Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin; to learn is to teach one’s self and to teach is to share in the experience of another’s learning. An individual’s style of learning is as unique as their fingerprint. It is not static, it changes relative to context and the level of challenge presented, and ideally evolves over time. Improvements in the learning process can be consciously cultivated. It is ultimately the responsibility of the individual to know their self as a learner and to refine their process of assimilating new skills and information. Students empowered by consciousness of their manner of learning tend to be intrinsically motivated and supported by a solid sense of self-efficacy.
It is the duty of the teacher not only to observe and respond to the student’s distinctive style of learning, but also to cultivate in the student an awareness of that style. It is, of course, the role of the teacher to present information as well. Therefore the adept teacher is working on many levels simultaneously, providing tangible materials and assignments, assessing the student’s tendencies as a learner, encouraging conceptual understanding of topics, all the while guiding the student towards a metacognition of their processes. The balance of specific, goal-oriented tasks with over-arching comprehension is crucial.
In the discipline of music, this balance manifests in a well-proportioned allotment of the direct study of repertoire and recordings with other activities in support, such as technical exercises, conceptual exercises and the study of time and harmony. Methodologies, while certainly useful when appropriately applied, often fail to address the idiosyncrasies of the individual learner. Music, however, never fails to display the strengths and expose the weaknesses of any player. It is, therefore, central to my approach to let transcription and repertoire guide the course of teaching in both private lessons and ensembles. This is universal to all styles of music. Listen to the masters, play repertoire, evaluate, and discuss what could sound better. Methodologies can then be applied to address any deficiencies that came into focus through the analysis of the performance. The expert teacher is equipped with a plethora of methodologies and practice strategies and prescribes them to students not arbitrarily or out of routine, but in response to the demands of the music.
By this means, the curriculum is tailored to the students’ needs and style of learning. In the process, students are taught to self-diagnose, to understand themselves and to create solutions. With music at the center, students learn to learn, their potential for improvement is enhanced and the fruits of their efforts are exponentially increased. A wise man once said to me, “It’s all on the records. Everything you need to know is on the records.” Listen, play, write, and practice only what you need to make the music you are trying to make. Let the music direct learning and teaching and the understanding of one’s self and others. The direct approach is the most sincere. Music and its players are empowered to evolve together.