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Rebecca Woolf: Music Is Mandatory

When I was seven years old, my mother made me play piano. Not, like, "Tiger Mom"-style but, like, “you have to learn an instrument, and OH LOOK we have a piano in our house!”-style.

I told her that I wanted to play violin instead.

So I took violin lessons and hated it.

“Perhaps, the clarinet is for me!” thought I.

Six months later: It was not.

Piano, it was.

I played the piano for seven years and absolutely HATED it. I hated practicing. I hated reading music. I hated piano recitals and regularly froze on stage. (I get PTSD every time I hear "Für Elise" because I once had a full on brain freeze while playing it on a stage in front of an audience of people and ended up running down the halls hysterical and throwing myself into the bushes in order to die there and never be found.)

My mom let me quit at 14, which I had been begging her for years to do. And while I will occasionally sit down to the piano to bust out a little "Piano Man" and "Everything I Do, I Do It For You" by Bryan Adams (the last song I learned before quitting), I regularly regret that, one, I quit the piano; two, Bryan Adams is the only composer I can play on the piano; and three, that I didn’t learn guitar as a kid.

So, in my early 20s, I bought a guitar and learned to play—a little bit; enough to write a few songs and teach myself a few more. It was good for me at the time, having a guitar and being alone in my apartment, pretending to be Holly Golightly in the window—Moon River, flat shoes, can’t lose.

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If only I had that in high school, I thought. My two greatest loves at the time (besides boys) were poetry and music—and yet, I never even thought to merge the two.

Fast forward to now and me spending the last several years trying not to FORCE music onto my son Archer, but to, instead, NUDGE him toward it.

At age three, Archer taught himself to play "Carmen" on the piano and we were convinced we had some sort of prodigy on our hands. He was the same way on drums so we put him in music class, which he hated and then started him on piano. As soon as the lessons started, he stopped playing piano for fun, which broke my heart and prompted me to pull him from piano lessons.

He was only four. It was way too soon.

Two years later, when prompted about taking piano lessons again, Archer told us he wanted to learn drums instead. We bought a snare and started him in lessons but those didn’t stick either.

We decided, once again, that perhaps six was too young and agreed to revisit the conversation at a later date. He was, after all, only six.

Fast-forward to a year later, when after watching Archer KILL it in the school play with a solo that he sung in perfect pitch in front of the whole school THREE TIMES, Hal and I were like, “OH HELL NO. You are a MUSICAL SOUL! We have to do this. We have to push him more than we have.”

So we sat Archer down and had a talk.

About his talent.

About music.

Because, even though piano is arguably the king of all instruments and musical things, a guitar can be played anywhere, at any time, at any point in your life.

About how it changed our lives and why I regret quitting all those years ago. That IN OUR HOUSE, you HAVE to learn an instrument. You don’t have to play a sport; you don’t have to finish your vegetables; you don’t even have to go to college—but you HAVE to learn an instrument. You just have to.

And so it was.

Archer listened and agreed. That week, Hal picked up some books and started teaching him guitar. But we soon found that Hal teaching Archer wasn’t as ideal as hiring a REAL teacher. So that is what we did. Hal bought Archer a real guitar and hired Archer a real teacher and he began to take guitar lessons every Thursday after school.

After the first few weeks of me having to remind him to practice, he began to voluntarily pick up his guitar and bring it with him places—outside, in his sisters’ room, in the hallway to jam a song he made up as he went, into the entranceway of the house where he can be alone and away from his sisters and Hal and me.

I realized that it wasn’t just about learning an instrument, but about learning guitar. THE GUITAR IS THE ANSWER!

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Because, even though piano is arguably the king of all instruments and musical things, a guitar can be played anywhere, at any time, at any point in your life. Archer can play privately; he can play alone. And for a child who prefers to work alone and write alone and be inside his head, there could not be a more ideal instrument.

Archer doesn’t need to depend on other instruments or a band or a soundproof room to make music, and as a parent whose role is to nurture her children’s independent spirit(s), that means everything.

Fable’s still a little young to play, but when she turns 8 in a couple of years, we’ll start her up, too. And Bo and Revi will take lessons, as well. If after a year of guitar, they decide that they’d like to play something else, they can do that, too. But I still want them to play guitar as their first instrument. Because, in the same way the kids HAVE to learn to swim for their own physical safety, I feel that music—specifically, music on an instrument that can be played while singing in a small room anywhere in the world—is a safety course as well. Swimming lessons for the spirit, if you will. Swimming lessons for the soul.


What about you? Do you make you force/urge your kids to take music lessons? Are sports mandatory in your household for similar reasons? I’d love to hear from you on this! Much love.

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