I have concerns about the current state of traditional music education. I assert that our current, broader system of music education has failed, and continues to fail in achieving its fundamental charter – to equip the population with the ability to be musically self-expressed.
Our current system of music education, including its prevailing approach, has now been in place for several hundred years, and I believe the time has come where we have to ask some critical questions. As a starting point:
- Have we succeeded in fulfilling our fundamental charter of equipping the population with the ability to be musically self expressed? If not, why not?
- Do all (or at very least, mostly all) students of all ages, who begin music lessons, develop and nurture a deep connection to their natural musicality, acquire the ability to play, and maximize the likelihood of having musicianship in their lives for the rest of their lives? If not, why not?
- Have we created a culture where every person is absolutely, positively clear about the fact that all human beings, without exception, are deeply, naturally and profoundly musical? If not, why not?
- Have we fully and completely dispelled the nonsense, myths and illusions surrounding music learning and musicality itself, such as:
- Learning to play an instrument is hard;
- Learning to play music takes a long time;
- You have to start learning music when you are young;
- Some people have ‘musical talent’ and others don’t;
- You must have formal music education in order to teach music.
- If we have not yet dispelled these notions, why not?
I consider the above to be just a small sampling of the array of questions that need to be addressed.
In fairness, it’s perfectly clear that there are a great many fabulous music educators in the world. It’s equally clear that our current system of music education has produced multitudes of brilliant and wonderful musicians. Even so, it remains a fact that:
- Only a tiny fraction of the population has the ability to play music. Why is this?
- The majority of students who begin music lessons quit long before they ever acquire the ability to play. Why is this?
- Far too many students having music lessons do not enjoy the experience, and stop playing music as soon as they quit having lessons. Why is this?
- Far too many highly trained and formally credentialed music educators blame the student for the lack of progress and absence of satisfying results. Why is this?
I have found, time and time again, that the typical answers that many music educators provide when responding to these questions, center around a strongly held belief that the student is at ‘fault’ and/or there is something ‘missing’ in the student – some apparent lack of discipline, or commitment, or ability, or talent, or focus etc., etc. These typical answers, in my opinion, don’t even remotely come close to addressing the matter, nor do they begin to get to the heart of the problem.
Traditional methods of music teaching have clearly played an important role throughout traditional times, but we are now far from traditional times. What is urgently needed, in this day and age, is a breakthrough in music education.
Humanity is at the threshold of witnessing the arrival of a technological tsunami that will, forevermore, alter the experience of what it means to be human. Now, more so than ever, we are in dire need of a new era of music education – one that is founded on the premise and acknowledgement of the fact that all human beings are deeply and naturally musical.
We need a system of music education that immediately connects students (of all ages), with their deep and innate musicianship.
We need a methodology that has students playing great-sounding music – immediately – from their very first lessons.
We need music education that is designed to serve the wants and needs of the population at large – methods that are designed to nurture and celebrate the populations of people who simply want to play for fun, for recreation, for therapy, for companionship, for personal entertainment, for self-expression, for solace and comfort, for the shear and simple love of music.
We need a system of learning that easily and immediately contributes to those who play as a means of interacting with and managing their special needs and/or complex learning differences.
We need a method of learning that is specifically designed for the multitudes – the populations of people who will never be (nor would ever want to be) ‘advanced’ musicians, but who simply want to experience the pleasure of playing music and having it as a companion in their lives.
And, perhaps of even greater importance, we need a system of music education that focuses on developing life-enhancement skills and creativity. A system that teaches students how to successfully navigate long-term relationships. A system that uses music as a means of providing critical neurological nutrition, and that stimulates our fundamental creative capability. A system that allows students to develop the psychological habit of success and victory. A system that focuses on using music learning as a means of developing patience, self-acceptance and inclusivity, a system that celebrates the importance of incremental gratification, partnership and collaboration etc.
Being a great teacher requires an entirely different skill-set than what can be provided by mere formal education and advanced performance. Decades of evidence proves this to be, quite simply, a fact. There are scores of highly advanced and formally trained musicians who, quite simply, do not have the personal skills nor mindset to be good educators. (And, frankly, we know this to be true across a multitude of fields of endeavor).
Having said that, and having had the opportunity to personally train thousands of music educators, I have had decades of first-hand experience in working with scores of people who don’t have a degree in music, are not advanced players, nor have they had years of teaching experience, but who do possess a deep and intuitive relationship to the nature of learning, who love music, who love people, who understand the dynamics and subtleties of communication, who are uniquely open-minded to new perspectives and new ways of learning, who have the ability to guide and direct and mentor people (of all ages), and who can learn and be trained in the practicality, the psychology and the ontology of ‘teaching’. Many of these people have the added bonus of having played the instrument for many years (or decades), but never in their wildest dreams realized, nor even considered, that they could have an outstanding and deeply satisfying career teaching music.
If the goal is to truly democratize music education, and open the doors for musical self-expression to be accessible for the masses (which I believe it should be), then it’s time for us to usher in a new era of music learning. It’s time for us to open our minds, our hearts and our hands, and embrace simpler approaches that are far less formal, less technical, and less demanding. We need to shift our focus and attention away from the judgment of ‘how’ people play, and place far greater importance on ‘that’ people play. It would go a long way in supporting us, if we were to truly and constantly remind ourselves that music is a language. It is fundamental to the self-expression of human beings. As such, if we were to be as relaxed about music learning as we are about children learning to speak, then an extraordinary opportunity would be available to us. We might actually discover that we have, within our grasp, the opportunity to cause a breakthrough in access to musical self-expression and, in doing so, contribute to elevating the creative capability of humanity.