forgot password

The Woodshed: Teaching music: By the book

Back to the List of Articles

JJ Rocks Article # 217:
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue # 42, March,2010
Teaching someone how to play a notes on a sheet of music is fine for polishing ones basic reading skills, but not teaching them what the music means or where it comes from is a disgrace. Some people who teach only have experience that is a product of going to college, making the grades, and then becoming a recycled version of the teachers that taught them. This does not help someone who wants to know what its like to be a professional full time musician. You cant teach something that you havent done yourself.

This article is not about becoming a music teacher or how to teach your students. Its about people that call themselves teachers but arent even good enough to be in a decent band or have ever played full time. A little weekend pickup work does not make you a pro level player, and that is whats required to teach young minds who dream of being on stage playing in front a great crowd without having a music stand in front of them. First they have to learn how real musicians communicate to each other, and in most cases, other than large orchestras with a conductor, the students must know the tunes in their heads and not have to read them while performing.

This brings to mind a piano teacher that I know (not pro level musician) who said to me I teach by the book. You teach by ear. I almost fell over because this is the same person who came to my house when I was putting together a reggae band and had to play the song Stir it Up by Bob Marley. She had it written out over several sheets of paper. Now keep in mind that this song has three chords that play over and over. I guess thats what she means when she said by the book!

So first let me say that I dont teach from a standard book that you can buy in any music store. And I dont just teach buy ear. My students know more about music theory and the simple math of music than most of the local music teachers that I know. From the beginning they all learn to read chord charts, discover intervals and the way scales and chords are constructed, and before you know it they are play Charlie Parker and Miles Davis jazz tunes without any music in front of them. And by the time I go to show them how to read single note old school notation, they act if its a waste of time. Thats when I say you might be in a situation where someone throws a chart in front of you with notes instead of just chords and wants you to play it cold. One students reply was why would I want to play something that I never heard? So even though I save that lesson for last, I still try to get them to learn it.

The most important thing is the final product. That would be a student who has the knowledge of the DNA or math of music, the ability to remember songs without reading them, and most of all, being able to improvise and create on the spot over any set of changes. If all you can do is teach from a book, or simply try to get a student to copy your motions without showing them why it works, them you should not be a teacher. And If you have never played professionally yourself, you shouldnt try to teach someone how it's done. Dont try to talk the talk if you cant walk the walk
JJ Rocks - The Spotlight Zone