Why do you study music?
That’s an easy question to answer. Of course we know why we study music. There’s the emotional engagement, the intellectual stimulation, the act self-expression, the knowledge gained of other cultures, times and places, the escape from reality that music provides… the list goes on. We know why we study music, but do you know why your students study music?
In my early days of teaching I had the idealistic view that all students wanted to be equipped with the most advanced musical skills, in order to understand and interact with music in the same ways in which I do. I believed that if they were achieving high results in examinations and competitions that they would be happy and feel a level of personal success. Of course this is true for many of my students, however I have learnt that this is not always the case.
Two recent examples from my teaching include –
- Student #1 is a 7-year-old student, who has poor coordination and motor skills due to a medical condition. This condition also affects her ability to focus for long periods of time. For this student and her parents, success comes in the form of improving her ability to concentrate, and the improvement of her motor skills. Both of these achievements have assisted her in other areas of her education. One such success has been a clear improvement in her handwriting, due to increased dexterity in her fingers. Simple maths is reinforced through music theory, and she has learnt to remain attentive to one task for longer periods of time. As this student is unable to play very involved repertoire (five finger positions on piano are a struggle), we find enjoyment through duets (with my part filling out the sound) and through creativity – writing her own pieces.
- Student #2 is a teenage girl, whose idea of musical success is not great pianistic technique, but knowledge of chords, harmony and accompaniment patterns in various popular styles. This allows her to find chord charts of her favourite pop songs on the Internet, and sing as she improvises a piano accompaniment. Her group of friends all play in similar styles, and this becomes a form of social interaction for them. She has recently started composing her own music, set to lyrics that were written by a friend.
Of course, as teachers we must always make allowances for teaching students things that they didn’t realise were their goals; things that they didn’t know they wanted to learn. Exposing students to new ideas, styles and genres is necessary, or we are not fulfilling our roles as teachers. But we must also ensure that the path we are following encompasses both the teacher’s and the students’ musical goals. So why is it that your students study music? If you can’t answer the question, why not ask them at their next lesson. Then you are able to devise a plan that ensures a successful musical relationship that is productive, focused and encouraging, so that you can enjoy celebrating with your students as they achieve their personal musical successes.