Our students are typically really into music. As teachers we often assess a student’s musical engagement by how much and how well they practice in relation to what we ask them to do. However, an untapped goldmine for teachers lies in the music students engage with outside of the lesson.
For many students of music, performing without the printed music in front of them can be a stressful venture. Over the years I’ve eliminated the word “memorized” from my teaching vocabulary – at it has helped my students tremendously. However, for the sake of honoring the tradition I’ve included the word “memorize” from time to time in the post – this is the first of a series of posts on playing without the printed page.
The teaching calendar between the new year and the end of the school year is a long one. Even those of us who teach private lesson typically follow some sort of “school” calendar. Over the past few weeks I’ve observed both teachers and students starting to show the signs of being caught in the Spring lull. Maybe as teachers we get a little short and agitated because the students are spinning their wheels a little (or a lot). Students tune out the teachers because all the lessons are starting to run together. And this just scratches the surface of possible feelings and emotions happening.
On Saturday, November 4th, I’ll be presenting a workshop for music teachers and educators in Tacoma from 9:30 am to 3 pm. Then at 4 p.m. I’ll be playing a concert of original and improvised music that is open to the public.
The event is organized by the teacher association in Puyallup and Tacoma. If you have questions about any events during the day, feel free to email Mary Ellen Cavelti at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Playing and practicing music can be a real grind. Just like anything that requires discipline and hard work, it’s easy to lose track of why we even do it. We often lose touch with what is really important to us or we never find it in the first place. We simply follow a path that has been well worn by teaching methods, peers or mentors.
This week I was reminded of what it looks like to be emotionally engaged in the music-making process. It was a very inspirational and informative moment for me.
There’s an assignment that we often miss as teachers. And it’s one that always makes our jobs way easier – maybe easier than anything we could have students do. Over time it simply transforms our students’ musical experiences and their abilities.
Students should be asked to listen to music each time we see them. It can be done in casual conversations about what they’ve been listening to (or what we’ve been listening to), to more precise assignments based on what you’re working on in lessons.
There are allegedly only so many hours in a day that students can set aside time to learn repertoire. Many teachers I speak with get flustered by the amount of time they spend trying to get one to a few pieces up to a student’s potential, knowing all along that the student needs to know far more repertoire than what they ever have time for in the lessons and in their practice.
For those of you who I was able to cross paths with on the Seattle trip, thank you so much for a great time. It ‘s been a real pleasure to reconnect with so many friends, former students and meet new folks.
Students have often come to me asking if they are “ready” for a musical situation. Whether it be an audition, adjudication, festival, accompanying gig, college program, a certain ensemble, a tour, etc. – my answer is always the same… Participate in as many musical situations as possible where you are the worst one. Be musically overwhelmed as much and as often as possible. We grow the most from these experiences. And if we are taking lessons, earning a degree or just trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be; growth is the most important thing we can aspire towards.
Over time as I’ve gotten the opportunity to hang out and discuss music with people who have had very successful performance and recording careers, there is a common thread that they all emphasize in their own playing and admire in the playing of their peers. This common thread is rhythm. It can either be the commitment to and admiration of deep and individual time-feel, high levels of rhythmic accuracy, advanced rhythmic phrasing or to their ability to make the most basic musical parts feel so good.