7 Lessons Harry Potter can teach Musicians

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 by Leilah Smith | Uncategorized

7 is a magical number in Harry Potter. So I am giving "7 lessons for musicians" (music students, performers, music parents, and teachers alike). 

“But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Lesson #1 for the Musician: 

When we get frustrated that we can't master something, and we battle with our internal thoughts and criticisms, it causes us to want to give up. It's hard! It's really hard to overcome these road blocks. How does one simply "turn on the light"? Remember your curiosity! Remember why you were drawn to the instrument in the first place! Play or learn something fun!

Lesson #1 for the Suzuki Parent: 

When we get frustrated that our student or child is frustrated or can't master something despite lots of patience and trial and error... it causes us to want to give up too. Children have a great sixth-sense and are highly influenced by that energy! Be the light, rather than joining their pity party! Even when you think there is no reason to do another repetition, encourage them to try it just one more time! 

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Lesson #2 for the Musician:

When we get bogged down with the details and our fingers aren't doing what we want, it's hard not to throw in the towel. When I was a teenager, I gave up quite embarrassingly early in the game. Until my grandmother passed away and I discovered the prelude to the Bach Suite #2 in G minor. There was something in that piece that resonated with my first real encounter with death itself. Anytime I practiced, I always ended my practice with that piece and poured my tears, my desire and longing to have my grandmother back. This was when I found the real magic behind being able to play a musical instrument. It had nothing to do with perfection. It had nothing to do with what others perceived of my abilities, or how much time I did or did not spend with my instrument. It was forgiving. It is in the times when I would want to yell and scream, light my cello on fire, or smash it to pieces, that I would return to that piece and remember the magic! 

Lesson #2 for the Suzuki Parent: 

When you're wondering why you need to make your child do yet another scale, another etude, or another repetition... remember the first time they were able to sightread a Christmas carol for their grandparents, or the first time they picked out the notes to their favorite song and their eyes lit up with magic! Remember the many times, they struggled through the worst of humps and finally came out victorious. Remember their smile and their joy for not only conquering the music, but more importantly conquering themselves in those moments! 

“I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Lesson #3 for the Musician:

Never apologize for your mistakes. Never shrink, because of your mistakes. Your mistakes are how you learn. If one judges you for your mistakes, they are not focused on their own journey. They are focused on how far they have come and have traveled only for their own ego. Ego is a hindrance to ourselves and to our fellow humans. There will always be ego, but as the Ancient One in Dr. Strange (another good series full of good quotes) "We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them!" If you hate the player, don't play the game. It's as simple as that. Music is an offering, it was never meant to be a sermon. 

Lesson #3 for the Suzuki Parent: 

You are what you are... an expert on your child! You know how they learn best. You know their personalities, what they like, what they don't like. How they come down from a temper-tantrum best... NEVER be ashamed that you are not a "musical expert". NEVER be ashamed that you are not a "musical teaching expert". If I came to your job and felt ashamed that I didn't know how to do anything, or anything about the topic you know about, wouldn't you find that just a bit silly? Yet I constantly hear parents apologize for their lack of musical knowledge! If someone mocks you for your lack of knowledge, that person has never been in the trenches themselves. Their inexperience blinds them. 

"We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." 

-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

Lesson #4 for the Musician:

This one is really quite simple... when the going get's tough, do we easily give up? Or do we rise to the challenge? 

Lesson #4 for the Suzuki Parent:

Do we choose to punish for easily made mistakes? Or do we choose to teach and encourage? This one is not so easy for the Suzuki parent. Do we say "No! For the tenth time, that is NOT how you are supposed to play this!" Or do we say "I think you might have played something a little funny there... does your version sound like my version?" or "Do your hands look like my hands?" Do we say "Sit up straight! Now!" or do we say "Hm.... something about the way you are sitting seems a little funny to me... can you figure out what it is?" The way we choose to talk to our children/students can highly influence their attitude, remember this when they throw a temper-tantrum because they don't want to play piano anymore, or they get mad and bang on the piano. How can we better approach them, allowing them their independence, creativity, and catering to their curiosity? Imagine if your parent were trying to teach you and said something like "That wasn't right. Do it again, only better!" OUCH!!! When you chose your words carefully, you choose the light! 

"Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself!" 

- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Lesson #5 for Musicians: 

The thing itself = MISTAKE! Don't be afraid of mistakes. They will always happen. If you are afraid of making a mistake, you will surely make a mistake! In fact, you will probably make MORE than one mistake, and then you will dwell upon those mistakes, and in the process of doing so, make many MORE mistakes! Trust me, it's a vicious cycle! Don't engage! Learn to forgive yourself, learn from it (most important part) and move on! 

