Beginning Here, Beginning Now. (Independent Music Teachers Forum)

By Lee, Kenneth | American Music Teacher, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Beginning Here, Beginning Now. (Independent Music Teachers Forum)

Lee, Kenneth, American Music Teacher

Try something with me. Sit down at a table or at your computer with your studio swap list. Ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I teaching too many hours ... (to live, to sleep, to want to go on teaching)?

2) Am I earning as much income as I would like ... (to live, to sleep, to want to go on teaching)?

3) Are my students progressing as rapidly as I would like?

4) Is their music instruction as important to them as I would like?

For the vast majority of professional studio music teachers, the answer to the first question would be yes, if it weren't for the answer to the second question being no. This is the defining issue in our profession. How can we, in all good conscience, encourage our motivated and talented students to even consider a career in music if we do not have enough pride in what we do to charge a respectable hourly rate?

I was one of millions of high school students who was advised not to go into music because it was very difficult to make a living. Independent studio teaching was not an available career option. Apparently, no one had ever thought of advocating this as a viable professional occupation. Well, the times they are a changin', and we're still stuck singin' the same song.

There now exist, in many urban and suburban communities, real live specimens of professional studio teachers whose (considerable) income is largely or entirely the result of a reputation as an excellent teacher. Their students practice, progress and pay an appropriate rate for this level of (often) private instruction. These teachers frequently have been accused of having the "most talented students." There also is a general suspicion that, unlike the students of less successful studios, these "most talented students" do not have demanding school teachers or soccer coaches.

The reality is otherwise. Though talent always is striking when accompanied by years of guided and disciplined practice, the general, overall level of a studio is the result of the teacher's attitude that all must do their best.

Teacher and student alike spend many hours not settling for anything less. There is a general tenor of pride and sense of accomplishment that are part of every lesson, class and recital. There is a commitment to achieve weekly improvement, to develop an ability to play the instrument well, to understand and appreciate the sound and structure of well-played music. To the degree that we accomplish this, to the degree that our students leave each lesson with specific goals and objectives for improvement and some significant insights into their practice techniques, it would be truly surprising if they did not return the next week the better for it.

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