Here is What I Learnt From Teaching Indian Classical Music Online to a 5 Years Old Child!

Teaching Indian classical music to young kids is difficult. 

Teaching Indian classical music to people with no prior exposure is also difficult. 

Teaching Indian classical music online is also difficult. 

Here is what I have to share about my experience of teaching music online to a 5 years old kid with no prior exposure of music!!

Before I begin, let me tell you how I ended up getting this kind of an assignment! 

As a student of Indian Classical Music (Hindustani), my journey has been literally like a rollercoaster ride. My father having a transferable job added a little (?) bit of bumpiness to the journey throughout! I started learning Indian classical music at an age of 7 in a normal music class. After two years, we were transferred to a different city and I was admitted to a music class in that city. This continued till I reached the 8th standard when I stopped taking music lessons to focus on the academics. 

After I came to Pune for my engineering, I realized the difference between learning in a class and learning from one Guru for longer durations and how it can drastically accelerate the progress of the student.

This scattered learning experience of music in my childhood and then the later experience of learning from my Guru Pt. Vijay Sardeshmukh showed me how having a good teacher/Guru from a young age can positively impact one’s listening and singing/playing capabilities. I also realized that as a teacher, I learned a lot more while teaching kids and even adults with no prior experience of music than while teaching ones who had prior exposure to music.

From the year 2018, along with my regular classes, I deliberately accepted a few teaching assignments which no other music teacher would accept which included teaching to very old people who never used their vocal mechanisms for singing, teaching specially enabled children, teaching highly energetic young students with no liking or interest in Indian classical music in particular etc. 

Five months back, we were approached by the mother of this five years old child about whom the today’s story is. She had attended one of our sessions on Naad Yog where we spoke about impact of music on a child’s brain development. She wanted us to teach her 5 years old boy Hindustani vocal music. As I explained earlier, this being an online engagement made it even more difficult. Here are some things that I did to specially suit this situation : 

  1. Instead of a one hour class a week, I proposed 2 half an hour classes every week. This ensures that the student remains focused. I observe that most young students loose their interest in 10-12 minutes. Then you deliberately have to distract them (which sport you like etc.) and then bring them back to singing again. You can do this maximum one or two times in one class; it wont work after that. Considering this, half an hour is the optimum class duration. 
  2. I choose compositions kids can relate to. Mostly about birds, flowers, sun and river. I often compose fresh compositions for particular students. 
  3. I teach with hand gestures. If the composition is about birds, I would ask the student to make the figure of a bird with their hands. This not only helps to retain the focus but also aids motor skills and brain development. 

Doing this does not guarantee that the student will always be focused and attentive 🙂 but it certainly helps!

Just today, when I logged in to take a class with this young boy, I found him sleeping in front of the screen. As his mother explained, he over-played football in the morning and was feeling drained. 

What to do? I could have cancelled his class or re-scheduled it to some other day. Instead, this is what I did : 

I told him that I also play football once in a while. He opened his eyes a bit. 

How hard can you kick a ball?, I asked him. His eyes became wide open, he got up and enthusiastically replied – very very hard. 

What happens when you kick the ball hard? I asked him. 

The ball flies very long, he replied. 

So then, what would happen if we hit a note very hard? I asked him. 

It will go far off, he said. 

For next ten minutes we practiced a pattern around this idea. We would jump from Sa to different notes and tried understanding how you need to ‘kick’ your voice harder to make it jump from Sa to Re, Ga, Ma, Pa ….and so on. 

We also put Sa, Re, Ga and Ma in one team and Pa, Dha, Ni and Upper Sa in second team and made them play with each other! 

At the beginning off the class, I was not sure if it would go on for even five minutes. I could keep the student engaged throughout the class. The best way to teach children is you becoming a child. I have noticed that young ones are far sharper and can catch our energy levels even in the online classes. If I am myself distracted, not feeling energetic, the kids sense it very fast and they lose their focus completely.

With the changing times and especially due to the pandemic and its long felt impact, it is an imperative that we music teachers try to be more and more creative. It would also help if musicians share how they are handling the situation so that others can benefit from it! 


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