Friday, February 22, 2013

How [Not] To Learn Your Favorite Music

It used to be that if you wanted to take piano lessons you had one place to go: the woman down the street who has been giving lessons out of her parlor (that’s right; she still calls it a parlor) since the Hoover administration.  

It’s not that she was unpleasant—mine certainly wasn’t—but one thing was for sure: when it came to piano, she meant business. She had a system, probably involving books with specific numbered levels, a daily practice chart and a journal where she wrote your (many) weekly assignments. Stickers—she LOVES stickers—were used as a reward or encouragement, even if you were a junior in high school.

The most tenacious of her students eventually honed their skills and went on to learn some amazing music, and a few (like yours truly) even started teaching piano lessons ourselves. By the time I graduated, I also had enough stickers to cover the dashboard of my car.

Since I’m a veteran of more traditional lessons, this is where you might expect a rant about the “good ol’ days,” why we should return to our roots or whatever…but that’s actually not where I’m going with this.

There are certainly advantages to traditional piano lessons—IF becoming a concert pianist or career musician is your goal. Many people searching for a music teacher make the mistake of assuming that they must take the traditional route to eventually learn the music they love.
Sometimes well-meaning teachers will perpetuate this myth simply because that’s what they were taught as young musicians. For every student that succeeds, though, there are perhaps twenty who quit altogether after a few years.

Why does this happen? I’d say because most people aren’t cut out to be concert pianists. They have trouble reading music or could never figure out scales or just weren’t interested in Beethoven to begin with or something of the like. And that’s absolutely fine.  **Disclaimer to any future (and current) students: This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for scales and drills. ** The truth is there is no right way to learn an instrument…or anything else for that matter. The world of music is too vast, too deep, and too universal to have just one “correct” way to do things, and time is too precious to be spent working toward the wrong goal.

The best advice I can give is to know where you want to go and what you want to get out of the experience. I’ve taught *lots* of students over the last five years and I would say that at the end of the day, the vast majority of them only wanted one thing: the ability to play something that will impress their friends.

And that, in my humble opinion is the ideal place to begin: with music that moves you and, with any luck, will give you a chance to show off.

Jason Campbell is a piano teacher and voice coach who blogs about all things music at IvoryMan. Book a lesson with him on The ZOEN or follow him on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. agreed - teaching piano or any other instrument to todays savvy learners is a new and exciting endeavor. there are so many great resources readily available and that lesson in a grandmother's kitchen is as outdated as a wind up metronome or printed method book. playing "your music" still requires understanding basic musical concepts - there are just so many great new ways to acquire them now.


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