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Content in Context: The Piano Student In The Community

In my last post I talked about the importance of looking at piano students in the context of their communities, not in isolation. Today I want to talk about two ways that music teachers can do this through creative evaluation of their lesson content.

First, we should be allowing our students to engage in dynamic music making with each other. Students should be free to explore simple ideas together without worrying about performing to perfection. If one student is playing a piece that’s mostly microbeats, another can play a macrobeat accompaniment on one key. Young students can learn a simple tonic and dominant bass line to accompany a partner playing a melody. Students play with so much more freedom when they’re allowed to explore and be creative with others in these ways.

Second, we should be teaching musical skills and concepts designed to propagate themselves into the community.

Let’s make music go viral! A funny thing happened when I started teaching students a music vocabulary with singing and chanting. After just one lesson, I noticed that it’s no longer only students making music. Their siblings and their friends were also making music. This required no nudging from me—in fact this musical content can’t be stopped. Even little two year olds love singing and chanting rhythms they hear from their siblings. How expressive they will be when they’re learning music from that age or even earlier!

When we teach skills designed to propagate outside the studio, we unleash the power of content to shape context. Individual students become better musicians by working out ideas in their social groups. Whether with other private music students or not.

We don’t have to watch music literacy decline. We can teach in a way that gives everybody something they can use, and we’ll all be the better for it.

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