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Eloise Garland

The Beauty of Music: Finding Your Instrument

July 26, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Finding the 'correct' instrument for a child is something which can take a lot of time and money. Some people are more suited to the violin, such hundreds of us on this site, where as others are suited to a wind instrument and some to the likes of the piano.

How many people have you met who have said 'Oh I wish I could play the piano,' or 'I started the clarinet but gave up after grade 5?' The likelihood is you've come across many, and the fact that you've revealed your musical skills to them seems to trigger one of the many common regrets people have - their lack of understanding music.

I was lucky to find my instrument the first time around. I remember at the age of six watching the Proms on television and it was the first time I had ever seen an orchestra (or at least, taken notice of one). The violinists captured my imagination, and for three years I dreamed of one day becoming a violinist. When I was nine and received my first violin, it was probably the most life changing event I have ever been through to date.
My parents aren't musical, and if I would have lost interest in the violin, I expect they, as so many parents sadly do, would probably not have invested in any more musical activities other than the church choir I was a part of. I was already in many clubs and enjoyed dancing at the time, and I had further passions in writing, sports and science. If the violin wouldn't have been 'my instrument' then I doubt I would be doing the amount of music (which took over my dancing) today.

Talking about how someone - especially a child - is suited to a particular instrument is something which I find intriguing. What makes a child 'right' for an instrument? Why does one thing capture the imagination so much more than another? There are a few books out there which I have had a quick look at which delve into this new 'science' about music, children and instruments.

Some children don't remember not playing their instrument. Their parents may have started them on the violin or piano so early on that it just developed with the child. I think I'm right in saying that only one in ten children who start in this way succeed at their instrument. Others pick it up later and take to their instrument like a duck to water. Then there's those people who go through several instruments before settling on the one they like the most. And finally, there are those who start an instrument, lose interest and never really get given the opportunity again.

If I use my own experiences as an example once more, then it is obvious that piano has never felt suited to me. Piano was always a struggle; I've never been able to play it well, my technique is probably shocking and I've never really had any interest. I can just about play to the standard of a piano reduction of Beethoven 7, but put me next to a 'real' pianist and I'm outshone by a mile.

Finding your instrument is something which is a personal journey. Many of us on had the opportunity and privilege of starting an instrument as a child, and for many, succeeding in finding the right one straight away. Those who never had the opportunity but have started later are to be admired; many people out there have no feeling of worth and refuse to even try, or at least give up very early on.

Everybody has the potential to be musical. Parents who are not musical should encourage their children to find the right musical instrument, and if they don't get it right first time then they shouldn't give up. In my opinion, one of the many beauties of music is the fact that human beings have a natural instinct towards the pure, universal language which can express so much emotion, and many more people out there should have the opportunity to express that.

From jean goon
Posted on July 26, 2012 at 5:54 PM
My parents, who were my godparents and adoptive parents gave me many musical opportunities as a child - a piano at 7 years old and piano lessons and an organ in high school. When at 57 years old, I heard a wonderful violinist during Midnight Mass and wanted to learn how to make such beautiful music. At 62, I'm still learning and loving it! My mentors are Sarah Chang and Joshua Bell and sori1000jy(on electric violin).
From Stephen Clayton
Posted on July 26, 2012 at 6:02 PM
Beautifully stated! There are, within each of us, thoughts, feelings - "songs without words", if you will - that cannot be expressed by mere speech (I, a wordsmith, say this!). Finding one's instrument is a reaching out for that ideal voice to communicate our miniscule-speck-in-the-Cosmos selves to the Cosmos itself. Your words have been the most worthy of being considered I have so far encountered today!
From steven su
Posted on July 26, 2012 at 8:08 PM
--> "like"
From Tristan Bayer
Posted on July 26, 2012 at 10:07 PM
I tried piano and guitar and was bad at both. I thought I was a person who had no musical talent. Recently, I basically said what the heck, and picked up the violin. It's been amazing! I have found my instrument! I totally agree with your post. I've come to discover that everyone has some musical ability in them, they just have to find it.
From Eloise Garland
Posted on July 26, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Tristan - I'm so glad you found your instrument! It's one of those situations where the instrument seems to 'click' in your mind and it makes sense to your mind and body.

Unfortunately there are so many people who believe they have not got an ounce of musical talent, when everyone most definitely has. Even tapping the beat to a piece of music which everyone can do shows some sort of natural edge.
There's a fairly shocking statistic for those who are pianists out there - most children who start piano below the age of eight will not succeed and will feel that they are no good at music. Most likely, they could not be more wrong! :)

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on July 27, 2012 at 3:08 AM
Thanks for writing this, Eloise. Sometimes it's a matter of exposure. I didn't know anyone with a violin until I was an adult. My daughter thought the piano was "her" instrument, until she had a year of piano lessons. Then in 4th grade her school introduced her to the trumpet. None of us, her family, would have guessed what a natural choice that would be. She's double lucky because there are a lot of high profile woman trumpeters right now, and our high school recently hired a woman to lead their award winning jazz program.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM
There are also people who start an instrument as a child, quit for a while, and come back as an adult with a newfound appreciation. I'm one of those. If you'd asked me back when I was a teen/young adult, I probably would have said that violin wasn't really my instrument, and that I'd made a mistake choosing it. It was too intense, people who played it were too intense, it was high and screechy, there was way to much of things like obsession with prodigies and seating auditions. But I stuck with it anyway because I liked orchestra and I'd invested so much time and parents' money in it already.

