Teaching the toddlers
It is not the easiest of tasks to teach small children the art of music and make their creative juices flow. But the task is not impossible, as faculty members at the Neemtree School show Kolachi.

Hitting the right note
By Saher Baloch
The demand for training in music was always there. It was there even during the inception of Pakistan. But what counts is the thirst among people to know and learn the nuances, says Nafees Ahmed, a legendary musician and head of the music department at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).


By Rafay Mahmood

Karachi is a strange city. However troubled the situation might get, the city just keeps on running. But in this violent metropolis with its growing insecurity there is a parallel movement that has picked up in the form of the performing arts. What is more surprising is the number of music schools that have opened in the last couple of months in the city. The Neemtree School of music is the first of its kind and the ambience there makes even the most depressed of people forget everything and celebrate the positivity of life.

As one enters the school, what you glimpse is a rare sight: a huge room which is filled with musical instruments. There is a showcase filled with instruments custom designed for toddlers, from mini guitars, mini drums and mini xylophones - name the instrument and you’ll find it in a size that your six-month old can play with.

The first class that started had a number of toddlers in it, some dancing , some crying, some singing and some trying to make sense of the instrument they were holding and what to do with them. As parents gathered inside the class with their cute children in their laps, the first thing that was seen was the keyboard instructor playing a certain note on the keyboard. The six-month-old kid in his lap repeated the same note and as the keyboard made the sound after his fingers pressed the keys, a smile came to the infant’s face that was full of excitement.

Next came the second lesson in the same class, where a woman teacher gathered all the parents and their children together and started to sing a song with all of them. Each time she sung the song, it was dedicated to the stuffed toys of the students. The children bounced their toys on the beat as she sang a song about them. The later half of the same class was exciting for the children but not so pleasing for the parents. It was a dance lesson and all they had to do was follow the dance expert and do the ‘skeleton dance’, the children were loving it and the parents had to stretch their muscles. But such exercises seemed a better alternative as an after-school activity, when the children can’t play outside or ride their cycles on the streets due to the insecurity, and sitting at home is not of much help.

Next came the other class which as you enter, you find relatively older kids from three to five years of age and three teachers in that room are trying to make them sing and also baby sitting the naughty young ones. The first poem the instructor started to sing was called Kele ka Chilka. Apart from its funny lyrics, the interest the students took in making the melody of that whole poem was fascinating to see. Every student sung the same poem in his or her own way and then the instructor chose one of the melodies and the whole class followed him. Pranks among the students were a regular feature of the class as they were old enough to pick on each other’s singing abilities. During the class a student named Tanya sung a song written and composed by her and after listening to the songs one could easily see how naturally something as creative as music came to children. Not only was her composition mesmerizing but the way she delivered it and the instructor tuned it was fascinating. After deciding who the Kele ka Chilka is and who is Aam ka Chilka, the whole class sang the song with the instructors while some naughty ones wandered around the classroom experimenting with new instruments and teasing the others, adding a touch of innocence to the whole activity. After watching such a class one realized how much better it is to come to such a school than make children sit at home and watch TV and risk being exposed to violence on the small screen.

Talking to the faculty members of Neemtree School discovered the effort that it takes to mould children into budding Mozarts of the future. The Neemtree School of music is the first school in Pakistan that offers proper music education to children as small as six months old to 12 years of age through a carefully structured programme in which the toddlers discover basic musical elements such as beats, rhythm, harmony and the sheer pleasure of playing music. The programme of music studies at Neemtree is divided into two major categories. The first is a programme for younger children ranging from six months to seven years which is in turn divided into seven units by age group and each unit is a one-year course in which skills like rhythm and movement are developed and children are allowed to learn at their own pace.

For the other category, the programme offers a choice between two units, one based on instrumental or vocal studies where children choose the module of their choice from Tabla, drums, harmonium, piano, guitar, violin and vocals and is spread over a span of two years. The second unit is for those who don’t want to pursue a career in music but want to learn it for the sake of enjoyment and is spread over a time span of one year.



Teaching the toddlers

It is not the easiest of tasks to teach small children the art of music and make their creative juices flow. But the task is not impossible, as faculty members at the Neemtree School show Kolachi.

Ahsan Iqbal, the academic coordinator of Neemtree, believes that teaching children is a very difficult task because you cannot communicate through proper language. However, there are ways to go about the task. "The first lesson that I give in my class is to make all my students put their hands on their chests and feel their heartbeat, which is a surprise for some of them. They are amazed that their body actually has a musical beat in it. After they realise that it is beat, I make them run for a while and after they are done, I ask them to check the beat and it gets faster. That is how they get their first lesson on tempo," Iqbal told Kolachi.