Lesson #5 for Suzuki Parents:

Again... Don't be afraid of mistakes. If you find yourself yelling "BECAUSE I SAID SO!" and slamming the door on your way out of the practice room.... realizing after the fact, that probably wasn't the most adult reaction you've ever had... repeat after me: "It's okay to make mistakes!"  Again... take time to reflect on what made you feel that way in the first place, how could you have reacted better, and rehearse (I know that part sounds stupid, but its completely necessary) for the next time that situation arises. Don't be afraid of these moments, learn from them! 

"If You Want to Know What a Man’s Like, Look at How He Treats His Inferiors" -Sirius Black

Lesson #6 for Musicians: 

Never take an attitude of arrogance! It is unbecoming! It is ugly! It is wrong! Do you belittle your stand partner when they get the bowing's wrong? Or do you encourage them and say "Yeah, that part is tricky... WE'll have to look over that in the practice room this week". Do you laugh when someone makes a mistake? Or do you keep quiet and think to yourself "anyone could have made that mistake" or "perhaps they are having an off day, everyone has off days". 

Have you ever caught yourself thinking "This person and I started at exactly the same time together, yet I'm two method books ahead of them!" or "Oh yeah, I played that piece in Junior High... you're just now playing that!?" EEKS!!

Lesson #6 for Suzuki Parents:

Do you find yourself thinking "That parent is asking too many questions! They must be new!" Maybe instead you could think "this person is trying to learn and needs some help, maybe I can help them since I've been around the block a few times!" Do you find yourself thinking "Oh dear! That parent needs to correct their child's behavior. I can't believe their just ignoring this and letting this happen! They must not understand the expectations!" Everyone has a different parenting style and everyone has a unique child with unique challenges! Your focus should be not on other's children and issues, but rather on your own. Now, if it becomes too much of a distraction to other children, think about a time when you have possibly been through the same situation or something similar, what did you do to curb the behavior? Can you pull the parent aside and kindly and gently ask them if you can tell them in a non-judgmental way about your own experience? (Some people don't want advice, so tread carefully and respectfully with this one.) 

These two quotes go hand-in-hand:

"Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth." 

-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

"Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young."

-J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix(Quote by Albus Dumbledore)

Lesson #7 for Musicians: 

This one obviously pertains more to adults than to musical children. When we are teaching children music... don't assume because they are young, that they cannot grasp a concept. If they cannot grasp a concept, than they are not the failure... you are as the teacher! Anything can be understood as a child, the question is how? Break it down into less complicated terms. Give analogies or examples that children can understand. Also, never underestimate the things a child might already know. I know some 7 year old's whose sightreading skills are relatively better than my own. Ouch!  

Lesson #7 for Suzuki Parents:

I cannot tell you how important this quote is to me. When I was a child, I often got treated as an idiot or just a young girl, meaning I had a limited ability to understand things. Yet quite often, I was more clever and intelligent than some of the adults I dealt with. I could see their intentions behind their eyes and their words. I could often see their abuse of their power as my elder and their desire for me to just accept their word as their word and not have to explain themselves or for me to just blindly believe and follow them, because they were an adult and I was a child. It never sat well with me, as one who was an extremely curious creature who grew up in a very strict and fundamental southern baptist home. So when I heard the verse 1 Timothy 4:12 "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity", believe me, I took that to heart and latched onto that one. (Especially in my teenage angst years, of course! Haha.) I often found the speech of adults incredibly condescending, instead of encouraging. They assumed I knew nothing of what I was talking about, or what they were talking about. They would say "Oh hunny, someday you'll understand, when you're older" How could a child, possibly know better than an adult, right? 

    Am I saying this is always the case? Definitely not! But we need to give children the space they need to be independent seekers of truth. Stifling one's creativity and closing the door to a child's perspective, isn't the most helpful forms of attacking a situation. In order to learn how to help our students and our children, we must truly listen, understand, reflect, evaluate, and acknowledge! Only then can we learn how to best teach them and let them grow. This is how you gain their respect, not by telling them how it is and not explaining why it is the way it is and simply making them do it. Remember being a child and being SO frustrated with that?! Well, there was a reason... there is a time and a place for that kind of direction... like when the child is about to run out into the street to chase a ball without looking... but not when it comes to their musical or intellectual development.