Approach to teaching music


Any student, regardless of age or experience level, learns best when engaged in an activity that he or she understands and enjoys. Part of the reason that I am a successful teacher can be attributed to my willingness to take into account every student's particular musical interests and strengths, and in tern, teach directly to those areas. For instance, in the initial stages of developing a student and teacher relationship, I may request that the student compile a "wish list" of approximately ten pieces of music that he or she would like to be able to play. This list may include pieces in such genres as classical, jazz, and popular music, just to name a few. It is through this list that the student can begin almost immediately learning exactly what he or she likes, and by default, I can then teach the student all of the technical components needed to perform on his or her instrument. Through this I am also able to determine the specific areas where the student needs to receive more focused instruction. More importantly, this customized approach provides a fun atmosphere and enables the student to enjoy learning the art of playing music by not being solely dependent on instructional booklets which many students, regardless of age and experience, find boring and tedious.

I am a very patient instructor, and I prefer that my students understand exactly what they are doing. It is very easy to just tell someone to play this way or play that way, but in order for the student to actually progress and incorporate the concepts that I am teaching, it is best that they know exactly why I am teaching them to play a certain way. For instance, for years the most common method of teaching music has been through rote. The teacher says, "this is this note and you play it this way. Now, do it over and over again until you get it right." And true, while endless repetition will indeed get the job done, it also takes up a lot of time. I prefer my students to be prepared to play their instrument correctly the first time.

Woodwind instruments (flute, clarinet, saxophone) are very organic instruments, and a lot depends on the player before a note even comes out of the horn. The way the player is sitting, breathing, relaxing, tensing, and even the way that they are thinking can all influence the way their instrument sounds. I spend a lot of time developing what I call a student's "cognitive connection" to the instrument. Think of your favorite hobby or sport. You may not quite remember what it was like to learn that hobby or sport, and in fact, you may take those particular skill sets for granted at this point since they are so easy for you; however, you probably didn't always know where the sweet spot was on the tennis racket or how precisely to field a baseball. Now, you do those things easily, but in the beginning you had to concentrate on your swing or how to align yourself and your glove with the incoming ball. Playing a musical instrument is the same. There is a "sweet spot," so to speak, where once you know what it feels like, you can play the perfect note every time. In the same way that, depending on your favorite hobby or sport, the tennis racket or the paintbrush is almost like an extra appendage that you can command just as well as your arm, so too can the instrument become. I teach my students how to feel the instrument so that they can play it. I teach them how to think about every note before they attempt to execute it. This approach also greatly benefits those who do not know how to read music. I teach my students how to concentrate on everything at once, so that they are able to play and read each note.

I have a great deal of adult students who either played an instrument in college or high school, but haven’t picked it up in almost 10 or 20 years. Many of them are practically re-learning the instrument. After a while it starts to come back, almost like riding a bike, and in response to the way I teach, most of them remark that they were never initially taught how to play the instrument the way that I am teaching them. They often tell me that it makes so much more sense now that they have someone who is explaining everything as opposed to just telling them what to do.

That is the real crux of it. Music is often perceived by non-musicians as being mystical, other-worldly, spiritual, and complicated. I will agree to a point. I definitely think that music can be very mystical and spiritual at times, but I attempt to teach music by simplifying it as much as possible, and it is never as complicated as many may think. Even those who claim they are tone deaf can be taught how to play a piece of music. My goal is not to overwhelm my students with endless work and make them feel as if any piece of music is beyond them. I want them to be able to play their instruments and above all, enjoy it. Those who wish to be challenged, will be challenged. That being said, music is my life, and I want all of my students to enjoy taking part in playing music just like I do.

My main area of expertise is in jazz. I have spent the greater part of my career as a jazz musician and improviser. I place a high importance on playing by ear as well as reading. Also, the creative aspect of the music is emphasized. This adds a special quality to the way that I teach. I am able to teach a student, even within the first few lessons, how to begin to hear music so that they can teach themselves how to play. All of the best teachers that I have been fortunate to have had in my life have taught similarly. The idea is that you will value more the things that you are able to teach yourself. It is only then, that the student can actually begin really enjoying their new passion for playing an instrument.