The Imperial March, 8,000 Times

I’m a huge slacker mom.  For example, right now, my kids are not playing sports.  We used to be one of those over-booked families with activities four or five nights a week, and, at some point, we will probably be one of them again.  For now, we are “keeping it real” by spending most of our evenings at home, hanging out as a family, playing with cousins, and counting down the minutes until it’s 6:00 PM, and I can have a beer or hide in my closet.  I am not even kidding – I cleaned out half of my tiny closet, so that I could place inside a huge beanbag and a poster that sums up, precisely, how I feel about mothering.

IMG_3159I don’t have my kids in Spanish lessons, art classes, or Lego camp (we unLego.)  They don’t do CCD, they aren’t in 4H, or swim lessons.  Bridget does take a once-weekly one-on-one sewing class, but Jack has never been enrolled in anything aside from preschool.

I know, this is not how you’re supposed to homeschool.  When people ask what we’re doing about “socialization” I simply respond that we’re allowing them to turn into miniature Howard Hugheses, or the family from “Flowers in the Attic.”  Whichever comes first.

I say all of this up front, because I am acutely aware of the smug nature of the rest of this post.  I do not brag about my kids on social media (although I have, I don’t anymore), because I think it’s crass, and kind of mean.  On just the day I share my child’s good grades, I know that a friend is crying over her child’s learning disability and yet another frustrating IEP meeting.  When I highlight my kids’ sports accomplishments (their hypothetical ones, because they don’t have any), another mother is silently hoping that someday, her child will walk.  When I post videos of my child playing the cello, another mother feels sick to her stomach that she can’t afford to give her kids lessons.  I post my amazing vacation (ha!), and another parent counts up the years since he’s been able to take his family anywhere.  I know.  I have been both situations – the one bragging, and the one feeling badly.  Such is the downside of social media, where we often share our highlights, but conceal our lows.  Why add to people’s feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, worry, or despair?  I know what my kids have done, and they know I’m proud.

Having said that, this is my homeschool blog, and I want to talk about music from the perspective of it being a part of my children’s curriculum in the same way that math, reading, and science are.  In our family, music is not an extra-curricular, it is a part of a well-rounded education.  My children practice and study it in the same way that they practice and study most other subjects: begrudgingly.  But, it is required.  No, they cannot quit.

People often ask me lots of questions about children and music – where to take lessons, how I get the kids to practice without whining (lol), and what to do when their kids beg to quit. I don’t purport that these are the only right answers, but they are my opinions, formed from years of involvement with classical training.

We take lessons from very highly-accomplished, professional musicians with extensive backgrounds in music instruction.  Lessons are not “fun.” They are work.  They are expensive.  There is no playing around.  The children are being classically trained, which includes music history and theory.  Their instructors have high expectations.  We like that, even though they scare us, sometimes.

The kids practice seven days a week, unless they are sick, or we are out of town and don’t have access to an instrument.

I have listened to the Imperial March about 8,000 times, so far.  If you become a Music Mom, be prepared to listen to some seriously bad music – over and over and over. (This is why many parents shy away from violin and viola – the only thing worse than listening to a beginner on violin is listening to a beginner on a 1/4 size violin.)

I argue with Bridget about music almost every single day.  Lane is a lot better, but still needs the occasional nag.  He does like to speed through his work, so I am constantly reminding him to slow down.

Do they like it?  Not yet.  They will, of course, but they aren’t good enough to derive much enjoyment from it, now.  They do not take the type of lessons that promise to teach kids to bang out the chords to a Disney song in six weeks or less. They do not play pop music.  Being classically trained takes time.  Lots of it.

Can a kid try music lessons before her parents invest in an instrument?  I would not recommend this.  If you are going to “see if your child likes it” before buying an instrument (or renting – sometimes that makes sense, too), then I would not bother.  Your child is not going to like the amount of practice it will take to get good.  You will have to nag and argue with the typical child, unless he is a musical prodigy. This does not mean music is “not his thing,” and that he should quit, any more than not liking math, spelling, or reading means he should quit.  The older and more mature your child gets, the easier it may be for you, but if you are not fully invested as the parent, it’s probably not going to work.  Making your children do arpeggios, scales, the like for hours and hours is not going to be fun.  Crack open a beer and let the metronome take you away!

Maturity-wise,  girls can usually start music lessons by the age of five; boys a bit older.  It also depends on the instrument you want your child to play – very small children can start on piano, but something like guitar requires a dexterity and finger strength that many five-year-olds don’t have.  Serious musicians play more than one instrument, and they all need to be able to play the piano.  If your instructor won’t take your child until age seven or eight, because the instrument you’ve chosen isn’t appropriate for young kids, start with the piano.  He will need to learn it, anyway.

Most importantly – stay the course!  You will have many, many frustrating moments (weeks, months, years…) while your child/ren are being classically trained, but as every adult who can’t play an instrument (me) will confirm – it will, someday, be SO worth it (if your kids don’t become hygiene-obsessed, megalomaniacal recluses first.)

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