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black and gray cassette tape leaned on wall

What even is music?

The more I work as a musician in the modern world, the more I begin to ponder this question as an educator. What is music? What is this thing that we teach?

We follow so many traditional structures automatically in how we teach music. But what is it that we are teaching?


Even speaking within my own culture, there is so much variance in music. From chillhop to ‘post-modern’ classical music, the divide feels mammoth. How do we keep equip our music students for this kind of world?

T​he answer is, of course, that we do our best.

T​he very best kind of teaching carries within it a level of personalisation to the student. We all remember the feeling of learning pointless maths in school, right? Now, it certainly isn’t actually all useless, but the rigid following of one curriculum leads to students and adults who feel that their education was wasted.


I ​reflected on my piano education the other day. I had several teachers, varying styles, different strengths, but they all shared this one idea; that I should prepare for an exam, playing the same pieces for nine months or more, until they are as perfect as possible, then perform them for one person, who will give feedback heavily biased by their own taste, and impacted by the strangeness of the unknown instrument I performed on.

W​hile I don’t begrudge having sat piano exams, as a teacher trained to teach the entire curriculum, this approach is strange in the extreme. Not the exam, to be clear. But the lead-up to it. Because it meant I was only ever playing from that syllabus. I wasn’t listening to music beyond that (on purpose for learning), I wasn’t exploring making music beyond one arbitrary collection. And it meant that when I could choose my own repertoire, I knew very little about lesser known composers, and nearly nothing about female composers. Ironic that that is now what I am.

I​ understood music to be in binary, ternary and sonata form. To exist only within certain key signatures. To have stern limits placed upon its structure, and ways that is just ‘works’.


M​usic isn’t this perfect thing, it doesn’t fit within our nice little box, and it certainly doesn’t belong to any one culture above another.

W​hat then, do we do? What is this music that we teach?

W​ell, firstly, listen to your students. What’s their story? What’s the music of their homes, the music of their childhoods?

N​ext, don’t deny your own background. We can’t value all music by accepting some and dismissing all the others. Share the music that you love with your students. Whether or not you can play it yourself; put it on Spotify if you need to.

T​his brings me around to the most actionable point; make listening to music part of your instrumental music lessons. Assign listening lists for the week, encourage students to engage with music they never heard before, that they didn’t know existed. To find music they don’t like, music they learn to love, and music they then want to play.

A​nd finally, let them assign listening to you. There is always a very real chance that students will listen to music that you don’t know. The more you know about why they love music and why they’re learning, the better you can teach them. And the better musician and music educator you will be.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.


words spelled on scrabble tiles

Take a moment

If you’ve been around for a while now, you’ll know that I think we have a lot to learn and challenge in music education. And I think it’s important that we all take a moment to reflect on what we do and how we do it.

A huge part of my journey as a music educator has been the founding of the arts collective, the (In)Equal Temperament Project. If you’re curious, just follow the link, because this post is not about me.

At an online seminar I attended because of my arts collective, I got to hear Nate Holder talk. I would say speak, but he actually wasn’t meant to be one of the speakers. But the people speaking had a great deal of respect for him, and asked his opinion so much he essentially became part of the panel. They kept mentioning his poem, ‘If I were a racist…’

Of course I went and read it. And now I think that every person that calls themselves any kind of music teacher should read it too.

So that’s all today’s post is. Go read it. Here’s the link.

Oh, and take a moment. Really take a moment, and think about what it means for you as a music educator.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.


abstract painting in bright colors

Music isn’t perfect

One of my students started crying the other day. And no, it wasn’t because he was misbehaving and needed to be told to stop.

It was because he was disappointed that he couldn’t finish his work the way he had envisioned.

He had wanted it to be perfect.

In that moment I remembered a teacher that I trained with, who when we created a ‘blind’ art contour in class (if you’re not sure what it is, look here) said that she wouldn’t cope doing this activity with 7-year-olds, because it wouldn’t look ‘good enough’ to display on the wall.

Safe to say, every other adult sitting in the messy, covered in dry paint art studio were quite shocked, and a bit uncomfortable.

Her response was that she is a perfectionist. And that she wanted her students to make perfect work as well.

Which brings me back to the student we’ll call Joel.

Just because he was crying, I didn’t change my mind about making him stop his work. Instead, I asked him to come over to talk to me. And I did what I’m certain countless people had to do for me.

“There is no such thing as perfect.”

There is no such thing as perfect.

