Welcome to Band Together: A Manifesto
The Band Together Manifesto
At Band Together, we have four firmly held beliefs that cut across the grain of conventional thinking:
- Firmly held belief #1: Everyone can make music.
- Firmly held belief #2: Everyone should make music.
- Firmly held belief #3: Every family should be a musical family.
- Firmly held belief #4: You (the parent) can teach your children to become fully functioning musicians.
Let’s explore each of these statements:
Firmly Held Belief #1: Everyone Can Make Music
Conventional wisdom says that only a select few are born with musical ability and talent, that only those who were given the gift of music at birth turn out to be musicians. To this mindset, we reply (as they say in France) “au contraire!” To counter this thinking, we begin by making this statement: Just like English, Spanish, Russian, or Swahili, music is a language that anyone can learn to speak. It has an alphabet, out of which musical words, sentences, and paragraphs are created.
Consider these facts about English, the language you are reading now:
Assuming English is the primary language spoken in your home, every one of your children will learn to speak English without ever having taken a course in school called English. Furthermore, before they are grade school age, they will have learned to communicate freely using the English language—easily combining letters into words, and words into sentences. What’s more, they will have learned to do this before they are able to read or write one word of English. They will have become fluent in English without a special tutor or Berlitz language course. (If two languages are regularly spoken in your home, before your children are grade school age, they will easily have learned to speak both.) When you stop to think about it, this is pretty amazing!
So how does a child learn to speak a language, easily and freely communicating his or her questions, intentions, desires, and needs, all without any formal instruction? Answer: (1) by listening to sounds, (2) ascribing meaning to those sounds, and (3) by learning to replicate those same sounds.
All of this is accomplished without any formal classroom-style instruction because (1) children are natural learning machines—much more so than adults, and (2) whether you realize it or not, the home environment (including the parents and older siblings if any) is the English teacher.
Hopefully, you have already seen where this is all going, because just like English, music is a language. Any of your children can become proficient in the language of music the same exact way they will become proficient in speaking English: (1) by listening to (musical) sounds, (2) ascribing meaning to those (musical) sounds, and (3) by learning to replicate those same sounds (either by singing or with a musical instrument).
Now here is a very important question to ponder: If we don’t insist that children first learn to read or write English before they start learning to speak English, why do we insist that they first learn to read and play from musical notation before they can make music?
Perhaps you are aware of this maxim: Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Here is a parallel maxim about music instruction: Teach Billy to play “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” in the key of C on the piano, using standard music notation, then he will only be able to play “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” in the key of C on the piano. Take the music away, ask him to play it in another key, or on another instrument, and he won’t be able to play anything.
However, first teach Billy the language of music, and he will be able to figure out how play “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” without any sheet music at all. Furthermore, he will be able to play it in other keys besides the key of C. If he learned to play the melody of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” first on the piano, he will, with a little experimentation, be able to play it on an instrument—such as a guitar or mandolin—that he has never played before.
Firmly Held Belief #2: Everyone Should Make Music
Our second firmly held belief is that not only can everyone make music, everyone should make music. Being able to make music (sing and/or play a musical instrument) is not a skill that should be reserved just for those who end up pursuing music as a career. Most of us will not end up becoming public speakers, but we all still learn to speak the English language. Most of us will not end up becoming mathematicians, but we all still learn to add and subtract.
The ability not only to listen to and appreciate music, but to actually make it, is a gift from God; it is something that everyone should be able to experience. Furthermore, we believe everyone has a song inside of themselves, just waiting to come out.
Put in practical terms, we think that everyone can and should learn to play at least three types of instruments:
- Something that produces rhythm (some type of drum or percussion instrument—a conga, bongo, shaker, tambourine, djembe, or cajon)
- An instrument that can play harmonies (chords), such as a keyboard, guitar, or ukulele
- A melodic instrument, such as a recorder, penny whistle, flute, harmonica, violin, etc. (of course keyboards and guitars can play melodies, as well)
Firmly Held Belief #3: Every Family Should Be a Musical Family
Imagine an evening in your not-too-distant future when, after supper, all family members turn off the TV and Xbox, put down the iPad and smartphone, and log off of Facebook. And instead, pick up the guitar, ukulele, harmonica, djembe drum, or sit down at the keyboard, and start playing a song (and singing along). Sound far-fetched? We don’t think so at all.
