Helping a student experience music in a meaningful way, whether he/she is a complete beginner, a young adult preparing for a career in the field, or a working professional taking lessons as a hobby, serves as a constant reminder of why I do what I do: Involvement in music and the arts changes lives, bringing joy and fulfillment while fostering intellectual, physical, and spiritual growth.
Music education can:
1) Help students express emotion, develop a sense of self, and increase self-confidence
2) Provide an engaging recreational activity while developing community and promoting social skills
3) Increase independent learning, self-discipline, cognitive abilities, and creative thinking
4) Deepen the appreciation and emotional benefits of experiencing music as an educated listener
5) Prepare a student for a career in music by developing fundamentals and technical facility
As a private lesson instructor, ensemble coach, and classroom teacher, I have witnessed students of all ages and levels benefit in the aforementioned ways. While different learning environments and student backgrounds offer unique challenges, I believe that successful teaching results from some common attributes:
1) Focused structure and clear expectations
2) Emphasis on critical and creative thinking
3) Assignments based on applying knowledge rather than rote memorization or repetitive exercises
4) Patience, understanding, and a willingness to adjust based on the needs of the student
Educators that utilize these qualities create an environment based on mutual trust and respect where the most effective learning can occur.
Private Lesson Instruction
When teaching private lessons, I strive to balance the development of fundamental skills, such as note and rhythm reading, ear training, and technique, with creativity and self-expression. I encourage piano students of all levels to exercise creative skills by improvising and composing.
Objectives in private lessons are met by 1) working with students to develop efficient practice habits 2) the use of repertoire to work on specific concepts, and 3) the use of technology.
The key to successful practice is learning how to break down difficult musical challenges into manageable exercises that are hard enough to challenge the student but not so difficult that he/she cannot see improvement with consistent practice. Rather than dictate a specific repertoire or concepts a student should practice, I impart the process of creating an effective practice routine, a valuable skill they will be able to use in their future endeavors, both musical and otherwise. Because the focus is how to practice rather than what to practice, the scope of what students can study is unlimited.
Another approach I utilize is the use of repertoire to work on fundamental concepts. When a student studies exercises in the context of a real piece of music, they become more applicable and enjoyable, resulting in a more rewarding practice experience. Additionally, I encourage the use of music technology in lessons: recording and evaluating practice sessions, using play-along software, composing and arranging with sequencing and music notation programs, and ear training and theory learning tools.
Classroom and Ensemble Instruction
In the context of the classroom, I favor interactive discussion over lecture and use multimedia and classroom technology to present topics from multiple dimensions. Assignments and evaluations encourage students to use creativity and critical thinking, rather than rote memorization, to demonstrate their understanding of class concepts. Theory students, for example, are asked to write a composition that uses harmonic devices discussed in class. History students relate the context of culture and society to the development of musical styles. These are the skills that translate beyond individual class curriculum and prepare students for real-world experiences.
While working with ensembles, I balance an appreciation for the music of the past with a commitment to creative artistic expression and interpretation. When beginning a new piece, students discuss its historical context and carefully listen to and imitate recordings of the piece. Once a composition is understood in its original form, the group may imitate it, arrange it in a creative way, or compose a piece inspired by it. Recording technology is used to document and evaluate the group’s progress.
Within the context of learning repertoire, ensemble members study improvisation, arrangement, instrumentation, musical interpretation, and the roles of instruments. Ensembles also provide an appropriate forum to discuss non-performance aspects of music such as leadership skills, equipment management, stage presence, and professionalism.
I believe that focused structure, clear expectations, encouraging creativity and expression, along with a compassionate attitude yields great results. I continually reevaluate my methods in hopes of becoming a more effective educator. My process evolves as I listen to and learn from my students.