Why Some Music Teachers Are ‘Killing’ Music

 

Why are some music teachers and musicians ‘killing’ music for others? Their students?

This question popped in my mind recently, when we were trying to find a new music teacher for our children. I have decided to describe this experience, because I am sure this happens too often all around the world and the ‘damage’ could be considered permanent for too many children (and adults) aspiring to enter the realm of music tones. Under the ‘damage’ I mean a highly probable loss of interest due to the overwhelming complexity imposed right from the start. 

Being in the pandemics lockdown, music and musicking have proven to be great tools for my family when coping with the situation. So when we got an opportunity to add another music instrument to those we already play at home regularly (piano, violin, guitar, recorder), we jumped on it. Especially because it was a rather specific instrument for my wife and her Latin culture – a four string ‘ukulele-like’ strumming instrument called cuatro.

With the help from the distant family we’d found a music teacher. We decided to try his approach first as teaching over the internet is quite complicated, especially for younger childred. And our son has just turned eight. 

Unfortunately my worst worries came to ‘parade’ in front of my eyes and ears. 

The teacher is a highly accomplished musician, very well educated, very well regarded in the community. A nice guy. But not a good fit to start with for a young child. 

I have to mention here, that this has not been the first forray for our kids into a new musical territory. My daughter has been playing violin for nine years and her brother has been playing piano enthusiastically! for over a year. 

And the truth be told, throughout those years we have experienced a number of music teachers. Not many were good. 

The daughter has been recovering for over three years from her previous teacher’s approach, that let her with too many bad habits and postures. As I have no experience with an instrument like violin, it had taken too long for me to realize there was a growing issue. 

With the son we had gone through and tested five(!) different teachers and methods, until we finally settled on quite a unique method called Simply Music. I recognize that it may not suit everyone. The personality of a teacher is crucial here as well. But I would recommend to check out this method for everyone, who is either considering to expose their young child to the music education, or who is thinking as an adult to learn playing piano. The reason is implied in the name – it is simply playing music from the start. Everything else, like the music theory and reading music, comes later, if you decided to.

Here we have arrived to my main point. For an illustration, I will continue with my recent story. 

The potential music teacher introduced himself online by playing a few songs and we were flabbergasted. Especially the children, who experienced first hand, what such a tiny strumming instrument is capable of. (Example.)

Right after that the disappointment came. After a brief history of the instrument, the teacher announced, that we will have to learn solfeggio (do-re-mi system of naming notes) as that is the prevalent notation used in the Latin America. 

Immediately after that, he started explaining intervals (quart, quint, octave) and chord relationships like ‘tonic, dominant, subdominant’ – the music harmony principles. 

More than 30 minutes in, and he finally started to explain how to play the instrument. Unfortunatelly, our son lost interest after the first ten minutes. His sister bravely stayed till the end and is willing to try some more and to continue. Maybe we have ‘brainwashed’ her too much…

Having gone through a similar nightmare too many times, it is clear that not all good musicians are necessary good teachers. And why would they? Right?

But let’s consider this from a broader point of view. How would children acquire a language, if the first contact with their mother tongue would start with the learning of an alphabet first, continuing through the grammar, diction, syntax, and continue with semantics, linguistics … 

Don’t you think, that in such a scenario, the homo sapiens would run to jump back on trees? 

The ‘father of modern education’ J.A. Comenius introduced in the 17th century the teaching based on gradual development from simple to more comprehensive concept. It is a pity that so many music teachers (or would-be teachers) cannot understand this. 

Much worse is that such a misguided approach, right from the beginning of a learning process, can turn a potential music lover into a music avoider for life. Such a horrible outcome of a genuinly good intention! 

***

An absolutely fresh experience that, unfortunately, only expands on my point:

As our children have currently been attending school online, I just had an opportunity to listen to our eight-years old son’s music class. In the grade 3 they are apparently supposed to recognize and know various music instruments used in the classical orchestra. 

The teacher ( a really good one, otherwise) used an audio-visual program, where pictures of particular instruments were displayed along audio examples. After each instrument got introduced solo, the authors of the program attached (logically in my opinion) a brief snippet of an orchestral music piece using each particular instrument. 

And here comes my point – the teacher could not stop (not even ONCE!!) talking over the music. Every time when a music example by Vivaldi, Bach, Debussy and others started to play, the teacher started to talk immediately!

I am terrified! 

This is not how one can develop a young generation’s relationship with music. This is exactly the way how to kill it! This is how a great emotional experience of music becomes a bare technicality of a sound, a timbre, a physics. 

No surprise, that after a while these young students started to, literally, beg their teacher to better switch to mathematics…

***

In conclusion of this story, I would like to offer two suggestions to those, who are considering a music education for children, but especially if it is for yourself as an adult:

1. Be very selective regarding a potential music educator as well as the method they use and teach;  and above all – trust your gut feeling when dealing with the other person –  if something feels ‘off’, try somewhere else.

2. More importantly – research and educate yourself before you start, so that you have clearer expectations which you can communicate to a potential teacher, and subsequently you can control their fulfillment.

Music and musicking is a great way to enjoy life. Make sure that those who are supposed to help you or your children with the first steps on this way, will not rob you of that music enjoyment right from the beginning. 

Photo by Palo Beka

 

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