Explaining his teaching experience, he said that children are innocent and you cannot expect them to play music for one whole hour. So you have to design activities instead of lessons so that they feel like enjoying and learning side by side. An easy way of teaching them could be playing a song and tapping your body along with the song. "With time they start following you and eventually learn," he says. But he believes that the most important things is to become a kid to teach a kid, "I danced with all the children a few days back. I am very bad at dancing and felt so awkward and my students even made fun of me. But this is part of the learning process at the end of the day," he says.

On the other hand, Abdul Aziz, who is a drummer and also a faculty member at Neemtree believes that teaching children varies from age to age. "Kids learn through representations and you cannot force anything on them. Like the four by four tables can be taught by painting a student’s hand and putting the hand prints four times on a piece of paper so that the kid can easily identify with it," Abdul Aziz told Kolachi.

However, Aziz believes that if the kids are as young as one-year-olds, all you can do is make them sit in your lap and give them a mini instrument and put their hands on it and correct the hand positions when required .Since the initial days of his class, Aziz has seen a remarkable improvement, as initially he gave the instruments to the kids and now they come and pick them up themselves and have started taking an initiative.

– RM


Hitting the right note

By Saher Baloch


The demand for training in music was always there. It was there even during the inception of Pakistan. But what counts is the thirst among people to know and learn the nuances, says Nafees Ahmed, a legendary musician and head of the music department at the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).

Karachi, with its myriad problems, has given rise to many struggling artists and within the past few years a lot of music schools as well. NAPA is one of them and gradually has carved a name for itself, by introducing renowned musicians and artists as faculty members at the institute.

Though the music scene in Karachi went through a series of hitches during the early ‘80s but Nafees feels that setbacks, objections and criticism was always there. What matters is the required passion and drive to do what one wants to. "Even nowadays during the violence in the city, music classes suffer because of the thin turnout of students", he says. But even then Nafees says they make the students comfortable, because there is no hard and fast rule, "As I said before, it all depends on how much the students want to learn."

Comparing the attitude of the students with that of his own batch of musicians, Nafees says that students today have everything available to them and they have to make a choice to either go for it or do something relatively easy and manageable.

"In 1964, when the Pakistan Television Network (PTV) was launched, that was the learning ground for people like me who wanted to pursue music rather than engineering," smiles Nafees. It all depended on having the right contact, and Nafees used to wait for hours to play in front of a renowned musician and to get their approval.

Nowadays, that yearning is not there, points out Nafees and adds that to give due credit to the students, their coming to class is more than enough, which shows that at least they want to learn. "Half your work is finished when every person in the room is contributing and not only sitting there for the sake of attaching a tag of musician on themselves."

Many people within the music industry argue that as music classes and training are increasingly becoming the buzzword for the younger generation, the stigmas attached to it is slowly fading away as well. While this is true to some extent, it is not the case for everyone.

Ahsan Shabbir, a third year NAPA student, was strongly supported by his father from a very early age. Apart from his other siblings, who were either engineers or doctors, Shabbir got a lot of encouragement from his father when it came to music. "He used to bring cassettes and CDs for me to listen to because he himself had a lot of interest in music," shares Shabbir.

With the sudden death of his father two years back, he was asked to seriously pursue his studies. He recently completed his B.Com and says that though he continues to attend his music classes, he knows he has to do something serious as well. Laughing he says that his Daadi called him one day to tell him that it is okay to pursue music but he should think of a ‘proper job’ too.

Not worried with his family’s perception, Shabbir is determined that if he has to do anything it is going to be a career as a singer and a musician. Speaking about what he learns at the music class every day, he says that right now they are learning to create a fusion of classical and western music which he says sounds ‘awesome’ when all the students jam together. Shabbir is confident that if the product he is composing is good, he will get recognition for sure.

Nafees says that nowadays it is much easier to carve a name for oneself by performing at concerts, underground gigs and even at your own school function. "Within one year of their training, one of our students got a scholarship to learn music at a training school in England. That is very encouraging for a student who has just started off," says he.

He says that most of his students have also played guitars with famous singers like Atif Aslam and Ahmed Jahanzeb. "While taking a class, I mention these names so that at the start of the year they know what they are in for."

Despite the changing socio-political situation in Karachi, NAPA is receiving students in hordes and Nafees thinks that the liberal arts are finally getting the respect it deserves. "Rather than a hobby it is considered a profession now. And as for the attitude of parents, there are a lot of them who urge their children to go for formal training in the liberal arts. So the transformation is taking place at all levels, no matter how slowly it is happening."



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