I have been watching my son learn the flute for the last few months.
I was resistant to letting him learn it for eighteen months because I was not sure if he would persist through the hardest part of learning an instrument, which is the first six months.
Personally, I wanted him to learn something easier, like the ukulele, or in my dream instrument, the guitar. Or, to be more specific, the classical guitar.
The first six months of him asking was more about which instrument to learn.
“When can I learn the flute?”
“How about the ukulele?”
“How about the flute?”
“The guitar is nice, here, listen to how wonderful the classical guitar sounds”
“That is really nice, but it would be better if there was a flute there”
Six months of that.
I know, I should not be projecting my desires onto my children. I normally don’t do that. In fact, I have gone to great pains to not do that.
Except travel. He will like travel whether he wants to or not.
The second six months the process changed.
I was beginning to think he was serious about it.
I found him listening to flute playing on YouTube.
When in the car he would whirl the radio station from the normal modern junk music to classical music. He would close his eyes, as if to drown out the light that disturbed the flow of sound coming from the speakers as Mozart and Beethoven slipped through the air and into his mind.
He liked most of it.
Then, sometimes, something beautiful would flow out. The subtle sounds of the flute as it danced through the songs, not as the background for violins, but up front, leading the charge to his ears.
He would look out the window of the car, silent, focused, inhaling the tunes entirely.
Back on YouTube, he found Jethro Tull.
Loud, in your face, flute sounds.
A crazy bearded man who looked more at place in the bush, whipped out his flute and danced with it, ripping through the cords to the beat of drums and electric guitars.
He loved it.
But his first option was always the symphony.
The third six months became the flute itself.
What it is made of?
How does it work?
Why weren’t the holes like a recorder?
Was there anyone nearby who could teach him?
For me, it became about me learning the guitar. Not now, but when I was eleven, maybe twelve.
Plucking the strings each night for thirty minutes. My fingers hurting and hardening against the strings. Finding the feel of each pluck. Loving the class, enjoying the teacher.
And how I gave up after four months.
How, towards the end, I remember clearly waiting outside the room for the class to begin and my teacher sitting beside me to ask how my practice had gone.
I had practiced.
He said “Play the song and I will play along”
For two minutes of my life, an audience gathered around us. I led the song, he provided the background, and together we played this simple, yet lovely song together, perfectly.
I was focused on the cords, but I listen to him play as well, heard the separate guitars melding together and bringing me joy.
When we finished the crowd clapped and my heart filled with joy and happiness.
I had pleased the ears of others.
The practice was worth it.
Term break came, I was asked to learn the cord names during the break. I failed to learn them, even though I could read them on the music sheets and play them, the letters confused me.
I never returned.
I don’t regret too many things. But not learning the guitar is one of them.
Ethan wanted to learn the flute.
I wanted him to learn the guitar, so I could as well, but that is wrong.
I booked the tutor for the flute, bought him a second-hand flute, and the lessons began.
He practiced daily.
When he felt he was good enough, he would play the song to me, then his Granny, and then a friend.
Four months in, and he stopped the practice. Frustrated with the lack of instantaneous progress.
Three weeks of missed lessons.
And a turning point.
Do I let him off the hook and allow him to stop?
Do I force him to practice?
He says he wants to learn the flute, but the practice sucks.
I emailed the tutor with my dilemma. She said to not stress the lack of practice, to come to the next lesson and she would talk to him.
She said that children can become resistant to a parent, that a tutor can have more influence in motivating the child into practice.
I think she is right.
My son is growing up. He listens to me most of the time. I also allow him to make his own mistakes, to find his own learning.
To decide what he wants to do and for how long.
But not this time.
I will keep him practicing, let the tutor motivate him into practice, and ensure he pushes through the first six months.
I figure that it is healthy if he finds motivation from others, and that the lesson of giving up on learning an instrument doesn’t have to take thirty years of regret to understand, that it is better to push than give up too early.
And for me, that learning the guitar is still possible for as long as I am breathing.
When Ethan makes it to the end of this year with the flute, I will play catch up by learning the guitar.
Then, after four months, I will play music with my son to an audience and hear the music I am making with my son then the applause of the listeners.