One of my various employers has a policy of observing all their teachers at work every year. Not a bad idea…
except if they were to observe me teaching one of my young piano pupils (eleven years old) I might come a bit of a cropper….
This girl doesn’t want to learn to read music, she doesn’t want to learn any proper technique or skills. She doesn’t practise, she never brings any music. But she still comes to lessons every week. We started with a traditional, age-appropriate tutor book, but that soon disappeared, never to appear again. In previous terms we have learned the black keys chopsticks, a few pop songs, done a bit of improvisation – there are plenty of useful ways of filling a lesson.
This term she is on a mission, to learn “Fur Elise”. I could compromise, and get hold of a simplified version, but she is not that kind of girl. It’s all or nothing. So, every week, we go through a couple of bars, revising and correcting what she remembers of last week’s work and adding a few more bars. She can play the whole of the first theme to her satisfaction, and we have embarked on what I call “the song” section.
My “old” teacher self would be constantly trying to persuade her to “do it this way” or learn “something more suitable to your skill level”. But, years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about their child’s drum lessons. The teacher had complained that this lad never practised, never brought any music, wasn’t making any progress and all they did every lesson was play the drums together for half an hour.
My friend replied that this was fine by her (My “teacher-self” was more than a bit shocked!). She explained to the drum teacher that her son enjoyed the weekly half an hour playing the drums, it provided him with relaxation and pleasure from demanding academic work, and as far as she was concerned she was happy to pay the going rate for the time.
I have often thought about that. After all, I’ve been immersed for years in a teaching world that is all about practising, and making progress, and doing things “properly”. To be sure, I’m not ruling “having fun” and enjoying music” out of the lessons. That is important too. But the idea that a parent would pay just for the lesson itself, with no other outcome that the pupil had had a pleasant half an hour pursuing something they wanted to do or learn, was a new concept.
So, going back to my “Fur Elise” girl, I have checked that the parent is OK with how the lessons go – and she is – so that’s what we do. Fur Elise, and the time we spend in the lesson going through is certainly important to her.
Perhaps I should re-christen it a “Music Session” rather than a “Music Lesson”. Although some deep, serious and purposeful learning is taking place – just not along the normal, traditional lines.