Celebrating Learning Curves

I’ve been teaching music students for 3 years now and something that I’ve been just really getting a handle on lately has been the advanced planning and being realistic about what we really will get through in a 30 minute lesson.  Like most teachers, my desire is to see the student leave each lesson having really learned something and some lessons are more productive than others in that area.  But there are times when we end the lesson and I can’t work out what we’ve actually done!  And then there are the days when I really feel that the student truly doesn’t want to be there.  There is clearly no internal motivation regulating their progress and so the lesson is dry and lifeless.

My thoughts then turn to this question: how do we create an environment that allows a student the freedom to pursue music in their own time?

How can I have both the feeling that we’ve ‘achieved’ something, as well as be comfortable in the knowledge that what that day’s lesson might have been about, had nothing to do with achievement and everything to do with connection and relationship?

You see, I have a theory about learning.  I believe that when a person is truly connected to something, they will pull out all the stops to make it happen.  I’ve been learning this as I watch my almost 13 year old, my youngest son, beam with sheer unadulterated delight when he’s on his skateboard.  I don’t see the same kind of excitement and fervour when he’s trying to learn guitar.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he enjoys playing an instrument, but I can see that that magical ‘connection’ hasn’t happened yet and no amount of cajoling, pushing or coercing is going to make it happen.

But when he’s on that board, as he is EVERY day, regardless of the weather (thank God for a double garage!), I see that intensity and passion spilling out all over the place.  I see that this is something that regardless of anyone’s help or not, he will continue to work hard on this pursuit of getting to be a great skateboarder.

So how does this relate to teaching music?

It’s all about that internal drive that motivates the mind, the body, the emotions, the will, to forge ahead despite the setbacks.  As teachers, there is an unspoken expectation to show results.  Sometimes it’s not unspoken.  Sometimes parents are extremely tenacious about the pursuit of results.  And we have to work within that framework to a large extent.

But my hope, with my personal students, is that what they get out of their lessons more than anything else, is a desire to pursue that which stirs them.  And if it’s not music, then that’s ok.  As I leave my personal expectations at the door and allow my son to find his own timing in connecting with music, I give him the freedom to pursue what for now, is his whole world and passion.

In this, I find that I also need to accept that I may have two sons who never pursue music as a life long activity and be content with that.  It’s hard.  Of course I desire to see them lost in the land of creativity.  But I really believe that as we allow our children to focus on what they are passionate about, accepting that the subject may not be what we had personally hoped for, we give them room to pursue music in their time and when that time comes, the pursuit will be full force because they have chosen it for themselves.

So what that ultimately leaves me with, is the realisation that expectations must vary dependent upon the unique personality, capacity and motivation of each person that you work with.  If we as teachers can take on board the perspective that each student is different and the timing of their learning is going to be very varied, I think we can offer these wonderful people a freedom to explore the world of music on their terms making it a self regulated pursuit that comes from an internal desire to discover.  And that, I think, is worth the risk.


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