I have always taught at least a handful of private students whether it is accordion, piano, beginning guitar, or music theory. But before I officially started this blog, I also taught English in a traditional classroom setting. So, teaching has been a big part of my career for a while now. And I take what I have learned about teaching English and look to apply it to teaching music. And I take what I learn about teaching music and bring it to the classroom. I think of it as cross-pollination. I always learn new tunes so, then I am both coach AND player. When you begin teaching yourself a song there is a fair amount of gear-shifting that takes place. After a few weeks of consistent application of the following skills, you will come to know yourself and your musicianship in a way that will allow you smoother gear-shifting and more time-saving. As a teacher, the excitement you get from seeing that lightbulb light up in a student’s mind is something money cannot buy. When you can do that for yourself, you have really levelled up!
Teaching English includes not only reading and writing, but also thinking, speaking, and LISTENING.
Listening has always been my focus. When you listen, you learn. One of my favorite quotes originated around 55 AD from Epictetus, the Greek sage and philosopher: “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason…so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Listening is great gift. Listening enlightens. Listening entertains.
And there is a big difference between hearing and listening, isn’t there? When someone says to us, “I hear you,” it is usually not a very encouraging response. Hearing is not listening. If I hear my neighbor’s kid down the street playing his guitar in the garage, I am aware of it. It fills a void for a minute while I’m taking out the trash. But if he starts playing something I recognize or that sounds catchy, and I think to myself, sounds like the key of e minor, now I am listening.
Now I am engaged.
Everything in me that makes music is attuned to the moment and how I might use it when I play.
I begin my professional day with listening. Listening to music is what got me started playing in the first place. First, I listen to something inspiring. It could be gospel, jazz, or a favorite song from back in the day like “Gonna Fly Now.” Today, it was “Life in the Bubble” by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Whatever it is that moves you that day, start your listening there. Music that inspires you will get your entire day off to a terrific start and keep you focused.
Next, I listen to a recorded version of the major piece I plan to work on that day. Today, it is “A Leaf,” by Paul McCartney. It is one of his classical works for orchestra and I am adapting it to the accordion. When I listen to “A Leaf” I follow along with the score. I must tell you right here there are some styles of music, such as jazz or rock, that I learn by ear. Those styles of music, I feel, are intended to be played by ear so learning them by ear to the extent possible is best.
Chord charts here and there are okay but even there, you might run into difficulties unless you are adept at transposing. Quite often the sheet music you buy at the music store is not in the same key as the recording. When I was younger, I would start learning a song off the radio or a record and then go buy the sheet music to figure out, say the bridge or the middle eight. I would get the sheet music home and find something completely different in front of me. Yikes!
Finally, listen while you play. Sounds simple, right? It’s not easy and this is why a teacher / music coach can benefit you tremendously in accelerating your music skills.
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Make yourself your own boss. Learn to find your own time. Be sure you know what you are attempting. Give yourself a detailed assignment and WRITE IT DOWN. Write it down in a notebook, not inside the cover of your music book or on the back of an envelope where it will get lost. Then, be sure you understand the nature of your undertaking. And when you tell yourself, “I know what to do now,” mean it.