Teenage Imagination

“Oh no! What do I do? There’s no color!”

Katie, who turns 13 years old this month, had just spent fifteen minutes carefully applying colored washi tape to the piece Gone Too Soon, and was getting ready to play Scoot – another piece by Elissa Milne. We hadn’t taken the time to tape up Scoot.

“Just use your imagination,” I said. “Pretend we taped it up!” And pretend she did!

I feel for teenagers today. They spend most of their time in a world of right and wrong. Grades and scores. Acceptance and rejection. Most of them aren’t lucky enough to be in a project-based learning environment. They’re anxious and worried.

Perhaps I’m keenly aware of this because I’m currently the mother of two children who have just survived their teenage years. I’ve seen first-hand the pressure they were under. I find myself striving to make my teaching especially innovative for my teenage and preteen students.

It’s easy to be clever with a six-year-old. It’s harder with a teenager, but equally if not more important. When I’m tempted to ask a dull question like, “Where does the recapitulation begin?” I stop and ask myself, “Is there another way to teach this concept?” Asking yes/no questions, or ones with only one “correct” answer doesn’t do much to engage the student on the bench. They worry about being right or wrong, not about the music. I strive to create an environment where my students don’t worry about being right. I teach music as a form of expression. To do this, I use their imaginations.

Katie's colorful interpretation of Gone Too Soon.
Katie’s colorful washi tape interpretation of Gone Too Soon by Elissa Milne.

It’s not that I don’t think it’s important to teach students about form and harmony, I just think there are some more intriguing ways to do it. Using color to indicate emotion is a natural fit for a teenager.

Here’s Katie’s color interpretation of Gone Too Soon by Elissa Milne. 

Each color she chose represented a change in mood (what we often call “color”) in music. Her choices were interesting and insightful. If you look at it from a theoretical standpoint, her choices are brilliant. She used similar colors for similar phrase structures and harmonies. She saved the glittery gold for the end when it all shimmers to a close. We could have used standard notation and done a chord analysis, but she LOVED doing it this way. I think she learned more than if we’d analyzed it with I and V7 chords.

When she played the piece again, it had changed. It was, well, more colorful. More heartfelt. More beautiful. 

Here’s Katie playing Scoot (a jazzy, romp) and Gone Too Soon. Enjoy!

The pieces Katie is playing are from Pepperbox Jazz by Elissa Milne.

If you’re not in the United States, you might prefer to look at the books here