I have taught a number of young musicians over the years. Some of them have even ventured to become professional musicians. Being a teacher is, in many ways, daunting. I firmly believe you can’t teach anyone anything. All you can do is lead and hope they do the work needed to go where they want to go. I do not allow students who don’t work to continue with me. I can use my time in better ways.
Instruction always begins with the fundamentals. I find it difficult and it’s also not the most exciting aspect of playing, but it must be done. Long tones, scales, and etudes are crucial to developing as a musician and performer. I actually enjoy playing all this stuff.
Over time, I have tried to make the playing of these necessary things fun or the very least enjoyable. A myriad of things can make the practice of scales fun. ALWAYS play scales expressively!
Long tones take time. There are no short cuts and over time, they do become easier. Younger players find long tones frustrating because they don’t have the physical skills yet to control pitch, tone and dynamics easily. It then becomes a rather “joyless” experience. I like to emphasize the “fun” aspect, as you never really become a master of everything. You just get better at the process of playing, and you still have to review these basic elements. Making music needs to be a joyful experience – if you stress the pleasure of making music, the journey becomes less arduous.
I love to play, and I hope this enjoyment comes across to the listener. I do think it does. I have seen and heard musicians who don’t really love what they are doing, and their playing comes across as flat and uninspired. Unfortunately, some of these people have been professional musicians. I can’t think they do much good for the classical music world, but they are there. I always feel that the element of joy is not far from the surface in music, even if it is serious or sad.
On several occasions, a student has asked whether I think they could pursue a career as a performing musician. I am loath to offer any suggestions one way or another. I know many teachers will give their “pronouncements” either in favor or not. I disagree. If the student truly can’t live without playing in public and working hard at it, who am I to discourage them. So many individuals have bucked the trend. The quality issue will take care of itself, and anyone not able to meet the challenges will eventually be found out. It’s a very harsh world and most students can tell for themselves pretty quickly whether they are up to it or not.
Just like any classical musician, you are a caretaker of a tradition. You can only hear your own heart – a student is no different, whether they become a physicist, a doctor or a musician. If you want to make money, chose money, and if your heart says the only thing for you is to play, chose music. Personally, I can’t live without performing and playing music. It is almost a religion. That is the kind of musician I want to work with and be around.