Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post: The Long View by Dr. Steve Betts

It is my honor to introduce our next guest, Dr. Steve Betts, professor, mentor, and friend. 

The new school year brings new chapters in our students’ learning. Many students have probably had some kind of break over the summer and are ready for a fresh start in their piano lessons. As I have been thinking about my own students and this new year, I am contemplating the long view. What lifetime goals do I envision for my students’ involvement with music. The following ideas come to my mind; I’m sure you will have your own goals to guide your teaching this year.
An emotional connection with music
Throughout the world music provides joy, meaning, and enrichment to humans’ emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Music has the power to soothe, to celebrate, or to help us reflect. Does this emotional connection happen each week in our students’ lessons with us? Are there pieces, improvisations, or other activities that allow music to speak to our students’ lives? To facilitate this emotional connection several factors may need to be present:
Am I progressively discovering with each student what music speaks to them?
Are some of the pieces I assign at an appropriate level of difficulty (or non-difficulty) to allow artistic music making to occur?
Do my students and their parents know this is an important part of music study? Have I articulated this belief, or do I just expect them to “catch it”?
Proficient sight-reading ability
I believe strongly that proficient music reading ability promotes lifelong participation in music. While at a dinner with some faculty colleagues a few years ago, one of the spouses was commenting on how she had been a “successful” piano student—practiced diligently, participated and succeeded in auditions and recitals, and enjoyed her lessons. I asked if she played much as an adult and she said she did not play much now. When I asked why, she said it was because she did not read well enough. If our students are going to use the music making skills as they become busy adults, they need the ability to play through music without having to surmount reading challenges. It is so easy for the urgent pressures of auditions and recitals to squeeze out the important sight reading work. Is it easy to find time to sight read? No. Is it crucial? In my opinion, yes.
Character development and self-esteem
While the beauty of music study provides sufficient reason to study the piano, there are other positive aspects to music study. These are proclaimed often by educators, school officials, arts advocates, and media, and a list is probably not needed here. Because we often interact with students in a one-to-one relationship, I believe we have the ability to help music study develop true self-esteem. Self-esteem comes from giving your best effort and realizing the results of that effort. In his book Setting the Table, Danny Meyer discusses the concept of “constant, gentle pressure” in developing the employees in his New York City restaurants.1 Results come from work, and our students often need this constant, gentle pressure to keep moving forward. Of course, as students mature, the goal is for them to provide their own motivation to their lives. Music study can be an avenue to show students the possibilities their lives hold. What an honor and privilege to help guide them in this process.
The three concepts above are important to my philosophy of teaching. Your may have additional or different goals, but the start of this new teaching year offers an opportunity to reflect on how our students will engage with music the rest of their lives. Teach well.
1Meyer, Danny. (2006.) Setting the Table. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, p. 189. 

About the Author: Dr. Steve Betts is Professor of Music and Associate Dean of the Shelby and Ferne Collinsworth School of Music at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA, where he teaches Applied Piano, Class Piano, Piano Pedagogy, and Piano Literature, and directs one of the university's women's choirs. He serves as a managing editor for Clavier Companion and is a contributing author to the Frances Clark Library for Piano Students

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