You’re Not Just A Music Teacher Anymore

Recently, I received a letter from a student reminding me how important my role is as a teacher.  Let’s start by reading this.

“Hi, Nick

Thank you for being my teacher these past 2 1/2 years.  I really appreciate you teaching me how to play.  I hope that your teaching career goes well and you are successful because you have not only become my teacher.  You are my friend.  You are very good at what you do and I hope you continue to teach.  I want you to know I will be playing percussion (I hope mostly drums) in the RMS 6th grade band.  Thank you and I’m glad I was your student.”

Wow.  This really struck me.  After reading this, I began to think of my role as a teacher.  What are we doing?  Are we teaching music just to teach someone how to play an instrument?  Are we teaching lessons just because mom and dad want their child to learn guitar, piano, drums, or violin?  While those may be true, I think we can choose to make it more than just a music lesson.

I think the first step to teaching music, is learning that MOST students don’t want to pursue music as a career.  Many are looking to pursue a different hobby, play music in a basement with their friends, or inevitably there are those who are forced into taking music lessons when the child doesn’t want to.  Once we understand that idea, we can begin to dig more into how we can create a bigger impact.

So what does it look like to create a bigger influence in the lives of our students?  I think the next step is making the lesson fun and inspiring.  Find out what the student likes to listen to.  I have students who have loved Classic Rock, and Metal, all the way to a student who loved video game music.  Once you find out what they listen to, find a way to incorporate that into a lesson.  For me, I use Finale and transcribe the songs they love and teach them that.  Many times I have to simplify it, but it gets them playing what they love, and thats really what matters.

The next way I have found to create a bigger impact on them, is find what they love to do outside of music lessons.  Try and relate to them with this, and always inquire about these things.  I’ve had students interested in parkour, hockey, internet technology, football, taekwondo, and many other activities.  While I don’t know much about a lot of these, I always ask and show interest.  This shows the student that your invested in their lives outside of just playing music.  For example, I always start out a lesson asking, “How was your week”, and end with, “Anything fun planned for the rest of the week”?  This lets me know if they had enough time to practice and if they’re going to have enough time to practice next week.  More importantly, it shows that I am interested in them as people, and that I genuinely want to know what is happening in their lives.  This is a major point to gain trust, and friendship with your students.

Lastly, always keep the lesson fun, and never tense.  As soon as you start making the lesson serious all the time, and never taking a moment to laugh, you’re going to lose that student.  I always take advantage of these times.  A lot of times I try to pick out dorky things that I’ve done, or something crazy I may have said.  Think of your lessons as having a conversation with a good friend, but the focus being on learning an instrument.  As soon as this mentality happens, both you and the student are going to feel more relaxed, and enjoy the lesson.

I firmly believe that when you gain the trust of a student and build a personal relationship with them, you’ll notice a lot of things seem to fall in place.  Students WANT to come to lessons even though they were previously forced.  Students will want to stick around with you longer, because you are making music fun for them.  Students will be inspired by what you are doing, because you now have that influence.  Lastly, students will view you as a mentor, and that’s where it really is going to matter for a lifetime.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by parents that they view me as a mentor for their child.  That’s the biggest compliment you can give me.  So with all of this being said, remember this one thing.  You’re not just a music teacher anymore.  You’re an inspiration.  A mentor.  A friend.

Separate – Learn Faster

Well, here it is.  My first official blog post.  I can’t believe I am doing this, but here it goes anyways.  I am going to try to post once a week about different things I’ve learned as a teacher, performer, and student.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been obsessed with taking things apart and putting them back together.  Legos.  K’nex. Pens.  If it could be separated and put back together then I was going to do it.  Most of the time I got it all back together pretty fast and easy.  Sometimes I struggled remembering how to place the pieces together.  And sometimes I just couldn’t figure out how I even took it apart, so I would give up and throw it away.  This has carried into my adult life as I work in the kitchen trying to take apart and fix a dishwasher, or garbage disposal.  Beyond that, it has carried over into my career as a musician.  Let me explain.

As I began to learn the way that I need to take apart things to put them back together, I tried applying that same method to learning different things on the drum set or piano.  Let me give you an example on the drum set.  We can separate something in music in many different ways.  Measure.  Each Quarter Note.  Individual Notes.  Different Limbs.  Lets take a basic example that many drum students start out learning within the first couple weeks.  The “Four On The Floor Groove”

Here it is:

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For this example lets take the idea of isolating different limbs.  Starting with just the kick drum, start playing the kick drum on 1, 2, 3, 4.

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Remember to try this with a metronome to make sure everything is even.

Now lets move on and try to add the snare drum.  This is going to happen on beats 2 and 4 and will look like this.

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Really focus on hitting the bass drum and snare drum at the same time on 2 and 4.  This is going to make it much easier when the high hat is added in.

The high hat is the hardest part to add in, so lets isolate that by itself.  This is going to play straight eighths the whole time.  This will be counted 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.  Again practice this with a metronome and try to keep it even.

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Once that is down, try to listen how the snare drum and bass drum fit in with that.  Start with just the bass and high hat.

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Now try playing just the high hat and snare.

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Now that we have taken this groove that was maybe difficult to understand and slowly put it back together, try playing the original groove just as it is written.  Remember to start slow.  Just because we took it all apart and put it back together, doesn’t mean that we are able to play everything super fast.

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Now this may seem like an extremely basic example.  But I encourage you to try this on something that has been extremely difficult for you.  Take a measure playing only the left hand part on piano.  Then learn the right hand part.  After that, slowly incorporate them back together and see if that is easier for you.  If you are trying to learn a song on bass or solo on guitar, try isolating each note.  Then play each beat individually. Piece it all together, and you’ll find something that seemed impossible, is absolutely doable.  This method may not work for everyone, but I have worked through this idea with a lot of my students, and even in my own learning.  The speed of growth that I see through this method is substantial compared to what I see from trying to attack a hard piece of music head on without breaking it down.