Music is a wonderful field of study that combines emotion with facts, artistic with discipline, and inherent with learned. It comes natural to all of us, but to reach a high level of achievement can be elusive and difficult. Music is an integral part of all cultures, but is often viewed as unnecessary. These dichotomies, and the gray areas in between, I believe are the views that all music teachers must find a way of fusing together in their desire to pass along music to others.

I truly believe that anyone, regardless of experience, is capable of learning music. Of course, students usually need guidance in a few major areas. The first is to know that the love of music does not translate to its’ understanding, but can be a vehicle and motivation to learn. Because of the simple joys that music can bring it’s possible to overlook how much discipline it takes to become knowledgeable and proficient in music. Practice, studying, playing and listening are four aspects of music education that leads to a balanced and capable musician.

Second, students need to learn how to practice. Knowing what to practice is important, but learning how to practice in order to achieve repertoire and performance experience goals is what can catapult students to a higher level of musicianship. Also, knowing how to evaluate what is already learned and ask new questions to further this knowledge. Once the question is formed, then the students need to know how to find the answers to their own questions. Teaching and learning the “hows” is about sharing with students the best ways to go through this process.

Third, music students need to understand that as important as music is, it is not the only thing in the world worth knowing about. Music is both culture and a mirror of culture. To fully understand music, students need to learn about all other aspects of life around them. General study of other disciplines leads to a more thorough, deeper understanding of the music that is being studied or created.

Last, a proper balance of music history and present trends needs to be instilled in all teaching. Music is part of a long chain of events that lead to modern day views of the art, and to understand what music is today, we need to fully understand its past. With this knowledge we can properly approach the present and future. Technology has always been an integral part of the development of music, and its use is one of the greatest assets that students have today. Using history and modern technology together is an essential part of the education of today’s musician.

I feel privileged to approach my teaching with the unique perspective of a musician who learned how to play their primary instrument very young, but also learned more instruments as an adult. I readily understand the excitement of learning a new instrument, and then to soon be overwhelmed! I can sympathize with the student. I can also clearly recall the approaches that I took to overcome these difficulties, and can relate them to the student in a practical way. Combined with years of teaching at College of Lake County as well as the Music Institute of Chicago, my experiences as a music educator, professional musician and student are an integral part of my uniquely balanced approach to teaching.

Paul Hefner