Diligence is Quite a Virtue…

…working hard will never hurt you; when you’re through there’s always a reward.” So go the lyrics of the “Work Song” from the record “Antshillvania” that I remember listening to over and over as a child. These words came to mind the other day as I was working with my kids on our Latin exercises. (So of course I had to pull this clip up on YouTube and make sure it was inescapably stuck in their heads along with mine. :-))

Not unlike the process of learning to read music, understanding and developing a working knowledge of Latin is complex and difficult. Often one read-through of the lesson is not enough to fully absorb the material. Rather it takes a considerable amount of repetition, meditation, and implementation. How very un-American!

Borrowing from the Character First! Education materials, I find myself often quoting the definition of diligence to my children/students when laziness is the preferred pastime.

“Diligence is investing all my energy to complete the tasks assigned to me.”

I was reminded again of the virtue of diligence when I read the recent article by Rebecca Grooms Johnson highlighting a research project conducted on “Work ethic, motivation, and parental influences in Chinese and North American children learning to play the piano” (published in the October/November 2015 issue of American Music Teacher). Of particular interest to me was the great divide in weekly practice time spent by Chinese students (295.26 minutes) versus their North American/Caucasian student counterparts (159.29 minutes). This is a reflection of “the broadly prevalent Asian cultural philosophy toward learning with a strong emphasis on hard work rather than an inborn talent or ability.”

Rebecca ends her report with a series of questions, among them, “Will our children’s apparently low levels of motivation and work ethic doom our culture to mediocrity?” Yes, indeed! That’s why we must make every effort to inspire, equip, and encourage our students to rise above such an indifferent approach to life and learning. We must push our students to work hard, to excel, to embody diligence in all their endeavors. We must refuse to accept half-hearted, lazy, excuse-riddled work, whether it comes to counting rhythms precisely, memorizing effectively, or even carefully reading and following specific practice instructions. If we truly want to see our students succeed, we must help them realize that it is not innate talent or ability that will propel them forward, but diligent and consistent hard work.

Exploring a Classical Model of Education

The first several days of this week I had the privilege of attending a Parent Practicum put on by Classical Conversations. What a fascinating and thought-provoking experience! An article by Dorothy Sayers called, “The Lost Tools of Learning” seems to be the underlying call of this movement to return to the more effective methods of education employed in earlier periods of history.

I hope to write much more about the things I’m learning in the days ahead, but for the moment I thought I would share one of the most useful tools for thinking and planning: The Topic Wheel

Right now I’m employing this tool to help plan our studio sumner piano camp and I’m so excited about how it’s helping me organize my objectives and ideas to hopefully make the camp a rich learning experience!

AMT Inspiration – Work Hard!

Several years ago I came across a quote in Tim Tebow’s biography, Through My Eyes, that I have oft-quoted during piano lessons with certain students:

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

That is the heart of the message that I took away from the second installment of an article called “The Art of Possibility” by Steven Brundage in the June/July issue of American Music Teacher. He presents some fascinating quotes and research that address the ongoing debate of talent versus expert skill. Perhaps most fascinating is the experiment conducted by Laszlo Polgar with his three daughters to see if he could  train them to become expert chess players. His experiment produced incredible results, with all three daughters becoming world-renowned chess players.

Brundage goes on to observe:

“Most children, and adults for that matter, never dedicate themselves to skill development with the same deliberateness, methodology and guidance of child prodigies because, in most cases, they lack the opportunity, guidance or motivation.”

I was greatly encouraged by his recounting of numerous worthy achievements by men and women later in life who devoted themselves to the pursuit of various skills and then reached a high level of expertise (there is hope for us at any age if we apply ourselves and work hard!). His final paragraph includes this point:

“…there are those lacking talent who will achieve greatness because they possess more than the proper training and opportunity. They possess the burning fire of motivation and the determination to spend time and energy pursuing skill development without short cuts.”

This reminds me of a proverb that reveals the same truth:

“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kinds; he will not stand before obscure men.” Proverbs 22:29

In a video our family recently watched by Dr. Jeff Myers, he issues a similar challenge to young people, noting that:

“Talent is distressingly common, but hard work is extremely rare.”

KMTA Conference this Weekend

I’ve refrained from live-blogging the whole conference, but thought I would share a brief post from our state music teachers conference this year. We are currently enjoying a masterclass with our conference artist, Gila Goldstein:  

It’s been inspirational to spend time with colleagues sharing ideas, learning about new repertoire, listening to beautiful music, and growing as teachers. If you have the opportunity to attend any local, state, or national workshops or conferences, I highly recommend it as a way to re-energize your teaching!

