Tuesday, September 16, 2008

You Can Do It. I Can't Help.

One of the many lessons I am learning as a parent is how to give up control. Of course, it starts as soon as the baby is born, when you relinquish every measurable, intentional movement you routinely make in life and give yourself over to this new and mysterious being. Had a tough day and need a good night's sleep? That's nice, but I'm hungry. Get up and feed me. Need to run to the grocery store and pick up something for dinner? Oh well, it's going to have to wait until after my nap. Feel like getting away for a romantic weekend at a B&B? Wait a few years until you're comfortable leaving me with a babysitter overnight. Want to kick back, read the paper and have a "veg out" day? Sorry, I'm in constant need of intellectual and emotional stimulation. It took me a couple of months, but I finally realized that once you have kids, your activity meter must forever stay in the "on" position, like it or not.

Maybe that's just me, but I feel like my kids are little sponges that I must forever be feeding, in some form or other, to keep them alive and thriving. Not that I want to become one of those parents who completely over schedules their children just so they can get into the "right" college. But when I see an opening, I grab it.

For example, Benjamin, who is soon to be six, has recently shown us that musical taste knows no minimum age, and is apparently genetic. Whereas Jacob and I enjoy the tunes of Mozart and the score from The Sound of Music, Ben can frequently be seen playing air guitar and tapping his feet to the music of The Who, or running to turn up Welcome To The Machine by Pink Floyd when it comes on the radio. The kid clearly has rock 'n' roll in his blood, and he didn't get it from me. But such a distinct interest! And at such a young age! How can I let this go untouched?

At my suggestion, my parents have bought Ben a guitar for his birthday. (Fortunately, he's too young to read my blog just yet, so I'm not spoiling the surprise). And while Jacob recently started piano lessons, and I have been helping him with finger placement, hand positioning and rhythm, it is because I can. Nine years of piano lessons left me with a residue of musical knowledge and appreciation, if no lasting skill. But the guitar? A complete mystery to me. A bunch of little grids and dots on the page, even the music looks strange. So Ben has the interest, and now the instrument. In the immortal words of Bloat from Finding Nemo, "Now what?"

I'm trying not to fret about it, pun completely intended, but I want to maximize the novelty of his new instrument. I want to give him some skills and knowledge so that he can start to take advantage of his interest and explore his musical abilities. Part of me feels that lessons are not really the way to go. He's so young, and hasn't said outright, "I want to learn how to play the guitar." But at the same time, I can't help him. I don't know how to show him basic chords or melodies. Heck, I don't even know if he's a lefty yet (good thing we didn't go for the electric guitar). So seeing the interest and acting on it is all I can do right now.

Perhaps this is a good thing. Too much structure and guidance might have just the opposite effect. Maybe if I just give him the tuned guitar and let him explore it on his own, his interest and curiosity will grow. Maybe it will raise questions and desires in him that hovering and instruction would not. Ben is a hands-on kind of learner, and this is a perfect opportunity to let him do just that.

Maybe, just maybe, my not helping him will be the best help I can give him.


PhilOssifur said...

Maybe I can steer you in the right direction. I'm experimenting with online piano lesson guidance-- I play myself. I'll keep a tab on this post and update you as I go along.

Get the kid portable keyboard for a hundred bucks of less and let him play with that for now-- and I'll advise you further soon. Lots of free stuff on the net these days but you need to know how to plough your way through it.

Archie Engall

rpguitar said...

Chris, what kind of guitar did you get for Ben? 6 is often considered the youngest age for beginning to learn guitar, due to the physical requirements of simply holding it and gripping the neck.

Rather than getting a book, you might try to find a patient teacher who can at least get him off to a start with the basic technical skills needed to begin exploring. Bad habits start early and are hard to break.

Congrats though on your budding rocker!!