Like a good many music teachers, I began by teaching as I had been taught. It had worked for me, and quite frankly, I knew no other way. I took it very seriously, and compiled lists of requisite pieces in suggested order and set to it. And for some students, that worked. And for others it didn’t.
Initially, I was perplexed by the students who didn’t respond to these time honoured ways. Why couldn’t they just learn ‘Lullaby for Violet’ by Jane Weidensaul. I had when I was a new harp student. So had my teacher. And others had as well, and were continuing to do so. What was wrong with these students who couldn’t? I had no answers, and so those students who struggled, one by one, drifted away.
Then, after I had been teaching for about 10 years, and had successfully taken all manner of students through all manner of exams and spread the virtues of Grossi far and wide, I was struck by 2 students in particular. Two students who each showed enormous enthusiasm and potential. Two students who both quit within a year of starting lessons. Whose fault was this? I was sure it wasn’t them. And so that left me- the common denominator. I started to question myself and my teaching methods. And I started to see faults emerge before my questioning eyes.
The reality was that neither of these students wanted to be professional harpists. Few of my students do. Neither of these students had a strong musical background. Few of my students do. Neither of these students wanted to play only ‘canon’ pieces. Few of my students do. So why was I teaching them like they wanted these things?
It was after this that I began writing my own book of beginner pieces. An all time classic great it ain’t. But that’s not the point. I wrote these pieces for my students, and to meet the goals and challenges they have. I added steps that were missing in other books to cover gaps in knowledge that many students shared. I included the students in the process. They saw what it was to write a piece. We talked about the purpose and point behind each work which then gave them focus when playing. I showed them the harmonic background of the work, and suddenly all that talk of keys and chords made sense. And then some students started coming back with pieces they had written. Enthusiasm and engagement grew.
Now I teach all sorts of students all sorts of things. One kid is doing his own arrangement of the Spiderman theme, while another is tackling a Naderman sonata. One adult has written their own song while someone else loves Sylvia Woods arrangements. I can safely say that every one of my students is 100% engaged, and perhaps even more importantly, I’m 100% engaged as a teacher.
And I still teach ‘Lullaby for Violet’ and spread the virtues of Grossi.