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2 reasons why percussion teachers should continue studying

Old woman playing bongos

Why should I continue studying percussion instruments when I teach percussion instruments for a living? It might seem like a trivial question or even just plain nonsense, but it isn’t.

Obviously a teacher must always be up-to-date. It’s an expression that is used very often, especially by the “infamous teachers gang”. But seriously, how many of them have quit playing and studying their instruments? Some even openly state it, “I have hung up my instrument for years now”. Great, fantastic, congratulations…I answer. And pat them on the back.

What reasons can I give you as to why these shady characters are wrong? Two articles ago, when I was discussing how to recover from a period of inactivity, I didn’t elaborate on the issue too much. I like to play, therefore I need to continue studying.

I was probably much too vague on the subject. I definitely need to dig deeper.

 

1 – THE ART OF TEACHING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

The art of teaching what you don’t know is a trait often associated with Italians. We do it to get a good laugh, because we think it’s entertaining. In reality, there is nothing to laugh about. It is exactly what we do.

I am actually a witness of that behavior since many of my didactics teachers have never set foot in a school (as teachers) in their life. And yet they teach to teach. Paraphrasing what Woody Allen once said, “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach didactics”.

To be honest though, pointing fingers toward the same category, those poor didactics teachers, over and over is pretty much useless. During their long career, they have had enough hard times with students like me!

In the school where I teach, in fact, as well as in the Italian school system as a whole, you are still not hired based on your resume or state exam results, but rather on some sort of ranking in which points are more or less randomly assigned. To be clear, I am also part of that system.

Let’s forget about the Italian school system for a moment. When I say “teaching what you don’t know”, I mean something else. It would probably be more appropriate to say “teaching what you don’t practice”.

Let me explain: besides teaching paradiddles from morning till night (long life to paradiddles!) a teacher like me, who works in either a middle school or a high school, also teaches to learn.

As a matter of fact, what can be better than music for training young boys and girls in the art of studying? Preparing a piece involves a study strategy that requires time and that consequently proceeds in small steps. I first learn how to play a measure, then a phrase, then a passage, until I have learned the whole piece. You can’t play a piece well by studying an hour before class [if any of my students are reading this, repeat this last sentence out loud 10 times …].

Moreover, mastering a musical instrument from a technical standpoint is a task that lasts a lifetime. And definitely it must be a daily activity.

But then, how do we teach these concepts to our students when even we don’t stick to them by learning new pieces and practicing on a daily basis?

 

2 – LIFELONG LEARNERS

If what I just said was not enough to convince you, think about this: the greatest musicians are always and forever music students. They are those artists who constantly reinvent themselves and never stop learning.

Some examples are: Evelyn Glennie, Gert Mortensen, Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, PercDuo, So Percussion. These are only the first few names that come to mind.

Why are concerts and pieces of music still being written specifically for them? Answer: because these artists keep studying, playing new things, and experimenting with new music. And that’s not all. All these artists are composers themselves, with their creative energy being used to benefit other percussionists.

Another example in the world of drums is Dave Weckl. How much has his playing style changed from the the days of “Back to Basics” to those of his last CDs? Well, whether you like this change or not, you have to acknowledge that an evolution in his style did take place. And that didn’t just happen out of the blue.

(How can you forget the days when Dave was only playing Russian folk music? –> see the video below)

 

WHAT YOU CAN/HAVE TO DO

I hope I have been successful in convincing you about the importance of ongoing musical education. Well, here are some tips on what you can / have to do to maintain the right motivation to continue studying daily:

  • keep a curious and creative mind towards the music world and our infinite instrumental possibilities, technology and composition. These days, for example, I am having great fun experimenting with composing and arranging pieces on Ableton 9;
  • think about the way you play today and try to push yourself beyond that point, beyond those musical habits that haven’t allowed you to evolve as an artist in years. For example, think about the way you play drums. As far as I am concerned, I hadn’t been studying new rhythms for years because I kept telling myself that what I knew was more than enough to play the music I like. True. But why not leaving this practical aspect out of the equation and trying to do something new regardless of the fact you might never play what you are learning now? Just do it for yourself;
  • stop thinking of purchasing new instruments, because that is only an excuse not to explore the expressive complexities of the instruments you already have. I am very familiar with this “addiction” and I even talked about it in my post: Better Equipment Vs. Better Musician;
  • always look for new inspiration, including for your teaching material. The books you have been feeding your students for years might have been surpassed by something better. Don’t be stuck on what you have always taught (and maybe studied when you were young). Try this experiment: if more than half of the books you use as a teacher you have used as a student, there is a problem. I am not saying to burn the good old Stick Control (it would be blasphemy); all I am saying is that there are new things out there, maybe even more useful to our profession as teachers and definitely more fun to teach;
  • have fun. Always and regardless. After all, we don’t work in a steel factory, we are musicians. Therefore, have fun because at the end of the day, that is exactly why you chose to play an instrument.

So Long!

Question: do you have a contribution you would like to share regarding why to continue studying even after becoming a…. “Maestro”? Leave a comment.

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