learning

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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Guard your MFA, the MBA is invading! The MBA mentality, which today involves doing everything and anything to increase profits, is so revered these days that many believe it’s rational to install business people in government even if they are totally devoid of experience — or interest — in public service. Local school systems successfully argue they can save money through consolidation even though no study since 1980 has indicated that this actually helps any educational (let alone financial) goals in reality. Somehow, when people present themselves as knowledgeable about making or saving money, they become the expert we’re supposed to heed. (In case you think I’m exaggerating about the MBA nowadays, here’s a recent plea to abolish business schools by a long-time business school professor, and one in the Harvard Business Review about why these schools have lost their way — an older article, but little has changed.)

As music teachers, we’ve been hit with lots of MBA-inspired how-to’s — how to make a lot of money by doubling rates to winnow our student list to just the profitable ones, or how to make our job easier by requiring that students sign contracts guaranteeing our income and flexibility regardless of the students’ experience. Maybe you’ve run across other seemingly smart strategies that make you feel like a dummy or a softie if you don’t take them seriously.

Of course, we can all use thoughtful advice on making our businesses run smoothly. Music Teachers Helper’s motto is “You teach! It does the rest!” (It’s NOT “Let us help you soak your students for the most money with the least effort!”) Music Teachers Helper is meant to help us teachers organize the business part of what we do, so that we can focus on the music, the sharing of our skills, the nurturing of our students. There are many articles in this blog which seek to help give business advice to folks who may not have much experience in that side of things, in addition to the many articles encouraging better teaching and understanding of music.

Nobody goes into music for the money. And yet, whether you teach or perform, you find out pretty quickly that  [···]

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Watching is better than listeningIf you’re anything like me, it can be really challenging encouraging students to listen properly to their performance whilst at the same time playing (or singing).

The other day, one of my beginner pupils made the all too familiar statement: “I can’t hear a tune!” Yet any other person listening would have, like me, surely been able to make out the strains of Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy!”

So why then can it be so hard to actually hear what you are playing whilst in mid performance? And more importantly, how can students be encouraged to “hear” what is “good, bad and ugly” in their playing or singing so that they can improve?

The answer lies in two facts:

  1. most humans are better at understanding what they can see rather than what they can hear
  2. the process of trying to listen properly whilst at the same time read the music and physically play or sing is at best, extremely complex

So what’s the solution?

A simple method to assist students is to  [···]

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