How a teacher structures music lessons – both single lessons and long-term goals – is something that should be individualized. Each teacher has to balance their teaching style and personality with the learning style and personality of a student. This means that if you were to sit in on a few lessons with the same teacher, you might find a number of different strategies being used. That being said, regardless of the instrument being studied or the style of music being played, we believe that the long-term goal of all lessons should be to produce a knowledgeable, skilled, independent thinking musician.
This is where we feel that things may get a bit sticky. As we enter into our 9th year of business, we can say that we have encountered other teachers and studios who do not have the same long-term goals in mind as we do. Sometimes, lessons have no long-term goals at all. It is completely possible to show a student how to play or sing a piece of music by having them watch the teacher and copy what they see. An instructor can write in note names or excessive fingering and chord symbols, or pay zero attention to whether or not good technique is being used.
At first, this might seem great – “Look! Little Tommy can play the first page of Für Elise after only a few lessons” or “Wow! My child can strum all of the chords to our favorite song from the radio on the third lesson.” The problem is, in these types of lessons there is likely no actual music education happening. We see these lessons as being akin to stealing. “Really?” Yes, really. If you were to go to an art class and all that was “taught” was paint by numbers, you’d demand a refund. That’s not teaching art; it’s not teaching at all. Sure, maybe your twelve-year-old did come home with a painting that had a striking resemblance to the Mona Lisa, but it’s clear that that is not what art education is about.
Unfortunately, it can be more difficult to identify music lessons that are lacking in any real education. In fact, it’s likely that some very well-intentioned music instructors are teaching in this way. We think that students (and parents who are paying for lessons) deserve more than that. Critical thinking is a skill that needs to be practiced. A person who can independently think and analyze, even just within the confines of music, can eventually take that skill and apply it to every other aspect of life.
This doesn’t mean that music lessons shouldn’t be fun, but it does mean that sometimes students will need to be pushed to explore their actual potential. It also doesn’t mean that a teacher should never help a student figure out a note or chord, but it does mean that a teacher shouldn’t just tell or show a student something that she has the capability of figuring out for herself. Taking the time to learn musical vocabulary, use good techniques, have rhythmic accuracy, and learn principles of music theory are absolutely worth the effort, and every student should expect no less from a teacher.