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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Hope

Toys, Trial and Error, and Tone (guest post by Dr. Julie Carlson)

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

I have been so intrigued watching my now four-year-old boy play with physical objects, experiencing trial and error.  As a baby, he played with the Little People Farm.  He would try to place the cow in the barn still standing up, but the cow would keep falling over. He kept trying, and I had this huge "wow" moment thinking, "OHhhh.  THIS is motor skill development."

Fast forward to yesterday.  He was playing with a Bob the Builder moldable sand kit.  It's like Play-Doh, and you put the sand into molds of bricks and barrels, and you can stack them.  He kept making things and trying to stack them into a tower, and they kept falling over.  He had to try different things to make the tower stay standing, and I was helping him a little.

Learning to play an instrument, especially the violin, has a lot of similarities. It involves trial and error with physical objects, and with one's own motor skills.  For example, maybe the sound is scratchy.  What should I do to make it not scratch?  Maybe I am pressing too hard on the bow.  I will try not pressing so hard.  Oh, now the bow is sliding. Maybe I should try a medium amount of weight.

All this trial and error is SO good for kids (and for adults!).  It teaches:

  • Patience.  With the objects themselves.  With one's own motor skills.  With the trial and error process

  • Emotional regulation.  The more practice with trial and error, the longer my child can go without throwing a fit and throwing his toys.

  • Experimentation.  Looking at the problem from different angles. Brainstorming solutions.

  • Perseverance.

  • Intrinsic rewards. The tower standing without falling is an opportunity for celebration!  "I did it!" your child might say.  Even more so if he or she can create a singing tone on the instrument.

I believe these things are so important to develop, both in physical play with physical objects, and in playing a musical instrument.

I have absolutely no idea what's going on in the brain while all this is taking place.  But I'm guessing when the child is trying to accomplish things using both hands at the same time, each hand doing something different, some amazing, beautiful synapse between brain hemispheres must be happening...

Dr. Julie Carlson teaches violin in her home studio and is concertmaster of the Clear Lake Symphony.  She holds music degrees from MidAmerica Nazarene University, Wichita State University, and the University of Houston.  She has a wonderful husband and an exciting little boy. 

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