Teaching a student is a balance between creating a structured environment and freedom to explore. Two questions that are useful with my students are:
1. What can this information or skill be used for now?
2. What could this information or skill be used for in another context or later on?
One question asks for application thus stressing skill-building and technique. The other question asks for creativity because the application is broadened. I ask students to keep both of these questions in mind as the two pillars of learning.
A music lesson is a microcosm of the larger community.
The music community a microcosm of the world. Teaching concepts must apply to what a student is interested in now in order to maintain interest but also contain seeds to grow and expand into something greater – something the student may not see as valid or useful (yet). Learning must be applied creatively and practically beyond the lesson and music community to be considered successful in the long run. We are preparing musicians but we are also preparing artists and citizens: People that can help transform lives.
It is imperative for students to develop performing opportunities in diverse contexts. Even if a student does not endeavor to be a professional musician, performing in many contexts creates confidence, adaptation to environments, and the ability to plan and practice for many life situations where conditions may be less than perfect. Developing the "performance mentality" is excellent training beyond the arts arena. In a liberal arts environment, musical studies add value to the broader context of a student's life. As a private instructor who has prepared students for college and life beyond music, I am keenly aware of this – I want to add value to a student's overall education.
As a studio teacher with over twenty years experience, I look for opportunities to capitalize on what a student can already do well and build from there. I do not have a remedial approach to instruction but rather a method of inserting necessary learning (theory and reading music for example) into a familiar and comfortable context. That way learning isn't a form of struggle or punishment. A student can learn difficult new tasks without even knowing it sometimes. We are taught that in order to learn difficult things, we must struggle. That isn't necessarily true but we need perceptive teachers to point the way. Basically, difficult learning tasks – sight-reading, ear-training, theory etc. can become effortless when made fun! Rote repetition, while having a place, is the weakest of methodologies. Repetition can still be a musical and deep experience.
I give students the opportunity to explore their creative side and also provide a clear set of benchmarks and criteria for artistic excellence. What is it that they hope to accomplish? What are their dreams? Now, how do we relate that to the tasks at hand – the mechanics? Start with the heart, the inspiration and work outward. Creativity and expression without the solid foundation is useless. Creativity without a way of directing it is wasteful. My main mission as a teacher: Identify what a student excels at and create the resources to nurture that excellence. Then, teach the student to self-educate and self-diagnose because they won't always have a teacher. A great teacher transmits his/her learning tools to the student so that the student takes the crucial first steps toward self-sufficiency.