Thursday, May 2, 2019

Girl Scout Make Your Own Badge: Keyboarding

I have been telling you guys for six years now that Girl Scout badges are AMAZING for getting kids to try new things and stretch themselves in new directions. One of my kids built a genuine dog house for a badge. The other kid wrote an honest-to-god screenplay. I don't know, I could probably sit here for an hour and name off the cool things both kids have accomplished solely for the lure of that prestigious badge on their vests, but I'm actually only sitting here because Will is sitting next to me memorizing the Document-Based Question rubric for the AP European History exam and then we're going to go over her DBQ draft and outline it using the rubric as our spine and then she's going to write another draft of it, so, you know, my brain is already busy.

Instead, here's the latest thing that one of my kids has done for a Girl Scout badge: Syd, who doesn't take piano lessons, learned to play a song on our keyboard.

There's another entire history there, how I super wanted both kids to learn an instrument when they were littler, and managed to get one kid into guitar lessons and it went pretty well for a while before it crashed and burned, and managed to get them both to sort of unenthusiastically study keyboard and/or recorder at home off and on for a couple of years before they both finally wore out my patience and I let them drop it.

Enter the Make Your Own badge. This is a retired Girl Scout badge program that lets kids create a badge topic, come up with their own five steps to earn that badge, and then complete those steps and actually design the actual badge that the kid can proudly wear. Back when the MYO badge program was active, the Girl Scouts had a site where kids could use clip art to make these badges, and since its retirement, some groups and companies have started making small runs of embroidered badges for kids who are all interested in the same thing.

My kids are always interested in weird things, though (Syd's last MYO badge was Doughnut Designer), so I simply bought a few blank badges that we can draw and paint on, and asked them what they were most wanting to learn how to do these days.

Syd's answer?

Well, she wanted to learn how to play one of her favorite songs on the keyboard. Specifically, she wanted to learn how to play Shawn Mendes' "In My Blood."

And, just in case you think that I would finally be delighted about one of my kids FINALLY showing interest in a musical instrument, no, she didn't want anyone to teach her this song. No lessons. No instructors. No YouTube tutorials. No mentoring allowed AT ALL by ANYONE.

You're less delighted for me now, aren't you? You're even thinking that it simply can't be done. I mean, this isn't "Twinkle, Twinkle" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb." So, whatever. I told Syd I thought it was a terrific idea and I internally gave up on it. She'd work on it for a while, get frustrated, discover it was impossible, drop it, forget all about it, and I'd have her pick something else later.

But what actually happened is that my kid, through the most obtuse channels, did actually learn how to play a passable version of this song! And the way that she did it is absolutely bonkers.

1. She browsed through free piano game apps for her cheapo, four-year-old Kindle Fire that's the only tablet that she owns, the poor little lamb. Her mother is so mean! Eventually, she settled on this one, which has the primary characteristics of having the song that she wanted AND having a virtual piano keyboard that she can look at. Mind you, it doesn't have the notes on the keyboard, but that's cool because she can't read music.

2. She played the game, one of those "touch the screen at the right spot at the right time" rhythm games, a billion times to earn enough points to unlock the Shawn Mendes song that she wanted.

3. The song's game drops the melody notes onto a piano keyboard; touching the notes at the right time causes the full score to play and earns you points, etc. Syd played this game hundreds of times, first matching the game's keyboard to our keyboard by ear, then transcribing the game's musical notes. She tried several methods for this, too, including numbering our keyboard keys with a dry-erase marker, creating her own musical code and writing the notes down that way, and drawing her own keyboard and trying to tag the notes that way. It was painstaking to watch, made up mostly of trial and error, and took absolutely forever because you can't rewind the song on the game. To transcribe the notes in the middle of the song you have to play to the middle of the song on the game, over and over and over.

4. Syd learned the melody piece by piece, using trial and error not just for the actual notes, but also for the rhythm. When she forgot a note she'd have to play through the song on the game several times to figure out what she was doing wrong, then transcribe it to the keyboard all over again.

5. Finally, Syd got to the point where she felt like she had the melody memorized, and she had much more fun making it sound the way she wanted it to.

It's not perfect. I mean, obviously--you read how she learned the whole thing off a Kind app!--but it's sure as hell impressive for a kid who can't already play the keyboard, or read music, or play any other instrument whatsoever. I'd say it's worth a Girl Scout badge for sure! And you guys: this is the kid who has sneaked or weaseled out of 80% of her assigned schoolwork since the day she turned 12. She's the kid who, when I asked her what she wanted to do with her life, told me with a straight face that she wanted to sit on my couch, play Minecraft, and make art forever. Part of me is breathless with relief that she DOES have grit and determination, and part of me is gnashing my teeth as I wonder why she can't apply even an ounce of that grit and determination to her math curriculum. Grr.

This will be the cover photo for her upcoming CD, I think:

So the moral of the story, the best I can figure, is this: who cares what the "right" way to do something is? If you want to learn to play "In My Blood" on the keyboard, and you don't want to take lessons, then you go ahead and teach yourself. So what if you don't have proper fingering? The insistence on and privileging of "being taught" something as opposed to teaching yourself is kinda elitist, if you really think about it. Not only are there loads of people who don't have access to piano teachers and properly weighted keyboard keys who would love to play themselves some Shawn Mendes tunes, but there's also plenty of room in the world for people who simply don't feel like taking lessons and would rather drag that Shawn Mendes tune out of a digital toy by the scruff of its neck and muscle it onto a keyboard all by their dang selves.

And then they get to put a badge on their vest to show that they can do hard things just for the fun of it.

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