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This chapter discusses the identification of musical potential in childhood and considers the impact of an environment that is nurturing and stimulating. It addresses the place of musical ability tests as well as personality assessment and suggests that while these are areas for the teacher's consideration, they may prove to be of minor significance in any formal selection processes. The chapter describes the manner in which parents and teachers might consider musical potential, not as something finite but as something that may gradually emerge during childhood. The question of children's potential to play various instruments is considered as well as the existence of certain stereotypes prevalent in musical circles. Suggestions are offered to parents and teachers so they may become aware of a child's potential as soon as it becomes observable and nurture it in a facilitating environment.
“This child is musical, you know. ” How often have we heard an adult—a proud parent, an elderly relation, a friend of the family—say something like that! What do they mean? And are they right?
The chances are that the adult is trying to say something positive about the child, something that marks him or her out as more special than other childrenin a manner that is wholesome or at least harmless. Being a musical child is, in the eyes of an interested adult, normally good. The adult thinks that something has been spotted in the child that destines him or her for greatness as some kind of musician or at least indicates that it is worth giving the child opportunities that may be denied to other children, for example, lessons on a musical instrument. In other words, the adult is suggesting that the child has what we shall describe in this book as musical potential: a latent, but as yet unrealized, capacity to do something musical—for example, play the flute.
But is the adult right? Is it possible to spot that one child has more potential than another to play flute or piano or trombone before either has been given achance to try doing any of these things? The biographies of musicians sometimes give an impression that verges on that of a baby emerging from the womb with the musical skills of a very competent adult. But clearly that cannot be the case.
Some children who seem much like other children nevertheless turn out to be
gifted musicians. No child is a blank sheet with respect to music, but the experiences that children have of music vary widely with respect to quantity and
quality. The signs of musical potential that adults think they spot are manifestations of musical achievement. These are the results of musical experience and learning, formal or informal, that some children have had, but others lack. And
there has to be someone there to spot these signs.
A child may move in time to music, play large numbers of pieces of Bach from memory, sing along with a parent, or become engrossed when an older sibling plays the viola. However, a child cannot sing along with a parent if the parent does not sing. Neither can a child play Bach on the piano if there is no access to a piano or the child has never heard any Bach. Nor can a child be seen moving in time to music if no one has time to spot this happening. It is likely that virtually all children have the potential to do all manner of things musical that they never have the chance to do.
Musical potential is something that all children have, although arguably some may have more of it than others, and musical potential may come in different shapes and forms. Musical behavior such as joining in singing means that a child has responded favorably to an opportunity to learn in music but does not necessarily mean that a child has more potential for music than any other child. Neither does it necessarily mean that the child will show more aptitude if offered the chance to learn an instrument, that is, that he or she will realize the potential to develop the ability to play it effectively more speedily than any other child.