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Posted by Dylan Christopher, 1 year ago
Tags: newcomer, music, lessons, advice


It’s unprecedented, an article, written by me on a Wednesday, and not released strictly at 12 midnight; my word, what is 2018 doing to me.  I would love to say it is because of some new years resolution, or some exotic new lifestyle choice; but, no.  Sorry to disappoint, this is purely because of the bank holiday, and the fact this is the first time I powered on my computer with the aim of doing work since we stopped for winter-break.

Today, I posted to the people on my waiting list for the first time in about six months. This does not sound like a big deal, but for the first time in over ten years of teaching, I strictly enrolled no new students this academic year, until today.  This happened for a variety of reasons; exhaustion, mental fatigue, and finally realising that overreaching oneself has negative effects for all parties involved, most importantly, my students who feel the effects.

I would like to write directly to the newcomers; the ones eagerly waiting for lesson times to become available, but also the millions of people who will be pursuing lessons in this new year per the usual yearly January filled ritual with new skills and adventures.  To be honest, as musicians, this is what we all, as students, need to remind ourselves of with great frequency; even as regulars.

Here it goes, in no particular order:

Listen to your teacher

You are paying them, right?  If you ignore what they tell you, you are hurling that money into the toilet.  I can already feel some of you feel uncomfortable with this bluntness, but it is the truth.  As a teacher, one of the most frustrating types of student to teach are students who simply do not listen to me.  I have trained extensively my entire life; there are many other professions that make a lot more money than this one.  I can speak for almost every music teacher who does it full time professionally; they love music and want you to love it as much as they do if only you let them.

Listen to yourself

Almost entirely contradictory to my first statement, you should listen to yourself.  A very experienced and wise colleague said to me a few years ago that “you cannot make anyone do anything that they do not want to do”.  It is true, we cannot; as teachers, we try to convince and persuade our students into learning.  Sometimes, that is just not good enough for them; for you.  If you have a teacher who you think you know enough to not to listen to them, listen to yourself.  Your actions speak loudly; end the interaction and move on.  There are many more teachers out there who may be better suited to your needs.

It is not a race

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give you.  Do not compare yourself to other musicians, you are on a different journey. Music is not in itself competitive; there are no inherent winners and losers unless you make it that way.  As a result, any person who makes this artform competitive outside of an actual competition remit is destined to fail.  For an absolute beginner, particularly an adult, this unneeded pressure of comparison does little more than create obstacles and roadblocks to learning and devastating self-defeating negative thought patterns.

Progress is slow

Patience is key; remember music as a form of expression arrived in a time when it took a very long time to do anything, as a result it will take a long time to become proficient.  Imagine a time when it took a few hours work to boil water. We are spoiled now; we have a button for that.  Many people expect that they will become a music genius in a week, then quit because they did not see immediate results.  With music making you are literally talking about a lifelong journey of self-discovery; learning is slow, enjoy the process.

Don’t skip the basics

Most people take the ability to run for granted; we quickly forget what it felt like not to run, or the process it took to get there.  Before we ran, we walked; before we walked, we crawled; before we crawled, we learned to balance; before we learned to balance, we saw someone else do it.  The process newcomers take learning to play an instrument is not so different.  Before you can play, you need to understand the concept of time via pulse and rhythm.  Then you need to learn to navigate the instrument via scales, arpeggios and chords.  Lastly, we put this all into practice with short pieces of music. The adage, do not run before you can walk is the basis for all learning but most relevant here, in music making.


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I wish you every success in your journey into music making.  Do not expect too much, but have patience and discipline and you will improve over time.  Remember, we are speaking in terms of years, not days, but we do however take it one day at a time.


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Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball.  A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.


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