There is no such thing as the perfect method book. There. I said it. Now please hear me out on this one before you head to your next task …
Besides teaching, I also have the amazing job of working at a music store. I have learned so much working behind the desk and meeting teachers, students, and music hobbyists. And as far as the teachers go, we see the whole wide range of people coming in. Some walk in knowing exactly what they want and others spend hours browsing through the different shelves.
But as a general rule, majority of the teachers who have taught for longer than a couple years come in and always order the exact same method series. And the longer I’ve worked behind the counter, I can often tell you what series a teacher needs as they walk in the door. Not that impressive… just familiarity 😉
I am not here to bash or praise any specific methods. And I’m not here to bash the teachers who have their favorites that they use with each student. After all, I also have my favorites. But I am here to encourage all of us to be better teachers, and to give you some food for thought today.
So I want to challenge the idea that there is the “perfect” method book. At this point, you may be balking. You may feel that you have found true gold and will never change! But please, don’t stop reading just yet.
I am not yet a parent, but I do have several years’ experience with inner-city teens. Most parents I’ve talked to would affirm that each child is different, and despite having household values and rules, they have to parent each child a bit different based on each child’s personality. Same is true with the teens I come in contact with. If I relate to all of them in the same exact way, I will end up being largely ineffective. And the same is true with the students that walk through my door.
Each student is different in age, personality, innate desire to learn, and their ability to learn. And on top of that, each teacher has a different background, personality, pedagogical understanding, and studio goals. And to add one more layer, each method book has a different philosophy of learning.
With all of these factors in play, the idea of the perfect method book starts to fade into the distance. But there is no reason to become discouraged! If you’ll commit to reading the rest of this post, I hope to encourage you by breaking down each major factor in a way that helps you choose the best method book in almost any situation!
Each student is different.
And I love this. If all my students were the same, my life would be downright boring! But just as a parent should expect the need to raise their children in slightly different ways, I should expect the need to teach my students in slightly different ways. Will I teach them the same concepts and expect that they each reach a certain level? Absolutely. Will the speed and method by which I teach each student vary? Yes. Because I have some students who are extremely visual learners. I have others who have an amazing ear. And still others who have a passion for making their own music. If I insist on using the same method book for each student, I am guilty of seeking to create cookie cutter students. But my most effective teaching will be done when I choose the method that will best suit each student. We MUST be teachers that teach to the student’s needs and not our preferences. Sometimes that is a hard pill to swallow, but in the end leads to effective and inspired teaching!
Each teacher is different.
I also love this! I have had students that were not a good fit for me. And this is ok 🙂 I have some amazing colleagues in the area that I have sent them to. And I’ve received students from other colleagues. Once again, your teaching should not be about your desires, but about a student’s needs. This also means that a method book that I love may not be the best fit for another teacher. One teacher may need more creative (improv and composition) activities built into a method as it is not their strong suit. Another may find that they need more theory and technical help built into a method because they don’t feel they can teach it as effectively on their own.
Which brings us to the final point…
Every method is different.
Not all method books are designed the same! There are some very different teaching philosophies available. It is extremely important that you know the teaching philosophy of the method that you are using. As mentioned in the last paragraph, some methods focus on trying to implement a very well-rounded approach with several books per level of learning. Others work to teach students a specific style. Some are more chord-based. Some teach several notes at once, while others introduce one to two notes at a time. Some are more colorful, others black and white. There are different methods for different age groups, along with old and new methods. Some methods work at a faster or slower pace than others. And then there are some students who just can’t seem to succeed when following a method at all!
So what does all this mean for you as a teacher? I hope that you are beginning to realize that there truly is no perfect method book. So when picking the “perfect” method for each student, here are a few guidelines to help you along:
~ How old is this student? And are they mature, on track with development, or slightly behind?
~ What is this student’s personality? Are they intrinsically motivated or often need outside motivation?
~ What is the student’s (or parent’s) goal? Are they simply trying out a new hobby? Hoping to create a lifetime of music? Planning to major in college? Picking this up to learn as an adult?
~ Can I as a teacher effectively teach out of this method? Do I know the philosophies behind the order of learning, and can I fill in what is needed to help the student along the way?
If you take a look at what my students learn out of, you will notice there are three different methods I use consistently. Then within those methods I used different age leveled books. I have been known to switch methods if I feel another might work better as we progress, and I even have a couple students who are taking breaks from their methods right now to focus on specific projects …. And they are thriving! Some of my older students work out of theory workbooks, while others are in a game-based learning method where the theory is taught in other tangible ways.
At the end of the day, we are all having fun and learning a whole lot! But there are no cookie cutter strategies around my studio, and I love it this way. Each student presents their own unique needs, strengths, and challenges. And as their teacher, I consider it a privilege to be able to work alongside them to learn and create the best music possible. Don’t let the options overwhelm you. There is no perfect method book. But there is much fun to be had as we learn along with our students and allow the process to teach us too!
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