How can we keep music lessons interesting?

Learning a musical instrument really is a life-time hobby and a skill that you will constantly keep developing and improving. Even now, after all the years I have been playing and teaching music, there are still areas to develop and pieces to learn.

A life of music is hugely rewarding and fulfilling but, like most things, can get monotonous at times if you don’t keep it fresh and new. So how do we keep music and lessons interesting?

Variety is the spice of life

I really believe that variety in your music playing is the key to keeping music interesting and relevant. Don’t get me wrong, working on good technique, your tone, scales and your posture are essential skills in any genre of music making. However, limiting yourself to only playing one style of music can be restrictive at times and potentially lead to boredom.

When I started learning music, if I wanted to play any pieces that were different from what my clarinet teacher gave me I had to go into the town to the central library and hunt for a music book. My clarinet teacher only worked through the standard classical repertoire from the ABRSM music exams and although the pieces were great I wanted to play other music too. Nowadays, all of this is accessible at the touch of a key and can be downloaded and ordered in seconds.

When I teach my students, we discuss in great length the music that they want to play or sing. It’s important to have a balance and I believe my role is to open the door for my students to listen and play lots of different genres of music. How will you know that you love jazz music if you never listen to it? How will you know that you want to be a classical saxophonist if you never play any of the repertoire?

Even at this time of year when we think that everyone knows all the Christmas songs and carols in the world, it’s surprising what students don’t know and that they maybe haven’t even heard the original performer.

There are great apps and backing tracks that you can play along with online if you want to practice jazz improvisation and many great tutorials on Youtube. I think technology is a great tool for helping develop your musical skills alongside lessons.

Get out and play

The world has changed so much since I was a kid learning music. If you wanted to play in any groups you had to either play at school or audition for the local county bands. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great experience and one that helped me develop a love for ensemble music. I was also lucky in that I grew up in a town where county music ensembles was accessible and of a high standard so that you got a lot of opportunity to improve your playing and play great pieces.

If you live in an area that doesn’t have this then use the internet to get your music out there. I see so many great music entrepreneurs doing amazing things with music because of the internet that is inspiring and progressive. You’ll be surprised at who is watching and how much support you will get!

If you are keen don’t be afraid to join adult groups. I recently played in a local concert band and I think the youngest member of the band was in their 40s. It was a great band and definitely would have benefited from having younger players involved. It would ensure the longevity of the group and also created a brand new audience learning to love concert bands. Their big winter concert had a decent audience turnout but most of these were in their 60s. For the arts to continue to thrive this is an area for development and one that our young musicians can make a real difference!

We need to encourage our young musicians to know that music is something that you can do long after leaving school and will be a great way of making adult friends and belonging to the community. We have this in local amateur sports groups and we need to remind our young musicians that this exists too in music.

Listen to everything

If I was to go back and give my younger self advice it would be to listen to more music and performers of my instrument. The benefits of listening are huge and with the easy access we have now to music from all around the world it is so easy to use this technology to improve our playing.

Also, when you are fed up with playing, which happens to all of us from time to time, listening to new artists and music is a great way of being inspired and reinvigorated in your playing. I’m currently teaching songs from Descendants and Muse because my students requested these songs. I personally wouldn’t have picked these artists to listen to, yet, I have been inspired by the music and the pieces and it has encouraged me to dive into the music and do more practising. My students always find songs that I would never have found and for me this is a great way of keeping music interesting and fresh for my students and me as a teacher.

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