Let Us All Be “Musicians”

I remember when I was in elementary school. I went to a school in York Region where all of the intermediate students played musical instruments. I was so excited! I remember the day that we all needed to select our instrument. I was away the day before to preview the choices, so I just took a guess. Hmmm … a tuba sounds good! I don’t know what it looks like, and I don’t know what it sounds like, but I’ve heard of that instrument before — that must make it special! The good news is that I got my first choice: I got to play the tuba! The bad news is, I figured out what a tuba actually is, what it looks like, and how hard it was going to be to walk that instrument home once a week. Close your eyes, conjure up the visual, and try hard not to laugh hysterically. 🙂

Needless to say, I did not have a good musical experience. In fact, I got one of the lowest marks in my academic career (only slightly above the “D” that I received in Visual Arts). I think that my family was thankful when music was over for the year, and they didn’t have to hear my regular practices at home. And for the neighbours that also lived in our condominium at the time, I apologize profusely for that loud “noise” that I tried desperately to call “music.” 🙂

I can kind of laugh about this experience now, but at the time, it upset me that no matter how hard I worked, I could not succeed. It upset me even more when the next year, my teacher remembered my tuba playing adventures, and gave me the “bells” to play. Now this wasn’t really a set of bells. It was a “bell” — kind of like a cow bell. She pointed to me in the song, I rang it, and we called it success. My mark improved, but my confidence did not.

I’m sharing these stories with you because on Friday, I met with our amazing Arts Consultant, Karen. As she inspired me with so many wonderful ideas that I can’t wait to try out starting this week, I remember one of her final words to me: “Aviva, we need the children to feel like musicians because they are musicians.” And she’s right. All of my students are musicians, artists, mathematicians, readers, authors, illustrators, researchers, scientists, and teachers. They inquire, the learn, they try, they make mistakes, and they try again. I hope that they all feel successful, and I hope that they know that what they do, matters.

My Notes (For Future Plans) When Meeting With Karen

My Notes (For Future Plans) When Meeting With Karen

When I was in school, what seemed to matter the most was the skill itself. As you can see from my story above, all students weren’t “musicians.” There were those that could play, and those that couldn’t play. I was part of the latter group, and I really started to question my abilities. The same was true for Visual Arts: that “D” was heart-breaking to me. I think of the line at the bottom of all of my Board emails. It’s a quote from an unknown author that has truly become my mantra: “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” Inquiry allows this to happen. It allows for multiple entry points. It allows for us to celebrate the process and not just the final product. It allows all of us — teachers and students — to get excited about learning! Inquiry makes even me — a person that still cannot play one note on the tuba — believe that even I’m a “musician,” and this belief is powerful. How do you instil these beliefs in your students? What benefits, or drawbacks, do you see in doing so? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


2 thoughts on “Let Us All Be “Musicians”

  1. Oh Aviva, your story touches my heart. Sadly, you’re not alone. How many adults remember teachers asking them to lip sing in the back row? It really happened to some.
    I don’t have any formal music training, but I have strong feelings about music Ed. My husband is a music teacher & teaches strings with the TDSB. Learning to play an instrument requires a number of skills. There’s fine motor, self discipline, & learning to read music (a new form of code). For special needs kids those skills can be a struggle on top of the initial awful sound beginning musicians make. Some special needs kids are set up for failure in the name of inclusion.
    I can see Aviva that you are not one of those teachers. Exploring music with you will be fun. To add to your musical activities, I would suggest Boomwhachers. They are coloured tubes of different lengths that play different notes. You can find colour coded songs and videos online. Best of luck. Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

    • Thanks for the comment, Donna! I never realized that playing instruments could be so difficult for students with learning disabilities, but as someone with a non-verbal learning disability (and fine motor difficulties), I wonder now if this was the problem. It’s why I love the idea of exploring music, helping students find their inner musician, and allowing all students to succeed. I actually had a conversation online last night about Boomwhackers, and I’m looking into borrowing them from our Intermediate music teacher. Thanks for the suggestion!


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