There is one thing about teaching that should give us all a bit of a buzz, and that’s our ability as teachers to change and enhance the lives of our pupils. Yes there are the awkward parents, the kids who don’t practice, the exam nerves and all the other irritating things that happen when we take a lesson. There is one inescapable fact though, music is very important in their lives.
Consider that our students are surrounded by music in one form or another. Many homes have some music playing in the background, shopping trips, either at the supermarket or high street often have music playing and of course TV programmes, films and computer games wouldn’t be the same without background music. It is probably a measure of how important the gaming software writers consider music is to their products that some go to trouble of getting some well known orchestras to provide rich mood music to enhance the game.. Many children love the uplifting experience they get from playing an instrument or singing a rousing or moving piece but while they are learning we should be careful about putting them in a musical straight jacket by playing music solely from the exam syllabus. I have a nine year old student who loves film music, particularly James Bond and Star Wars and he has just passed his grade 3 Trumpet exam after just under two years learning the instrument, and although we have worked on all the pieces, scales, aural and sight reading required for the exam I always try and find time to hear some of his favourites, and after all we can still teach all the technical stuff, blowing, embouchure breathing and the basics of music, rhythm, pitch, pulse and meter, while playing Goldfinger or the Imperial March. Surely the important thing is to develop youngsters as performers and most importantly listeners so that they can analyse their own performance and perhaps move onto improvisation and composition, and the widest possible exposure to different musical styles and tastes can only help that objective. Conversely there are those pupils who thrive on exams and see reaching certain criteria as their goals and a way of measuring achievement. I also teach a couple of those and find that the challenge with these students is sometimes to get past the idea of just getting through an exam and help them to explore pieces in a more musical way. Although driven by this ambition music is equally important to them, and in my experience they are often skilled in more than one discipline. In addition to playing cornet another of of my students also sings; dances and plays the Violin whilst another plays Clarinet, Cello, sings and dances.
As teachers it is vital that we make a real effort to find out what the musical tastes of our students are. Bach and Beethoven have written some magnificent music but if students don’t enjoy it then they are less likely to pick up the instrument and practice it. In an attempt to promote ownership of their music I will often get them to pick their own exam pieces. Youtube is a great tool to emancipate music choice, although I accept that the quality is often very variable, but students can now hear for themselves many exam pieces of all the major boards online and make up their own mind about what they want to play. I am sure that some reading this may be a bit uneasy about students choosing their own music, but in terms of motivation to practice and taking ownership of their pieces in my view the benefits strongly outweigh all the negatives.
Music is also important for other reasons, playing together helps to develop important social skills, the benefits of teamwork which will be valued by many future employers and the self discipline needed to play music effectively have obvious advantages in many walks of life.
In short music is an important, part of all of our lives, children arguably more than adults, but special events, life events and general background music create an atmosphere where children want to play, sing and dance for themselves and if that means they learn by playing music that they enjoy or is important to them then all well and good.
As teachers we have a duty to help them along that creative road.