Sometimes I will interject when they happen upon something that sounds familiar and I will say “Hey, that sounds like (insert song title here)….can you figure out the rest of it?” As they attempt to do so, they are creating a spatial relationship through their successes and failures. Can you imagine what kind of lubricant that is for the brain?
I can remember along about 5th grade, I made my first attempt at listening to something on the radio and playing it. Does anyone recall “Music Box Dancer” by Frank Mills? Amazingly, it was a piano solo backed by strings and light rock band that made it to #3 on the charts in April of 1979. It was very popular, and I could not help but sit down and plink out my own condensed version of it. I remember I played it at my 5th grade recognition before heading off to middle school. This was certainly an instance where taking my head out of the music book and using my brain was beneficial. I know I had already dabbled with straying from what I read on the page and improvised little embellishments that seemed to sound “better” to me. But this first go at doing the whole thing “by ear” served me well….in fact; it continues to work for me 32 years later as my favorite aspect of music is experimenting at the piano.
Prepare yourself mentally to hear shocking things that make no sense to you, and approach them with an open mind. The world was not exactly prepared for Igor Stravinsky or Charlie Parker, either. So don’t throw a cymbal, or start a riot (see video below) when you encounter the weirdness that will likely ensue.