Welcome to my Teaching Corner Page
I love teaching music theory. In fact, if I had to choose one defining feature of my pedagogical approach as it has developed over many years, it would be this:
When students understand the principles of how music is constructed, they are able to learn it more quickly, play it more expressively, and appreciate it more deeply.
But I didn't always feel this way.
As a child taking piano lessons, I never made any meaningful link between what I was playing and what I was learning in my theory book. Practicing piano was something I did in the living room. Completing my theory homework was something I did at the kitchen table. I loved practicing. I did theory because I had to—a dull but necessary evil. Later I entered university. I played more difficult music. I studied more advanced theoretical subjects. Still, the theoretical and the practical remained compartmentalized, separated by an invisible wall that I had constructed in my mind.
Then, in my penultimate year of studies at McGill, I was hit by a car while biking to class.
Up to that point, I had been practicing 3-6 hours a day in order to master an instrument (the harp) that was still relatively new to me. After the accident, I couldn't even practice 10 minutes without experiencing extreme fatigue. Some days I didn't practice at all. At least not at the harp.
But what I discovered during this period fundamentally changed the way I thought about learning music, and about the way I would later teach it.
And this discovery was that I could practice in my head without even touching my instrument. I could practice by analysing my music—by taking the time to really understand its musical construction, it's inner workings and patterns. This type of practicing didn't completely eliminate the need to practice at the instrument. Instead, it made the time I spent at the instrument that much more productive.
I played my final recital at McGill, graduating with high distinction.
And I began to focus more and more on teaching. Looking back on my own musical education from the vantage point of being a teacher, I realized something quite shocking. I had spent 20 years building a key (theoretical knowledge), and had never—at least not until my biking accident—ever used it to actually unlock any doors.
In fact, it was worse than that: I had never even known there were doors to be unlocked! Somehow I had barged through them all unseen, by sheer force of will, while the key that could have unlocked these doors and allowed me to enter more easily had been completely overlooked, gathering dust on a high shelf, or perhaps marking the next chapter in my theory textbook. But was this the best way?
I decided that my students would have a different experience of musical education.
Not only would I help them construct a key of theoretical knowledge. I would show them how to use it from the very beginning. And in order to do this, I realized, I would need to bring theory away from the kitchen table and back to the instrument.
Many of the articles in my Teaching Corner Page as it develops will be about exactly this process—about bringing music theory back to the instrument, about making music theory relevant, practical, and yes—even fascinating! Because the more I began to teach in this new way, the more I realized that music theory—when taught at the instrument, when taught in relation to the music actually being learned, when taught as exploration rather than exercises—actually becomes the study of emotion in music.
Nor does this key of theory knowledge have to be fully formed to be functional. Even with a single notch, it is capable of picking the locks to simple skills. And as the student's musical knowledge grows, the key grows, changing size and shape, adding new notches. From beginner to advanced musician, this key of practical theory knowledge accompanies students all along the corridor of their musical growth.
And it is this marvelous shape-shifting key that I want to leave with each and every one of my students, a key that won't just sit on a high shelf gathering dust, as mine did for so many years, but instead will accompany them throughout their lives—both as music listeners and music learners—well beyond my studio doors.
Curious to discover what lies behind the doors that a practical at-the-instrument theory knowledge unlocks? Keep reading.
This is where you can read about my approach to teaching music in general, as well as my approach to teaching music theory as an integrated part of learning one's instrument.
But first, a story of how I got here...
Discover what lies behind the doors that a practical at-the-instrument theory knowledge unlocks...
I teach these non-Classical styles—not only because students love them—but also because I see them as a perfect creative tool for exploring theory from a slightly different vantage point ...