Teaching Children About Music

Teaching Children About Music
Dusty and Buford Biscuit
Photograph by Jeff Wilson

NAME: Dusty and Buford Biscuit (a.k.a. the Biscuit Brothers) | AGE: 45 and 42, respectively | HOMETOWN: Austin | QUALIFICATIONS: Hosts of the Emmy Award–winning PBS children’s show The Biscuit Brothers / Folk musicians who can play more than twenty instruments / Former performers with the comedy troupe Esther’s Follies

DUSTY: Growing up, I had music class every day in school. Now my kids get music every three days. Music education funding has been cut, and formal music lessons are expensive. It’s a shame, because it’s been proven that music can make a kid smarter, healthier, and happier.

BUFORD: We’re trying to give them what they’re not getting in school.

DUSTY: Sometimes I hear kids say, “I can’t sing,” because they don’t think they’re good enough. So we did a parody of American Idol on the show to put it in perspective. We wanted to make the point that music doesn’t have to be about competition. I mean, when did we culturally decide that singing shouldn’t be an expression of joy?

BUFORD: Learning how to play music shouldn’t be intimidating. If you can play a couple of chords and your friend can play a couple of chords, you can make music. It’s about community and working together and having fun.

DUSTY: The Biscuit Brothers work on Old MacDonald’s farm, but it’s a musical farm, where music is grown and harvested.

BUFORD: We have a livestock chorale. With singing animals. [ Humming to the tune of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ] “Muh-muh-muh-moo, muh-muh-muh- moo.”

DUSTY: My philosophy is, if you keep kids laughing, you can keep them learning. If they’re engaged and enjoying themselves, the information soaks in.

BUFORD: One season of the show focused on folk instruments, so we had Dobros and harmonicas and accordions and didgeridoos and bag-pipes. Another season focused on symphonic instruments. More recently we’ve had beatboxes and turntables.

DUSTY: Instead of a number or letter of the day, we have an instrument of the day. And we’ve done a number of shows on the human voice. We tell kids that they don’t have to know how to play an instrument, because they’re born with the greatest instrument of all.

BUFORD: We want kids to be creators of music, not just consumers. Kids can download music from all around the world on iTunes, but we’re all about being hands-on. That’s why we try to demonstrate very simple things, like tapping out a rhythm on a can. Or singing “B-I-N-G-O” but spelling out kids’ names instead.

DUSTY: We end every show with “Go make music!”

BUFORD: Life is more fun, ultimately, with music.

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