Did you ever go to a library or coffee shop just to have a bigger desktop? There’s something so spacious and freeing about just having more physical workspace right in front of you.
Last week, I visited several co-working spaces in New York City just for that reason. Having a bigger desktop is incredibly freeing. It opens up your thinking.
And it’s the same thing with your internal mental workspace. Years ago, I came up with the metaphor of the mental desktop. This is how I imagine each child learning. As I begin teaching a 4-year-old, they can only retain one note at a time in their mental workspace.
Over time, we begin chunking that into two and three-note phrases. Over time, we begin expanding their “mental desktops” to be able to hold complete phrases and sections. It is incredible to witness!
Each child’s progress is individualized.
There are no hard and fast rules of how many days or weeks it will take to expand from two notes to two measures.
But sometimes we overestimate how much a particular student can retain. Sometimes the student will shut down and not want to do anymore. They’ll refuse to even try! Other times, it’s as if we’ve gone backwards.
I’ve had some parents complain about their kid’s slow speed in learning how to read music. But it’s similar to learning to read words. You can’t skip ahead. That will only lead to confusion, frustration, and overwhelm.
The core principles of the Musicolor Method include a 7 step framework of teaching and learning. The first is the Growth Spiral. Every organism in the universe follows this spiraling outward from a central core. You can see it in the petals of a flower, microscopic cells and the macroscopic like the cosmos. It’s how growth happens, physical and mental. You can’t skip from the inner to outer rings.
Another principle is called the Stepping Stone Principle. Imagine you are trying to cross a stream. Your guide (the teacher), picks a path and even lays out some stones for you (the student) to cross over. If the stones (lessons) are too far apart, the students falls in the water. Some may even get swept away or drown. Putting the stones too close leads to boredom and perhaps the student also gets stuck there.
These principles are not something taught in music education programs. It’s my distillation of what I have learned from other effective mentors and reflection on my teaching experiences.
So what if your child is not progressing to your expectations?
Well, the first question to ask is: Are they practicing every day?
Practice is a learned skill.
You need to teach them how to practice. It’s not about cramming. It’s creating a routine that then becomes a habit. We are all made of our habits, good and bad. Learning to practice takes effort at first, but quickly becomes a routine. It’s all about finding even five minutes at the same time every day. This makes it easier. Brushing your teeth was not something you just did on your own. Your parents taught it to you. It’s the same with music.
If practice is happening, then most issues dissolve. But please be patient. If your child seems to be going slower than their friends, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. Skipping ahead will only make things worse. Trust the process and practice.