A philosophy

June 21st, 2017

I teach a class on guitar pedagogy at the university.

In the class, at the beginning of the semester, before anything else, we discuss philosophy—the basic question of why we want to teach.

Awareness of philosophy is important because it determines our teaching approach and methodology.

Over the years, I’ve noted different philosophies to teaching.

And it’s interesting how they say more about the teacher than the methodology itself.

For example, some teachers like to focus on small details, on minutiae.

They try to micromanage every aspect of the student’s playing, down to which joint to move and in what order.

Others focus on the big picture, on getting the students to start playing without too much emphasis on technicalities.

Some like to start the student with chords because they think reading music is too difficult for beginners.

Then again, some prefer to start with classical repertoire straight away.

There’s of course no one way to teach.

All these methodologies are valid as long as they get the students to learn.

In fact, I believe a good diversity of approaches is good.

Because every student is unique. You can’t force a one-size-fits-all method onto every student.

There’re some students who work best under strict guidance and those who work best when they’re left to their own devices. (The latter would be me.)

Not to mention the differences in physiology between students.

The only criterion in accessing the effectiveness of a method is whether students are learning.

If a student does not learn, if the method drives the student away, then we have failed as teachers.

In all the years I have taught the class, I have never tried to force any one philosophy onto my students.

I believe it’s best for them to come up with their own approaches and philosophy.

In our discussions, we would explore different philosophies and examine the strategies in different method books.

And at the end of the semester, my only requirement is that the final assignment is well thought out and systematic.

The actual details do not matter. In fact, I’ve found that most of the assignments I get back reflect a completely different viewpoint and approach from mine.

And that is good. It shows I’ve done my job.

The worst thing a teacher can do is try to make the student into a clone of him/her.

That’s not education, that’s brainwashing.

So what is my philosophy towards teaching?

To me, it’s in one simple goal.

And that is to elevate the student, uplift their life with music and enable them to find self expression through the guitar.

That to me is the only goal.

It’s not my job to try to turn every student into a great player. That would be imposing my agenda onto the student, more of an ego trip than teaching.

Of course, when a student shows promise and start to advance rapidly, I get excited and would do all I can to help the student advance even more.

There’s nothing more rewarding than to see someone who didn’t play a note before they came to you and seeing them achieve greatness in their playing.

But most of the time, I stay out of the way.

I see the role of a teacher as more of a guide.

It’s like the student is on a journey to scale a mountain and I’m there to show them the way but I can’t climb the mountain for them.

The teacher is there not to enforce some personal agenda, not to use the students to try out ideas or to experiment upon.

The worst case of self interest I’ve seen is when a teacher only gives students his own compositions to play, whether it’s in simple exercises or in repertoire.

What can the student do except to learn those pieces? They can’t say no.

To me, it’s using the student for one’s own purpose and forcing yourself onto the student.

There’s a great quote I like to share with my students.

It’s from the great Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (paraphrased by Robyn Griggs Lawrence).

 “The essence of education is not to transfer knowledge; it is to guide the learning process, to put responsibility for study into the students’ own hands.”

—Tsunesaburo Makiguchi

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