Myth – Music lessons are a painful, stressful process. Your music lessons can be a negative experience, if you take lessons from someone who is not a true music teacher. However, having said that, it is, in reality, not the music lessons that are at fault. Several elements come into play here. The first element is the teacher.
I firmly believe that genuine music teachers are born not necessarily created through an educational system or grand performance experience. In the educational system, music students are offered two career tracts – performance or education. I’m sure you heard it said, “those who can’t… teach.” Well, in reality those who perform well are not necessarily good teachers. Just because a person finds their way through a path to musical proficiency does not mean that they are capable, or even willing to show others how to get there. One of the biggest components of a musician, especially a talented or trained musician, is their ego. Studies have been done adnauseam pertaining to the musicians’ need to receive positive feedback from others to carry on. Applause, hand shakes, high fives, etc. all support and fuel the often fragile ego of a musician. Why do most musicians perform? Think about it. Some might say it is to express themselves or just to create music, however, in an audience free void many musicians would cease from making music. Whether it is performing in a stadium filled to capacity or YouTube, there is a gratification or a high from performing. The teaching musician on the other hand appears to have a more altruistic approach to music. The feedback that strokes the true music teacher’s ego comes in the form of training someone else to become proficient in music. Sharing the gift of music with a student and then enabling that student to perform or play music well is the ultimate high for the true music teacher. When your students perform or go on to become teachers themselves, the teacher’s “rocking the stadium.” This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of teachers who shouldn’t be teaching or performers who don’t do a great job teaching. The fact is neither of these two career tracts guarantee the production of a true music teacher.
A person who is a true music teacher is someone who has the ability to explain the subject matter in a vast amount of differing styles and ways, “Differentiated Instruction.” For example, it is a known fact that people learn in different ways. Not all people learn from the same train of thought or stimulus. Some people learn from auditory stimulus or simply put… by hearing. Others learn best from seeing or watching and still others by kinesthetics or by doing. A genuine teachers has to be able to discern the student’s learning style and provide the correct action for teaching the student. In addition, a teacher must be able to explain the subject matter in ways which the student can relate to within each one of these three learning styles. The personality traits of a born teacher are a genuine desire to teach for the betterment of the student, the advancement of the craft, the ability to effectively communicate the subject matter, vast problem solving skills, creativity, adaptability, and proficient knowledge.
The second element in the music lesson experience is the student. Many times I wished I could have the power to magically transform a student into a proficient musician without them having to put in the effort and drive to succeed. Unfortunately, rarely does a student succeed without performing the repetitions necessary to be able to play an instrument. Inherent in learning to play music is the need to fine tune muscle memory and fine motor skills which means practice. A student may be able to rely on sheer natural ability to get by, but if you are not one of those gifted with an abundance of natural ability, it won’t be long before practice is the only path to gaining skills. Students should expect practice to be a huge portion of their learning experience. This concept eludes a lot of folks when it comes to music, especially singing. Many people get the wrong impression when they see accomplished musicians perform. They make it look so easy! Rarely do they realize the thousands of hours of practice that went into a particular performance. The blame is partially on the concept of “Show Business.” The idea is to present the slight illusion that a masterful performance doesn’t include struggle and hard work. The artist wants the audience to feel comfortable and relaxed.
The reality is that if you are just starting music lessons, practice is not a part of your life. You have to make room for practicing in your daily life. For kids, this means you have 24hrs. in a day and you cannot take time away from your eating, sleeping, or education. However, there is one area in which practice can fit – free or recreational time. This is the space practice resides in. Do you talk on the phone, play video games, chat with friends, watch TV, surf the internet? This is the time and space in which practice needs to reside. For adults starting music lessons, the responsibilities of life fill in a good deal of time, but as most people know if practice is a priority of sorts, you will find the time.
Now, what happens when you don’t practice? Is there stress? Perhaps a bit. If you do not perform the necessary repetitions to gain skills, then how can you progress in your lessons? Some folks believe that they should not insist that their child practice if they don’t feel like it. Let’s look at that concept for a moment. Does your child do their “chores” on a regular basis without being asked? Do they make their bed every day without being asked? Take out the trash? Do they do their homework without being told? Then why would you expect them to instantaneously have the self-discipline to practice on their own? But music should be fun, right? Yeh, music is great fun, once you understand the dynamics involved. Built into the process of music lessons are the entities of practice, challenge, a very small bit of discomfort, as well as gratification, pride, self-esteem, and great joy. If music lessons do not challenge you, they are failing you.
Please understand that if you only perform those skills which you are comfortable with, you will not progress any further. Every new lesson should bring a new challenge, and that might bring you out of your comfort zone. In sports they say, “No Pain – No Gain.” However, when it comes to learning music, it is often, “No fun – I’m Done.” Both sports and music lessons require muscle memory and fine motor skills or practice, the playing field is the same! Yet, some parents will “force” their child to participate in physical or mental activities on a daily basis which bring about a degree of momentary discomfort. Let’s face it, studying for a test in algebra can easily bring about a level of discomfort and most parents will, “force” their child to do it. In the end, the study of music, above most other pursuits (physical or mental) is scientifically justified to bring about more beneficial aspects than most others. If you understand history, you will recall the importance of music to most successful societies. Music instruction, after all, was the cornerstone of Plato’s training for his elite republican guard. Should we not understand the dynamic principles involved in music lessons and embrace them?