Never Stop Being A Student
by Dave Latchaw
Teaching is not for everyone, but for those who have the patience, they get the reward of helping someone with their musical journey, and they also have an opportunity to keep improving their own abilities. All aspects of teaching music can help sharpen one’s own musical skills. The more an educator maintains the idea of being a student themselves, the more they can get out of their teaching situations. It is up to the teacher whether they make the educational situation routine and mundane, or if they bring a great level of enthusiasm towards learning.
The right attitude for teaching is very important. Patience is a necessary ingredient, but it doesn’t come naturally for many people. I think it’s easier to stay patient when I remember that the more times and ways I have to explain and demonstrate any aspect of music, the more connected I stay to my own abilities. It doesn’t matter whether you are explaining the finer points of being expressive to a student, or simply how to find middle C. If one can’t explain a musical concept many times, and in many ways to a student or group of students without freaking out, teaching may be not the right thing for you! Having the ability to be patient and help a student break down their musical problems into manageable chunks helps the student be patient with themselves too. Just having the ability to break down a musical problem and the patience to tackle it can make one a better musician. The more times an educator explains how to handle a musical dilemma, the easier it should become for them to sort out their own musical problems.
Realizing that not all students learn in the same manner, and being willing to think “out of the teaching box” to connect with a student or a class, will make any educational situation more rewarding for all involved. The more ways you have to teach any given concept, the better you will be at teaching it, and doing that concept yourself. Even if the concept is somewhat natural for you, repetition of teaching that concept in a multitude of ways can enhance your own musical ability. Rather than being burned out or on auto pilot when teaching, it is all down to the music teacher to utilize the teaching time in a positive way for all. For example, if you are working on sight-reading rhythms with a student, use examples that you have to sight read also. (Hopefully it will be easy for you!) Helping the student get more proficient at sight-reading can help you stay sharp on your own sight-reading chops. If the student doesn’t get concept #1, then you need to come up with concept #2, #3, #4, and so on. The more ideas you have to be a better sight-reader (or any aspect of music), the more people you’ll be able to reach, and you’ll have expanded your own brain power at the same time.
Teaching Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Giant Steps can both be rewarding for the educator. It is up to the educator to have a balanced attitude. Okay, Giant Steps has all the fun challenges that go with improvising over interesting chord changes, and Twinkle doesn’t. When teaching music that isn’t personally challenging, it really helps to come up with ways to make it interesting for you to teach. Try doing things like playing along with the students on an instrument you do not normally play, or work on your singing harmony while the student is playing. Being engaged, motivated, and proactive while teaching music can increase your musical chops, and remember, students are very perceptive of whether teachers are keen or not about what they teach. The more inspired the teaching is, the more inspired the learning will be. The educator that enjoys teaching and is engaged with the more basic aspects of music can inspire students to evolve into musicians that will have motivation to learn the more challenging aspects of music. Then you can work on things that are more sophisticated.
The educator who hasn’t stopped being a student will create more successful situations as an educator. If you are keen about expanding your musical chops it will carry over into your teaching. We all know too many bad music teachers, so if you teach, be keen. Teach by example and be a student yourself. Besides helping your students, your chops will get better too!