Parents of Piano Students: Consider the Wisdom of Churchill

Leila Viss
Leila Viss

Spoiler Alert for those who have not seen the movie, The Imitation Game!

The Imitation Game tells the true story of Alan Turing who was hired by the British government to

crack the codes of Germany's WWII Enigma machine used to communicate their warfare strategies. Turing's awkward social skills made fellow scholars suspicious and fearful of his strange determination to build a code-cracking machine to solve what humans could not.

Despite many obstacles, Turing's digital computer or as he called it, "an electrical brain" broke the German's Enigma thanks to his tenacious brilliance. By the way, the word "enigma" is defined as a puzzle that appears to be unsolvable.

Winston Churchill deserves some credit in all this.  It was under his visionary authority that Turing was granted permission and funds to build his machine overriding Turing's immediate authorities. Churchill realized that building a machine that processes far faster than the human brain would be the only way to win the war. He recognized that a "social misfit" like Turing had an imagination that could not, would not, be capped and banked on it. It was estimated that Turing's computer saved 14 million lives.

So how does this historical movie connect with today's piano teachers, students and their parents? Read on.

All would agree that Turing's invention shifted the course of history for the better, but many believe that today's society has become radically addicted to high-tech gadgets and none the better for it. Parents mourn the loss of penmanship in school curriculums, complain that kids are playing with a screen instead of a friend outdoors, claim that video gaming leads to dangerous addictions…the list goes on.

These are reasonable opinions but technology is not at fault. It's our human tendencies to habitually check our email on a mobile device, answer the smart phone during dinner, play video games late into the night, text while driving and other annoying and dangerous habits that give current technology a bad rap.

The true fault lies in our humanness. The intelligent machines built by humans can potentially steal our attention from reality and keep us from interacting with others, keep us from being human. Parents are fearful of this for their children and vote to turn off all electronics.

This fear is justifiable but consider the study of music as an enigma. It is not easy to learn the skills required to become a musician and teaching those skills is equally difficult.  Like Churchill, today's visionary music teachers understand that high-tech gadgets and apps are tools that can significantly help students solve the mysteries of music making. In fact, many of the mathematicians and scientists developing apps and devices most likely studied music and are using their talents to equip the next generation of musicians. These tools are invaluable to teachers because of the properties only technology can offer.

  • Reinforcement: Something that provides legitimate feedback for home practice was nonexistent   until recently. A powerful app like Piano Maestro can play the role of careful listener, reinforces note and rhythmic recognition and monitor progress between lessons.
  • Progress Tracker: Repetition is a fundamental method for improving skills and repetition with accurate feedback guarantees progress. With apps like Tenuto students can build theory skills with a device that will never tire of doing it over and over again like a teacher would.
  • Gamification: Repetition can be gratifying only if progress is rewarded. Gamification is engaged learning with the use of games. A gaming environment that drills concepts and offers pressure to succeed is a win-win situation. When you gamify, you solidify.

History has shown that when we avoid technology out of fear, it could have potentially catastrophic ramifications. Comparing Churchill's situation to today's music teachers and their approach to teaching music may be a stretch. However, if there are tools that could help a child break the code of music making should it not be part of a budding musician's experience?

If you as a parent do see the value of technology and enroll your child in music lessons that integrate the latest tech tools, here's some advice:

  • Demonstrate responsible use of YOUR mobile device and limit YOUR screen time. If you know your child is easily drawn to screens and gaming, make it clear that all assignments not requiring a screen are to be finished first, then encourage your child to complete tech-related assignments.
  • Read the teacher's assignments and guide your child to follow instructions carefully. Once the assignment is completed or after an allotted time, require your child to step away from the device.
  • Most importantly, trust your teacher. Teaching music is challenging so if there are tools that enhance and improve instructional approaches, respect your teacher's experience and savvy decisions.

Did Churchill know the repercussions of his decision to fund Turing's code-cracking computer? Mostly likely not. He did recognize, though, that an alternative method may be the ONLY solution and took a chance.

Why limit a young musician's education to a traditional approach when there are ways that may more effectively tap unique learning styles, ignite imaginations and inspire solutions to the enigma of music making?