AMT Inspiration – Ask My Piano Students Better Questions

One of the perks of being an MTNA member is a subscription to their bi-monthly publication, American Music Teacher. I enjoy reading each issue and always take away some sort of inspiration for my teaching. Instead of keeping it to myself, I thought it would be fun to start a specific section here on Music Matters Blog to share some of the great thoughts and ideas with you!

In the April/May issue, Courtney Crappell, NCTM, in his regular column writes about the importance of “Fine Tuning Our Questions to Engage Modern Students.” He draws on the ability of a good story, especially a mystery, to capture our attention and engage our senses, and then encourages teachers to trade in our blase (“Did you practice this week?”) or generic (“What kind of piece is this?”) questions for ones that elicit more excitement and thoughtfulness (“How does this piece make you feel?”).

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve asked such unproductive questions in my lessons, so this is especially challenging for me! He makes his case effectively, though, when he asserts that:

“Music lessons designed to promote discovery through effective questioning also serve as models for our students’ practice sessions. Their most productive practice sessions will include periods of thoughtful exploration rather than simple repetition of physical motions. The questions we ask in lessons will ideally become the questions they ask themselves in practice.”

And I love this perspective on  lessons as a whole and practice in particular:

“We need our music lessons and their practice sessions to feel as engaging as reading a good story. They must feel the need to solve the mystery and discover solutions for themselves, and if they do, we can feel confident that they will be hooked into lifelong learning.”

The wheels are spinning, and I’m excited to consider how I can become more of a storyteller who  effectively engages students in the thrill of discovery in their lessons and subsequent practicing!

Do You Find Joy in What You Do?

I suppose an easier way to phrase this question is, “Do you enjoy your job?” But the more I’ve thought about the question the way it’s phrased in the title, it’s proven to be very thought-provoking. You see, I’ve found from my own human nature, as well as talking to other people, that no matter what occupation we find ourselves in, it seems there’s always something we can complain about. And the nature of our complaints can range from feeling tired, to griping about unhappy clients, to not getting a big enough paycheck or wanting a raise, to systems not working properly, to an unreasonable amount of stress, to an uncomfortable inconvenience such as spilling water down the front of your shirt. Yes, all of these unfortunate circumstances could justify our complaining, but complaining does no one any real good. It exhausts those around you or feeds their own ungrateful spirit and causes a negative attitude to emerge. And letting a negative/ungrateful attitude take root clouds our ability to see the good things we’ve been given and find joy in our work and life.

As I’ve been evaluating this area in my own life, I’ve been asking myself, “Why is it so hard to NEVER complain? Why can’t I just always be thankful for everything?” I have come to believe that the honest truth is that it’s a part of our fallen human nature. Because of this nature we’re apt to be greedy, ungrateful, impatient, etc. However, there’s another nature we’re imprinted with, and that’s the nature of a perfect God who gives us exhortations like these…

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. –Ephesians 5:16-18

Do all things without grumbling or disputing,… -Philippians 2:14

Because of these two natures that battle within us, we have to make a choice each and every day: give in to our flesh (complain/be ungrateful) or be filled with joy and thankfulness.
Whether you’re working your dream job or not, every occupation is going to have its ups-and-downs; its good days and bad days. But having a thankful attitude will make a world of difference for when those downs and bad days arise! Over the past week or so I’ve been discovering just how much of a difference being thankful can make…

…When you’re about to complain that you have to go in to work, you can find joy in the fact that you have a job.

…When you’re about to complain about working with unappreciative people, you can still find joy in serving people.

…When you’re about to complain that your products are going unnoticed, you can still find joy in the fact that you had the resources to make something that could potentially impact someone’s work and life.

Our attitude greatly affects our relationships, work productivity, and influence. So let’s inspire people by tossing aside tendencies to complain and use those moments to be thankful and find joy in what we do!

Friday Film Find

Thanks to one of my studio families for sharing this fun and inspiring video clip with me!

Friday Film Find

Beth Tadeson, of Grimsby, Ontario, has created a couple of studio trailers that are really fun to watch! (She got the idea from Anne Crosby’s recital trailer.) Here’s one:

So…this really makes me want to create a studio trailer, too. Has anyone else created a trailer for their studio? If so, I would love to see it! If you send me a link to it, I think it would be cool to create a compilation of studio trailers!