Last Friday, our Year 4 students received the instrument that they will be learning as part of the Year 4 and 5 Music Immersion Program. The excitement in the room at the time of the ‘big reveal’ was palpable; there were cheers, gasps, and ‘fist-pumps’ from many as they partnered with their ‘new friend’ – their very own instrument. That weekend, I am sure that there were hurried actions in the setting up of new instruments, and family members acting as audience in loungeroom concerts, at which sounds may or may not have yet become music… At any rate, I am hoping music featured positively across your weekend and that you and your child are excited about the enriching cognitive, physical and social journey that is ahead.
I took time to reflect over the busy week and weekend of music. From having just seen the Year 4 students start their journey of learning an instrument on the Friday, to working with advanced students from the Queensland Youth Orchestra (QYO) on the Saturday, it was again confirmed that – despite being at very different stages of their journey – students need nurturing to continue to grow. This reminded me of an idea set out by Alfred North Whitehead way back in in 1929 in his book, The Aims of Education. In this, he places ‘romance’, ‘precision’ and ‘generalisation’ as a ‘rhythm of learning’, the stages of acquisition of subject matter or skills (of course, they constantly spiral back through increasing stages of complexity).
I intended to use Whitehead’s ideas in some other work, after having aligned his ‘rhythm’ to the growth of a tree – ‘romance’ as where the roots took hold in fertile soil, ‘precision’ as the persistent reach of the trunk toward sunlight, and ‘generalisation’ as the widening coverage of the branches over the ground from which the tree grew. A stretched analogy, but one perhaps you will entertain… the growth of knowledge and skill, and one in which we are as teachers and parents are the ‘gardeners’.
At this moment, our Year 4s are very much at the stage of ‘romance’, their interests taking foothold in the soil; they explore, ‘dig around’ and establish some foundations for growth. It is at this stage that we need to invest considerable time – young trees (or seeds) need to be tended to and ‘encouraged’ to grow; without our continued nourishment, they will fail. Sharing kind words of encouragement, showing genuine interest, and the valuing of learning an instrument provide fertile grounds for our students to ‘seed’. Given the right conditions, the following stage, that of ‘precision’ in learning, may be likened to the reaching of the trunk; the tree focussing its energy in one direction – upward. Students gain fluency and become increasingly precise with their knowledge use and in their actions – things become labelled and ‘known’, though importantly, this is still fed by fertile ground. From these two stages comes ‘generalisation’, a synthesis of knowledge and skill that can be then applied in new contexts – the reaching of the branches from the trunk out across a wider domain. From one ‘trunk’ can come many directions of application of the same knowledge, reaching as far as the strength of the root system allows (all the stronger the more we have tended to it in from seed). Whitehead’s ‘rhythm’ becomes apparent as we see a return to ‘romance’ with added competence – students fall in love with the challenge all over again and want to know and be able to do more. The Queensland Youth Orchestra students were once our Year 4s. They were nourished as young ‘seeds’ – encouraged by their ‘gardeners’ – grew mighty ‘trunks’ and now have ‘branches’ extending far and wide. The more they come to know, the more they want to know, motivated by ‘romance’, ‘precision’ and finally ‘generalisation’ of their knowledge and skill. They are very much entrenched in the ‘rhythm of learning’…
Now, ‘romance’ might not be the first word you think of after your first weekend of having a new instrument at home, but give it time, nurture it, encourage it to grow… and you will soon have a beautiful ‘tree’. So, encourage exploration and experimentation; open up the tutor book and perhaps ‘decode’ the music together… Schedule several short practice sessions each week, encourage performances for friends and family, pack the instrument and case the night before rehearsals/lessons in readiness… these little ‘investments’ pay off in the long run; we reap what we sow. I encourage you to keep the energy and excitement high across the coming weeks and talk with your son/daughter about the many musical, cognitive, physical, social and emotional benefits brought about through engagement with music. May I also encourage you to talk about the resilience necessary for this learning challenge – giving things a good go and being tenacious in achieving those little milestones.
The seed has been planted, and it is up to us to assist the ‘tree’ grow.
Dr Cade Bonar - Head of Music (Curriculum)