Have fun! (Or else)

I think our educational system does us a disservice when it comes to private music instruction. Essentially, the former is predicated on “right” or “wrong,” and in music there is no “right” or “wrong.”

Most people approach their music lessons as they would the taking of a math course, with the expectation of being judged and graded, and having to pass “tests” to show their increasing proficiency.

Well, music–and especially banjo music–just doesn’t work that way.  I tell my students right at the outset that I have no expectations for them: any expectations are strictly their own.  I do not hold them to some measure of improvement–all I want them to do is to have some fun.

And that’s what it’s all about.  In 50-some years of teaching, I have had but one beginning student who already had a gig lined up.  He was a studio guitarist who had accepted a job playing banjo for a commercial jingle.  He told me he hated the banjo but needed to learn one short piece for a studio session in six weeks (he did).

Other than that, not one of the thousands of people I’ve taught was trying to learn on a timetable because he had a deadline.  Instead, everyone has said he was doing it “for himself.”

So to me, that means there is no pressure, and that my job as a teacher is to try to make the learning journey fun, for there is no destination.

Taking music lessons is far too expensive to be a frustration.  If you want to pay lots of money to be frustrated, I recommend golf.  You should “practice” your instrument because it’s rewarding and fun. (I put the word practice in quotation marks because I highly recommend not regimented practicing, but playing, instead–please see my 5 June 2015 blog on just that subject.)

I tell folks that if they drag their instruments out the day before their lessons, thinking “Oh, yeah, I guess I’d better practice this thing” they will never learn to play.  The folks who do learn to play are the ones who can’t put the instrument down.  And why is that?  Because it’s fun, not a chore.

So relax, have fun.  Experiment, noodle around.  Try to do that which pleases you.  And if you’re not having fun, please tell your teacher–something has to change, or you’ll just lose interest.

And that’s no fun at all.

4 thoughts on “Have fun! (Or else)”

  1. So true, Zepp. I wanted to learn to play trumpet, but never practiced much in 4th grade, so gave it up inside of the school year (remember when the elementary schools used to have band lessons?). I continued piano through 8th grade, private lessons, because I enjoyed it.

    I taught myself guitar, banjo, uke, and a bit of fiddle because I love the music. If you listen to any of my stuff, you’ll know it’s not because I’m a pro and it’s purely for the love of it.

    1. The problem for many kids, my own included, is that they want to play an instrument (usually electric guitar, of course). What they don’t want to do is to learn to play an instrument. Thus, they quickly get frustrated and quit because it just seems like work.

  2. Very wise advice Zepp, thank you. I keep adding instruments I’d like to play after I have the banjo to a point where I am comfortable.

  3. When I was in high school, I took clarinet lessons. It was a terrible frustration for both my teach and me. I played B when I should have played Bb over and over and over again.

    Later I taught myself guitar and, since retiring, banjo. I just play, sometimes I think about incorporating new things that I want to learn, and I love it.

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