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How teaching can make you a better player

May 1, 2011

I have had the privilege of teaching music/percussion for 8 years in a variety of settings. And I can tell you with great certainty that my teaching experiences have absolutely helped me to become a better player and performer. I will share just a couple of examples of how this has happened.

I taught the snareline at the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps in the summer of 2007. And when I say summer, I mean all summer, every minute of every day. I lived and breathed snare drumming. Now, I had played the snare drum all summer for the previous 4 years, but teaching was very different. Daily, I would be presented with challenges of how to fix someone's hands, or how to create a better or different sound, or how to control the rebound better on certain types of strokes. And until I was on the teacher side of the equation, I had never given so much thought to the details of what my own hands were doing. As I evaluated my own technique in order to help students understand the technique, I became much more aware of how to make changes to improve certain aspects of snare drumming that I could even apply to myself. I learned not just how to teach better that summer, but I learned how to play the snare drum better that summer. And, of course, techniques from snare drumming can cover a wide range of percussion, so I ultimately became a better percussionist from teaching that summer.

A second, and more recent, example is my experience teaching the front ensemble at Center Grove High School this school year. Similar to the above example, I have dug deep into the technique of marimba and vibraphone playing, and improved my own playing as a result. But beyond the technical realm, I have enjoyed growing in another area of percussion, and that is musical communication and performance. (Wait, I thought they were just drummers....) When I watch a pit perform, whether indoor or outdoor, I don't want to see robots, or choreographed foot shifts, or manufactured cheesy smiles. I want to see (and hear) honest, genuine musical communication. So this is something I have tried to instill and foster in my group.

When you're discussing such abstract and vague concepts as performance and musical communication with high school students, you get a lot of questions!

How do I do that? 
What does that even mean?
What am I supposed to do with my body?
Should I make a sad face? Happy face?
What if people laugh at me?
What if it feels fake?


So we had to discuss these things (and more), and some beautifully insightful conversations ensued. Just in encouraging students to think about these things, and talking about them often, I have given more thought to the subject than I probably ever had before this year. And when I step up to an instrument to play, I am armed with a deeper understanding of how I can communicate effectively through music. As I spend so much time trying to get emotions out of students, I find more emotion flowing out of me.

These are just two of several examples that could be shared. Do you have examples to share? Have you experienced improvement in your performance as a result of teaching music?

 

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