I have all the trademark qualities of being a perfectionist. But because of the consistent effort of adults around me, I have the ability (most of the time) to let go of something being perfect.

How does this relate to music education?

In every way.


How many adult professional musicians do you know who have had to battle performance anxiety?

How many performances have you yourself said no to because you believed that you weren’t ready?

How much music has not been shared by countless people around the world because they were worried it wasn’t ready yet?


So I have a very small piece of advice today.

First of all, for yourself, let go of the idea of a perfect performance. It crippled me for years, because I truly believed that I could get through an entire 25 minute program without the smallest mistake, and it wasn’t true.

Perfect doesn’t exist. You could always have managed the dynamics better, left a longer pause on that fermata, the list goes on forever.

Secondly, stop looking for perfect from your students.

If they are already looking to become virtuosic on their instrument, chances are they already have clear perfectionist tendencies.

Instead of perfect, look for joy. Look for their strengths, and their weaknesses, and guide them in how to improve in all of them.

And teach them this: music isn’t perfect.

Music is more than one good performance, because there’s always more than one way to give that performance.

Music is more than one tradition of how it should be played, because there’s always more ways to interpret it.

Music is more than hitting every note at exactly the right time. It’s about enjoying the sound that is being created.

If you remember nothing else, remember this.

Music isn’t perfect.

So stop looking for it.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.


This post was originally published October, 2021.

musical notes

All Cows Eat Grass

Every good boy deserves fruit.

Good burritos don’t fall apart.

F-A-C-E.

Most of you will know EXACTLY what I am referencing here.

If you were trained as a musician in the last 30 years, then this is most likely how you learned to read music.

If you are a musician, trained recently, and don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that I am glad for you.

Because this is not how to learn, or to teach, reading music.

“WHAT?! But it worked for me!!”

your instant reaction

I know, I know and hear me out.

Why are we so obsessed with teaching concepts through metaphors and structures that have NOTHING to do with what they actually mean? Western staff notation is an inherently logical system, that we teach through acronyms that have no conceptual connection to it. Rather than learning the patterns of ‘space, line, space’ or even more importantly, the connection to the SOUND of an instrument, we learn an acronym.

And don’t even get me started on how difficult that is for our smallest students – I’ve already written about that enough!

The big problem is, you know how to read music. You’ve been reading music or years.

So my question to you is this: what process do you go through when you read music? Do you name each individual note? Or do you follow the patterns, and the rules of how it works?

My challenge to you is this: teach music the way you read it.

As a successful reader of music, your strategy works. I could offer more advice here, but at the end of the day, you are the expert. Read some music. Write down what you do. Explain that strategy to your students. It’s one more strategy that they didn’t have before!

There is a resource we have made just for this moment! Find it here. If you want to, you can buy the whole pack, catering to Years 1 through 6. If that’s not your speed, we have the ones tailored to other year levels available in the shop!


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.


This post was originally published October, 2021.

fingers on piano keys

To teach or to play?

So you want to include games in your music lessons, but don’t know where to start?

I’m certain that all music teachers have felt the same at some point or another.

The biggest worry that we all have is that we play games that are not connected to learning, that we are wasting precious minutes just to make sure we are the ‘fun’ music teacher. We really are skilled at overthinking music teaching.

The problem often lies (as it usually does) in not planning effectively. Worried that a student is looking bored, you jump in and fix the boredom with a quick movement game. Concerned that a student is not listening to you, you make up a game to incorporate and alter their misbehaviour.

Over time, this leads to lots of music games being incorporated (which can seem fantastic) but not much time spent at the instrument, or focusing on any particular skill.

The only question that you need to ask yourself to solve this problem is this:

“What skill do I want my student to learn from this music game?”

Maybe it’s reading music, or identifying notes, musical expression, or playing from memory.

If you can answer that question, you’re on the right track. If you can’t, spend some time looking through your student’s lesson notes. What can you see you keep on reminding them to do?

Incorporate it into a music game.

What skill do they seem to avoid working on the most?

Incorporate it into a music game.

What skill do they seem to struggle the most to understand?

Incorporate it into a music game.

Every teacher incorporates games differently, according to their space, instrument and personal style. Just remember, as long as you are focused on what your students are learning, you are getting it right!


Now, a treat for all of you wonderful music educators. We have created a music education resource here at the music educator for our youngest students – a collection of four games to get any music teacher started on incorporating games into lessons. For a limited time only, download it for free! If you want more information on how we make and structure our resources, check out this post.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.


This post was originally published September, 2022.