Read The Notes, Child.

My 7-year-old has been taking piano lessons for about a year and a half. She’s got a good ear, not extraordinary, but good enough to play pieces without having to rely on reading the notes. She uses the trial and error approach. Try a note, if doesn’t sound right, try another until something rings true. It’s not the most efficient method of learning a new song. She’s perfectly capable of reading music, but chooses not to. She’d rather feel her way through, mess around and experiment than read the notes.

Her trial and error method really bugs me.

My internal monologue goes something like this: There’s a map right in front of you, child, read the map, the map has all the answers, why try this road and that road when the map is right there telling you what notes to play? You’re going to end up being one of those people who refuses to read the Ikea manual before assembling your furniture or follow a recipe or read the fine print on a contract or even read the contract. You’re going to end up taking shortcuts, aren’t you, shortcuts that will end up consuming more time and energy. You’re going to jump right in without assessing risks, make a trail of mistakes, and say oh-well to the consequences. You’re going to end up with a tattoo you regret. Read the notes, child.

When I talked to my husband about this, he said, “That sounds like you.”

Guess who else that sounds like? My father. His trial-and-error spirit drove him to uproot his wife and two kids from their home to immigrate to another country with very little English, little money, and a map that was nothing but a vague sensation in his gut. It’s unnerving to have a father like that. It’s also unnerving having a daughter like that. It’s even more unnerving to be like that.

Am I trying to correct the me in my daughter?

Sure. My kids are like little mirrors reflecting the strong and the weak in me. Most of the time, I like what I see. Sometimes, I don’t and want to make adjustments. However, there is a little voice in me that says to let them be. Leave them alone. They’re not you. They’re not mirrors. They are themselves. Yes, they are themselves, but they’re not islands. They’re deeply entangled and connected to me and the world in ways I will never fully understand. I legally have an 18-year window of influence over them, and I want to do everything I can to make sure my daughters grow to be better than I am, better at trial-and-error, better at following their guts, and yes, even better at reading the notes.

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Published in: on September 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love the wisdom in this piece, and how the relational line of how we approach things becomes obvious, and thus its root as the cause for worry. She is seven, and still learning how to read letters as well as the symbols of music. I took piano since five years old, and didn’t really learn to read music proficiently until early teens. This time to explore the ear and experimentation is a marvelous opportunity. *waving*

    • Thanks for seeing the wisdom in it. I think you see it because of your own wisdom, Eugenia. She is only 7, isn’t she?

  2. Interestingly, per our discussion a couple of weeks ago, even though I wanted to feel my way through the music (rather than read the notes), I always have wanted to read manuals. What’s up with that? She will obviously teach the world something. Can’t wait to see how that plays out.

    • That’s because you’re perfect, MB. Have a wonderful retreat and come back to tell all about it.

  3. all I have to so is take the specifics out of your story and fill in the blanks and net the same emotional result. shelby mirrors 17 or 18yr old Bill Smith so closely it frightens me. unlike you my window of influence, as a parent anyway, is long past. she’ll be 21 next tuesday. she’s got her own map now.

    • Happy birthday to Shelby, and congratulations to you, Bill, for making it this far. I sure hope my kids at 21 have their own maps, too.

  4. Cool…you are SUCH a good writer. Hope my thoughts about letting her learn to love music – rather than it being a chore of reading the notes…just like so much more school, had a part in the balance you are trying to strike. BTW, here’s an awakening I know you really know. ..maybe LEGALLY 18 years, but by 13-15 its WAY more their friends and society they are modeling. They are polite and you may never know that from their overt behavior. By that age is more like ‘coaching’/asking than telling.

    Bummer, and I am sure they grow up earlier now than mine did 25 years ago to be the age of yours…

    • It starts earlier than that. I say that at 10 years old friends/peers are the main influence. I have to grow into this coaching role. You know me, Pamela. I like to rule.


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