Every now and then I enjoy hanging around the studios and listening to our wonderful faculty teach. One of the most valuable and significant parts of The Conservatory is the opportunity we have to collaborate and support each other.
Lessons started up throughout the studios and I heard teachers working to help children recognize their potential by facing and overcoming their obstacles. I often need to be reminded that I’m not just teaching piano, but I’m inspiring young people how to take responsibility, be intentional, and ask for support. Today, 35 years into my career as a music educator, I have found the most fulfilling part of teaching is empowering the development of genuine self-esteem by helping young people face and intentionally overcome their challenges.
Diagnose and Prescribe
One piano student was playing a primary version of Ode to Joy by memory. His instructor recognized the stiff, loud, and abrasive tones and together she I helped him understand how to change the form and weight in his hands to express softer and a a more smooth singing effect.
A young vocal student was struggling with hitting the right pitches in a song with some very challenging intervals. At YACM we not only diagnose the problem but we prescribe the remedy. Our job in 30 minutes is to provide students with the skills to intentionally correct what is not empowering their success. How do you teach an 8 year-old little boy how to hear and replicate a minor 3rd followed by a 7th and to do it in a consistent voice? You give him the skills and the tools that slow him down, creates mindfulness, so he can be “intentional” as he drills those intervals before tackling the next set of intervals. As he learns how to listen, evaluation, ask, and pursue (LEAP) success at one challenge, he will be stronger to tackle the next one.
Slow and Intentional vs. Fast and Disconnected
I heard another instructor, encourage a student to play something “slower because it makes it easier”. The student said, “I don’t agree with you. I think its easier when it’s faster”. What did the instructor mean and why did the student think faster was easier? Fast playing is most often empowered by what we have been known to call “motor-memory”. I call it auto-pilot. It is a disconnection between what we are doing and what we are thinking. Slow playing is powered by intentionality. Being intentional absolutely feels harder than than doing something “automatically” and mentally disconnected. Our instructor meant to help the student slow down to intentionally apply needed changes. Our student wanted to feel the ease of not having to think hard.
Baseball, Classical Guitar, and Parents Who Can Help
Instructor, “Tell Mrs. Cook how many days you practice”.
Student, “Fridays and Sundays”.
Mrs. Cook, “How is that working out for you?”
Student, “I’ve got baseball practice and games so those are the only two days I can practice”.
Mrs. Cook, “Okay, but I’m wondering how the two days of guitar practice is working out for you. Are you feeling like you are doing well?”
Student, “Well I try to practice for two hours on those two days”.
Mrs. Cook, “I appreciate you’re wanting to make up for the lost time.” Here’s the deal, your instructor thinks you have potential, but he also sees that the way you’re practicing isn’t helping you become a good guitar player. I hear you saying you can’t find the time to practice on the days you have Baseball. I have an advanced student who’s a great baseball player. He’s on his high school’s varisty team and he practices A LOT! ”
Student, “Nods his head”
Mrs. Cook, “How about if you ask your parents, look, it’s hard to practice for 2 hours 2 days a week. I love my baseball, and my guitar practice is hard. Can you help me find a couple more days a week until baseball is over to practice my guitar? Its also hard to be motivated, so I’m gonna need your help to make me do it”.
Just some stories from “One Monday Afternoon”
Wanda Cook, Artistic Director