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.
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.
A couple of years ago I began to shift away from using the word “solo” with many of my jazz students. This was especially the case for beginning improvisers or the ones who were preoccupied with the chord progressions or playing a barrage of disconnected patterns or licks. Many of them started to sound way better in a very short amount of time.
After a lesson with a student who has been working with me for nearly 14 years, I took a moment to assess the state of our room as I walked out, letting him tear down his gear. I was inspired to take a quick picture after realizing that this may not be a typical scene to many folks who teach, practice or took lessons at some point in their lives.
All of us who have played, taught, listened to or experienced music in any way know the power it holds. Many people can trace certain important times of their lives to specific recordings. Several musicians, myself included, can trace the reason we play music back to one or two recordings. Many people who play music have often been pulled out of major ruts in their practice/playing after hearing a recording. There are people who don’t have anything to do with playing music who simply can’t function without it.
Notes:I’ll be speaking at the WSMTA convention. This is for members of the association throughout the state of Washington. If you’re there, stop and say ‘hi’. After my presentation I’ll be in the vendor area answering questions about my books.
Creating a community of musical peers is something that rarely gets emphasized in the music teaching/learning world. There are many studio events, ensembles, recitals, festivals and competitions that have students cross paths with one another. However, the bonds from these events only scratch the surface of what could potentially be formed between students.
For the last several years I’ve been wrongly thinking that a teaching method I was working on was ready to release. The world certainly didn’t need another collection of music arranged into a method. I have written over 200 pieces for students over the past few years, but I felt that the impact of those on future generations of music makers would be small if I didn’t properly wrap them in the context, methodology, long-term vision and core philosophies that initiated their creation.
Thankfully, current technology has allowed me to build an interactive website for teachers over the past couple of years so that the written music can be part of the bigger whole. Teachers and students will be able to move through their development in a way that is consistent with the intent of the method.
This video covers the background and motivations behind making the method.
I’m really excited about sharing this with everyone. It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears but I feel very strongly that this will help a lot of teachers who are frustrated on some level with options available to them as teachers and more importantly – to future generations of music makers.
Slow practice has been a point of emphasis for generations of music teachers and players. When we do give a reason or reasons as to why we should practice slowly, it usually revolves around the increased accuracy of executing our pieces. It helps build good playing habits, correct muscle memory and overall accuracy.
This video lesson covers how I begin with every jazz piano student. Swing scales are great because they enable students to focus on their groove and time-feel from the start. Rather than load students up with harmony and theory information, prioritizing the groove should sustain itself through the whole process of learning to play jazz and modern music. Here’s how we start: