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Posted by Dylan Christopher, 9 months ago
Tags: on-size-fits-all, teaching, approach

One size fits all

A controversial topic among teachers and students is the concept of “one-size-fits-all”.  The phrase is often seen on teaching profiles and the website of teachers, insisting that, they, do not use a “one-size-fits-all” approach, or, that they are not a “method” teacher.  When I receive an enquiry from a prospective student, I am usually asked what type of teacher I am.  I always respond by saying:

I have a method and approach to teaching, but how I teach depends on who is in front of me.

I suggest you book a consultation session, and I will see how I can help you.

First, let us explore what “one-size-fits-all” actually means.  The terminology is a phrase that was originally attributed to clothing; specifically, in the armed forces.  The process of enlistment meant that the majority of prospective soldiers, airmen, and crewmen had to be of a certain weight, height and health, meaning that the clothing and apparatus used could then be of a generic size; the shorter, taller, fatter and smaller man (or woman), excluded during the enlistment process.

After World War II, mass production was common place, leading to the commercial boom of the fifties and sixties; the result from this was the first consumer-grade products.  Garments were cheaply manufacturable and easily distributed to a wanting public.

We can still feel and see the effects of this in any commercial outlet today.  If you have ever walked into a store and picked up a piece of clothing or footwear from the shelf, you are subscribing to “One-size-fits-all”; a much more evolved and facilitating version, but, a version nonetheless thanks to mass-production.

Today, there exists numerous sizes of the same product, for instance, a dress in sizes, ‘8’, ‘10’, ‘12’, ‘14’, ‘16’ … etcetera.  The range of available sizes has increased, but only to include the vast majority of what can be considered normal, or more correctly, average.  Well, if you are size 9, or perhaps 8½, you will just have to make do with what’s available in 8 or 10.  Don’t get me started on leg length; not that I have intimate knowledge on women’s dresses.

The variety of sizes has increased, but at the heart of this new variety still exists the philosophy “one-size-fits-all” for each size, simply because the product was manufactured at the beginning of the process, with the consumer introduced at the end.  A bespoke product, places the consumer at the start, taking measurements, creating an entirely new product, specifically for them.

In music, specifically teaching, the product is learning and the consumer is the student.  Fundamentally, “One-size-fits-all” cannot apply, because each student requires the teacher to be listening and responding to what they deliver; a lesson only exists when it is in session, unlike a manufactured, tangible consumer product.

In the past, I have been accused of adopting a “one-size-fits-all” teaching approach, simply because I asked all of my students to rehearse scales, practice sight-reading and play with me at the piano by ear; incidentally, the fundamental components of good technique.

From my experiences as a teacher, the students and parents who cite “one-size-fits-all” are usually looking for an alternative to what is required to learn to play and perform music.  Often, the point of avoidance concerning one element of lessons, usually the before mentioned scales, sight-reading, or playing by ear.  Their focus, as ever playing pieces, which is a very small summative element at the end of the process after all of the attributing elements are combined.

A functional t-shirt must have at least four pieces of material sewn together.  The size of the materials can be of any variety to adjust for the overall fit of the garment, but there must be four pieces of material, otherwise, the resulting product is likely not to be a wearable t-shirt.

Applying this to music lessons, in general, to learn to play music, a student needs a thorough understanding of, the instrument they are playing (discipline-specific knowledge), an ability to navigate the instrument (scales), an ability to read written music (sight-reading), and, the ability to listen to the sounds they make (aural/playing by ear).

Like the before mentioned t-shirt, in music, if the components are not created in a stalwart fashion, or not at all, then the resulting product will always fail to deliver.  The size, one-size, or not, is then irrelevant because the end result will always be incomplete, or severely lacking.


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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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