Monday November 23, 2020 by Jason Mohlenbrock

I am writing this blog as a way to share my thoughts as I work through them.  I have come to realize that there are three seismic shifts that have greatly impacted the way kids experience and learn music.  The pace of technological advancements, growing global awareness, and expectations of leadership experienced at young ages mean that kids’ lives are more complex, connected, and stressful than ever before.  Music, as the most abstract of all art forms, has the opportunity to be the greatest sidekick our kids have in navigating this rapidly evolving world.  Unfortunately, most methods, techniques, pedagogical approaches, competitions, certifications, and schools of thought exist to preserve the past and resist this change.  Each of these blog posts will stem from the viewpoint that the change is already here, that these seismic shifts have already taken place.  

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, it is my hope that some of these ideas can help reduce anxieties and empower learning for you and the young musicians you are supporting.


Three Seismic Shifts:


1.  The apprentice model no longer applies.

“Watch and learn” requires two things to be successful.  First:  the task must have enough straight forward elements that allow a student to absorb the necessary information quickly, and immediately apply the knowledge in direct practice.  Second:  there must be a tangible payoff that creates the amount of extrinsic motivation necessary for the hard work ahead.  This just isn’t the case in music now that we have such immediate access to any song from any time from anywhere in the world.  Genres and expectations are more vague than ever before, and it is harder than ever to make a decent living as a performer.  

Working through this modern dilemma requires creativity.  And who owns that?  The teacher? The student? Both?


2.  Inspiration requires vulnerability.

Being creative, finding your voice, and leading others are no longer optional or extra.  These qualities are now required to navigate our world, and kids are exposed to this reality very early on.  Having the freedom and pressure to truly “be you” carries an enormous amount of social risk and personal vulnerability.  This experience needs to be kept in context whenever kids seem distracted, lazy, or unmotivated.  How can we help inspire without stifling or hiding their voice? 

Our own accolades and performances can provide an initial spark of inspiration, auditions and competitions can provide a short term amount of motivation to get through a difficult task, but the most valuable and long lasting form of inspiration we can help our students find is the ability to experience and trust their own voice. This requires us to look inward and voluntarily stare down our own vulnerability:  Are our methods helping or holding our students back?  Do we fully understand the task we are asking of them?  What else lies beneath the surface?  Does “what worked for us” address the current challenge?  What makes our opinions valid?  Do we understand what they are interested in?  Do we understand what truly motivates them?  What makes something perfect or great?  Does perfect or great even matter right now?  

The answers to these questions aren’t the point, the willingness to ask them in the first place is… Assess, adjust, overhaul, repeat… It’s time to stop trying to inspire kids to be like us, and start the hard work of figuring out how to inspire kids to be like them.


3.  There are no more gatekeepers.  

Screen time gets a bad rap, but, if you look closely, something amazing has happened:  Kids literally look up how to do things and what things mean…for fun!  Not only that, when kids are told something, there is a built in fact-checking system that gives them an “I’m going to see what that really means” attitude about pretty much everything.

There is an entire generation developing as we speak who looks to Youtube, Google, and countless apps for the basics.  They don’t need an art teacher to learn how to draw their favorite TV character.  They don’t need a dance coach to teach them the dance from their favorite song.  They don’t even need a programmer to teach them how to create their first video game. (What??!!

In this context, I hope more music teachers can feel less offended when they realize that kids no longer need a music teacher to teach them how to play their favorite piece.  (It’s true)

This really isn’t anything to worry about, it just gets the basics out of the way.  Music (and art, dance, coding) teachers have so much more to offer than the basics.  We can help teach confidence, creativity, humility, connectivity, communication, thinking outside and inside the box, making sense of the abstract, even curating collaboration….This stuff is WAY harder to teach than the basics (which is why there’s an app for that stuff now), but what we really have to offer is so much more important and rewarding… Let’s get started!!