Some Teachers are Too Eager to Please

“I am so happy to be here in the air flying with you,” said the eager co-pilot. “You know, I have been taking lessons for years now from a very skilled pilot who has been teaching me all about the history of the airplane, its construction, and the various manufacturers who have been building models like this one we are in, as well as others. Learning to fly has always been a dream for me.”

“Excellent, “ replied the pilot. “How about you take the yoke for awhile and guide us over these farms towards that airstrip in the distance; you can land us there.”

“Oh goodness no,” gasped the co-pilot. “I haven’t learned that yet. My teacher has only been teaching me about airplanes; not how to actually fly one.”

To my amazement, I find that many music teachers are too eager to please the student in their requests, but as the student is often ignorant of the order in which would best serve their aspirations, they ask to be taught step 5 when in fact they have not learned steps 1-4.

“I want to learn theory,” the student asks, assuming this is the goal to which all musicians aspire.

Further assuming the student knows the necessary basics, the teacher is pleased to grant the request and begins the teaching of theory; the primarily left-brained detailia of the facts and intricacies of music thinking and processing.

But, to change analogies, the most detailed and extravagant home designed by the most brilliant of architects, must still be built upon the proper foundation or else it will suffer collapse and ruin upon the first steps taken therein. And it is this foundation: perhaps the least interesting of the entire building endeavor… it is this very foundation that is the most important of the entire project. This is where the building begins.

And so with music, the most important skill to first learn is to play simply and on the beat; with a sense of what that beat is.

Would one attempt to teach a toddler how to execute a cartwheel without first teaching the little tyke how to walk?

And so I encounter these committed and studious musicians who can talk intervals and modes in detail, and yet cannot play a simple rhythm with any confidence or understanding.  This, I feel, is a great injustice to the student who, not knowing what to ask for, was given what they thought they needed; and the teacher, wishing to accommodate their pupil, gives them what they asked for rather than helping them build that musical foundation they need in order to utilize that advanced knowledge.

Now I ask that you please understand my position here: learn anything you want, but realize that in order to actually play music with others, there has to be a balance between the left brain and the right; the facts and the feel, the yin and the yang. When musicians get together to play, whether casually or in a formal setting, they may speak of modes and intervals, but it’s certain they already know how to count and adjust their playing as needed.

Decide for yourself whether you wish to play music, or to simply talk about it.

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