My goal as an educator is to foster the “critical attitudes” of the excitement, curiosity, and love of music that exists within every student. Through adaptive teaching methods, I can successfully facilitate the cultivation of a musician with a meaningful and personal understanding of the music they perform. Music carries a different purpose and significance for every person, and my job is to be able to identify that purpose and guide the student towards growth in their musical field.
Throughout my teaching career, I have worked with students of all levels and ages, but I have found that my work with teaching complete beginners has informed my teaching the most. When I first started teaching beginners, it became obvious quickly when my teaching had left gaps in the student’s knowledge. This has turned me into a knowledge-gap detective, who never assumes what my students do or do not know. Each of my students, even complete beginners, have a unique musical background that I enjoy investigating together in our lessons. At its core, this background gives me clues as to who my student is as a musician and who they want to become. As a knowledge-gap detective, I get to compile these clues to solve the case of how to get each of my students to where they want to be as solo performers, music educators, and/or collaborators. This process helps teach my students to carry an active curiosity in their own learning process. Then, tailoring these findings toward each students’ personalities, goals, and interests, builds an excitement and love of the music we work on together.
Regardless of the current skill level of my student, I place a strong emphasis on practice hygiene in my teaching. Many of my students react with surprise when I tell them that I don’t care how much they practice. Instead, I hope to guide them toward a perspective of placing importance on the quality of their practice, not the quantity. My approach to practice is based in its simplest, most logical form: mathematical probability. I encourage my students to think of practice as a probability problem— There are ten marbles in a jar. Seven of the are red, and three are green. When you close your eyes and pick a marble out of the jar, is it more likely that you will have chosen a red marble, or a green marble? This applies to correct and incorrect repetitions in practice as well. Quality practice means that my students are making it more likely that the next time they play, they play it correctly. Otherwise, it is not practice. Next, I teach my students to be their own practice doctors. Together, we work to diagnose problems and prescribe practical solutions. And if, in their own practice, my student cannot find the problem, this is their cure-all remedy: practice at the speed of no mistakes. All of these practice ideals speak towards my outlook that discipline is necessary to achieve the “critical attitudes” of music practice.
Piano pedagogue, Dr. William Westney’s book, The Perfect Wrong Note, has had a significant influence on my perspective of performance and teaching. One of the most important factors in fostering my students’ active participation in their learning, and their inspiration to improve is modeling a growth mindset. The Perfect Wrong Note tells that mistakes are purely information that show the player what to work on next. Taking away any value judgements helps lead my students toward a healthier outlook in their own progress. Mistakes are not a sign that they are not improving; they are a pathway to improve, and without them, we would all be stuck! One other important aspect of growth mindset that I share with my students is to recognize their past and current progress, and not to have laser focus on their end-goal. In Alexander Technique, endgaining is the concept of cutting corners to try to accomplish a goal faster. Of course, I help all of my students create multi-leveled goals for themselves, but in our lessons, we focus on the means whereby that will get us there. Without caring for the health and wellbeing of my students’ perspectives on their progress, maintaining the three main “critical attitudes” in their musical practice is not possible.
Both teaching and learning music requires a commitment to remaining curious, to searching for excitement, and finding a love of that work that makes the journey worthwhile. Maintaining both discipline and a growth mindset in musical practice in my lessons reveal that this is a never-ending pilgrimage, with many goals, but no end-destination. My students and I work in the mindset that there is are always gaps to fill and problems to diagnose in our work together. So by the time my students move on from their work with me, they will have become their own musical detectives and practice doctors, who are ready to tackle their unique musical journeys self-sufficiently.