Lessons from Miss Rebecca: Methods, Approaches and Philosophies Part 1

I was once asked by a parent – “what method do (I) use?” and more specifically: “am (I) a Suzuki teacher?” My short answer was “no” but after some thought, my long answer would be: Although I am familiar with the Suzuki method, I have no credentials in that area and even if I was a Suzuki certified teacher; I am not a purist. As a teacher, I do not follow or teach one method or approach. However, I can see a lot of value in the Kodály Method and the Orff Approach, I also agree with certain ideas and principles stated in the Suzuki method. In addition to this, a lot of what I have embraced as a teacher has been the result of what my music teachers and peers have taught me.

I have had music instruction from over twenty teachers, from primary school to university. The good teachers are the ones that I aspire to be like… and the bad ones have taught me what not to do. In addition to my own personal experience, I have taken some courses in university that are related to music teaching and I have also read quite a few books on music teaching. I could write a whole essay, possibly even a PhD dissertation on what I learned from every single music teacher, book and course I come across… but for the purposes of keeping everybody entertained: I won’t do that. I hope to write a series of posts on what methods, approaches and philosophies I believe in, right now I’m just going to post some of my core philosophies as a teacher. These are things that I personally embrace – my own mantra, if you will.

–          Not all students want to be professional musicians. In fact the vast majority of those who take private lessons on any instrument do not go on and pursue music as a career. All students deserve to be treated seriously, so that they can realise their potential and perform at the best of their abilities, regardless of their end goal. They might change their minds later in life, some choose to become professional musicians, some choose to be amateur music makers and some even choose to not make music at all – either way, I never want to be that bad teacher who just didn’t give a toss. I never want to lower my standards because of whatever their present vision/goal may be. They deserve the best.

–          Students need to be taught how to practice – it doesn’t just happen.

–          Music comes first. Not sight reading, not technique, not aural, not theory – all of these things serve the music but we must not ever lose sight of the fact that the music comes first. A person could have great technique, but that same person can play in a way that was unmusical – flat and lifeless, forced; without any expression. Another person could get really good marks in a theory exam but that same person could have a very poor understanding of how the theory relates to the music.

–          I want to instil a love for learning and more particularly, a love for music.

–          Music education and education in general should be aimed at making students autonomous; not dependent on the teacher.

–          I do not ever want to be producing clones of me. My desire as a teacher is to have the student ‘paint themselves.’[1] I want to create an environment that allows them to explore their own individuality. I want them to come to their own conclusions and more importantly, I want them to make their own musical decisions. Choices on repertoire and decisions pertaining to musical interpretation should be a reflection of the student’s ability, temperament and taste – not mine.

–          Effective one on one music instruction is: 50% student 50% teacher. You can have the best music teacher in the world, but if you don’t practice at all, you won’t get anywhere and vice versa.

–          Judgement from a teacher should always be objective and constructive. When I listen to students play, I hear potential – not crappiness.

–          A good teacher is self-questioning and always on the quest for self-improvement. Innovation and creativity in teaching is something that I wholly embrace. Learning (for a teacher) shouldn’t stop at university or after a music diploma or heaven forbid, a PhD… I read about music and teaching in my spare time. I do courses in university on technique, music teaching and professional development. I still take piano lessons! Teachers are lifelong learners.

–          Good pianists/singers/violinist/flautists (whatever instrument you can name) are good musicians. Good musicians don’t just play their instruments well; they are sensitive to the music and to other matters that surround the music – theory/harmony, history/performance practice, phrasing, dynamics, etc


[1] An analogy I learned from Barbara Scheneirderan’s book “Confident Music Performance.”

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