A few months ago, my wife and I moved to the greater-Indianapolis area from Lansing, Michigan. While I was in Michigan, I taught a cumulative total of about 50 private music students - many of which were my students for years. Since moving to Indiana and starting Vibe Music Academy, I've found myself starting fresh with a whole bunch of music students. Over these past couple of months, my entire approach with my students can be summed up in two words: Play, and Connect. Here's what I mean...
Play. The first step with any new music student is to get them playing their instrument, so from Day 1 our focus and attention is on learning the "nuts and bolts" of their instrument.
Connect. Once they've established some basic fundamentals, it's crucial for a new student to connect with the music they play. This step is unfortunately glossed over in too many music teachers' pedagogical approaches, but it's so important! When students connect with music, they learn to relate music to their lives, form opinions about music, appreciate and value all kinds of music, and become self-motivated in their practicing efforts. All of these components work together to eventually help students to see themselves not just as "music students" but as "musicians."
Parents play a huge role in encouraging that connection to music in their student. That's why today I'm going to lay out for you 5 key ways for you to help your student connect with music.
Encourage your student to...
1. Listen to music.
Question: How do babies learn how to speak a language? Answer: They listen to people around them speaking, and they try to communicate by emulating the sounds they are making. Well, music is a language too! The best musicians play in a way that emulates the "ideal" sound in their heads, and they get that ideal sound from all of the listening that they've done.
Listening to music is an invaluable activity for music students. Ways you can help create a culture of music listeners in your house include:
- Having music playing in the house often.
- Encouraging your music student to form opinions about music they listen to. Which artists/songs do they like? Which ones don't they like? What types of music, voices, and instruments do they like?
- Building listening into their daily routine. Don't just set aside practice time, have regular listening time too!
2. Attend music performances.
There are few things that motivate music students to grow more than watching performances of musicians who are further along than them. Take your student to a wide variety of performances: from artists/genres they know and love to those they've never heard before, from big venues to intimate settings, and from top-tier professionals to local high school band concerts.
Attending music performances will help broaden your student's musical scope, motivate them to grow in their efforts, and show them the fulfillment that is possible when you work hard at your musical craft.
3. Write music.
What better way for students to connect with the music they play than for them to play music they wrote? Experiencing your own music performed is a remarkably fulfilling and educational experience for everyone. Encourage and assist (or have your music teacher assist) your student in the process of composing and arranging the music that comes from their own heads.
When students write their own music, they learn:
- How to apply all of the components of music that they've learned about to their own creation.
- How to express themselves through the outlet of music.
- Which musical decisions work for them and which one's don't, through the process of trial and error.
4. Play music that they like.
I remember when I was an 7th grade percussionist. I really didn't enjoy concert band or orchestral music (though I do now), but that's all I had played. Then in 8th grade, I was encouraged to sign up for Jazz Band at school, and I loved it! It was the musical connection that I needed to propel me forward to becoming a growing, motivated musician. When students play music that they like, they connect on a deeper level with it, giving them the enjoyment and drive they need to advance further.
This isn't to say that students should only ever play their favorite kind of music! As I said, orchestral music wasn't my favorite to play initially, but over the years I've grown to enjoy and appreciate it. I've since played in several professional symphony orchestras and had a blast every time. What's important is for students to have that initial connection with the music they know and love, and then that will manifest in to a well-rounded appreciation of all kinds of music.
This is such a important component that I'm shocked it's as overlooked by private music teachers as it is. Though practice makes perfect, the richest musical experiences take place on the bandstand, not in a class or practice room.
Since I started implementing frequent recitals in to my private teaching methods, I've found that students tend to be highly motivated to practice for the month or two leading up to a recital, and then - after an successful performance - they ride a post-performance excitement for music for the next month or so as well. That's why, at Vibe Music Academy, we host fun, low-pressure Recital Soirees every three months. This helps students to continually stay connected with the music they're playing and to frequently see the results of their hard work.
- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy, Hamilton County, Indiana