Finding your why
My teaching philosophy is based on the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai
Ikigai doesn’t necessarily have to come from a single activity; after all, not everyone can make a living following their passion (unless you’re a music teacher!) But having a passion is important, and your passion exists at the intersection of “what you love” and “what you’re good at”. I call this “finding your why”.
My job as a teacher is to help students find their why. When children are young, they don’t yet have enough exposure to the world to know their why. Teachers and coaches introduce kids to new concepts, helping them identify what they love. Teachers also help kids to get good at things, so they can identify what they’re good at.
In order to help you find your why, we need to have two things in our lessons: Fun & Discipline.
First and foremost, learning music has to be fun so that students are free to discover their own love of music. I encourage students to find their own musical styles that they like, be it jazz, gospel or movie theme music. If your three-year-old has been singing a song from the movie Frozen over and over, maybe when she’s ready to start music lessons, we can arrange that piece for violin or piano and get her playing it.
I also encourage students not just to play their instrument, but to play “with” their instrument. Once in a while, skip the scales and just have some fun. Maybe try to improvise a new melody, play a duet with a friend, figure out how to play a melody you’ve heard by ear, or get the grandparents to come over for a mini-recital.
In order to get good at music, however, we also need discipline. Discipline means we practice our instrument faithfully, several times per week. But discipline also means having a positive attitude toward our practice. We don’t simply practice because our parents or teachers tell us to practice, but because we personally want to develop our skills. And even though it’s a lot more fun just to practice our repertoire, remember that we still need to work on our scales and exercises if we want to get better.
Putting it all together
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Perfection is a laudable goal, but playing an instrument is hard, especially at first! Concentrate on one thing at a time. For instance, if you’re practicing scales on the violin, concentrate on hearing your pitches. If you’re practicing fingering technique on the piano, think about making your finger crossings as smooth as possible. And when you’re playing repertoire, sometimes you need to repeat those few bars you’re struggling with 20, 30 or 50 times to get it right. But if you videotape the first try, the 20th and the 50th, you’ll see it was well worth the effort. And if you keep making those videos, a few months down the road you’ll see real progress!
But most important, remember to take some time every day to enjoy yourself and express yourself through music, without worrying too much about the little details. Improvise along with a friend, compose a new melody, or find a piece of repertoire you’ve already mastered and you really love, and play it with all your heart. Music is all about emotion, for the performer as well as the listener.