East Bay Community Music Project

Music Is Community!

Instruments are tools

on September 10, 2018

This is our first post in the Why We Do What We Do category. We’ll post occasionally about why we are committed to making space for community music-making.

Children don’t like keys, wallets and phones because there is something inherently interesting about them. They like these objects because they see them being used by the adults around them. Humans are programmed to identify and use tools, and human children will naturally be drawn to “power objects” that they see adults using as tools.

When my son was little, we gave him his own set of toy keys. How long do you think these were interesting to him? About as long as it took him to recognize that his parents did not use them as tools. He continued to be interested in his parents’ keys.

Children are very adept at recognizing the difference between a real tool and a representative tool or toy. In fact, children who grow up seeing their parents use tools, in the absence or denial of that tool, will find an object from their environment to represent that tool, but will continue to be more focused on finding and practicing with the real tool. The representative tool, or toy, never replaces the real one in a child’s development, but only temporarily distracts them from doing what they are born to do, which is to find and practice the use of real tools that they see adults using.

When I was in Ghana, I did not see a single toy instrument, yet I played with 11-year-olds who were more adept drummers than I am. All of the instruments were made out of wood, animal skin, and rusty iron, and none were painted. But the adults played them every day. And the kids would make drum sounds and bell sounds on any object or surface that was available to them.

During our music-making time, when the instruments come out, please grab an instrument and find the sound that it makes, for yourself. Kids don’t need the instruments to be colorful or approachable in any way. What they need is to see the adults in their community using them. Make sounds, connect your sounds with the people around you, and have fun!

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