My first experience teaching kids music is one of my life’s most poignant memories. I was 14 years old, and I was called in to help out with a workshop for middle school students. I worked with five students that were having a particularly rough time learning the Wohlfhart etude they needed to play for upcoming region orchestra auditions. During the two hours we had together, I employed the few teaching techniques I had up my sleeve: slowing down tempos, playing things in small sections, tuning carefully, making up games. Seeing the joy in the students as they started to understand music that had looked like printer vomit an hour before really sparked something in me. Their understanding became my passion, and I felt incredibly happy that I was able to help them realize their ability to succeed. As I was leaving the school, my mentor teacher slipped me an envelope containing a card and $50. I was in complete shock:“ I can get PAID to feel this HAPPY?!” Since that day, I’ve never once looked back on my decision to pursue teaching music as a career.
Now, not everybody can be expected fall in love with teaching kids the way I did (I actually crave the sound of squeaky bows and quarter-tone twinkle twinkle little star). But, I do believe that it is essential for every musician to develop his or her ability as a teacher. Teaching is not just about helping kids play their instrument; we must learn to teach everyone around us about our passion for music. We are of a generation that has to think seriously about the longevity of our art form and how it needs to be presented in order to be sustainable. That means we need to cultivate music appreciation, and teaching is a powerful way to do just that.
Passion for music is a gift; share it! As students and individuals that are passionate about our art, it is dangerously easy to get caught up in our ivory tower environments, swallowed by competition and stuck in our own minds, and we can actually lose sight of the value of what we do. When you teach, you can see your love for music manifesting outside of yourself and affecting another person. It is extremely gratifying to see this happen. We spend a massive amount of time focusing on what we have yet to learn, which is a good thing. Let me tell you though, it is nice to be around students who think you are a hero for playing hot cross buns successfully. It brings much-needed balance into the lives of people who are always striving.
Practically speaking, teaching makes you a better communicator. Sure, you know how to make a bow hand, but can you explain it to someone who has never done it before? Can you explain it in a different way to someone who thinks differently from you? Learning to verbally break down skills that are second-nature is a skill that requires practice. Once this skill is mastered, however, it gives you a deeper understanding and in many cases a profound re-understanding of the most basic components of playing your instrument. Additionally, in many teaching situations you’ll be writing a great deal: emails to parents, letters to students, grant proposals. All of this requires you to become a skilled writer and a powerful advocate for music. Lastly, when you teach, you become connected with your community. You’ll find yourself forming ties with the students’ various social circles: friends, parents, churches, etc. All of these valuable connections lead to job opportunities not only in teaching, but also in performance and community engagement.
My favorite thing about teaching is that is breeds passion for learning. I can’t tell you how much my teaching reflects itself in my daily practice. A few weeks ago, a high school student was talking to me about how impossible she felt it would be to learn her college audition repertoire. We looked at the music together, broke it down into small chunks, and set some goals time-wise. At the end of our session, there was a huge smile of relief on her face from just feeling like her task was doable. That night, while practicing the third movement of Der Schwanendreher, I started to feel overwhelmed- Guess what I did? The saying holds true: “In teaching others we teach ourselves.” In teaching, you are simultaneously inspiring others while being inspired yourself, and that’s phenomenal.