Why we’re different

Music teachers are a special bunch, and here at Stellar Music School we look for especially wonderful teachers.

I believe that the teacher can often be a major factor in a student continuing with their musical studies.  Who of us doesn’t remember a particular school teacher who believed in us when others didn’t, or who gave us special responsibilities when others might not have, or who we loved just because?

At Stellar Music School we make sure that all of our teachers are great professionals who are active performers in the musical world, but we also look for tutors who are inspiring, fun and dedicated.  We believe that music lessons are about teaching music elements, of course, but they are also about the relationship between the student and the teacher.

And that is why we treat each student as a whole person.

Last week I had a small student who was being quite naughty and disobedient, but who had never given me trouble before.  She was briefly separated from the rest of the class to cool down, but then I thought to ask what was going on for her.  Turns out that she was rebelling about having to come to piano lessons.  Someone had recently visited her school and played the violin for the class, and my little student was now wanting to play violin, and not piano.

Sometimes bad behaviour is simply because afternoon tea involved unaccustomed (and from my perspective, unwelcome) consumption of chocolate.

Other times it is explained by knowing that a family member is currently fighting cancer, or knowing that the family is dealing with a death.

Generally we know about all of these factors, and are able to adjust the lesson accordingly.

We also know which students need to be pushed or encouraged to reach higher, and which children might need to just talk and cry for one lesson.  We are there to teach piano (or violin, or clarinet, or singing) but we appreciate that we are dealing with a human being who might have significant other things going on in their lives.

We do believe in discipline, hard work and perseverance, and we need to teach a generation who are coming to believe in instant achievement that many worthwhile pursuits take time to achieve.

But we teach individuals, and we meet each student as a unique, interesting, special, individual.

Talent…

I’ve chosen a potentially controversial topic for my first post of the year.

My holiday reading was a massive pile of books relating to education, brain science, neuro-plasticity, music and talent.

The reading list was in part compiled last year when I had attended the ASME Conference (Australian Society for Music Education) in Canberra.

I have been saying for some time now that I’m not sure whether I believe in talent, since over the years that I have been teaching, I have seen precociously ‘talented’ children drop out and less ‘talented’ children improve and succeed over a long period of time.

I always find it difficult to answer parents when they ask about the child’s potential, since on many occasions I have seen a child who I may not have considered particularly able, slog away and keep coming back year after year and eventually start to play musically and gain increasingly high grades in exams.

I am finding support for this very concept in the work of Dr Carol Dweck, in her book “MINDSET” which is subtitled ‘The New Psychology of Success’.

My first opinion was that the book looks like a jargonish self-help book, but once I started reading, this belief was dispelled.

The book is based on scientific research, and it only backs up the ideas that I have been pondering.

I am a positive thinker (for the most part, anyway) and I believe that an important part of my job is to instil confidence and self-belief into my students.  I truly believe that anything is possible, with effort and diligence, and this fits with Dr Dweck’s research.

There are apparently two main mindsets – fixed and growth.

Fixed mindset people tend to think that we have finite talent and abilities, while in the growth mindset people see that improvement, change and transformation are possible.  For the fixed mindset, failure is catastrophic, since it can destroy all sense of self and success, while those with the growth mindset always see the opportunity for future growth.

What gives me hope is knowing that I definitely used to have a fixed mindset.  I spent my childhood needing to be the best, and feeling distraught if that didn’t happen.  It was always preferable not to try and blitz a test, than to work really hard and get a mediocre mark.

I have no idea when the change occurred, but I am now very much of the growth mindset, although not in all areas of my life.  Reflecting on all of this, I still believe that I am not very sporty or coordinated.  So my challenge to myself is to extend the growth mindset to all areas of my life.  I definitely believe that I have changed and can continue to, intellectually, spiritually, musically, relationally, so my next challenge is pertaining to physical skills.

And how does this relate to music?

To me, this just proves that no education is ever wasted.  Perhaps we will not all end up concert musicians, but certainly these skills will improve our coordination, intellect and quality of life.  The joy of playing music, whether alone, but particularly in ensemble, can only enrich our lives.

And one more thing the neuroscience is teaching us is that music creates more pathways in the brain, so here’s another reason to keep up the lessons and practise!