Even in families where several of the children are taking music lessons, here is the sad reality: Matt (who is taking piano lessons) is in the living room, sweating over the piece that his piano teacher has assigned to him, Chopin’s “Nocturne #20 in C Sharp Minor.” Nicole (who is taking violin lessons), is in her bedroom, sawing away at the piece that her violin teacher has assigned to her, Vivaldi’s “Concerto in G Minor.” Everyone else is in the family room, trying to watch TV, and waiting patiently till both Matt and Nicole are finished practicing and they can finally hear what is actually being said on their TV show.
By the time Matt has perfected Chopin’s “Nocturne #20 in C Sharp Minor” and Nicole has perfected Vivaldi’s “Concerto in G Minor,” they are sick of their songs, (and so, to be honest, is everyone else in the family). Their teachers are tired of these pieces by now, as well, so Matt and Nicole are assigned new songs, and the process repeats. Chances are highly unlikely that Matt and Nicole will ever play the same song together and enjoy doing do.
Now let’s reboot into the Band Together alternate universe. This particular month’s album, Waves, is all about Hawaiian and Polynesian music. Everyone in the family is learning to play Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” because it’s Band Together’s song of the month. Matt is playing the keyboard part; Nicole has transferred her violin skills to ukulele; Katy (who has never played any musical instrument before), is playing bass. Last of all, Mom and Dad, are holding down the rhythm section, Dad on cajon (a drum that is a box you sit on and play) and Mom on djembe (a hand drum from Africa).
Everyone spends some time working on their individual part, but they can’t wait until after supper and the dishes are done, when they all gather in the living room (which they now call the music room) and play “Somewhere over the Rainbow” all together. One final detail: although Matt insists that he has the best voice, and that he should sing the song’s lyrics as a solo, the rest of the family can’t help themselves and usually end up singing along.
Is the above scenario somewhat idealistic? Certainly. But what’s wrong with having ideals to strive for, anyway? At Band Together, we want to exhort you to aspire for more than just another evening with everyone’s head buried in their own personal digital device.
Firmly Held Belief #4: You (the Parent) Can Teach Your Children to Become Fully Functioning Musicians
Here is the last of our four firmly held beliefs: Whether you consider yourself a musician or not, or whether you have ever taken music lessons of any type, you can (with our help) teach your kids music:
- How music’s three basic elements—melody, harmony, and rhythm—combine together to form “complete musical statements” (better known as songs)
- How to play a musical instrument (hopefully more than one)
- How to play together with other musicians in a band/group/ensemble
- How to understand and appreciate different musical styles
You may or may not be homeschooling your children, but assuming you are, let’s visit once more the train of thought we considered in Firmly Held Belief #2: Everyone Should Make Music. We stated that your child should learn to speak English, whether he or she ever ends up becoming a public speaker. We said that only a small percentage of the population will end up becoming mathematicians, yet we all study math because we need to know how to add and subtract.
As a homeschool parent, have you said, “I’m not going to teach my children math because I’m not a mathematician. Furthermore, I’m not going to teach them science because I’m not a scientist.” Of course not. By the same token, we want no parent to have to say, “I can’t teach my kids music because I’m not a musician.” That’s why Band Together exists: to help you bring out the hidden (and waiting to be discovered) musician in you and in each of your children.
Additionally, we want you, the parent, to not just teach your children about music, we want you to make music with them. You may or may not get excited about math or science, but you’ll have a blast learning about different musical styles and genres right along with your kids. And, even if you have never tried to play a musical instrument of any type, we will help you to learn to play something, even if it’s just a tambourine.
One final thought: Playing music together will bond your family together in a whole new way. To repurpose an old cliché: the family that bands together, stands together!