Music Teacher's Helper Blog

7 Musings on Musical Discipline

1. In learning music, as with many other skills, good habits lead to good results. All music teachers seek to build good habits.

2. Good habits come from discipline. The dictionary lists a dozen definitions of “discipline” but I suspect the most important types of discipline are only two: external and internal.

3. Musicianship, though it requires discipline, is more than a skill. It draws upon something deeper than habit. Some teachers consider musicianship fundamental; others feel technical skill must be established first.

4. Being aware of differences between external and internal discipline can help us lead students to good habits, good results, and good musicianship. Sometimes teachers and parents, or adult students, seem to have very different presumptions about what discipline is. Some uses of external discipline confuse management with teaching (school systems often carry this to an extreme).

5. “Internal” discipline is shaped by inspiration, pride, determination. It can be built through routines, and affirmed or changed by rewards and punishments meaningful to the student. Internal discipline is the goal of a good teacher, and is the wellspring of good musicianship.

6. “External” discipline is established by teacher, parents, schools. It can be modeled, as when a teacher demonstrates consistency of approach in teaching and performing. It can be imposed via rules, as when policies are established regarding practice, respect, or timeliness. Routines can be required through consistent exercises, positioning, practice schedule. Rewards and punishments can regulate behavior.

7. External discipline is a part of good teaching but doesn’t necessarily lead to internal discipline. Sometimes external discipline is used to manage students, rather than to teach them. We need both, but in balance. Management can shape behavior, but teaching reaches through to the person. For me, too much time managing students becomes technical and tiresome, while teaching can be uplifting.

**** Your thoughts? Examples? Experiences? Add a Comment below!

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

10 Comments

  1. samhadr

    I agree. Too much emphasis is put on technical abilities and structure and not enough put on trying to inspire the student – or at least expose them to a variety of approaches to music.

    As always, most discussion of creative playing and the personal/emotional aspects of music is absent as well. This is the path to teaching instead of managing.

    Most of all the “internal” discipline you mentioned is at the core of the matter. The student has to be aware that there is more to music than practice routines. Most students with inherent musical skill/interest are already most of the way to connecting with music in a personal and inspired way. The perceptiveness and understanding of a good teacher can bridge the gap and connect them to the flow of musical energy forever. The “external” discipline is a means toward the continuation and evolution of that connection.

    Good post. Thanks for your perspective.

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