My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chain of thoughts about the state of some music students

Syllabi are being written, texts are being chosen, offices are being's almost time to start
© alswart -
teaching again.  I always find myself being reflective this time of year as I try to figure out what did and didn't work the past year.  In an effort to find some direction before the semester begins I thought it might be helpful to jot down some of the thoughts that have stuck in my head ever since the close of the previous one.  

In general, the students I work with...

  • have learned to read note-by-note, pitch-by-pitch, word-by-word (for singers), and individual rhythmic duration-to-individual rhythmic duration.  Notes do not belong to one another in any sort of way.  

Which means...

  • students have a difficult time seeing patterns and motives within the music.

Which means...

  • each time a student works on a piece of music he is having to process innumerable pieces of information at each moment and is not drawing on a reservoir of previously learned material.  He is starting from scratch each time and spending a lot of extra effort in order to learn his music.  

Approaching music in a note-by-note fashion, not seeing patterns and motives also means...

  • students have a more difficult time feeling or understanding phrases so musicality tends to be overlaid atop of what's learned after all the notes have been learned rather than being embedded in the music while they are learning it.  
  • sight-reading is very challenging, overwhelming, and tends to be unmusical.
  • memorizing is also very difficult and daunting.
  • the ability to audiate and internalize the music is hindered since the eyes are being utilized more than the ears.  The more one sense is being relied upon the less the other senses can actively participate and assist in learning.  

In the end what all seems to lead to is...
  • the students feeling unprepared and uncomfortable when it comes time to perform.  Rather than creating an interpretation through performing and enjoying the artistic process, they have the daunting impression they need to put together a piece of music through recalling the zillions of tiny details.  No wonder many students fear performing.  It makes me queasy just thinking about it.

And how can this affect the audience?
  • Audiences can sense sense discomfort in a performer.  They can also sense when someone is reproducing music rather than creating it.  

And how can this affect the performer?
  • Performers can sense lack of interest from the audience.  I equate it to a stand-up comedian doing his show and having the audience not laugh at any of his or her jokes.  Ouch! Not a good feeling.  

So what can I do to help students?

I am determined to focus on breaking that first link - to help students see music in a way that helps them to see how notes belong to one another; to help them start to build a vocabulary of musical motives and patterns; and to encourage them to use their minds and ears as much as they use their eyes.  Hopefully with this approach, music will help them to turn those countless number of tiny black marks on the page into a language they can truly understand and share with their audience with confidence and excitement.  This will build a brand new chain that will make performing something in which everyone wants to participate whether they are on the stage or in the audience.

Now where's my hacksaw?  I'm ready to do some damage!