Four Part Music Education

What’s important to you as a teacher? It’s a question that we rarely, if ever, ask ourselves. But it’s a question which fundamentally shapes HOW we teach, and WHO we teach. The answers to that question can show you what kind of teacher you are, and what kind of student you are likely to produce.

So what’s important to you as a teacher? Are there certain things that you always fit into every lesson? Is there one thing that everyone in your studio can do because you feel it is an important skill? Do you know so well what is important to you that you have a target market all planned out, and only accept potential students from that group?

I was motivated to ask THAT question after coming across the work of American pianist Forrest Kinney. Actually, just describing him as a pianist doesn’t quite sum it up as he is also a music educator, author, composer and presenter. His body of work is so large that just thinking about it makes me need to sit down and have a cup of tea.

white ceramic teacup on saucer with brown liquid
A cup of tea for illustrative purposes. 


His approach to music education is summed up by what he terms ‘The Four Arts’: improvising, arranging, composing and interpreting. After hearing Forrest speaking about his inspiring way of teaching students, I tried seeing how my own approach to teaching fitted within The Four Arts. And the answer was ‘Not very well’.

While I love a broad and creative approach to teaching music, the reality is I’m not much of an improviser. And as much as I value composition, upon reflection I didn’t want to give it equal measure in my lessons.

But by asking the question ‘What’s important to me as a teacher?’ I began to assess my own lesson plans and see things that I would teach consistently, as well as other things which I wanted to incorporate but never really got around to.

And so I formed my own ‘Four Arts’. Except out of respect to Forrest, I won’t knick his fabulous title, but will instead refer to them formally as ‘Four Part Music Education’. Which sounds fancier than what it is I actually call them, namely: ‘Four areas of stuff I think are interesting and important and try to teach people’.

So without further ado here are the Big Four:







The first two are pretty self-explanatory. Creativity encompasses improvisation, composition and arranging, while Knowledge refers to aural skills, theory and music history.

In every lesson with every student I try to incorporate at least something from each of the four areas. Does it happen all the time? No. Sometimes we just get caught up on one thing or another. Or a student is getting ready for an exam and the Creativity component is not required. But the more I look to apply each of the areas, the more we dig deeper and wider within the wonderful world of music. And the more interested and engaged I see my students become. (Checkout a real life lesson plan here)

So these are my ‘Four areas of stuff I think are interesting and important and try to teach people’. What’s important to you as a teacher?


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