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How I Teach Music

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Title : How I Teach Music
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How I Teach Music

This comes out of the article on AI and the arts. Reading the bit about how students copy their teachers I realized that this may be a common understanding--in the article they mention nothing else--but it is 180° away from how I always taught. Let me give some context first: I taught at the conservatory and university level for twenty years in four different institutions. My primary area was private instrumental instruction in classical guitar though I also, from time to time, taught music theory, chamber music and music appreciation.

For more context, my teachers, in order of importance*, were José Tomás, Oscar Ghiglia, Pepe Romero and, briefly in master classes, Manuel Barrueco and Leo Brouwer. They come from different traditions, of course. Tomás was a student of Segovia as was Ghiglia, Pepe Romero comes from the Tarrega school descending through Daniel Ortega and Pepe's father Caledonio. And Barrueco and Brouwer are really their own schools.

When I taught private students I never tried to instill the details of how I played, instead I taught the basic principles of technique and tried to encourage the development of musicality--not my musicality, but musicality in general. My goal was for each student to develop their own approach and competencies. I always recall the words of a wonderful voice teacher I had: she interrupted my singing of a Schubert lieder to say "now do something with it," i.e. shape the phrase in some way. That is always what I said to my students. Not "do this with the phrase" i.e. play it the way I would play it, but rather "find how you want to play the phrase."

Sometimes I would take an unusual approach. I had a student once, technically gifted but a bit stolid musically. He was playing the A minor Fugue by Bach. After he finished I just said: "play it again." And then again, a few more times. I could see he was puzzled and a bit frustrated by this as I wasn't saying anything. I was waiting for him to discover something in the music other than just the notes. And, after a while, it started to come. I didn't tell him how to play it and he certainly wasn't copying me as I didn't even play it for him. But he was learning--or rather, teaching himself. I was just providing the occasion.

Of course, one takes a different approach with each student. I once had a student ask me what I was going to teach him and I said "I have no idea!" I don't know what I should teach any particular student until I hear them play. I have to hear where they are technically and musically. What are their technical strengths and weaknesses? Where are they musically? And so on.

I don't think any of my students ended up sounding like me. I hope they sounded like themselves.

Here is a previous post on my book on guitar technique that includes a clip of my playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra:

*UPDATE: I should hasten to add that I meant just their importance in my development, not their artistic importance, or importance in the guitar world!! 

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