Learning guitar is a common pursuit and is a goal of many children. Most parents want the best for their children and having heard about the cognitive and other benefits that come with learning an instrument, parents are happy to buy a guitar, pay for lessons, drive their child to guitar lessons and sacrifice their time for the duration of the lesson at least once a week. Parents also help their children practise and this is usually the parents’ (quite significant) contribution to help their children achieve their goal of learning guitar.
But what of the child’s contribution to achieving their goal of learning guitar? Last week, I wrote a post about children being reluctant to practise the guitar, a struggle which most guitar teachers can relate to. Children are generally not held to account for their progress and most of them are not responsible enough to ensure they put in a solid half hour a day to consolidate the pieces they are working on.
So, teachers often water down the child’s contribution and tell them that 10 mins a day of guitar practice is sufficient. If you teach children at their school, you may find that they will often be late to lessons or you will have to retrieve them from their classroom. They will not have practised; their music is in disarray and sometimes they cannot even remember the piece that they were working on.
How do you make children step up and become responsible for their progress? A few fellow guitar teachers commented on my post last week with tips and ideas on how they keep their students motivated to practise and be responsible for their goals and they were great ideas, one including a creative pie practice chart!
I have been thinking about this topic of motivating children to practice guitar a lot lately and recently I came across the true story of nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther. It is an inspirational story about his goal and the steps he took to achieve it. I told this story to my students and it really resonated with them, making them realise that if they too could assume some responsibility, they, like Lennie could achieve their goals.
The story starts with Lennie’s father, a war hero from WW1. He risked his life to save others, was wounded and upon his return to Australia, farmed a property outside of Melbourne. It was a time during the depression, no one had any money and there was 30% unemployment. Working the farm was how Lennie’s father kept the family fed. One day Lennie’s father broke his leg and had to be taken to hospital. Realising the dire circumstances this placed the family in, Lennie took it upon himself to tether the horses and plough the fields so that the family would have enough to eat.
Upon his release from hospital, Lennie’s father was so pleased with what the boy had done he asked him what he would like as a reward. Lennie had been following the progress of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge through newspaper articles and on the wireless and said that he would like to attend the opening which was to occur in 1932. Very few people had cars in those days and Lennie’s father did not think that attending was a possibility. It was 600 miles or 1,000 kilometres from their farm outside of Melbourne to Sydney.
Lennie told his father that he would ride his horse, Ginger Mick to Sydney. Bear in mind that these days a child of nine would not be allowed to go to the shops by themselves. He packs a toothbrush, pyjamas, spare clothes, and a water bottle into a sack and with great reluctance his parent’s let nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther ride 1,000 kms to Sydney.
Lennie and Ginger Mick
It is about at this point that I ask my students if they could imagine riding 1,000 kms on horseback to attend the opening of a bridge especially as there were no mobile phones or social media back then. It was not just a matter of jumping on his horse and riding, but Lennie had to know how to read a map and had to find food and shelter. He was responsible for making sure that his horse was fed and had water. On the trip, they were approached by a deranged nomad, survived bushfires, and endured rain and cold.
Lennie and Ginger Mick eventually made it to Sydney for the opening and were welcomed by a large crowd who had heard of his journey along with important politicians and officials. He met and shook the hand of Prime Minister Jospeh Lyons. Even then, the feat of Lennie and Ginger Mick inspired a nation and helped lift its spirits from the Depression. After the opening, Lennie and Ginger Mick rode back to the farm. They covered over 2,000 kilometres and were away from the family for four months.
Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick arriving in Sydney for the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932.
My students love this story and react positively to it. It helps them see that their goals can also be achieved by accepting responsibility for the steps required for those goals to become a reality. I told this story to one of my six-year-old students, *Max. At the end of his lesson he packed up his guitar and handed it to his mother. I said, “*Max, would Lennie have given his guitar to his mother so she could carry it for him?” He looked at me and took the guitar back off his mother.
*Max is not the real name of my student.
Author: Bryce Leader
Bryce is a teacher trained conservatorium graduate who has been teaching guitar since 1978.