Why do student’s loose interest in music lessons? Often it’s because they never really had “interest” to begin with. In our lessons, the student is the pilot and the instructor is the co-pilot. The instructor holds the map, and passes on the directions, but the student picks the destination. It is true that without a map or directions, the odds of anyone getting where they intend to go are slim. It is also true that without a destination you’re likely not going to start the vehicle.
This is how we teach. Many academic schools are intergrading student-led programs now, and studies show profound results when students take responsibility for their learning. Check out this wonderful study. We create a partnership with the student where together we find their goals and achieve them one at a time. The student must lead. The student must be invested in what they are learning. They must have a personal attachment and interest in where they go with their instrument. Otherwise, they will quit, likely long before the true benefits of learning an instrument are realized.
At every first lesson the student is asked to suggest songs they want to learn. Sometimes students have a long list ready to go. Other times they really aren’t aware yet of what they like or dislike. This is where the instructor becomes a guide. The instructor helps the student uncover their interests and find their relationship to music. Maybe it is a movie, or a soundtrack? Maybe it’s an artist or a video game? That spark can come from anywhere. Students are encouraged not to think about difficulty, style, or whether their instrument is present in the music. In the beginning it is just about throwing every idea on the board and then letting the instructor decide on the route to take. These suggestions are placed in our chat system through teacher zone. This way a student knows they always have direct access to communicate new ideas and interests with their teacher. Through song based learning, supplemented by theory and technique, students gain the academic benefits from music while still having fun and developing something hey have an instant relationship with.
Every song boils down to three core pieces: harmony, melody, and rhythm. By looking at music this way we can take any song, no matter the style and find a students place in it. For example, many songs on today’s top 40 do not have live instruments. Does this mean we cannot learn them? Absolutely not! We can learn the chords (harmony) or the melody, or both on any instrument. We can simplify parts if needed. We do whatever it takes to find a place for the student at their current skill level in the music. We then teach them their request in a supportive and constructive environment, constantly referencing their progress, and commending their determination and courage. In doing this, the student gains a sense of accomplishment and deepens their connection with their instrument. This is how we generate momentum. Motion is emotion, so as a student gains strength and confidence, their belief in themselves and what they are capable of widens. In this way, there is a place and a benefit in music for every person. There is no such thing as someone who can't.
Learning must have context and application. Students learn how their parts fit by performing along with the music or with a metronome, or both. Why is this so important? Because by performing with the recording, with others, or playing in time with a metronome we are doing, and doing turns theory into practice. This forces a student to reach notes and chords at specific times, which develops muscle memory and activates the brain. It also teaches song form, which builds their memory capacity. Our teachers coach them towards this, and inspire them to continually set the bar higher and higher.
Learning notation, working through method books, using practice timers, and working on scales and techniques with the metronome are all ways in which we measure progress and instill extreme ownership in students. If a student was on page 1 and next week they have a chance to move all the way to page 5, we have measured their progress by page number. If a student is working with the metronome and playing a passage at 80 bpm and next week they have the opportunity to move up to 85, this is a measured result. When student’s finish a book or break through a technique their ownership becomes visible in their body language and on their face. In sort time they approach their instrument with an attitude of “bring it on!” Throughout this process the student, under the guidance of their instructor, is raising the bar. They are saying "let's go here," or "I can go faster."
Music is a universal language. Like any language, it must be spoken with others. This means sharing with friends and family in living rooms and on stages. This means joining school bands or forming bands with friends, or through outside programs like ours. This means encouraging students to express themselves fully and giving them a safe space to do this. At the end of every lesson there is a period of “play.” This might mean jamming for students that are working on improvising. It might mean playing through an old song, or simply playing as much as possible of a new song. In any case, there has to be time to just have a fun, and let the music do the talking. This is where we speak the language. This is the time to invite family members in. Eventually students are encouraged to share their skills on stage. We put on Showcases to expand the creative space developed in lessons, strengthen a students’ confidence, and inspire them by having advanced, intermediate, and beginner students all participate in the event together.
Mentorship in music lessons is guiding students to become confident independent thinkers who happen to have the ability to play a musical instrument. We support their decisions. We respect their voice. We honor our promises to them. We build trust through consistency. Our goal is to instill a personal relationship with their instrument and leave them with an appreciation for musical performance that lasts a lifetime.