I have learned in my years of teaching that students should be exposed to a wide variety of music as well as be taught in the most effective methods possible, adapted for individualized learning.  A well-rounded music curriculum tailored to the specific students in the classroom will produce more sensitive, thoughtful, and ultimately capable musicians.  Musical concepts should be taught alongside an enriching curriculum that allows for the experience and exploration of many diverse types of music.    


     Music teachers need to discover what kinds of music appeal to students, and use that information to not only motivate them, but to teach new concepts and ideas, as well as to provide a gateway into other forms of expression and thought.  Although people have differing tastes in music, I have never met anyone who could say without reservation that they do not like music of any kind.  Music is a great commonality. It is a starting point for different students of different backgrounds to work cooperatively.  


     My teaching style combines flexibility, creativity, and a dynamic understanding of student learning.  Throughout my teaching I provide multiple avenues for my students to each musical concept.  For example, I incorporate at least one cognitive, psychomotor, and affective approach to each new section of information.  My students are as likely to dance around the room and sing as they are to write a poem about the text of a choral piece. They are as apt to gesture the shape of a musical phrase as they are to depict a piece's form through imagery, prose, or drama.  


     One of the more distinctive teaching philosophies I maintain is a sound-before-sight approach.  I believe that musical skills and concepts should be taught in a manner that mirrors the natural acquisition of spoken language.  For example, the vast majority of us learn to speak and understand spoken language well before we are able to grasp the subtleties of written communication.  Therefore, I have found it most effective, particularly for beginners, to grasp aural concepts before they are attached to visual symbols.     


     Music programs all over the country often have so many performances that class time is not spent teaching musical concepts, but instead plowing through countless scores, hoping to get students performance-ready as quickly and painlessly as possible.  In these situations, there is a constant need to demonstrate immediate competency in classrooms, fueled by our desire for instant success.  As a result, our society has created an educational system that lauds short-term gains over long-term growth.  Therefore, I believe that my methodical approach will help stem the tide of mediocre musical performances and help once again to reinforce the concepts of a solid, enduring education.  


     The most important reason I believe that we must be willing to "slow down" in our classrooms can be attributed to a bit of sage wisdom imparted to me by my father, a farmer and business owner in rural Iowa.  In his words, if youre going to do something, do it right the first time.  Students do not get a second chance at their elementary and secondary educations.  We have one opportunity to make a difference that can last their entire lives.  In essence, we must give them the tools to explore their musical world and the ability to engage musically in their adult lives, not just an opportunity for musical play. In this way, through individualized education and innovative teaching practices, my classroom has become known for quality rather than quantity.    


     My students learn quickly that I am making every effort to generate a great deal of energy in my classes.  I want my students to know by sheer force of personality and exuberance how much I respect and admire my profession, the musical art, and each and every one of my students.  Additionally I am a huge proponent of the teachable moment.  I believe that big ticket lessons are possible to teach with just a few words.  I pride myself on my ability to say a lot without saying much.  The more simply and universally I can present information and lessons, the more memorable and impactful they will be.


     In summary, my goal as a music educator is to provide students with energetic instruction, enriching musical experiences, and to encourage the appreciation, consumption and production of music now and well into their adulthood.

H o w  I  a p p r o a c h  t e a c h i n g  m u s i c

Copyright M. Erpelding, 2020