Saturday, May 23, 2009

teaching thoughts...

Jamison's doosy of a blog entry has sparked some thoughts that have been rattling around in my own head for some time now. Thoughts that my long-overdue Spiralsonic post would be a perfect spot for...

I am a teacher. A music teacher. That's what I do. That's what I have chosen to be the vehicle for my music skills. I have made teaching the direction of my life's musical path. Even though I have only been doing it for the last 5 or 6 years I consider myself quite good at it. I enjoy it immensely. But as much as I enjoy my classroom teaching it is in the one on one private lesson setting that I am able to truly be myself and perfect the art of teaching music. However this is quite an irony for me. 

Much like Jamison I started piano lessons around the age of 7 or 8 and was quickly frustrated with the process. Instead of practicing and learning to read the notes I memorized what keys to play. This pissed my teacher off to no end. I don't even remember my teacher's name. Actually they made such a small impression on me that I honestly don't even remember if it was a man or a woman. Needless to say I did not take piano lessons for very long. However music was still a huge part of my life growing up. Later in life I went on to take private clarinet and piano lessons in junior high and guitar lessons in high school with a few different teachers. I never stayed with one teacher very long because none of them really made it fun for me. None of them sparked anything inside of me the way learning on my own did. By the time I began studying guitar and music in college I was pretty much an entirely self taught guitarist.  I learned best though experimentation. I felt very strongly that a motivated and creative person could learn just as much on their own as any teacher could show them.

The irony is that now I am the teacher in the room. And I have realized that I teach private lessons very different than anyone else at the music store I work at. I might teach differently that most teachers in general! I teach my students to express themselves with music. I teach my students that guitar is simply a tool for expressing that which cannot be expressed. I don't teach from a book. In fact I don't even teach them to read standard notation unless they really want to. In my opinion it is more important for a beginner to have a powerful connection with the music and their instrument at the beginning than it is to learn how to read whole notes and try to read stupid 8 measure "songs" that use 3 pitches. I try to show them from the very beginning how important it is to form a bond with the instrument that will last forever. Much like Jamison having the powerful life-changing moment when he got his first trumpet. There were no real rules yet. No rights and wrongs. It is this freedom that gives the beginner confidence and joy. I give my students the tools they need for self-expression. I remind them that I can not truly teach them anything. I can only guide them on their path and make suggestions based on my own musical experiences. 

I usually have my students improvising by the third lesson. I believe that improvisation is the highest form of musical achievement one can reach. This one idea forms the very basis of my teaching style. Does it work? Well, I have a handful of students that have been with me since the very beginning. They have stayed with lessons because they enjoy them. It might be the only time in their week where they feel like they have control. It might be the only time in their week where they can truly express themselves without fear of the teacher saying "No that's wrong!" I don't ever want to be that teacher. I want to be the one that says "Yeah! That's colorful! Now try it this way..." 

I can only hope that when they get my age they remember my gender. 

3 comments:

Jamison said...

courtenay

thanks so much for sharing - I have the deepest faith that you are the kind of music teacher that everyone should strive more to be. thanks for doing that, - I know it will inspire and resonate deeply through your students and beyond.

jcox3000 said...

I wish you were my first piano teacher... It took me years to realize that there was anything but classical music and showtunes for piano!

jcox3000 said...

I wish you were my first piano teacher... It took me years to realize that there was anything but classical music and showtunes for piano!