We tend to understand that serious art needs to incorporate silence to portray the human act of thought.
When we give a speech, we try and avoid filler words like “um” and “uh.”
In monologues, actors make sure to give enough natural pauses to help their character convey a more realistic cadence.
In serious classical performances, musicians will make sure to give enough breath in between phrases so their melodies will not sound robotic.
In jazz, soloists will make sure to give enough space between ideas to convey a more natural, thought-out improvisation.
The better we get at our craft, the more we recognize the importance of silence in our art.
Yet, when a young music student pauses and slows down to gather their thoughts during a performance, it’s considered a mistake.
Perhaps we don’t trust or appreciate their more juvenile thought process. Maybe we’ve decided what a “normal” musical pulse sounds like, and this isn’t it.
Regardless, when a student feels shame for slowing down to think while they play, the shame isn’t coming from them, it’s coming from us.
I really think we can do better than this.
Elementary education teaches deliberate pause to kids, actually encouraging kids to slow down and think about what they are trying to do or say before taking action.
Slowing down to make sure to think about where to place their fingers, pausing to gather their thoughts about where they are in a song, and having the freedom to be fully present in the musical task are huge educational benefits for our students. These should be goals to head toward, not mistakes to avoid.
(Later, matching the beat when playing with others and playing to a “click track” when recording can be additional skills to strive for)
We can embrace our students’ pauses and silences right now, regardless of ability level or musical style.
After all, if our students ever decide to be serious artists, they’ll need to unlearn any robotic adherence to the metronome anyway.