Are students who don’t want to learn classical music insubordinate?

January 26, 2012

There is a thread on the FLUTE discussion list right now about a student who prefers to play pop rather than classical. A flute teacher wrote asking for advice about what to do with this particular student, wondering if she should drop the student or if others could offer advice about how to deal with this student.  This student, mind you, LOVES (this is the teacher’s description) the flute and practices/plays a ton. So what is the problem?

The problem is this student is insubordinate, according to one of the listers. Her point is that if students can’t follow basic protocol and play the classical rep then that student should find another teacher. She doesn’t know how to teach certain things like extended techniques or beat box and she says that she tells students from the get-go that she only teaches classical flute rep and if they want that then the student should study with someone else.

Not all of our students will be as we like them to be.  And not all of our students wish to play classical music.  That’s ok with me, and I’ve taught so many students over the years, looking to find their voice in the flute rather than me dictate to them what they should want to play.  If a student is improving in terms of  learning the flute basics, I have no problem how we apply those basics in our repertoire choices.  At the same time, we can also work towards turning  a student on to some music that they maybe would have never considered.  We can focus on the musical and expressive connections, by telling stories, and by being really charged up about what we are doing during the lessons. And also over time when trust is built between students and their teacher, sometimes the students will have a go at something just because they have such a good working relationship with their teacher.

However we do have limitations, each of us.  We can’t all be experts in Irish flute playing or Baroque ornamentation or Latin improvising. Some of my most fantastic mentors were the most honest. If some technique or style was out of their scope of playing and teaching they would say, “hey, let’s go figure this out”, or “you should have a lesson with so and so”. They would send me down to the jazz or ethno professor or someone else in the music dept. or in the community who would help me. I admired their confidence in doing this, and it has affected how I teach. I have learned that I can’t be everything to my students. I have been lucky to study with some of the most wonderful mentors and I know that my expertise as a flutist and pedagogue helps my students have an excellent foundation to flute playing. I feel at ease if I need to lean on one of my colleagues if a student should need help with something that they can provide more insight. It can even be someone who is fantastic at teaching articulation, and my student will benefit, as will I.

Let’s let our focus be on the students and how we can serve them best.  Our instruction should value the uniqueness of each student with individualized goals, pacing, and content of teaching.  The variety of our students is what makes teaching so enjoyable, and we should be open to guiding students to reach their inner potential, regardless of what style they wish to play.

Laura Lentz, 2012

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