The Beginning of Bean Sprouts

Sprouts Collage

When I started teaching music lessons over a decade ago, I would often be approached by a parent of a very young child who was interested in private instruction. “How early do you start teaching lessons? The other music instructor I talked to won’t take kids before they are in second grade.” I understood the reasons for waiting until students are older to take lessons, but I also heard what the parent was saying beneath the statement. “Music is important. I want my child to be influenced by music during these early developmental years.” I shared these concerns and wanted to find a way for these students to begin their music education as early as possible.

Should’ve been like Jimi…

I also had my own motivations for wanting to provide lessons for very young students. When I started learning guitar at 15, my friend’s mom told me, “To really be an incredible guitar player, you should have started at 5 years old, like Jimi Hendrix and guys like that.” This statement haunted my goal-oriented, type-A personality. “Oh no! I’m TEN YEARS LATE!!!” If I could help a student start lessons as early as possible and potentially uncover a hidden talent, I wanted to do it. (She was wrong about Jimi; we both picked up our first guitars at 15.)  Regardless of when Mr. Hendrix started rockin’ out, I wanted to give parents the chance to discover what may lie beneath the surface.

So… I started teaching very young students, some as early as 4 years old. As long as they knew the alphabet, could count, understood ordinal numbers and had good fine motor skills, I would give it a shot. Being able to read was helpful, but not necessary.

“Maybe he’s not musical” – Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

I had some success, but I also ran into some roadblocks that often deter instructors from taking young students. I could circumnavigate most of these obstacles with patience, good interpersonal skills and a gifting for working with kids, but sometimes a student just wasn’t ready. From time to time I would have to coach a very young student out of lessons because the child simply wasn’t ready for the discipline of a private lesson.

At this point, I was more concerned for the parent than for the student. Many people view music from a “fixed mindset” perspective. These folks believe that you either have it or you don’t, that some people are musical by nature and the rest should find some other hobby. I do not ascribe to this point of view. I see music from “growth mindset” perspective: music is a system that can be learned by anyone who makes the required effort to do so. Does this mean that everyone who practices faithfully will be another Mozart? By no means. That kind of musical genius happens at the intersection of hard work and an incredible God-given talent. However, most people can learn to play an instrument well enough to enjoy doing so.

Every time I coached a very young student out of lessons, I feared that I was reinforcing a fixed mindset perspective regarding that child and music. I hated the thought that a parent would say, “We tried lessons with Mr. Eric when Billy was 5. He didn’t do very well. I guess Billy just isn’t musical.” How could I encourage music education in young students while avoiding the pitfall of a failed experience?

Enter the Bean Sprouts program.

How Bean Sprouts began

What if we could provide an environment for music education where students could explore freely without pressure to perform? What if a rock star instructor could get some time with a very young student in this exploratory setting and, when the time is right, coach parents to take the step into private lessons? It could encourage. It could inspire. It could make all the difference in a successful, early start to music education.

I was already hosting preK and kindergarten classes for school field trips to the store. We started developing the Bean Sprouts program based on the principles I taught in those field trips: music is fun when it is fast and slow (tempo), music is fun when it is high and low (pitch), and music is fun when it is loud and soft (dynamics). We also took the most effective teaching elements from the field trips and planned a week-long summer day camp. The Bean Sprouts Camp became so popular that we expanded to two camps per summer. The summer camps gave us the opportunity to refine our curriculum and our teaching methods. The Bean Sprouts curriculum was adapted for use in afterschool programming in partnership with the YMCA, eight-week class sessions at Beans & Strings, and in the public and private school classroom setting. We have taught the Bean Sprouts program to hundreds and hundreds of students in different grades, with a range of learning capabilities, and with varied amounts of musical experience. The program continues to expand with new learning activities, becoming more and more effective as it is refined through hours and hours of teaching.

Space to explore and grace to learn

Every year I watch students engage with the Bean Sprouts program through camps, the classroom, the lesson studio and in afterschool programs. Time after time, these students fall in love with music as they learn about percussion instruments, stringed instruments, note values and dynamics. I love watching students transition from Bean Sprouts into private lessons, knowing that they already have an age-appropriate musical foundation and are set up to win as music students. My hope is that Bean Sprouts students will always have a successful experience as they explore and learn more about the musical world and, ultimately, themselves. There is no telling what creative potential can be unleashed when a child is given space to explore and grace to learn without the pressure to perform. The Bean Sprouts program is encouraging the next generation of musicians.

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