LEONARD GARRISON: TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
Teaching has been the center of my life since I started giving flute lessons to fellow students in high school. Teaching is in my genes: my father and two uncles were university professors, and my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and cousins have been public-school teachers. I learn as much from students as they do from me and am a far better teacher than I was twenty years ago.
I view my role as a facilitator and a resource, encouraging students to set their own goals, to evaluate themselves, and to choose their own repertoire, study materials, and sequence of study, all with my guidance and coaching. This motivates and encourages active rather than passive participation, ultimately leading to more independent thinking and autonomous improvement.
In the United States, applied music is mostly taught by one-to one instruction, but I encourage cooperation between students and structure studio classes to enhance cooperative learning, promote feedback among students, develop social and teaching skills, and offer performance opportunities.
All students must eventually achieve a standard of competence in tone production, dynamic control, correct fingerings and fingering patterns, articulation styles, intonation tendencies and corrective measures, understanding of interpretive instructions found in music, understanding of performance practice styles and conventions pertinent to the music, and care for the instrument. Nevertheless, I do not assess students based on an arbitrary standard. Different backgrounds and experiences require individualized goals, pacing, and content of teaching. A good instructor varies instructional techniques according to different abilities and learning styles. Some respond well to verbal instruction, others to demonstrating on the flute. Playing along with the student benefits less advanced flutists but often hinders advanced musicians.
We study material not only for its own sake but also for its place in the context of music, culture, and general knowledge. Solid fundamentals, developed through long tones, scales, arpeggios, articulation exercises and etudes, should enhance repertoire study and not be studied in isolation. My students learn about the background of a particular piece of music, understand it analytically, and can place it in a historical and cultural context. I encourage them to study a wide variety of musical styles. In today’s environment, no one can afford to be a specialist, and everyone benefits from exposure to music from the Middle Ages to avant-garde techniques and jazz.
Students perform regularly as soloists, gaining useful experience on student recitals, at venues in the community, and in competitions. The instructor should keep students informed of these opportunities and help to prepare their performances. However, the overall development of the musician should always take precedence over preparation of specific performances or winning the next competition.
Each lesson is itself a performance. In my studio, students play through large sections of their prepared material without interruption before we make changes or corrections. This has several advantages. First, it motivates the student to prepare well. Second, it gives students frequent performance experience; after all, performing is much different than practicing. Third, it avoids the frustration students feel when they are not allowed to play more than a few notes at a time.
Repertoire should be challenging but realistic for each student. If an assignment is too easy, students become bored, and if an assignment is too difficult, they become frustrated.
Teachers need to strike a balance between encouragement to improve and praise for accomplishments. Too much negative feedback is counterproductive, and unmitigated praise detracts from the student’s ability to assess her prospects realistically. Students are usually perceptive enough to see through false complements. An instructor’s comments are most effective when kept simple; working on one idea at a time is preferable to delivering laundry lists of suggestions.
Students need to develop ensemble skills and should be enrolled throughout their undergraduate years in band, orchestra, chamber music, or flute choir. Such experiences are essential to the refinement of intonation, rhythmic precision, and balance. Students are welcome to bring their ensemble music to lessons.
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