Teaching violin lessons can be grueling. It’s easy to get into a rut. Say the exact same things over and over. Teach the same songs over and over. Many of us work long hours away from our families. We spend the after school hours with our students and not our children. Most of us don’t make all that much money. No paid time off. No employer-provided perks or benefits. There are sacrifices.
But, it’s the best job in the world. We work with wonderful students and their families. We get to share our love of music with the world. We teach beautiful music, and important life skills.
But are we really? What value am I really giving to my students?
When I am mechanically teaching the physical requirements to play Lully Gavotte, am I really communicating my love of music? The thrill of a job well done?
I am ashamed to say that the answer to that has too often been “no.”
I’ve mentioned many times now how much The Savvy Music Teacher by David Cutler is affecting me. I’ve told you it is incredible. Changing my life. Inspiring me. Here’s what first jumped out at me in the book. Near the start of the book, Cutler says, “Wearing the job title of “music teacher” is not enough. What you emphasize matters. Imagine that your job is among the most significant professions in the world and it just might become that.”
Do you honestly believe our job is among the most significant professions in the world?
I do, but sometimes I don’t act in line with that belief.
In his book,, Simon Sinek says that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
So what’s your why?
“In the past, the essential question of most independent music teachers looked something like this (whether stated or not): “How can I help students improve as performers through repertoire and exercises?” Based on that priority, a host of curricular decisions were made. Master music teachers developed extremely efficient and effective strategies for solving the problem at hand.” (David Cutler.)
That’s a fine essential question. Nothing wrong with that. Is it yours? Have you been operating as if that was your essential question but really your values lie elsewhere? On reflection, has your dependence on the strategies for improving students as performers through repertoire and exercises actually hindered your deepest hopes and dreams for your students?
It has for me. I told myself that my ultimate goal was to teach hard work, perseverance, and a love of music. Unfortunately, I was so focused on improving some of my students technique and making them sound good that I may have stifled some of their love of music.
“What is the driving force behind your instruction? Twenty years from now, when current students reflect back on your time together, which benefits do you hope they cite above all others? Identifying an essential question is an imperative step toward developing a potent teaching philosophy true to your core values.” (David Cutler)
Here are some examples of essential questions that teachers could adopt (borrowed from The Savvy Music Teacher.)
- How can I help students improve in their area of study (flute, violin, songwriting)?
- How can I help students experience a well-rounded musical/ artistic existence?
- How can I help students develop self-esteem through music and creative exploration?
- How can I help students find joy through the music-making process?(especially when) their profession has nothing to do with music?
- How can I help students create community through musical interactions?
- How can I help students use music as a tool for success in other areas of life?
- How can I help students find more meaning in life?
- How can I help students become successful professional musicians?
- How can I help students develop excellence as a musician while becoming lifelong music patrons, lovers, and performers?
While all of these are admirable, and are appealing, we cannot choose them all. No one can do and be everything. So what is the most important to you? When you dig deep, what truly drives and inspires you?
So here’s your assignment. Decide what your essential question will be.
Once you’ve decided on your essential question, take an inventory of the activities, materials, and methods that you use in your studio. Are they serving your purpose? If not, make a plan to include more activities that do support your essential question.
I would love to know what you decided on for your essential question. Please share your essential question in the comments!