It's just for fun

Is learning to play a musical instrument just for fun? Or is it something else? Or both?

A recent post by a Suzuki teacher sparked my interest in why we help our children learn to play musical instruments and whether it’s “fun” in the usual meaning of the word.

“What do you reply to a parent who says ‘It’s just for fun.’?”

It’s an interesting question because we work so hard to make practice fun, yet is it just for fun?

Goals vs process.

The “just for fun” proposition exposes a dilemma about goals vs. processes. We want practice and lessons (the process) to be fun. But at the same time, we usually have higher ideals in mind for the outcome (the goals.) It’s perfectly reasonable to hold these two ideas simultaneously in mind. The process is fun while the outcome is fulfilling in a deeper, more meaningful way.

What’s fun got to do with it anyway?

So it’s worthwhile drawing a distinction between fun and fulfillment. There’s a superficial and transient quality to activities that are fun. Engaging in an activity that’s fun is always impermanent. When the activity is over, the fun is over. It’s the difference between candy and a satisfying meal. You could contrast fun with a sense of fulfillment that comes from meeting challenges on the path to developing an worthwhile ability. It’s an enduring feeing.

Goals and tactics

Learning to play a musical instrument is one of those endeavours that requires long-term goals. Even the most dedicated and capable child cannot learn everything about playing without time. Long-range thinking helps carry you over the inevitable rough spots that crop up along the way. In strategic planning parlance, our goal would be to have kids play well, love music and be good citizens. How we go about organizing our efforts toward this overarching goal are our strategies. Think of these as the habits that Christine Goodner outlines in her excellent new book, “Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families”. Daily practice, listening, musical community involvement, and so on, are the strategies that families employ to reach the larger goal. Finally, there are the nitty-gritty details - the tactics of making it work in the context of busy family life. What games can I employ in practice? When should we practice? How should we review effectively? I would argue that with younger children, the tactics are in large part organized around having fun! Yet, the goals and strategies all move toward the fulfillment that comes from developing high ability.

So let’s have fun and fulfillment!

How do you think about fun and practice? See the Suzuki Experience Facebook page to comment.

Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.