Monday, August 6, 2012

Music Educators - Seize the Day!

What an exciting time!  This morning I checked my office and teaching schedule, twitter, and a few news feeds from my Samsung Galaxy phone before my feet even hit the floor.  I am connected to and sharing information with students, teachers, and colleagues for hours each day. Never before have we had this much information and unprecedented connectivity available at our fingertips.

People of all ages are accessing data on the go; it's ready whenever and wherever they choose and younger generations not only expect but assume that the information they need and want will be available digitally.  So, will music educators take note? (groan...) or will the profession continue to rely on outdated methods and models simply because it has 'worked in the past?'  Technology in and of itself will not make a teacher 'better', but denying current trends may prove very costly to the profession.

A NY Times story from January, 2012 reports 'For the first time in history, digital music sales topped the physical sale of music'. This trend they say, will surely creep into other areas of the music business - no doubt making traditional print music publishers and record labels a bit uneasy. And how long before music educators feel the heat if they haven't all ready?  Mike More of says,

"I think you have a whole generation who doesn't care if they own anything. Accessibility has become paramount. This is what consumers want -- they want it everywhere and on all their devices."

Music learners (and by that I mean ALL music makers, not only El-Hi 12 to 18 year-olds, but enthusiasts and 'consumers' of all ages) are turning to digital outlets for their information and guidance. Interest in traditional print method books and current teaching models is waning as savvy students and teachers alike are finding that there's 'more than one way to skin a cat'. The challenge for our profession is to embrace new trends and at the same time produce quality materials, products, and services and deliver them in ways that meet the growing demands and expectations of current and future learners.

Brian Chesky of airbnb was recently featured on Nightline in a segment called New American Dream: Rent Not Own.  The show addressed the growing trend toward renting vs.owning in categories from cars to houses, furniture, golf clubs, baby clothes, and more.  But his quote "Access is more powerful than ownership, and more economically sustainable" really hit home with us.

As you might imagine, at DLP we choose to see these trends as a great opportunity.  It's a chance for us and fellow music educators to reach new markets, to create more music makers, and in the end, a stronger profession over-all.  So, let's seize the day, embrace change, and be open to new ideas and avenues for music teaching and learning. Our future and the future of music education may very well depend on it!

Editor's Note: This blog posted last week on the dlp website and since then we've gotten feedback from music educators the world over. The first was Heath Vercher who said:

As a music educator (and by proxy someone interested in the future of music education) I'd be very interested in reading and hearing more discourse on what the future could hold for music teachers, and how we can "seize the


I see a lot of posts here on the DSM site and the DLP blog encouraging music educators to think outside, become more entrepreneurial, and embrace the use of technology and the advantages of the online world.
Now, granted I haven't had the time to read your entire archive of blog posts (though I am a regular reader) but I'd like to read about more concrete ideas about how it might be possible for music educators to "seize the day:"

Or, if you have more blog posts on these topics, point me to them! 

- Heath

Here is our reply:

Heath - first of all thank you very much for being a reader and for taking the time to comment - much appreciated! We certainly don't have all the answers, but we have been thinking for more than 20 years about the very concept of 'what is a profession' and does teaching music (as it is currently perceived) even qualify. In fact, Dr. Bob Lawrence did his doctoral thesis on this very subject. I'd be happy to share some of his findings with you sometime.

We choose our words carefully as this is a delicate subject for many - but since you asked, here are just a few thoughts that puzzle my colleagues and I and maybe a few ideas about how we can 'seize the day'. 

Music education exists almost entirely within academia. Our training of future teachers is almost 100% geared toward working with El-Hi aged folks (band, choir, orchestra students). Yet, study after study shows how music is great for the brain, its elasticity and memory, etc., how it can help the aging process and even trigger incredible results in Alzheimer patients. And what do we do with this data? We use it to try and 'save music in schools' by asking for donations so that music programs can make kids better at math. I know that's an over-simplification, but I imagine an outsider might have that perception and that's not good. 

The actual number of people interested in music, playing learning writing etc is astounding - just look at the numbers from the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) shows, there is alot interest and $ spent on music and music related products. In fact, it may be at unprecedented highs, even in this economy.

So how about we fend for ourselves and CREATE music teaching firms outside of academia? What if some of us move outside of classrooms and set up professional shops within our communities to reach the HUGE market of people interested in music? People who by the way, have the ability to pay for our professional services.

To do this we'll need to include business classes as part of our training and teach college-aged kids that music teaching can be a successful and profitable venture (as well as a noble endeavor). PS -I welcome you to visit DSM for a day and see 4 year olds coming for lessons alongside 80 yr olds - it's a beautiful thing! I believe we can save music education from within if we open up to these ideas. I am not afraid this direction might take away from school programs, instead I feel it will strengthen them by getting more people involved and making a healthier profession over-all.

2. Embrace technology - the internet and web devices are perfect for information sharing and delivery. What is music teaching really? It's imparting our passion for music on to new folks and explaining the steps needed to move through a process to reach a goal. Current and future generations will not accept the current method book norm (as good or bad as some may be). We need music educators to accept and embrace technology not for technology's sake, but to assure that we remain relevant!

One of the main reasons we have been tinkering with DLP for almost 12 years is we realized more and more of our students had come to expect that this kind of program 'must exist somewhere'? But when we pitched it to 3 of the largest print music publishers in the world, they all passed...(lucky for us in hindsight). 

3. (some short ones) Do not be pigeon-holed by the instrument you play.

3a. Remember that it's not about the music, it's about people.

3b. Make the process memorable for every learner.

3c. And, ....continue to be passionate about teaching (I know you will) or don't teach at all.

Speaking of, here comes an adult student! Gotta run...