styles. That basically means 1950s through 80s. (There’s a whole set of reasons I’ll go into another time.)

I know in a few minutes whether a teenage student is likely to stay with the school by what music she or he is listening to. It’s that simple.

There are other problems. It’s also the teachers, the schools they work for, the publishers of the actual music you’re trying to teach, as well as the officially-transcribed books, and years of music school traditions dating back to the conservatories of Victorian-era Europe, and further.

The good news is there are better ways out there. Modern approaches to music address the basic problems of physical conditioning, and overcoming the discomfort of playing your instrument. They allow your child to explore music intuitively, based on one simple goal, that of interacting purposefully and meaningfully with real music, in real-time.