Music Educators Talk Shop

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Have you got what it takes to become a great music teacher?

Behind countless successful musicians there’s a great music teacher. And research shows that regardless of their background, students who participate in good school music programs score higher on standardized tests, excel at teamwork, and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. Music teachers play a big role in helping shape our culture.

Thinking of going into music education? Our panel of rock-star music teachers talk about what it takes to capture minds and change students’ lives.

Satisfy curiosity

Steve Carter

Steve Carter has a deep and abiding history with music. For the last 50 years, Carter had been a professional jazz guitarist and for 25 of those years he has taught guitar at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Carter has also recorded and produced 10 original albums on his independent record label, Frogstory Records.

Asked what it takes to be a great music teacher, Carter quotes a famous composer and fellow teacher.

I think someone who wants to teach should feel strongly what Nadia Boulanger expressed: ‘My objective...is to arouse curiosity, to indicate the means of satisfying that curiosity, and to wish for the religion of music before and above the religion of the career.’ As for my personal opinion, it is of little importance.

Carter is all about people taking initiative if they are interested in following in his footsteps.

Seek out teachers who will teach you how to learn. Seek out fellow students who are as excited as you are about music. As jazz guitarist Howard Roberts once said, "We are all self-taught."

Steve Carter is proof that one can not only have a long and fulfilling career as a musician, but also impact the lives of others through teaching.

It ain't easy, but it's worth it

Chad Criswell

Chad Criswell, the owner of MusicEdMagic, has been teaching music for nearly two decades. The current band director for Southeast Polk Community Schools, he has taught all levels of music instruction. Criswell is also a regular presenter on music technology at conferences and writes for the National Association for Music Education’s Teaching Music Magazine.

Criswell levels with would-be teachers honestly about how hard it can be when you first start to teach music.

For many people the first job you take as a music teacher usually winds up being the most difficult. Student teaching doesn't really prepare you adequately for just how scary it can be when you are on your own!

When you discover that your new ensemble can barely read music or that they are at an ability level far below what you were expecting, you have to have the dedication and perseverance to develop a plan for your students, put it to work, and then work it through for years before you will have a group that you can truly call your own and be proud of.

Despite the difficulty, there are ways you can prepare to be a music teacher, even in high school.

Music ed and music performance at the collegiate level is often far different than anything you go through in high school. To prepare for it, ask your teachers to help you build up your knowledge of basic music theory, scales, and ear training concepts before you set foot in the college classroom.

Wherever you are in your education, start by building good habits now. Push yourself and you'll succeed as a musician and teacher.

Be multifaceted

Paul Pement

Paul Pement believes every child should be familiar with the great classical composers. For more than 10 years, Pement has worked with Classical Kids Music Education, a nonprofit that enriches children's lives through music. In the roles of Executive Director and Artistic Director, he has worked hard to see families and communities changed through the power of music.

Pement knows that kids are never too young to appreciate music.

Our organization believes that powerful stories drawn from true heroes of the past can inspire excellence in children to reach beyond themselves and their own potential. "Classical Kids" provides a point of entry for underserved children who otherwise may not be given the opportunity to connect with classical music.

Music touches the heart and inspires the mind, igniting a spark in many children that may lead to professional musicianship, artists, and/or the next generation of classical music lovers.

When it comes to teaching music, there are other skill sets you may need.

In addition to being a fine musician, as a music educator one will benefit from experience in arts management business practices. Marketing, development, finance and other administrative skills will serve to help navigate a tricky field where employers look for candidates who can do a lot and bring a unique set of skills to capacity-challenged music organizations.

Developing various entrepreneurial skills will not only bulk up your resume, it will prepare you for a rewarding career in music education. The sometimes harsh financial realities of music education programs today can cast teachers in the roles of marketers and fundraisers.

Be flexible

Amelia Robinson

Native Brooklyn musician Amelia Robinson loves getting kids excited about music. In 2010 Robinson began a series of live performances for children under her stage moniker, Mil's Trills. Robinson uses her dynamic voice, ukulele and high-energy personality to engage her audience through participation and creativity. When Robinson is not performing, she teaches music at Stephen Gaynor School and Avenues World School in New York.

Robinson believes in order to succeed as a music teacher, you need to be patient and flexible.

Things rarely go to plan in the classroom so it's really important to tune into the needs of each student and be able to pivot and adapt your lesson plan if something needs to change. Openness, kindness, and humility are also extremely vital—be kind to yourself so that you can be kind unto others! Part of being a role model is admitting when you're wrong, so be open to interpretation and learning new things!

Robinson is passionate about the benefits of teaching kids music at a young age.

Being exposed to music at an early age (and any age!) improves overall health, cognitive development, fine gross and motor skills, literacy, and social emotional skills. It's a no brainer!

Robinson's music career has allowed her to travel the world inspiring kids—and grown-ups too.

The real rock stars

Music education matters. As Plato said,

I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for patterns in music and all arts are the keys to learning.

Spreading your love for music by teaching others is an important and fulfilling career. Forget what the entertainment news tells you, music teachers are the real rock stars.

Tags: Instruments for Children

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