How to inspire children to figure it out and make it work
Amidst heavy skepticism, some amount of scorn, and general discouragement, I tuned a cello.
And I taught my daughter something she will use for her whole life.
The family was opposed. This was specialized work. I could break the cello or, at the very least, require a trip to the music store in Port Jervis, where we rented the instrument, an hour away.
They had reasons to believe this.
- The music shop had said, “The guy who does this is only in on Thursdays.” Apparently just one person had the mad skillz. Maybe, just one in all of Port Jervis.
- The family told me, “Tuning Arthur (the previous cello) took 20 minutes working with the teacher on line.”
- “The bridge is not glued, they fall out.” They know because that’s what happened to Arthur.
- “Strings break if you tune them too far or too fast.” Arthur was spared this fate, but that’s what we heard.
- “You don’t know anything about the cello. (Or stringed instruments. Or instruments. Or music, pretty much.)”
All of it is true.
Plus, it was really badly out of tune, not just by a note or two. The strings were floppy and most of them made no tone at all. This was a cello that had been stored and I guess they loosen the strings for storage.
But against all this is one key fact: I grew up on a farm. Motto: “Figure it out.”
Here’s the thing: It’s a cello, not a rocket engine. It’s strings, and pegs, and wood, and screws, and fine and coarse adjustments. It’s sound: Frequency, harmonics. These are all things I know.
And I had YouTube, where my new best friend, Mrs. Morris, would not let me down.
So I learned about notes and the little fine-tuning screws at the bottom and to push the fat pegs as you turn them slowly!! I added a tuner app to my phone.
A half hour later, we had a precise A, D, G, and C.
I was happy that we didn’t waste half a lesson tuning the cello but that’s not what’s important here. More important is what my daughter learned. I’m a pretty new Dad but I know that children learn from what we do, far more than from what we say.
I hope she learned:
- To figure it out: Impossible is a word for — well, not for Dads, and not for you, either.
- That fear of breaking things is not a reason not to try. You won’t break it. Well, you might, but you probably won’t and if you do, you can fix it. And if you can’t, well, then you can hire someone. There is always a way.
- Study the world. Learn its ways. What you learn over here is useful over there. Tuning a cello is not that different from tuning an engine or making a nice omelet.