Don’t freak out if your child comes home one day to tell you they’re taking over the garage to start a band, advises Miranda Rocca. Here’s why being in a band is actually a great idea.
Alongside sport, what I remember most vividly and fondly about my school years are my music experiences. I was one of the lucky ones who got to learn an instrument at school. I loved going to lessons, learning a new piece each week, and practising in between. This required a lot of time spent alone, which I was fine with, but the most memorable moments came when making music with others: Accompanying singing and playing in the school orchestra at events and school productions. Being in a band – whether it’s a rock band, a ukulele band, a school orchestra, or a duo – offers an opportunity to use music knowledge and experience but, equally, develops skills that are transferable to other parts of life.
Skills for life
Communication and collaboration are key. In a school band situation, you can often be working with others who are older or younger, from different cultural backgrounds, developing teamwork and relationships unique to band sessions. New leaders often develop from the smaller instrumental groups practising together, and mentors of the younger or new members are often made up of older or more experienced students. As in a sports team, teamwork, practice, and adequate and effective preparation are essential. In a successful band, members are committed and reliable, showing up to every rehearsal and performance on time and motivated to contribute to the group. According to the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Education report, “To thrive in today’s innovation driven economy, workers need a different mix of skills than in the past. In addition to foundational skills like literacy and numeracy, they need competencies like collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving, and character qualities like persistence, curiosity, and initiative.” Being in a band offers the opportunity to develop each of these competencies and character qualities. Song writing brings together the individual skills of each member, combining music and lyrics (drawing on creativity, curiosity and initiative), in addition to problem-solving skills and persistence, until the elements combine to complete and master a song. Additionally, the success of the group is dependent on band members’ awareness of each other (and each other’s skills), listening, leadership, and the ability to compromise and adapt within a group setting.
Being a band kid
Traditionally, to join a band, it has been necessary to be able to play and read music to a reasonable level. But things have changed! No longer do you have to be one of the lucky ones to be a “band kid”. At most primary schools, there’s an opportunity to join a ukulele or marimba group. With three simple chords, you can successfully play “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Love Me Do” by the Beatles, and many more popular songs on ukulele. In one half-hour session on marimba (a giant xylophone), the group I work with at Ponsonby Primary has successfully learned three-part versions (bass, harmony and melody) of “Drunken Sailor” and “Surfin’ USA”. These are all elementary versions of the original pieces, but very successful for band members and do not require music theory or sight-reading skills. The only reading knowledge required (if any at all) involves the letters a, b, c, d, e, f, and g! More often than not, children’s memory is all that is required. In a similar way to how reading is taught, children can effectively learn to play music by ear (as we learn to speak) before learning to read.
As the mother of a bunch of kids who play various instruments, I have also seen the positive results of each of them being part of a different genre of band – jazz, rock, ukulele, marimba, guitar duo – over a number of years. Playing and entertaining an audience together has taken the edge off performing alone, which often becomes daunting at the “in-between” years. It has also kept them hooked on playing an instrument when their interest has started to wane; that is, when pieces started to become more challenging and practice more intense. For those who have committed to learning an instrument in the early years, playing in a band reinforces the benefits of their commitment and the skills learned and honed during the hours spent practising. An intriguing thing about young musicians is that, in many cases, the instrument they decide to play in a band may very well be different to the one already studied. Fortunately, all musical knowledge is transferable, and mastery of a second instrument is swift when a little persistence and patience is applied. So look out for those band opportunities for your children. When the school newsletter mentions the ukulele group, marimba group, or school choir looking for members, encourage your child to sign up. And if there are auditions being held for the school orchestra or rock band, suggest they have a go. In addition to all the advantages and competencies being developed, there’s lots of fun to be had being part of a band making “big” music together. No matter what level – elementary to expert – there are wonderful experiences and opportunities that will open up once the commitment is made.
Miranda Rocca is the manager of Lewis Eady Music School (lewiseady.co.nz), as well as a pianist and a mother of four young musicians.