There is one thing in life that cannot be taught, yet it is something that all of us are born knowing how to do. Do you know what it is? There is no formal education on the subject, and no PHDs in the field of study. Kids do it the best, and when adults participate in it, they are said to be childlike. It is the true, universal language that trumps every culture, every generation, and is found in all genders, all personality types and can be sometimes be called the truest human experience of one’s life. In fact, it is something we do in every lesson at Center Stage Music Center in Westbury! You might be thinking, “It could be singing; all people have a voice; all people can sing.” That would be a good guess, but not quite. Go a little broader. Some may guess “Being Musical?” While not everyone sings, some people play music, from piano, to violin, to drums, to kazoos, to banging pots and pans. Actually, that’s closer, but still not it. While I believe that all people can experience music, and we should encourage everyone to participate in making music, that is not what I’m talking about today.
The only thing you can’t teach is how to “PLAY.”
From a very early age, children have an innate ability to play. They take objects, and imagine that little sandboxes are the beach, or that sticks are swords and bikes are race cars. They dress up, play pretend, create global conflicts in the backyard, solve mysteries in the attic, and create folklore and legends of Old man Humphrey at the end of the street. When we get older, we see adults doing this in the form of hobbies from restoring an old car, climbing mountains, forming scrabble leagues, writing fiction novels, and (my favorite) playing in rock bands. Yes, it is true that children understand the importance of playing much more easily than adults do, but the truth is that we all know how to play. It is the only thing in life that no one ever taught us how to do.
Our motto here at Center Stage is “Learn, PLAY, Have Fun.” After a couple months of scales and method books, or years of learning repertoire, we can sometimes forget the importance of why we are learning our instrument or why we wanted this emotional experience we call “Music.” Every time I have a new student, the first question I ask them is “What do you want to do with music?” The response is always the same; “I want to play.” The idea of playing is something that every teacher here at Center Stage encourages our students to do. In each lesson we set aside time for your student to grow musically but to also have the opportunity to play and express themselves. With all my students I always tell them my one rule; “Make time to play”. So kids out there, make sure to tell your parents that we give you permission to play as much as you want; in fact we encourage it! I find that more people struggle with taking time to play then they do to practice. For Mom and Dad, what does playing look like? Well, playing is anything that is outside of practice. This can include playing an old song that your child knows and loves, or learning new songs that are not assigned in class, or even what seems like nonsense plucking away at notes or banging. If your child wants to use his instrument to make sounds, let them explore that. They could be creating new melodies, or learning how notes are related to each other. You might be tired of the same heart and soul melody, but I can assure you that over time they will explore new sounds and new songs. Let them play, however it looks.
Just to clarify, playing is not the same as practicing, and should never replace it. Playing should be done in addition to practicing and often, because we all learn so we can play, correct? Learning new music makes playing more fun! There needs to be a balance of progressing, challenging yourself, building upon what you know, and then exploring what you have learned along the way. Right now, many Center Stage students are preparing for NYSSMA, and are practicing pieces and scales that they have probably been working on for a couple months now. I would encourage them to make some extra time to play an old song that they love, or listen to a favorite song on the radio just to see if they can play the melody. Find time to just play.