Back then I thought "my instrument" was really the piano--because I was able to teach myself how to play simple pieces on the piano without lessons, and because playing the piano was, for me, a lowess activity. The stakes were low and no one expected me to be any good. I could just sit at a piano and make pleasant sounds, work out patterns, noodle around.

Then I actually did take a few piano lessons as an adult, and while they were okay, it made piano a lot like violin. Someone gave me the Hanon book, for example--a lot of scales and exercises for velocity and accuracy. I did it for a while, and it did me good, but it wasn't at all why I enjoyed playing the piano. I eventually got bored and stopped taking lessons or doing Hanon exercises.

I also at one point thought that viola was really "my instrument." I liked the lower register, and the sound. For a while it was kind of a relief to get off the Eing. I still own a viola, and I still play the viola from time to time, but I came back to the violin as my primary instrument about 2 years ago. I think it is "my instrument" as much as anything is.

From Patrick Tinney
Posted on July 27, 2012 at 12:34 PM
First there are some people, a former in-law, who may theoretically have musical potential but who when required to learn the Recorder for an education degree was able to demonstrate, through testing, that she was absolutely tone deaf, a very sad situation indeed.

Then there are people like my parents, who felt that everyone was expected to have a familiarity with music for good breeding, but a serious pursuit was a waste of time preparing for a financial future. Which is related to another person I know who though a “church musician”, believes music a tool and has no value in and of it self and has pointed out the amount of waste serious practicing can be. It detracts from the practical aspects of life.

But as bad as these may seem the absolute worse in my opinion are some musicians who also see only the practical. Decades ago I lived where I had to keep the doors and windows open. A group of children would come and listen to me practice the Recorder / Wooden flute.

One of the little girls was so excited, the next year she was going to learn the flute. When I asked after the school year started how the flute was going she told me she decided not to take band. They told her there were enough flute players and she should play percussion.

Sorry to be a downer, but I really wish I knew how to change this utilitarian aspect of our society.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on July 27, 2012 at 3:25 PM
With me, it was a progression: 1) hearing classical music; 2) starting basic piano; 3) then knowing violin was the instrument I really wanted to play.

My parents often played classical music on radio and recordings. Even before school age, I always enjoyed listening to it. I'm sure I told Mom and Dad, "Play it again" -- more than a few times.

I was 7 when my parents enrolled me in elementary piano lessons. Mom was a piano whiz herself, and my parents wanted me to get some experience in playing an instrument. We had a piano, so that was a logical starting point.

Even then, the little geek in me was evident -- I seem to remember being more fascinated with the above-mentioned Hanon book -- I believe it's the book of 60 exercises -- than with the simple tunes that most neighborhood kids could hum along to.

But then the violin muse grabbed me. A professional orchestra played at my elementary school, and now I could hear and see for myself how string players made this music happen. I told a classmate I'd like to learn violin. He was already into cello lessons. He told me, "Violin is a lot harder than cello." That didn't deter me.

I asked my parents if I could switch to violin. They consented -- after a short interval, that is, to be sure this wasn't merely a passing fancy. It wasn't. My piano teacher wished me well.

I started fingering and bowing elementary tunes on a half-sized fiddle several months before the first lessons. Watching two other kids play from what was to become my first instruction book -- this no doubt helped a lot. I could already read music, thanks to piano training, and I played right through several beginning violin pieces at my first lesson -- to the delight of my first teacher.

From Adrian Di Stefano
Posted on July 27, 2012 at 4:48 PM
I have always known that I wanted to be a musician. One of my biggest regrets is that my family was too poor to support this goal in any serious way. At the age of 12 a friend of the family (and former professional opera singer) let me borrow one of his electric guitars, and I fell in love. I spent the next 10 years teaching myself to play guitar, first metal and classic rock, then folk and classical fingerstyle. I had always really wanted to play violin, but it was an intimidating prospect, and my family could not have afforded an intrument and lessons. Finally, about six months ago I realized that my life was stable enough to begin purchasing a student violin. Deciding to learn to play classical violin at the age of 22 is a daunting task, I know how far behind I am, but I also know, without a doubt that this is the intrument I was meant to play, it has all the qualities that guitar lacked for me, and so much control. I believe that everybody should play an instrument, and that everybody should be given the opportunity to. If I had wanted to play football I would have had ample opportunity to do so through school, community programs, etc. But getting ahold of an instrument and training is much harder for a low income child, my high school didn't even have any violins, much less anybody capable of teaching me. If I had at a young age been introduced to the violin I believe my life would have been radically different. I did poorly in school because I was never challenged by any of the subjects, I was more advanced in my understanding of them than most of my teachers, and was terribly bored and underengaged. If the violin had been provided I would have had a source of constant and fierce intellectual and physical challenges, and would have been much less likely to cause trouble. EVERY CHILD NEEDS AN INTRUMENT.

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