The Trouble with Traditional Music Education

wp judy teachI fully support Music Education.

But I have always been an outside-the-box sort of person, and I am the same as a music educator.

Standard music education, in my opinion, has many great attributes but also falls short of what creative education should entail. This is the primary reason that, although I hold a Master of Music, I never entered the university or public education worlds.

A lot of music education is “paint-by-numbers.”

What do I mean by this? All students must learn the fundamentals of whatever subject they are studying. That’s a given.  A piano student must learn such things as reading music, finding notes on the piano, hand positioning, fingering for scales, etc… A more advanced student learns how to interpret dynamic markings, perhaps with the help of knowledge of the musical era in which the piece was written. Making choices regarding what you believe a composer intended when he/she wrote a dynamic marking is an example of artistic choice.

But is it self-expression?

A writing student will read and analyze a classic story to break it down and then apply what she learns to her own writings. A painting student will copy the work of a master painter to learn the techniques used and then have the option of using those techniques in his own future works.  When does a music student take the lessons learned from a composition and apply them to his or her own musical work? Just about never.

Where is the musical self-expression?

I once had a discussion with a woman who ran an extremely successful dance program made available to a cross-section of school-aged kids – not just dance students.  She mentioned during this conversation that it frequently seemed to be the music students who were afraid to step out, to try their own moves during rehearsals. Music students are taught to follow rules. Take the rules away and they don’t know what to do. They become afraid of being “wrong.”

Case in point:

I can’t even remember the number of times I heard this statement (or something similar) from a potential adult student: “When I was a kid I took 3 years of piano lessons. Now I want to know how to play without music.”

In my version of a perfect world, this is a crime.

Only a few of us are “Teachers to the Stars.”

Most of our music students are not going to become career musicians. You have a brief period of time to have a lasting impact on their lives before they choose a completely unrelated career path. So, ask yourself this…

What do I want my lasting impact to be?

If your primary goal is to teach all the rules you can before the student stops taking lessons, well, then you’ve probably already stopped reading this. But more importantly, how does that benefit a person who is learning music for personal enjoyment? Is mastering all the rules what’s most important?

My primary goal is to leave each student with a creative means for self-expression.

Then they have a tool for life, a tool for celebration, enjoyment, coping. I want my students to not need me or a staff with notes on it to enhance their lives with music. They still have the option of playing previously written music, but they won’t be a slave to the page. Isn’t that the point of creative outlets?

I know I won’t change the long running (and sometimes snobby) tradition of music education with a single blog post. I merely write this today because I’d like to plant a seed, to expand your perspective, and perhaps spark some discussion about music education.

One more thought…

If you are a music educator or the parent of a music student, I’d like to leave you this one experiment to try. The next time your student or child tells you how they are feeling, ask them to show you how they feel with their instrument. Just see what happens…

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