An Instructional Conversation with a Thirteen-Year-Old
About fifteen years ago, I was teaching a guitar lessons to a teenage boy and struggling to find some way to inspire him to practice. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: What kind of music is inspiring to you?
Me: What kind of music do you like?
Student: I don’t know.
Me: Do you listen to music?
Me: How do you listen to it?
Student: What do you mean?
Me: I mean, are you listening to it over the stereo at your house or on your iPod with headphones?
Student: On my iPod with headphones.
Me: Do you have your iPod with you?
Me: Where is it?
Student: Here in my pocket.
Me: Would you please get it out?
Student (looking confused and getting it out): Sure.
Me: Okay, great! May I please see what songs you have on there?
So I looked through his list of songs and learned that he was listening to The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles, and some other stuff that I can’t remember.
So I asked: What if we could work on some Beatles songs or a Red Hot Chili Peppers song?
Me: I could teach you how to play one of these songs.
Student: You could? That would be amazing!
Prior to that lesson, I had made it a practice to discuss music preferences with all my students, but until that moment, I had not figured out a way to get inside the heads of the younger students. This was the way! Get a hold of their devices and LOOK at the list of songs!
What I haven’t told you yet is that I was also shocked at some of the songs he had on his iPod. Songs that I felt were way too mature for a 13 year old to be listening to. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), this led to me being a complete, overreacting and controlling mother when it came to my own children’s iPods.
Extreme Guidelines I Set for My Children
Once my own children became old enough to obtain their own iPods, they used to have to print out the lyrics for every single song they stored and show them to me. And if I caught them listening to stuff I hadn’t reviewed ahead of time, they might lose their device privileges.
This now seems a bit extreme to me, and some of you are probably wanting to report me, but fortunately, my children understood my motives and respected them. It gave us a big opportunity to connect on current music at the time. I didn’t have to LIKE the songs they were listening to, and I wasn’t necessarily concerned about bad language, I was concerned about the messages of the songs. What were these people singing about?
(Now that I’m thinking about it, though, my son totally circumvented the system by only listening to instrumental music. LOL!)
Food for Great Conversations
What unfolded over time was an amazing way to talk with my children about all kinds of things. Some of my favorite conversations with my youngest have been discussing what we like and don’t like about different music. She knows I don’t like “cracky” music which is my term for “way too many jazz notes… as in, they aren’t even playing any notes that you can play on a piano; they are playing in the cracks!” So before she plays a new song for me, she might say, “Well, this one gets a little cracky in the middle, but I think you can take it.”
Some Helpful Guidelines
So I challenge all of you who have children to listen to music with them and engage in conversations about what kind of music they like and why. Here are some guidelines to keep the conversation upbeat and flowing:
- Listen with an open mind every single time.
- Do not judge their music as being good or bad.
- Become a student and ask questions.
- Ask them why they like it.
- Ask them “What is this song about?”
- Who is the artist? (And then ask them to please be patient when they’ve told you 1,000 times who that artist is.)
- Who are some other artists who play this same kind of music?
- If you really can’t stand it, ask them “Would you mind finding something else to listen to that I might like a little better?”
- Encourage them to listen to some of your favorite music and have them ask you the same questions.
If any of you give this a go, please write to me and let me know how you make out! Maybe some of you are already doing this. Please let me know what you have learned!