Gandhi and the piano

Be the change you wish to see in the world, said Gandhi.  I assume he meant that it works better to start with yourself and let that be an example, an inspiration, an opportunity for others to try it for themselves.  It doesn’t work as well to start by trying to get other people to take on the change you want.

I heard a parent say recently “I make my kids play the piano because I wish I had started playing music early so I could enjoy playing now.  I make them do it because I love music so much and regret that I didn’t use all those years of brain power to learn an instrument.”

It’s true you can’t go back and get the young elasticity of the brain that makes kids such fast learners.  But it’s also true that forcing someone to do something against their will doesn’t always (often doesn’t, I’ll venture to say) mean that they’ll grow up to treasure and use the skill they acquired under that early duress, no matter how well-intentionedly it was enforced.  For some it may be worth that risk.

But the adults I know who love and play music are those who took it up of their own accord, inspired by a musician (parent or other admired human) or inspired by sound itself.  They may well have stuck to a regimen designed by a teacher or a parent or in collaboration with one or both, but the pursuit itself was theirs. If what you want is to raise a lover of music, Gandhi’s words might be revised to fit: Be the musician you wish to see in your child. Kids don’t want to be forced to do stuff they don’t have any interest in, but they do want to be like their parents (this you know because the first things they learned were the ones you were doing all the time in front of them, talking and moving around). If they see you going after what you want to be able to do (no matter how late, no matter how slowly) they’ll take it as a cue to do the same for what they want.  And they’ll see how much joy and satisfaction there can be in it. That’s the stuff that motivation and commitment to mastery are made of.

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