I was very impressed by a recent article in The Daily Telegraph – No one is pulling Nicola Benedetti’s strings. Benedetti is a wonderful ambassador for music education, and the phrase that particularly struck me in this piece was this:
“The benefits of persevering are so much more than what everyone usually obsesses over, which is having fun. Fun is great, but fun is a momentary thing – it’s not something you can fill your life with, or that will sustain you through hardships. I wish this was vocalised in education.”
Well, I heartily agree! This is something which I believe to be a genuine problem in teaching our young musicians; not of Benedetti’s calibre of course, because although she cites her parents as insisting that she practised hard, I suspect that the driving force has always been Nicola herself. But with young people who are learning to play an instrument, but possibly don’t have aspirations to become a world class soloist, setting the sights appropriately is not always easy.
Who is responsible for setting those sights? Teacher, parent and pupil?
“We want his lessons to be fun” is perhaps a line which I hear all too often when parents request music lessons for their child. I like to think that they have just made a poor choice of word, and that “fulfilling” or “engaging” or “challenging” might be closer to what they actually mean. But reading Benedetti’s quote above, maybe they don’t! It worries me that they might actually mean “fun”, that momentary thing which although ….. well, fun ….. doesn’t really change much. It seems to me to be a strange factor to have at the top of the list of desired outcomes, especially when one considers the very real expense of individual music lessons.
Whilst I would hope that every teacher is consistently striving to raise their game, to engage and inspire their pupils at whatever level they are at, there is no question that without hard work and perseverance on the student’s part they are unlikely to make good progress. Students should not be going along to lessons each week expecting the teacher to do all the work, all the inspiring – that’s a pretty passive learning environment, if indeed it is a learning environment at all. I find that the most successful pupils are the ones who take responsibility for their own learning and who bring ideas to their lessons as well as leaving with some. Regular practice and perseverance also play a key part in the process, and these can bring a deep and lasting satisfaction. In short, hard work is where the riches lie!