Tuesday, January 3, 2017

21st Century Opportunities

I sometimes find myself wishing that I could go back to my college music major days and take another crack at being a full time music student.  

I graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in music education, concentrating on violin. I had a magnificent undergraduate experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I had a great private violin instructor, Delight Malitsky, who to this day is still the finest violinist and overall musician I've ever been around. My college orchestra conductor, Dr. Hugh  Johnson, was a magnificent mentor and role model for me and I still use many of the concepts and ideas that he taught me during my undergraduate years. Other instructors at IUP were absolutely fantastic. I had great private viola instruction with Dr. Larry Perkins. My research instructor, Dr. Carl Rahkonen was inspirational on many levels. I had great instruction in jazz Dr. Gary Bird and Dr. Dan DiCicco. Dr. John Kuehn changed my life by teaching and showing  me how to be a teacher. And, there were many others.

That being said, I am so aware that music instruction and opportunities are really different today. There are so many opportunities for young musicians to advance and to get really good at their instrument and their discipline. My son is a sophomore music education major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I marvel at the instruction he is receiving and the opportunities that he has.  He has been home on break over the holidays and I have loved hearing him practice and have enjoyed many conversations about his work, school, musical opportunities and expectations.

Let's begin with simple technological opportunities. Students have so many resources at the tip of their fingers that I had never imagined when I was a music student.  One can pull up multiple performances of any solo or orchestral piece that one is learning in order to listen, review, and exacerbate the process of learning a work. I had to go down to the local record store and buy an LP record or cassette tape. One can utilize metronomes that give a myriad of different feels and variations in order to enhance practice all located on a phone that we carry everywhere.  My metronome was huge, had to be placed on a level surface, and I rarely had it with me in the practice room.   One can practice scales and intonation with drones that are pulled up instantly on a phone or tablet.  I am note sure where I would have found this. Finally, one can practice his ear to hand skills by slowing excerpts down and playing them along with recordings using apps that make this easy and instant.  I would spend hours doing this at tempo, rarely succeeding. 

For those that are interested in non classical performance, there are so many tools to learn improvisation available at the touch of a button. There are magnificent instructional videos on music theory and improvisation all over YouTube. One can find background tracks for jazz and rock practice that simply didn't exist back in the eighties.  I can recall how difficult it was to get together with a few other folks to simply practice jazz and blues licks. Now I can do it in every key, anytime I want, with a click on Band in a Box or Youtube.  An aspiring music student can also find examples of improvisers and virtuosic musicianship all over YouTube , Pandora, Spotify, and other outlets. No one can claim that they haven't been exposed to musicianship of the highest caliber.  Music students can transcribe the best performers' solos by slowing them down and really hearing every note and nuance.  What an incredible advantage!

For music education students, there are magnificent examples pedagogical examples all over the web. Instruction in pedagogy has come so far over the past 30 years or so.  I sometimes marvel at how immensely prepared young teachers really are coming out of their undergraduate experience.

The thing that hasn't changed, however, is the requirement of discipline. It seems to me that the thing that separated the best music students from the pack back in the eighties was discipline. And, it still is today.  No matter the year or the opportunities, students that are purposeful, disciplined, and hard working still outpace the pack.  I often say that moving with purpose and hustle are the true predictors of who is going to succeed.  And so it is today.  Nothing happens without hard work.  Virtuosity is not achieved without the time in the practice room and the discipline to practice the right way.

Another thing that hasn't changed is that we need great mentors.  We all need hose people in our lives that inspire us, criticize us, assess our progress, and help us get to the next level.  Music student must seek out the finest instructor and those that truly inspire.  And, they are out there!   I marvel at the quality of studio string instruction that can be found right here in North Carolina and across the country. 

The fact is that in 2017 the student with true discipline and drive has the opportunity to be so much better, more schooled, so much more knowledgeable than we were in the 1980's.  The standard has certainly risen in a few short years.  And this all can happen by utilizing simple tools that we all now take for granted.  I hope I never forget how wonderful all of this opportunity and technological advancement really is for my students.  

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