Monday Mailbag – What Curriculum Do You Use?

Do you have any set “curriculum” you follow as far as what you expect students to learn/cover over the course of a year? I know there is the Carnegie Hall Achievement Program that provides “expectations” for each year of study. Is your incentives program for setting goals for students each year?

Yikes! These are the kinds of questions that I’m also afraid to answer because it will expose how scattered my teaching really is. But I decided to be brave and just put it out there in hopes that I’m not the only one and that maybe some teachers who have it all together will offer words of wisdom for the rest of us. 🙂

There are a number of states that have a syllabus or curriculum or achievement tests of some sort (along with the nationally-oriented Carnegie Hall program) that are a wonderful resource for teachers! Our state curriculum, Music Progressions, has been invaluable in helping me develop more of a systematic understanding of and approach to teaching theory concepts, in particular. It also provides a framework to determine where a student’s sight-reading, rhythm, ear-training, and keyboard facility skills should be at as they work through each of the ten levels.

I would highly recommend picking up and studying some of these program curricula and even enrolling some students who are interested in studying and preparing for those achievement-oriented exams. However,  I do not make this a requirement for my whole studio, and actually prefer not having very many students participate each year. Perhaps it’s because of my own non-traditional educational background, but I think that using programs like this across the board can stifle both the teacher and the student and put them in a box that may not fit their natural bent or personal goals.

I firmly believe that the teacher is actually the core curriculum. In fact, an article in the latest issue of American Music Teacher about renowned pedagogue, Theodor Leschetizky, underscored this truth. Here’s a quote that I love from one of his pupils:

“The great quality of Leschetizky was his vitality…there is no Leschetizky method. It is a mere legend – an absolute fallacy. He never spoke, at least I never heard him to speak, of technique. Several of his assistants and some of his pupils have published books on his method which are all diametrically opposed. Don’t be misled by them. There was no method. His teaching was much more than a method. It was a current which sought to release all latent vitality in the student. It was addressed to imagination, taste, and personal responsibility.”

The best thing you can do to provide your students with a comprehensive music education is to keep learning! Go to workshops, conferences, concerts; read books and magazines and blogs; talk with colleagues; observe other teachers; pursue new skills; etc. The more knowledge, understanding, and skill you acquire, the more you will be able to customize your teaching to the needs and goals of every [unique] student in your studio. This is part of the reason why I develop yearly studio practice incentive themes – they provide a wide-open framework that allows for maximum flexibility in working with each student to become a skilled musician.

I always feel like I need to be more streamlined in my teaching, but I think I just gave myself philosophical justification for continuing this scattered life as a teacher… What do you think? Is it better to have a set curriculum or to develop a spontaneous curriculum of sorts for each student as you go? Does it have to be an either/or proposition?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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