Article #3: A Philosophy of Music Education

It has taken me over 12 years of solid research, empirical investigation, and personal reflection to reach the following conclusions regarding musical education. I don’t base my teaching on some callous standards approach I learned at music school. I’m not some new-age cat looking to wow my students with yoga exercises and metaphysical philosophy. I don’t watch the clock and herd students in and out like cattle. I am interested in how I can facilitate learning in each person-one musician to another.  Here is what I do and what I believe…

THE STUDENT/TEACHER RELATIONSHIP

The best teachers are actually students themselves. When teachers become active participants in the pursuits they are promoting, they are generally more aware of the “inner game” that each student is constantly engaged in. A great teacher accepts the responsibility of mentorship and encourages the student to pursue theoretical knowledge in conjunction with empirical experiences. Ideally, the goal of the teacher is not to promote political agendas but to allow each student to construct their own framework and implement it in any way that he or she may seem fit.

Time and time again, I’ve heard so-called teachers launch into diatribes asserting the supremacy of one form of music over the other. This flawed approach to musical instruction amounts to little more than vanity on the instructor’s part. A Teacher will often attempt to rationalize illogical notions through arguments based on historical reference, intellectual content, and metaphysical assertions.  These arguments are in fact based on abstraction and personal bias. Music itself is an enterprise that requires little more than the subjectivity of the player and the listener. No form of music is “special” or inherently virtuous. To imply otherwise is nothing short of cultural ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, and irresponsibility.

The student/teacher relationship should be intrinsically symbiotic. The teacher must be open to learning from the student because that person is nothing less than a musician who has not had enough experience to realize his or her own artistic vision. It is the responsibility of the teacher to help unlock that vision. Through out the course of study with a teacher, the individual should be asked to answer three fundamental questions: “What kind of musician am I?” “What do I want to do with music” and “ How am I going to do it.” When you choose to study with someone, you immediately enter in to a relationship built on trust. I believe a teacher’s primary goal should be to help the student locate the teacher within him or herself.

THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE

Musicians often view music theory as a controversial topic. How many times have you heard one of your musician friends say something like “Man, I don’t need theory; I just play from the heart” or “Hey, (Insert famous musicians name here) doesn’t use theory, so why should I?” Although I respect many musicians who lack theoretical knowledge, it is my personal opinion that the average musician needs a strong theoretical background in order to truly unlock the master musician within. While I fully acknowledge the fact that some of our greatest musical experiences take place during magical moments of pure spontaneity, I tend to favor a musical approach that acknowledges intellect and emotion equally.

The fact is that music theory doesn’t define a player’s ability. Actually, some of the worst musicians I know are great theorists. Inevitably, any musician has to attain a certain degree of emotional maturity in order to even function confidently in a playing situation. Of course, the understanding and execution of theoretical concepts has very little to do with one’s level of emotional maturity. However, I should point out that most of the great musicians I have encountered over the years tend to apply some kind of music theory to their playing, songwriting, and improvisational technique. The fact is that the acquisition of theoretical knowledge can be a means to an end or a beginning. If you make the decision to forgo music theory altogether and play by intuition alone, you run the risk of dismissing useful information that could bring you to new transcendental states of consciousness. If you decide to become proficient in basic sight-reading skills and chord scale knowledge, you grant yourself instant access to an infinite amount of information. Remember, the choice is yours.

APPLYING MY THEORY AND PRAXIS

I like to start off the first lesson by getting to know the student as an individual. I want to know about their past experiences in music and who their influences are. I will ask the student to describe their ideal musical vision to me. It is often the case that the only key difference between a student and myself is that he or she has not spent enough time honing their craft. Regardless of experience, I know that a person may possess a grand musical vision just waiting to be unlocked. My job is simply to help guide that individual toward self-actualization. Together, we will formulate a structured curriculum based on your own individual aspirations and learning style.

Once we have found a starting point, I will begin to compile a list of resources relevant to your individual study. I will introduce you to a variety of recordings, study sheets, and online resources that will help give you an intellectual appreciation of the music you are pursuing. As we progress in our studies, I will begin to help you develop your individual sound and artistic direction.

Because my experiences in music have been quite eclectic (see bio), I am able to give an individual guidance and advice on several aspects of music: recording, marketing, and the purchase of musical equipment. My goal is to not to just help you to become a great instrumentalist but to become a fully functioning musician on any level that you desire.

THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN

I have spent a lot of time teaching music and mentoring children of all ages. With younger children, I always exercise a patient and thoughtful approach. I try to learn the child’s particular learning style and adapt to it as quickly as possible. I never pressure a young learner into absorbing any specific material. Instead, I allow the child to experience the greatest musical freedom possible. I feel that children should be allowed to experience musical development at any level they choose. If a child expresses a desire to learn quickly and demonstrates rapid progression, then I will accommodate him or her accordingly.  On the other hand, if a child takes a casual approach to learning an instrument, I will simply assign material that will fit their individual pace. If you are looking for a teacher who will put pressure your child to practice their instrument in a regimented way, then I have to say that I am the wrong guy for the job.

SUGGESTIONS, NOT REQUIREMENTS

I recommend that all my students acquire the following items: a music stand, notation paper, mechanical pencils, metronome, etc.In addition to the standard practice items I have just listed, I recommend that you acquire the following things to help you in your musical development.

PRACTICE JOURNAL

A practice journal will help you organize your practice schedule and evaluate your development. Many of the exercises that I suggest to you may also come in handy if you decide to do some teaching of your own in the future. Also, a practice journal provides verifiable documentation of your musical progress. Believe it or not, there may come a day when you can’t quite “get it going.” Just flip through your practice journal and look at how far you’ve gotten in such a short time. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

PERSONAL JOURNAL

I always recommend keeping a personal journal to all of my friends and students. A personal journal is an amazing way to document the evolution of both your musical and emotional maturity. If you keep a journal for at least 1 year, you will be astounded at how much you’ve grown in such a short time. Looking back on past entries will allow you to revaluate your goals and philosophies.

A DIGITAL RECORDER

I strongly recommend, that you purchase some type of recording device that will allow to record and play along with your self; preferably one with a built in drum machine. These devices will allow you to hear yourself as others hear you. A built in drum machine is great tool for rhythmic exercises. I recommend that everyone lay down rhythm tracks and solo over them everyday. With technology being as sophisticated as it is today, it shouldn’t be hard to find inexpensive software to suit this purpose.

 

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