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