Music Teacher's Helper Blog

In an age of tight schedules and fast paced days of work, many people have learnt to see the world as a giant machine made of cogs and levers, even when it comes to music with specialists operating it, if you are not a specialist you will be seen as the one that is not doing what you are supposed to. Now this may seem over the top, however this has some truth to it. This machine changes, with each passing year every person has to apply to a different set of skills and mindset which will determine the standard or desired usefulness, to play the role that is, above anything else, safe.

There was a time when musicians filled this role, and it offered a certain stability and status, with time this has become more complex, one of this complexities come from a series of cultural movements and events which defined the way some people express themselves, but also disturbed the status as specialists in the giant machine.

Rupture

There was a rupture, academic music became its own thing and every other genre another, to put it in another way a man wore a suit and tie, and another ripped jean and a big t-shirt. This could just mean that everyone is different and there are different ways to express yourself, but there is more to it than that. While some genres like Jazz and in some degree Blues, still manage to stay in between these two forms of music, other such as rock, pop, hip hop and techno are all part of a movement that established some prejudices and labels that don’t necessarily go with them.

To know how these came to be it would be helpful to explore the origins of these genres and what is the difference between the man with the suit and tie and the man with ripped jeans and big t-shirt.

Most of these big changes occurred in the late 20th century, as people embraced the modern world, which paved the way for incredible technological advancement, and social rights, but also gave birth to large scale wars and conflicts involving those same rights.

Throughout all these changes music played a very important role. In the late 19th century and the 20th century this rupture occurred with Jazz, this became a very important moment in history not only because of the music itself as a new genre, but all it implied.

Jazz

For starters Jazz was very much black music, by black Americans that not only invented a genre, it took the best of European music and African rhythms, which made it a place of reconciliation and to be free.

While it still retained many of the complicated techniques that made classical academic music such an incredible experience, it’s as if the man with a suit and a tie, took of the tie, threw his jacket and rolled up its sleeves to just let go and improvise. This is also the boom of musical improvisation, where while there is a structure, feelings don’t, and Jazz follows this sort of mantra which would otherwise be inconceivable on an academic environment.

Rock became a thing in the 50s, going through Psychedelic music in the 70s, Punk and electronica in the 80s, and the world just blew up, leaving behind a trail of beautiful disasters, and capturing the feeling became the most important thing thus, connecting with others.

Education

This is often taken for granted in music education, as if the individual inspirations don’t matter inside of the classroom or session, once the class starts, everyone trains to be an academic music interpreter.

This may not always be the case, but it is uncommon to find an approach that inspires a student to student connection through their different points of view of music while still incorporating the theory and knowledge that forms discipline and improves the way we structure music in our heads, to perform better and compose with better understanding of music overall. It shouldn’t feel like teachers are ignoring a part of history, music is music and everyone has its own alignments and freedom to use their knowledge as they see fit, and a music class should encourage that whether it is in a classroom or online.

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Dear fellow music teachers,

I hope you are all having a great summer!

We are approaching the end of July, and can you believe it, the new school year is coming up. Yep, another exciting year of music lessons!

My new studio

This year, I will be implementing some changes to my studio: 

  1. Location – I moved to a new location! The new location has both a studio and a grand living room, where I can hold small recitals/group lessons/parent gatherings.
  2. Instrument – I will be teaching sometimes in the studio, and sometimes in the living room, so students will have the opportunity to get used to playing on a different instrument, rather than the same piano each week. Both pianos are grand pianos.
  3. Policy – I will be more strictly enforcing my policy, especially regarding make ups.
  4. Rates – I will be increasing my fees, as I do every year.
  5. Technology – I will be using more technology in my studio. Currently I subscribe to Piano Maestro, and I will be adding more Theory and Ear Training apps.
  6. Mentorship – I will start a mentorship program where older students will have the opportunity to tutor younger students in Theory as well as help them with practice assignments.
  7. Student programs – I will continue with some of the usual programs my students participate in, but I will also be more active in some others that I believe will be beneficial for their development.
  8. Teacher Coaching – I will start a class for local teachers who would like to improve their teaching skills. I may expand the class to include online participants, so teachers from out of town can join.
  9. Parent Club – I will set a time regularly for parents to come meet one another, ask me questions, and just hang out!
  10. Professional Development – I will schedule time for myself to undertake professional development courses. I always do this anyway, but this year it will be more structured, more goal oriented, and I will schedule more time for myself!

How about you? Are you ready for back-to-school? Are you also going to be implementing changes to your studio? Are there things you have been considering to change but have been reluctant to do so? Do share with us in the comments below!

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A while ago I wrote a blog post about teaching a very special student, Kodi.

Well, it is official – he is going to be on the season premier of America’s Got Talent!! This is the 14th season of the hit show, premiering on Tuesday May 28, 8/7c.

Kodi came to my studio in 2016. I did not have any experience teaching a blind student, and I had very little experience teaching students on the autism spectrum. Kodi is what many may describe as nonverbal. His spoken communication is very limited, but his ability to memorize is absolutely out of this world. He has been declared  a savant – musical genius, and is literally a human jukebox. Whatever song he has not heard of before, he can sing and play back after hearing it just once, and it will stay in his memory!

It still amazes me that I was given the opportunity to work with him. His piano skills have grown from basic chord progressions, to advanced literature such as Mozart Sonatas, Schubert Impromptus, Chopin’s Waltzes, Preludes, Fantaisie Impromptu, and Rachmaninov Preludes. He has performed twice at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as winners of the Golden Classical International Music Competition.

Classical piano is such a specialized field, one that requires extremely high levels of accuracy, polish and detail, unbelievable amount of repetitive work, and then ultimately subjective to individual styles of interpretation. Kodi’s journey has not been without challenges, as detailed in my previous post, but he has made everything he learns his own. It all becomes part of the unique style that is Kodi Lee.

I know Kodi has incredible vocal coaches, who must be so proud. Kodi is proof that we as teachers may just never know what lessons mean to our students, and where they may take them. I am reminded once again to treasure each student and every lesson we have together.

So tomorrow night, tune in and be amazed, as Kodi sings and accompanies himself on the piano, in the season premier of America’s Got Talent. He is going to change the world!

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