Lilly Fort and the little boy who hated
lessons so much, he broke his guitar strings!
by Marty Fort (Director-Columbia Arts Academy)
The date is November 1982. An eight year old boy is taking a Suzuki guitar class in Columbia, SC. The teacher works hard to teach fun and educational songs but ultimately the student is more interested in what his friends are doing outside on a sunny day.
Impatient and immature, and similar to a scene out of Where the Wild Things Are, as the teacher has his back to the student the little boy takes his right hand and squeezes the strings as hard as he can. He breaks his guitar strings and says “uh oh, my guitar is broken,I need to go outside” and bolts for the door. Now I can say in the 5 years that I’ve operated the Academy, we’ve never had a child behave that way, and for that I’m thankful.
But I need to introduce you to the 8 year guitar student who behaved like a little monster on that day in November of 1982. His name is Marty Fort.
||It’s inconceivable to me now as a 34 year old that I did that, but I remember the incident pretty vividly, even the feel of the nylon strings as I balled up my fist and squeezed them to the point of breaking.
So why do I tell you this story?
I know that a lot of you are asking yourself “Is my child practicing enough?”,
“I’m paying for lessons so they should be practicing an hour a day so that I get my money’s worth!”.
I realize that my view in this article will conflict with a lot of you, but I would ask that you look at my musical achievements before passing judgement on my take regarding students and practicing:
• 2008 Masters Degree in Guitar,
• 2005-present, Adjunct Professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate and Midlands Technical College
• 1998-2003 Adjudicator of music auditions, South Carolina Governors
School for the Arts
• 1997 Bachelors Degree in Guitar from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
• 1992 South Carolina Governors School for the Arts
After teaching for 20 years and working with over 1,000 students, I honestly believe that every student is different. That’s the
attitude we live by at the Academy and its part of the reason why we’re able to help so many students. As a result, some students will practice an hour a day, but many won’t and they should not be given up on.
What if my parents had given up on me? My parents enrolled me in piano, guitar and violin from age 5-9 and at age 9 I said “I NEED A BREAK!”. They never pushed me to practice and I still needed a break. At age 11, I saw Michael J Fox tearing up a mean guitar solo in Back to the Future, and I said to myself “That’s what I want to do!”. I started lessons again and never looked back.
The early years of piano, guitar and violin allowed me to have a head start in guitar. When I became serious this greatly benefited my progress. In other words: every lesson is an investment in your child’s musical future. Every recital is a monumental achievement that they may not appreciate for years. Its like vegetables. I still don’t like to eat broccoli, but my wife doesn’t make cookies every night!
I know that a lot of your children refuse to practice, so I ask you to consider the following: Don’t measure practice in hours. Measure it in “what” they will play for you. Go for quality not quantity. If they will play one 60 second piece every week or so, to show you that they’re learning, you’re doing the right thing. Students need their musical broccoli (lessons) whether they use it now or in the future.
Just because your child isn’t practicing today, doesn’t mean they will not practice someday. We have seen remarkable transformations with students who go from 0 to 60 because they get inspired by a concert or movie, just as I did.
Pictured above is my niece Lilly and she is 5 and a half. In December she’s going to play Jingle Bells in her schools’ recital. As her uncle and guitar teacher, my only goal with her is that she plays a song for me once a week.
I don’t sweat the hour per day, I just want to see her LOVE music, love guitar and progress bit by bit.
This is the formula to success, so that when she is mature enough, she will have all of the right early training in place.
But no matter the level of your child’s practice, if they’re not breaking their instrument and running out of their lesson, I assure you, they’re doing ok!