FAQs & the Five "W's" Part 1: What Do You Do For A Living?
FAQs & the Five "W's"
Today I'm starting a series of posts based around the Five "W" questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why). The specific questions are:
What do you do?
Every one of the above questions is important because they form not only the basis of my personal teaching philosophy, but they connect to some of the most frequently asked questions I get from both current and potential students. If you are a music teacher, asking yourself these questions can be a great starting point for developing your own philosophy and business model. If you're a music student seeking a new teacher, the Five W's are EXTREMELY important questions that you should ask every teacher you interview. You will learn more about that teacher's personality and vision than you could ever get from a list of accomplishments or a resume or even another student referral (although all of those things are great as well). So without further ado, here we go...
What Do You Do?
In the normal course of my day, I get asked these questions by lots of people. I'm sure you're familiar with the typical scenario. Maybe you're out to dinner with a group of friends, or you meet someone new at your church, and one of the first questions that comes up for adults is...
"So...what do you do for a living?"
I suppose for a lot of people this question is pretty straight forward, but I struggled with it for while when I first started out because ... well, I'm a musician. Telling people that I'm a musician sometimes has the same effect as telling someone you're professional tagger and graffiti artist. Some people are curious how I can call such a thing a profession. Others show their disdain almost immediately because they either picture this:
I will admit that I've definitely participated in all of the above stereotypical musician-like activities (proof here). So I understand the look on their face and why they might not understand. However, "what I do for a living" these days is nothing so ludicrous or baffling. To answer their question with the word "musician" is actually more like saying I'm an electrician. It is, in fact, a very vague answer. So today I'd like to give a more detailed and specific answer, hopefully one that does not result in disdain, confusion, or raised eyebrows.
I actually split my time between two complementary professions:
- Music Production, and
- Music Instruction - Teaching.
I am a music producer, a title that can generate it's own confusion and dirty looks. Really all this means is that I produce a "product." That product happens to be music of varying styles and formats. I then use my resources to market and distribute this "product" in a packaged format that allows others to purchase or "consume" it.
Sometimes, that music is completely original. I compose and write music myself. Sometimes it's a derivative or collaborative work (such as an arrangement or remix). Sometimes I help other artists record and package their music in a way that I can then market and distribute, exactly as I do with my own music. There are lots of additional things that go into producing music such as writing, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering, marketing, distributing, publishing, and copyright administration...all of which require a handful of completely different skills. Over the years, I have acquired and honed these skills, and I have tapped the talent and resources of others in my community to help me manage aspects that I am less skilled at.
Some music producers produce music exclusively for a living. If someone is very good at it and business savvy, it can be a lucrative endeavor. However, my interest in being a producer has more to do with my own personal artistic expression than it does with commercial profit. In short, I love making music and I do it even if I don't make money. Profit is a bonus, but it's not my aim or the bottom line.
I am also a music teacher. When I tell people this they the next logical question is, "What do you teach?" Here, again, I could default to the simplest answer - that I am a piano teacher - and while this is true, what I really teach are
differing and complementary sets of musical skills or tools,
which students can then apply to whatever musical endeavor they find most enjoyable and compelling.
Many students (especially teens and adults) only learn piano so that they can then play piano in a band or at their church, write songs, or learn to arrange and produce songs in the recording studio. What few people realize is that in order to actually play the piano, you have to develop several different skills, and those all have to be proficient enough to work together simultaneously and in harmonious balance, in a way that is fluid and transparent. Good piano teachers guide each student through a series of incremental steps designed to develop what is often referred to as "mastery."
Mastery of any skill really requires a student to make consistent, gradual, progress toward a state of being where they:
have an understanding of the learning process (also known as "meta-learning," which leads to knowledge of how to acquire new skills independently),
are conscious of what the necessary tools are in a given situation (and their individual proficiency with each tool),
can effectively manifest or execute those tools within reality
If that all sounds a bit metaphysical or mystical, don't worry.
Here are some of the practical skills that I work on developing with each piano student (and this by no means a complete list):
- Repertoire - A large and diverse body of music in a number of different styles that can be played at any time, at any piano or keyboard, without the need for written music.
- Accompaniment - The ability to read chord symbols and accompany another instrument or vocalist.
- Arrangement - The ability to play additions (enhancements, developments, and variations) on an established composition, including the ability to self-generate these additions.
- Reading Rhythm - The ability to accurately read and replicate rhythm as written on the page.
- Reading Pitch - The ability to accurately read and replicate pitch as written on the page.
- Sight Reading - The ability to accurately and immediately play on the keyboard, in a musical fashion, that which is written on the page.
- Transcription - The ability to hear music (whether notes and/or rhythm) and accurately write it on the page.
- Composition - The ability to assemble melody, harmony and bass lines into an original composition.
- Improvisation - The ability to spontaneously assemble notes and chords into melodic and rhythmic phrases.
- Integrated Theory - A practical, hands-on relationship with and knowledge of music, including its form, the theory behind its structure, the ability to identifying and name chords, scale and scale-passages, keys and progressions etc., with a given piece of music.
I tend to teach from what I know and have learned. While the piano (or keyboard) is the instrument I have the most experience playing, you can see from the above that I also teach some other more specialized musical skills based on the fact that
I sing (Voice),
CREATE new music (Songwriting, Composition, Arrangement),
record that music using special software and hardware (Music Production),
and even perform live as a soloist or in a group (Accompaniment, Live Performance, Stage Presence, etc).
Depending on a student's goals and aspirations in life (which I do not believe should be dictated by me or any other teacher), I can spend our lesson time focusing on developing musical skills that will allow them to pursue those other facets of music in addition to piano. What's more? Many of the musical skills that I teach can even be taken and applied to other instruments - along with the assistance of an instructor more versed in that instrument of course.
So that's what I do.
Next time, I'll tackle the Who, Where, and When questions. So stay tuned.
Meantime, if you're interested in finding out more about all these skills and tools and how to acquire them, be sure to visit my teaching website.
If you're wondering what my productions are like, you can head on over to my artist website and see what I've been up to in the studio.