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Learning to play an instrument and delving into music is fundamentally an experiential journey, a truth recognised by proficient musicians, particularly those who've embraced a more natural, less structured approach during their initial learning years. They attest to the organic, non-linear growth of their skills and knowledge.

At the core of musical learning is the ear, finely tuned to recognise melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. When the ear resonates with a musical element, the desire to reproduce it arises, driving the musician to bring the idea to life.

While established methods exist for mastering instruments, disciplined practice remains crucial for skill development. However, educators should not assume this organised path is the only route to musical proficiency.

Instead, musical inclination should lead the way. Exposure to inspiring music should fuel the desire to learn, with structured methods playing a supportive, rather than dominant, role. The student's connection with the instrument and musical expression should guide their journey.

Traditional Western music education often confines learners within narrow frameworks, overlooking individual exploration and the evolving nature of musical interests. This rigidity risks disconnecting students from their own musical expression.

Educators, often products of this system, may unintentionally favour a cognitive approach to teaching, overshadowing the joy of organic discovery. True musical education flourishes when students are captivated by musical experiences tailored to their interests, guided by teachers who appreciate that music's essence lies in its practice, not just theoretical constructs.

The power of imitation, both in sound and technique, is crucial in music education, offering students insights into the emotional depth of music. A skilled teacher cultivates a supportive, playful environment that nurtures students' self-learning instincts and shields them from self-doubt.

Education, including music education, is inherently human, not mechanical. Teachers should facilitate learning rather than dictate it, embracing diversity and individuality to foster creativity and exploration.

Assessments, while useful for reflection and goal-setting, should not overshadow the learning process itself. Like setting goals in sports, evaluations provide specific benchmarks but should not detract from the broader, holistic development of musical skill.

A compelling analogy:

In Death Valley, renowned for its extreme aridity and desolation, life appears improbable amid scorching temperatures and barren landscapes. Initially barren, survival seems implausible.

Yet, sporadic torrential rains transform this seemingly lifeless terrain into a breathtaking spectacle. Following these downpours, the desert blooms into a vibrant tapestry of flowers. Dormant seeds, after years of slumber, suddenly germinate, yielding a profusion of lush blossoms. What once seemed devoid of vitality reveals itself as teeming with potential and beauty.

Is it a miracle? No, it's a testament to how the right conditions can awaken dormant life with resplendent vitality and joy.

As teachers, we act as humble gardeners, offering nourishment and a stable foundation. However, it is the students who play the active role: they must be motivated to grow, to stretch towards the unknown, and to reach for the sun—the wellspring of inspiration.

Hein Van de Geyn, March 2024

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