The Little Things: Big Lessons from Little Students

I have to admit that I’m not always the world’s best teacher for the four- and five-year-old set, but having had a few great little students, I’m always willing to meet with them (and their parents) to see if they really want to learn and can sit still for long enough to do so.
As it turns out, some of these little ones have gone on to be excellent and committed teenage musicians. 
And I fall for cuteness every time.
I’ve got an adorable little guy right now — one who announces “I’m ready to learn a new song!” and “I can’t WAIT to turn the page!” and “I’m so excited I’m going to learn to read music I can’t even wait!”  
How could even the grumpiest piano teacher resist? 
Today, he told me, “Miss Karen! Did you know that if you play these notes, everything sounds good?” (Plays CDFGA) “And you can make up a song about anything you like.” 
“Really?” I said. “Show me.” 
So he played up and down and sang at top of his lungs, “Oh! I love my mommy so much!”
Cute little anecdote, but there’s more to it than meets the eye (or ear.)
First of all, this little guy discovered the notes of the pentatonic scale*: the five notes that are used to make folk songs around the world; the notes that are used in the melodies of virtually every black spiritual– “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” and a hundred others. 
And he’s right: These notes DO sound good, and you can use them to write a song about just about anything —  Watch this audience participation demonstration by Bobby McFerrin at the 2009 World Science Festival and you’ll learn that we instinctively respond to the scale my five-year old “discovered,” so much so that we seem to know it in our bones. And so do musicians from places as diverse as and musically different as China, Nigeria, Ireland, and South America.
Finally, my student is also right about what it is that music does: What the point of this whole thing is. We can use it to express our feelings about anything at all. And share them.
We can even write a love song.   
 * Nerd alert: The notes CDFGA are the notes of the F pentatonic scale, not the C pentatonic scale. I know it’s confusing, but the actual scale is FGACD. My student simply elected to rearrange the notes, starting on C.