Over the past 9 years we have talked with hundreds of students and families about their experiences with music programs and what they felt about these experiences. We found common complaints recurring over and over and have made it our mission to create a school offering whatever has been missing from these programs. This is a list of these common problems and what steps as a school we take to help students and families to avoid them.
Common problem #1:
Students are instructed in a very strict manner with a heavy emphasis on note reading and theory. Students do exercises and theory homework but are not allowed to play songs. Students are only allowed to play a song when everything seems perfect and wait months or years to be allowed to play and enjoy their instrument. These students and parents usually feel defeated and begin to look at music as a chore with little payoff and lacking any real joy.
Solution: At our school we allow students to play their instruments and correct their technique as they go. Using the Suzuki method allows students to memorize songs by ear and focus their attention on proper posture and technique. Students get into the habit of playing correctly and sounding good on their instrument every day while they also get to experience the joy of playing songs. When strong habits of play are formed we then begin to take a look at note reading and theory.
Common problem #2:
Students are allowed to play many songs daily with a focus on fun but without focusing on technique. Although in the beginning students will enjoy this approach it will not take long before students realize that they are not really progressing. In fact many students taught in this way learn bad habits that make it difficult or impossible to play more difficult pieces. When these students come to our program we have to work very hard at correcting these bad habits which may have been going on for years. Unfortunately these parents and students have wasted a lot of time and money which could have been prevented.
Solution: In addition to hiring highly skilled University trained teachers we offer instruction targeted towards building technique every day from the ground up. In lessons students receive practice charts daily that begin with the most basic exercises. As they go through their charts the songs and scales become progressively more challenging in a subtle way. Every level of the practice chart works to support the next level and creates positive momentum over the course of the practice. This system works because when students reach their most challenging piece they can play it comfortably because their technique has been supported throughout the practice.
Common problem #3:
"My child won't practice and we fight over it!" Unfortunately many students do not want to practice and it causes tension between parents and students. Many of these parents know that music education is important but keep wondering, "is it worth all the trouble?"
Solution: As a music program we offer resources to help parents and teachers motivate students to practice. When students enroll we offer a free booklet "9 ways create successful practices at home". Younger students receive stickers every time they complete a part of their practice chart which makes the practices more fun. We also provide two free recitals twice per year to give students a goal to work towards. Finally, teachers discuss strategies in lessons to make students and parents create the habit of practicing at home.
Common problem #4:
Students can play their instrument well, but they cannot read music. This is commonly seen in students who are kept in the Suzuki method for too long. Students who cannot read music will not be able to perform music in groups or an orchestra and will be shut off to a whole world of music. Learning new music beyond the intermediate stages will also be extremely difficult and will take a long time. When music becomes more complicated you simply cannot play it all by ear and you need help from the written page.
Solution: Teach students how to read music at the right time and in the right way. In our program our first goal is to have students in the strong habit of playing correctly and sounding good on their instrument every day. When this is achieved our teachers then gradually begin to teach note reading, music theory and implement some easy sight reading into student's practice charts. As students become confident and skilled in their reading a whole world of music is opened up to them. Not only do these students become excellent sight readers but we allow students to explore new music as part of their practice such as Celtic, Jazz, Fiddle, Ragtime, Movie Soundtracks and more. Now that these students are in the habit of sounding good, they can easily maintain that habit even when they are sight reading.
Common problem #5:
Many students and parents have told us stories about teachers they have had that have turned them off to music. The instruction has been very rigid, strict and negative. These students were pushed to excel at music through fear motivation. Unfortunately many of these students quit, never to return to music, or they continue onward struggling with a loss of self confidence.
Solution: Lessons in our program are focused deeply on sharing a love for music. We believe students achieve their highest potential when they are positively reinforced and we work on building a student's confidence. We realize that some students will seek professional careers in music and others will not. We strive for our students to achieve excellence in their music and we encourage them to enjoy playing for a lifetime!
Brian Eliason is a professional violinist and educator with over 28 years experience. He is also the founder of the Eliason School of Music in Portland, Oregon. For more information please contact the school at Piano Lessons in Portland