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The forest is as important as the tree is as important as the forest

Music literacy is rare and private lessons are not addressing the issue.

It’s important when music educators are planning curricula for our students that we consider how activities contribute both to the individual student and the music community.

The trend in private lessons for at least the last fifty years has been towards training students to play solo repertoire. I have a degree in piano performance and piano literature so I’m certainly a product of this system. And it does have its strengths.

But that almost always fails to address the importance of musicians interacting, playing and listening together. Piano students go through years of lessons only to find in their teenage years that they don’t have the foggiest idea how to contribute to their school jazz band or orchestra. Or how to accompany their instrumentalist friends or play in a rock band, or produce music.

And the problem is not just in piano studios. I do accompanying work in the studios of some of the Triangle’s best musicians. It’s clear that students are often unprepared to understand how their music fits into the context of a Meter or Tonality. Without that understanding, trying to play with another musician is mechanical. There is very little likelihood of expression, and too high a likelihood of breakdowns. And these are students who DO participate in school orchestras. Unlike piano students who often don’t have such opportunities.

Why are we teaching them to simulate musical flow via mechanical movements, instead of teaching them to understand Meter and Tonality for themselves? Instead of learning to listen while playing, which is an action that expands them outward, they’re taught to focus on technique to the exclusion of audiation. This focuses them inwards and does little to enhance musical flow. The individual suffers, and the community suffers.

Music teachers and parents have to work together for the good of individual students and for the good of the community. Students must be taught to understand Meter internally through movement, and Tonality through singing. These skills must be engaged often with other students both in composed music and in improvisation.

When this happens, individuals will thrive in the context of their community. And community will thrive with the interactions of each musician.

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