Why do people take music classes or music lessons? It’s an interesting question. There is no shortage of articles and even books on why people should take music lessons, but that is a different issue. While there may be some children of overly ambitious parents who take music lessons to improve their math scores, for example, most kids I know don’t find reasons like this on why music is important to them.
For better or for worse, music has been fashioned into an exclusive club. The fallacy is that you have to have enough talent to belong, and that music lessons can be your entry into the club if you don’t have enough talent, or they can be your way of gaining more prestige within the club by continuing to study music, preferably with the best teacher. While this may work for some, it is not a good place to hang your hat if you are a music educator. If every child deserves a music education, then talent has nothing to do with who is taught music. We believe that every child benefits from music education.
Chief among the reasons kids want to take music lessons is that music lessons are the way they can connect themselves with the music they so enjoy. Guitar students want to play the riffs they hear in their favorite songs. People want to sing their favorite songs and sound good doing it. They want to join in with the band without being a member of the band. They want to experience music with their friends beyond just listening, but out of the scrutiny of a wider public.
This is one reason why classical music is such a hard sell to young people; they can’t dance, sing, and drum along with a live performance. They are required to be a non-participant, which takes the very reason they enjoy music away from them. My experience has been that the students most likely to listen to classical music are the ones who play an orchestral instrument in school. It is no coincidence that a sizable portion of their musical training has been in learning to be accomplished players of scales, arpeggios and solo repertoire in the Western art music tradition. They enjoy classical music because they are able to relate to the performers from their own experience of practicing, studying and performing on an instrument they see on stage.
We loose students’ interest in music when we insist on teaching them music with which they cannot possibly have any participatory connection. Students who claim to dislike classical music nevertheless perk up and smile when they hear “Ode to Joy,” and can’t wait to show me that they still remember how to play it on the piano. These are not piano students; they are students in my general music classes. As long as there is a performance experience with a piece of music, there is usually an enjoyment of that music. This is not just a knowledge about the music, but a first-hand experience playing at least an artifact of the music they will hear. I can play themes from The Nutcracker before taking students to a performance, and they will recognize those themes when they hear them from having heard them before, in class, but there is always excitement and joy in recognizing those themes when they have not just heard them, but sung them. Once you have performed a piece of music, it becomes part of you. You are not just visiting the music, you are at home with the music.
Music, because of the way it evokes emotions and emotional involvement, has an affect on us that is close to that of a relationship with another person. The performance factor deepens that relationship, and is made possible by taking music classes and lessons. This is a worthy purpose for music educators to have for their students and their teaching. It is also why most kids want to take music lessons.