Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Music Requests

I was pondering this last night, and was spurred to post after reading Suze's blog this morning. I need a bit of advice--both on how I should perceive reality and what actions I should take.

Tall order? Possibly. Allow me to 'splain:

We have been aware that CJ has a love for music since shortly after he was born. I sang to him quite a bit in the early months, but he didn't have a great love for lullabies. He liked it much better when I sang Mahna Mahna or Mr. Blue Sky. As a toddler, he loved to watch us play Guitar Hero and we got him his own toy guitar to "play". I lost count of how many batteries I've gone through from his incessant playing of his Ocean Wonders aquarium, and I recall one night, spent in a hotel room in Burlington, when Tom and I had to hum the aquarium songs to lull CJ to sleep. For almost a year, his bedtime story was singing--all the songs from a book of lyrics and pictures that had come with a CD. The CD was lost a long time ago, but he knows the songs.

Before he was 2, he was singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. By 3, he'd figured out that Baa Baa Black Sheep and his ABCs were the same tune, and he could play it on a toy xylophone (one octave, each key a different color). He would sing on the ride home from daycare, asking us which song he should sing. He had a catalog of at least thirty songs, full words and melody, by 4. Some of those songs were tough--I've Been Working on the Railroad, The Green Grass Grew All Around, and the Ants Go Marching. He had the sixth from My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean down pat. He didn't belt out the songs or scream them--he sang strongly, on pitch, in tune, and with proper emphasis and phrasing.

I've shared some songs that he likes based on what he hears from around the house and in the car. He has a few childrens music CDs, but he has a strong preference for songs with guitars, especially acoustic guitar. He likes Rolling Stones, Beatles, and Grateful Dead--he even dances like a true little Deadhead!

Now that he's home with Tom, Tom is encouraging the music play. He brought out the old Casio I got in high school and has been teaching CJ to play on it. Over the last few days, CJ has learned to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and scales. Yesterday, he learned do-re-mi (which he sings with perfect pitch while he plays it).

Here's where the help comes in:
1) Do I gush too much about his seeming talent for music, or is this normal for 4 1/2? I'm pretty impressed, but I impress easily when it comes to this kid. I used to sing, but could never play an instrument so I'm always taken with those who can.

2) Since this is play, I don't want to impose any firm structure or expectations. This is about his discovery and his love. I don't want to make him learn to play a song or follow some technique. But, I don't want a lack of structure to harm him later--for example, I am a terrible touch typist because I tauight myself to type when I was a kid, and I have never been able to make the right connections in my brain to overcome the bad habits I taught myself. His brain is making connections at lightning speed. Should I be concerned that a lack of discipline could harm future ability?

3) At what point do I consider lessons? I never had music lessons, so I don't know how early is too early, or how late is too late. How do I encourage him to develop his talent without killing his passion? How do I keep it from becoming a chore? I'm thinking that we should look into getting him piano lessons when he starts kindergarten next year--am I on the right track?

4) He has such a broad interest and a variety of toy (and kid sized instruments)--drums, xylophone, keyboard, guitar, maracas, noise makers, his voice--where do I start? How many lessons do I entertain? Of course, I could ask, and I have asked him what he would like to play. He either answers with a list of everything, or gives me a different instrument. Sometimes, he says no. I know his decision making capability is limited--how much of this is his choice, how much is mine, and when do the scales start to tip?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Conversations with a Four Year Old

Christopher likes to watch Noggin, and there is a Laurie Berkner song he's learned from Jack's Big Music Show. It's called I'm Not Perfect:

I'm not perfect, no, I'm not.
I'm not perfect but I've got what I got.
I do my very best, do my very best, do my very best each day,
But I'm not perfect and I hope you like me that way.

It continues with another verse for We and concludes with a verse for You, with the ending line "And you know I love you that way." It's a very very sweet song and Christopher loves to sing it. Sometimes, he asks us to sing it with him (we sometimes sing in the car on the ride home). The only problem--he is very particular about the words as he knows them. If Tom or I sing the wrong word, Christopher will shout, "No! That's not it!"

I sometimes forget that he's a little too young for sarcasm. One night, he asked me to sing with him, then yelled because I used a wrong word. I immediately replied, "I think you've missed the message of the song, buddy."

"What do you mean, Mommy?"

"Do you know what "not perfect" means?"


"It means that we don't always do everything correctly. We're humans, and we make mistakes, and we will mess up sometimes even when we do our best, but that's OK."

"Oooooh," he says, then falls silent. I turn my head, and he has a pensive look on his face, and I think maybe this is one of those impactful life-lesson moments, then he straightens in his seat and declares, "*I'm* perfect!"

Tom and I answer in unison, "No, you're not!" then laugh.


We often listen to the classic rock station since it's the only one that doesn't drive me to change stations with every other song. I've noticed some more recent songs creeping onto their playlists, and I am gobsmacked that The Joshua Tree apparently qualifies as classic rock now, but I'll try not to rail about that.

At 6pm, they play the 6 o'clock Stoner, a block of 4 Rolling Stones songs. I'm sorry to say that we often catch this during the commute home. Three times in two weeks, we caught "You Can't Always Get What You Want" in the block, and Christopher was entranced with the choir and the acoustic guitar.

A few nights ago, he asked, "Can you play my song, 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'?"

"I'm sorry, honey," I told him, "but I don't have that on CD."

"Can you make it play on the radio?"

"No, I can't make it play. We have to wait for the station to play it."

"But I want to hear 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'."

"I know, but sometimes, you *can't* always get what you want."

"But I *want* it!"

I wanted to tell him that if they play it, maybe he should really listen to it, then I remembered about the sarcasm thing and said nothing.