The Learning Paradox

Learning to play an instrument sometimes results in a paradox. You want to learn an instrument for fun and enjoyment but if the learning results in frustration and annoyance because you can’t quite ‘get it’, then them the enthusiasm wanes.

I saw this two different students in last Saturday’s lessons and it’s not a good predicament to be in. As a teacher, it’s my job to keep lessons as fun and enjoyable as possible, yet still getting as much information into the 30 minutes as possible in order to get the most value in. It wouldn’t be professional of me to let the lesson go off in the tangent and start talking about internet memes, mobile games and pop stars.

My youngest student likes to play by ear. He loves the Lord of the Rings music and he keeps playing to himself out in the waiting room while he’s waiting for class (he really needs to stop that because there’s other people having lessons. After all, I keep reminding him there’s a practise room next door).

Unfortunately this student has ‘hit the wall’, so to speak, with the beginner clarinet Abracadabra book; it’s just gotten to the point where it’s too challenging. I suggested to the parent that we buy the grade 3 music book and try some pieces from there, after all, the dad inquired as to exams so it seemed like a great opening to try out some of the curriculum.

Unfortunately, again, the young student loses concentration with this music. He’s very fidgety and just can’t play for multiple bars without moving about. He’s perfectly capable if he puts his mind to it but his attention wanders.

I need zen-like patience for this.

As much as I applaud my young student’s desire to play from air (and I’m definitely not going to discourage it), he needs to learn to associate what he’s doing with what’s written on a page. This is what is going to allow him to play in ensembles and write his own music.

I’ve come to the realisation that my next strategy has to be to get the actual Lord of the Rings music and thankfully, the book depository has just what we need; music from Howard Shore from all three movies written for clarinet, complete with a backing CD. With a cheap price and free shipping, you can’t fault it.

(In fact, one of my students bought this book a few years ago, so I know it’s a decent book and the backing track is surprisingly well done).

Ideally by having the written music available, my young student will be able to associate what he’s been figuring out by ear to something that is written down. He can then get faster at associating the fingering with the notes and the written rhythms to what he’s been doing by ear. There will be mismatches for sure; he’s going to often play how he thinks it goes, but that’s all part of the learning.

With any luck, this music will perk up his enthusiasm and get the concentration back. Any faulty notes won’t descend into frustration because ‘playing Lord of the Rings is fun’ and ultimately this should improve his playing.


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