Teaching killer whales, parrots and children

I grew up going to theme parks. Sea World, Disney World, Busch Gardens and other Florida cultural institutions.

I was fascinated by the animal shows — dolphins, killer whales and parrots that would do any number of tricks on command. The trainers were all-powerful. How else could you get a dolphin to suspend themselves out the water with the force of their powerful tail?

Those animal shows must have made an impact on me. Because in high school, I opened a pet store and raised and trained exotic birds.

I quickly learned a fundamental rule of animal training that made me understand the magic I witnessed at the theme parks. The animal performances were a collection of natural behaviors that the trainers encouraged. Every trick the trained animals did in the shows could be seen in the wild.

As it turns out, teaching children is not unlike training killer whales. When you understand their natural behaviors, you can more easily guide them in the direction that you want them to go.

As a boy, my son, Theo, had no natural desire to clean his room. And when asked to do so, he required continued prodding and management to insure the task was completed.

But, if I challenged him to clean it in, say, 5 minutes or less and then set the timer, he became a cleaning machine. He is naturally competitive and loved any task that allowed him to use that instinct.

There are so many instinctual behaviors that make kids natural musicians. They love to learn new things. They are explorers. They are natural mimics.

The natural behavior that violin education has relied on as the primary motivator is the desire to perform. Children have a natural desire to be seen and heard, to stand in front of people and demonstrate their talent. To be noticed.

As strong as the instinct to perform is, there is an even stronger and more common instinct. The desire to be with people. The need for connection and community.

A childhood without the opportunity to perform in front of people would be a disappointment. But, a childhood without connection and community would be devastating.

Kids are are motivated by a diverse number of instincts and natural behaviors. The work that interests me is exploring the instinct for community, rather than performance, as the primary motivation for learning music.