By Emlyn Sheeley
Having a gentle and nurturing environment is the most important thing to me as a teacher. I want my students to love playing, and listening to, all kinds of music. I encourage my students to play with music, including the technical sides. Music theory is a very heavy part of my lesson plans. I really encourage students to see the benefit and the fun in music theory and how it will make their playing better and more enjoyable. When they understand the theoretical backbone of their pieces it makes a world of difference in their musicianship. Along with a strong foundation in music theory, I base my studio on 5 points.
Music lessons should be thought provoking and worth your attention, not just a time slot during your week. Students are expected to engage in the lesson and not just be spoon-fed the material. Progress will often happen more quickly when students reflect on what they are putting into practice. Keeping a music journal helps put their thoughts in order and shows them connections they are making throughout the weeks.
I really encourage students to listen to a variety of music and determine what they like. Opening a dialogue about what kind of music the student wants to play is a fantastic way for them to learn about different styles and it is a way for them to reflect on their own abilities and figure out what will challenge them, without being too difficult. Without the opportunity to have input in their repertoire the student can often feel like they are being told what to do. Having the freedom to pick your own pieces to work on is really important, it gives the student pleasure in that they feel they have started to take control of their music education.
If a career in music is something a student wants to work towards they will be guided and encouraged in the right direction. However, not all musicians want to play music professionally. Whatever path the student chooses they will be encouraged to enjoy their music playing as much as possible. Performing is a wonderful way to share the music and technique you are learning in your lessons. I strongly believe in having as many performing opportunities during the year as possible. Performing can be very difficult for many people, so finding the right technique that works for the student makes a huge difference. Students also learn to support their fellow musicians. Along with that, performance etiquette is another very important thing to teach, especially to young students.
Relationships are an important part of the music education, whether that is a teacher/student relationship or a student/student relationship. As the teacher I want my students to feel they can trust me, and the other students when performing. The music studio is a safe space for exploring music. Including ensemble work is also a wonderful way for students to learn about collaboration and supporting their colleagues.
Often when students need their technique fixed it can be disheartening, but learning a musical instrument is something that takes time and perseverance. It is important to fix the core problem rather than just have a quick fix. Every musician goes through lulls in their playing, the key is to keep the pressure light and just have fun with it in those moments. Students should feel challenged, but not overwhelmed. Music is a joyous part of our lives and it should be as positive as we can allow. The other side of investment comes from my side as a teacher. I invest time and energy into my students so that they can walk away from their lessons feeling confident and happy. This is where the gentle and nurturing environment comes back into play.
These are the points I base my teaching on, and if any of these points are missing students are not as successful. As a teacher I understand that every student has different needs. What will work for one student may not work for another. Keeping the line of communication open with the student (and in many cases the parents) will ensure the student has the best chance at progressing in their journey.