Am I teaching what I should be teaching?

woman in discussing a lesson plan

You’re a wonderful music teacher.

You know that, right?

You are. And I say that because only wonderful music teachers ask themselves this question.

Why do I say that?

Because the answer is something that never stays the same. It depends on the student, on you, on what is happening around the world right now, and the history of the place you inhabit.

To give a very simple example, a four-year-old, however skilled they are at the piano, probably shouldn’t study Rachmaninoff’s most difficult work, because their hands simply won’t be able to manage that.

In another example, students who don’t enjoy playing ‘classical’ piano (for whatever reason) probably shouldn’t be forced to play only Beethoven and Mozart.

The question we should always come back to is a simple one. No matter what career this student chooses, what skills do I want to leave them with?

In the context you’re in, you might want to leave them being able to teach the instrument themselves should they ever want to. Or maybe you’re teaching them their second instrument, and all they need from you is the joy of music. That’s what my violin teacher did for me.

At the heart of this is a very simple statement.

Get to know your students.

Not just what their parents say about them. Get to know THEM.

Once I did that, everything changed. In one day of teaching, I went from teaching an eight year old who ADORED studying Mozart, to discovering that she also had just started her very first band, and wanted to know how to read a lead sheet. I needed to change the content of her lessons to suit that.

And you can, and should, do that too.

For classroom teachers, I recommend you to go so far as to question how much western staff notation you need to include in each lesson. Ask yourself, do these students, right here, right now, actually need this?

Finally, ask the student themselves. They have more thoughts on this than you would think!

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