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Our Job As Music Teachers
By Mick Polich - 08/03/2011 - 10:14 AM EDT

Taylor Swift has helped save my career as a music instructor.

Well, not directly, of course, but I have three students that I’m teaching this summer – they are young girls that love Taylor’s music.

Some of you are thinking, ”OMG, Polich – NOT Taylor…SWIFT!”

I say…..hold on, Senator – if it gets them to continue playing an instrument (and a couple of them play other instruments in area school music programs), and perhaps write their OWN music…….then, why NOT have Taylor Swift as a role model?

I drift back during moments like this, to think about who, and what inspired me to take up an instrument. The usual suspects – Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, you’ve heard it before in these pages – plus, an inner need and faith, to explore a galaxy of musical styles.

I do remember having some open-minded teachers, and not-so-open-minded teachers, which those experiences led me to my mantra of not cutting on ANY student’s musical inspirations. Did I slip in that department? You bet – I do have opinions, and on occasion, not afraid to share them. But getting older, maybe a tad wiser, has kept me in check, and sensitive to making sure a student STAYS inspired.

The obvious problem right off the bat, is that students THINK they need to operate just like their idols – same chops, same ability, mannerisms, and outlook. Not the case, of course – experience, and hard work towards honing those abilities takes precedence.  I tell them my job is to help you be the best ‘you’ when it comes to making and understanding music. Be inspired, but let’s see how we can find ‘you’ in the music you want to make and create.

It’s tough to have empathy, and remember when you were a young musician or artist, just starting to get wet behind the ears – sometimes, we music teachers feel it’s our job to say what’s crappy music, and what isn’t. Kids look for standards, sure, and guidelines to help them decide what music works for them. And yes, so many decisions are based on what is hip, and how-can-this-make-me-seem-hip-if-I-listen-to –it.I've been down that road, and wasted a lot of time, money, and effort to make sure that I was hip in the eyes of the brethren I looked up to – hey Mom, look! It’s the Music Lap Dog!

To quote cartoon character Mr. Natural, it don’t mean sheet, youngsters!

Music is music, art is art, and you can get inspired by anything dang thang that yer little heart hones in on.

I’m reading a book on street food vendors – the kind of folks that pull up in a modified Airstream, and start cooking simply dee – lesch treats for the salivating masses. That sort of d.i.y  business venture inspires me in my own businesses, and musical endeavors ( plus, there are some crankin’ recipes in each interview). John Coltrane, or the guy getting kudos for cooking a mean dish of Indian food on Broad Street in Austin – don’t matter to me……..

This approach is what we need to teach to young people – that inspiration for the arts, and life, can come from the most unexpected places, and that they need to keep their antennas up to take hold of the muse when it flashes by.  It can be movies, architecture, nature, the rhythm of a tractor plowing out in the fields - they need to SEE it, and GRAB it. WE, as teachers, need to do the same - to stay fresh, and keep our own creative juicier going.

As an educator, I keep in mind that I’m here as a catalyst, guide, mover, and shaker. Sure, it’s a thrill when a young musician mentions music, or musicians of my past – that’s great. But I’m far more interested in what moves them – THAT element will help me understand their needs, keeps me up-to-date, and in business, and lets me know what I can do to either gently nudge, or give a little kick in the tail when needed. Plus, it’s fun to hear new music – what if the arts didn’t progress? When someone gets a new slant on creation, that right there starts the ol’ motor for me…..

I believe you need to take your ego out of the equation to help students – most people can sniff b.s. a mile away, so if your id is bloomin’ strong in the front flower bed, you’re not going to get far with teaching, in the long run.

It is our duty as teachers to TEACH and INSPIRE each student – I believe our pleasure and reward is in that gift. In doing that, we need to re-invent our methods and ourselves from time to time, to stay fresh and maintain a positive view. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but all we can do is start on  the road one step at a time, inch by inch – no more, no less.

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