Why I Don't Teach to the Test
Over the years, many students and parents have come to me for lessons in order to prepare for an audition – concert band, Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, Minnesota Youth Symphonies, college entrances, scholarships, etc. I encourage private lessons for those situations, of course -- auditions are an important learning experience for all musicians to go through.
But preparing for an audition is not the reason for lessons.
I don't teach to the test.
The “test” in the case of musicians tends to be a performance – often an audition into a desired group. If we view that test as the end result of learning music, studying our instrument, and taking lessons, then we miss out on some of the most important aspects of being a musician. If we pick up our horns in order to get into a group, and then a better group, and then the best group, we are robbing ourselves of the beauty and importance of the daily learning we do through practice – and it's that daily learning that lasts a lifetime.
Don't get me wrong – being a part of a wonderful ensemble is a learning experience that can be unparalleled. However, if we make achievement the focus of music we are teaching our children a lie. We are teaching them that their worth as a musician (and as a student, a child, a person) is dependent on how they do, where they play, if they're in the top group, if they're first chair, if they get the solo, if they get the “star” rating. We are teaching them that music is just one more way for them to prove their greatness, receive approval, and get awards.
So, then what happens to the student musician who doesn't get into the best group, who doesn't get first chair, who doesn't get the solo? What happens to the student musician who does get the solo but botches it in performance, who does get the “star” rating one year but not the next?
What do we really want our student musicians to learn about making music?
In my teaching creed, I state:
I endeavor to strengthen and encourage players of all ages to learn more about themselves, horn, and music as part of a lifelong journey of self-improvement and exploration.
I believe music is a vital part of the human experience. I believe music is a universal language.
I believe this language is capable of communicating internal relationships and intangible connections, expressing feelings when we have no words, and understanding with our hearts when we cannot understand with our minds.
I believe it is my responsibility as an educator to develop every individual's innate musical talents and abilities to their highest possible level.
I believe the relationship between educator and student is a partnership – the outcome of which should be your highest achievement with my support and guidance – and it requires respect, cooperation, and honest communication.
What I really want my students to learn from lessons with me is how to achieve their highest possible level of playing while also understanding that music is a tool to learning about themselves, that music is a form of communication in which everyone can participate regardless of performance ability, and that music can be a lifelong source of learning and enjoyment.
I want my students to learn how to work, how to self-assess, how to practice, and how to maneuver through frustrations, challenges, and setbacks.
I want my students to learn that failing is not the same as being a failure; that making a mistake should not be mistaken for disaster; and that trying is more important than succeeding, doing your best is better than doing nothing, and making music is for their purposes only and no one else's.
I want my students to learn to support those around them instead of judge them; to understand that everyone's skills are different but not of greater or lesser value; to use music as a means of connection rather than separation, as a community rather than a competition, and as a journey rather than a destination.
Those are the skills that will help them in every area of their life, whether they make music their career or never play the horn again after high school.
I don't teach to the test, because the test doesn't matter.
I don't teach horn. I teach people.