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Could we please just teach music?

Meet the student where they are. Where they are is a beautiful place.

They are exactly who they are when they're standing in front of you wanting to learn music.

Music teachers are meant to teach the person MUSIC.

Imagine it's YOU! Imagine you as a child, not knowing how to count.

My mum came in to my room and asked me, "Amy, do you know how to count? Here's how to do it. If you're resting you say, '1-2-3-4 - 2-2-3-4 - 3-2-3-4 - 4-2-3-4..."

I'll never forget that silly tutorial at such an early age. If she hadn't had said that, what would have happened? It wasn't how she said it, it was what she said. Facts.

If you can simply look at your student as a blank canvas, knowing NOTHING and they're asking for information, then you have a chance at teaching them to be kind to themselves while teaching them the skill they need. Forgiving to themselves for mistakes, miscounting and missed notes as facts. Otherwise the bar is set so high emotionally they can never attain a level of satisfaction and consistency. If it's fun, while being factual, and the tide rises and raises all of the boats at the same time, as they say.

I'm horrified by the actions of music teachers who teach from an alter ego of distaste. It is unconscionable that a teacher would want to physically harm or bully a student based on their musical journey. Music is a blessing to create - there are joys, theories and intricacies of music that correspond directly to our life's journey.

Flute students only want to know how to improve. I suggest we remind them they were toddlers once. Now, they're not. It will come with their process of learning. Not bullying.

Lead the student having issues with counting to Eurythmics. Lead them to Pasquale Bona's Rhythmical Articulation.

What if a student can't hear pitch? Turn on the drone. Ask them to sing and play piano. Hear a C, sing a C and see if it's correct on the piano. In that order. It's a process. Intonation is not an opinion. It's a fact. Especially when you're trying to be flexible. You can't win that battle unless you and the student can hear it together and agree on the pitch accuracies and tendencies.

As teachers can attest, we physically feel for our students when they're playing music. We want them to feel what we feel, so we play with the usual methods:

play by example; use words to songs; play recordings; make up stories for characters in a play; create a dance; changing body positions and moving more; breathing exercises. But phrasing comes with a technique too and sometimes we need to break it down in all forms. Theoretically too.

We need to teach the music, not just the notes, so that the notes will be accurate.

And, that is where I turn to the accuracy in flute technique in our teachings. The composer wrote the notes. Teach them correctly. Play ALL of them. In tune and in order and with the correct style. All those notes in a row are difficult. Teachers need to nurture this art form with discernment, not humiliation or negativity. Not ambivalence and carelessness.

Musical technique doesn't come easily after the age of 22 so forgiveness must be at the forefront of a flute teacher's mind when listening to elementary technique. The investment to the development of the skill should come first with a combination of scales, intervals and patterns, (I call them noodles.)

Articulation should be added in all ways. Much time should be spent with the hands moving in a coordinated way. In a relaxing way.

When the repertoire comes into focus, then the technique can work for the student.

I write these simple suggestions in order to guide a teacher in what to listen for in a student's playing and hone in on what's important. I'm aware that teaching is difficult and flute playing, not so difficult. So make sure you're teaching human beings, not just the flute. Say the name of the person. Celebrate them just being in front of you. You get to teach an angel of flute that's meant to bless your life.

Love them enough not to smear them. Love them enough not to touch them inappropriately. Love them enough not badger them into practice or doing something completely uncomfortable. Meet the student at their level.

And, could we please just teach music? This takeaway makes all of our lives better not worse.

"If music be the food of love, play on."


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