It’s not just about the lesson

I haven’t taught music lessons in well over a year.  I think it has been nearly two years at this point, in fact.  I truly enjoyed teaching, and was saddened to leave it despite having a good reason to do so; I am nearing the completion of my pursuit of a masters degree.

There is something that some parents truly don’t understand regarding their child’s time spent in lesson: it’s not just about the music lesson.  The subject of music, while of paramount importance in that 30+ minute weekly experience, is rivaled by another quality: building a good human being.

This thought of educating the whole child, building character, depth, insight, reasoning, compassion, and empathy, is a core tenet of the Suzuki method.  While I am not trained to teach Suzuki lessons (and so therefore do not attempt to do so), I value this approach of “character first, ability second”.

When a child comes into a lesson, they bring not just a semblance of aspiration to learn, but also their own strengths, weaknesses, history, and baggage, all stemming from their personal life and experience in the world.

For some children, you, the teacher, may be another parent in their life that they need, even if only for that once or twice a week interval.  For some teenagers, you may be their lifeline when they feel too on edge.  For other children, you may be the best peer-like interaction they face both at school and during free time.  Some children will use you as a refuge from an overbearing parent, while others will desperately need you to provide boundaries and structure in their lives.

Private music lessons are most successful when one is creating a personal, individualized bond with the student, not only understanding how they learn but how they experience life, what scares them, what upsets them, what they will say “wow” to, what they will get antsy about.  Not only do teachers who fully understand and nurture their students produce the best version of whom their students can be, personally and musically, but they help students in their future lives.

How many of us have had teachers who doubted us, looked down on us, scolded us without reason, not given interest into how we work, been emotionally unavailable, or never bothered to go the extra step when we needed them?  How different would our thoughts of school and private instruction be if we didn’t have those experiences, but rather had teachers who held us to high expectations and challenges, but also accepted us from day one as we were, knowing that they needed to earn our respect as students to help us transform into capable, confident adults?

The thing is, you cannot separate the music from the person.  Every note practiced, every metronome click, every turn of a tuning peg, is an act that comes from a person’s will, their desire to do something with themselves, for whatever reason they may do it.  Give them good reason to put that rockstop on the floor.  Give them good reason to clean their instrument.  Give them good reason to carry their case as if its contents were a prized possession.  Give them reason to believe that every breath, bow, strike, pluck, touch–you name it–they do is done from a good place, and for the appreciation of something deeper than themselves.  Music is a living entity, because we are living entities, and we cannot separate ourselves from our music.  That is why it is character and ability, not just ability, that grows a musician.

Happy composing and teaching,


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