DSCN0110Research has shown that music and the practice of music “imbeds itself deeply into the nervous system” as psychologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks writes and fosters evolutionary change within the brain to produce more sensitized and intelligent people, creating a more humane society. I say this with conviction from having practiced, performed, observed and taught music the majority of my life. I have occupied my life with music because I am attached to the development of depth of feeling, mental acuity and inner strength it affords me and my students.

Teaching, practicing and performing music are closely allied and the regular practice of all three help me to teach what I practice and practice what I teach. In working out the different challenges my students face, I gain solutions to different problems in my own practice. In practicing and performing music regularly, I am better informed about the realities of methods that work for me and for my students and I keep my teaching relevant and practical. As time and observation lend me more understanding, my teaching and music practice develop more nuance to address different individual needs and challenges including my own.

The wonderful humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow lists the following points that educators should address while teaching: we should teach people to be authentic; we should teach people to transcend their cultural conditioning; we should teach people that life is precious; we must accept the person as he or she is and help them learn their innate nature; we should refreshen consciousness by teaching appreciation of beauty and nature; we should teach people that controls are good and complete abandon is bad. I believe in this traditional system of mentorship and that a good teacher is one that provides a positive model as well as a strong knowledge base for their students. I also believe that music education serves these higher purposes of individual education.

The job of the teacher is to inspire the student to work and aspire towards the best of their ability. As a teacher, I must see the best in each student in order to call forth that aspect. Towards that end, I make great effort to deliver my verbal observations and information in an encouraging format to build confidence and self-respect in a student. A student with a proper sense of self-respect, not empty bravado, is always higher achieving. In order to be truly effective, one must also understand the socio-economic situation of each student and be realistic about helping students manage their time in order to fit the practice of music into their daily schedules. Although multiple hours of daily music practice is encouraged for the music conservatory student, thirty minutes a day of musical practice for some is better than none at all.

I firmly believe that one of the most vital goals for any student is the development of a strong work ethic. This is the constant I teach my students in many guises, all intent on convincing the uninitiated of the long term benefit of giving up precious free time in the effortful pursuit of an art. I try to inspire their passions by playing for them often. I play my own repertoire and I play their repertoire – no matter how simple- with as much beauty of phrasing and touch as I can muster. I teach them stretching and deep breathing techniques to increase calm and focus. I never leave a technical question unanswered whether it be about fingering for difficult passage work, hand position, the exact spot on the finger on which to hit a key, the coordinated motions between the upper back/arm muscles/joints/hands/fingers, how to produce specific tone qualities or how to alleviate muscular rigidity or discomfort. I do not believe in asking a student to perform with beauty of phrasing and tone without giving them the specific technique with which to produce it. I do not believe in encouraging a student to achieve a musical goal without seeing that they do so with optimal psychological and physical comfort and ease.

There is much good information in the world to inspire people towards a strong work ethic, towards managing themselves psychologically and physically in order to be higher achieving, towards developing their emotional and aural sensitivities, towards the sheer enjoyment of the endorphin-producing activity of playing a musical instrument. I believe that if one speaks to the innate intelligence in students, the majority of them will respond with respect and grow in understanding and passion for the work they do at any task and especially for the enjoyable, beautiful, wholly satisfying task of practicing, performing and listening to music.

– Nora Chiang Wrobel