Teachers who try to teach Indian Classical Music to kids, especially to the ones below the age of 10 to 12 years, find it difficult to keep the kids motivated and engaged. It is a common experience that after a few months of training, the kids get bored with just singing Sa, Re, Ga, Ma and eventually stop coming to the classes.
Baithak Foundation has been working with schools, construction sites and other venues and we keep experimenting all the time; just to find out how can Indian Classical Music be made interesting, engaging and enriching for kids at the same time. Recently, we happened to do a workshop at a stud farm for the kids of the staff working there. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate that we got an opportunity to teach Indian Classical Music to a bunch of 20 cheerful kids in the lap of nature. Here are some interesting thoughts and insights that could be used by anyone who wants to teach Indian Classical Music to kids as well as adults.
Make it short, make it rich.
Attention spans are going down sharply not only for kids but also for adults. While it takes a very long time to get even basic understanding of this art form, one has to ensure that one activity does not go on for a very long time. Just as an example, if you make kids sing Alankars for more than 15 minutes, they will be done with it. Instead, one could make them sing for ten minutes followed by some breathing exercise or physical activity for five minutes which will again be followed by singing practice. It is very important to note that one needs a healthy body (SuSharir) for singing properly and hence, I would say it is responsibility of the music teacher to know and teach some basic physical activities to the kids. This will also solve the problem of short attention spans. Our music, Sangeet comprises of Gayan, Vadan and Nrutya (vocal, instrumental and dance) For young kids, it would be very helpful if along with their primary field, they are taught basics of other branches as well.
For instances, for kids who are primarily learning vocals, teaching them basic rhythms or body movements will make the learning process more fun and will also enhance their musical expression significantly.
The kids are smart, always!
Instead of telling kids certain best practices just as ‘rules’, try explaining logic behind them. The young generation is very sharp and can easily grasp the concepts which other wise are taught as ‘parampara‘. For example, one of the most frequently asked questions from kids is why classical musicians are always doing ‘aaaaa’ (the Akar). At the workshop at the stud farm, when we were asked this question, I related it with drawing. If a sketch is drawn with shaky hands, how would it look? I asked the kids. They themselves told me the importance of swift, graceful and steady lines in sketching. Then I related Akar to the gracefulness in the lines. We also made them sing without maintaining constant profile of Akar and they got the point in two minutes.
Many times, we assume that many concepts in our traditional art form (like Raga, Alap, Laya) are very complex and cannot be understood by kids or novices and hence, we burden them with lot of jargon and theory. Kids and people in general are quite smart and explaining logic behind all the activities will certainly boost their participation and interest levels.
Take it close to nature.
Our music is inspired from nature and nature is what enriches it. In the workshop, when it came to explaining the concept of Laya (tempo) to kids, we just asked them to sit silently with their eyes closed and asked them to listen to as many sounds as they could. While discussing the difference between the way crows, sparrows, parrots and horses sounded, kids could themselves tell the difference between the Laya of sounds that these creatures made. Now our job was just telling them names of different Layas. They had understood the concept just by listening.
Dr. Poorva Shah, Kathak dancer and the facilitator who graciously agreed to come and take a session on dance, made the kids stand in front of gigantic trees and asked them to move their hands as if they were painting the trees. What an innovative and fun way of teaching hand and wrist movements to kids.
Make it a mix of learning and performance.
Kids naturally love presenting more than learning. Why don’t we use that positively to foster their learning? While teaching a song to kids, as soon as we told them that they had to sing it for a few visitors on the last day of the workshop, their involvement and interest simply doubled. We also invited a few artists to the workshop and organized a small performance. Kids simply loved it.
Observing a performer from a close distance also makes kids aware of the long, long way that is still unconquered. The posture, the confidence, the stability and Sahajata of the artist certainly touch the kids.
While this list is not at all exhaustive, as one starts following some of the practices mentioned above, more will pop up intuitively. For me, personally, it was heartening to see that at the end of five days, kids could listen to Tanpura and sing Sa properly. At all the locations where we work, kids are always interested and want more music. As far as teaching Indian Classical Music is concerned, a lot of change is required in teaching methodologies. We are glad that Baithak is getting avenues to work with kids and take Indian Classical Music to them without making it boring and complex.