Music Education, Negotiation, and Compromise 1*

One of my primary interests in teaching and studying music is the relationship and dynamic that develops between the student and teacher. As a teacher it is my responsibility to ensure that I guide my students toward a working knowledge, technical competency, and appreciation and enjoyment of the musical instrument and style they are learning to play. Ideally, a student shares these same goals. However, for many students, and especially with younger children, the concept of playing an instrument is much more appealing than the challenging and often frustrating learning process. This includes developing the physical capabilities required of the instrument, learning the musical fundamentals of notation and rhythm, and dedicating oneself to the sheer repetition and regular practice that is necessary to reach the desired level of proficiency.

To successfully achieve my goal as a teacher, it is essential to cater to each student’s unique style of learning. This may require temporarily compromising a sound and logical lesson plan for a tangential, but more immediately rewarding and impactful impromptu lesson. The advantage to this flexibility is that it enables a teacher to adjust during the course of a lesson to maximize the benefit to the student. Examples of such spur of the moment adjustments include teaching a child a theme from a Mario Bros game instead of “The Ode to Joy,” or allowing him to “compose” and write his own melody, which for that student made reading the notation more fun and rewarding.

It is not solely in my role as a teacher, nor only with children, that I see compromises and negotiations shaping the experience of learning music. In my lessons with my jazz guitar teacher unplanned topics are openly explored with the understanding that prepared materials will always be available for discussion at a later date. Similarly, my teachers of Hindustani (North Indian) music constantly assess my understanding of the music and adapt their teaching accordingly. Lessons are designed and unfold in real time, dictated by the dynamic between teacher and student and the ability of the teacher to recognize the best method to advance the student’s progress.

It is the freedom of the private lesson format, void of strict curricula requirements, that makes private music education so effective. Private music lessons are one of the few opportunities to engage in a meaningful educational activity, acquire and develop a new artistic and creative skill, and experience learning in a completely personalized manner. I can only imagine how much I would have benefited if this same flexibility were regularly practiced in mandatory subjects such as math, English, and science when I was a student.

*As negotiation and compromise are two of my primary interests in music education I suspect there will be a number of posts sharing this title. This is only the first of many.

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