The road back to music and educating children

The road back to music and educating children

Teaching guitar privately for over a decade, I found it very enjoyable to pass on what I know, and love sharing something that I love. But underlying it all there was always a part of me that enjoyed showing off or having the opportunity to show how clever I was as a guitarist.

I have always taught with the style of allowing the student to discover for themselves, with the encouragement of me guiding them, where to look and to stay with the music long enough to find what I knew they were looking for. This is empowering for the student and they realise at some point that they can actually do the discovering for themselves and that they don’t really need a teacher anymore.

This is a great style of teaching music but it was laced with why I started to learn guitar, and that was to prove myself.

To prove to the world that I am worth something, that I’m clever, that I can do something that others can’t. In my early years it was to prove to my mates, my social scene that I was better than them at playing the guitar. I was the top dog when it came to music.

Having this as my motivation behind music, I went onto study music in institutions at university level. This was the battleground for musicians to prove themselves. This is where I really got smashed by music. Everything played was analysed and studied as to how and why it worked. For me this dry approach to music stripped all the fun and enjoyment out of playing.

I became paranoid because now, in the background, was a voice going ‘what is everybody going to think of this, is this impressive enough, what your playing is simple, play something impressive, anyone could play this, you’re not so special, etc. . . . ’

I could feel everyone was so concerned about what others thought of them or could possibly think of them, that a lot of us choked. Making a mistake was humiliation. Playing guitar had lost its innocence and was not fun anymore.

There was no space or time to explore for yourself; it was expected of you to produce music that sounded a specific way; there was now pressure all the time, expectations to be played up to.

It is all one big competition. You audition to get into bands and then the results come out and you find out what band number you have made it into. Band 1 gets the best room with the best time slot, and having all the best musicians in it, they naturally produce the best sound, solos and arrangements to let the rest of the bands know who is number one. The universities endorse this; it is built into the system of how the courses are run.

I wanted to be one of the top dogs, however the competition was much greater in the city than the country where I came from and there was just no chance of that dream being fulfilled. **Hence, I believed that my self-worth was based on my ranking so I didn’t stay and finish the university course. There was no point. I wasn’t going to win. So I quit, put my guitar away and worked in a concrete factory.**

I did go back to university years later but with the intention of training to become a high school music teacher. It was not real for me to be a working musician or artist in the industry. My focus had changed on who I was and what I could do with music. When I entered university this time I knew that I was not going to be the top dog and I was aware that there was going to be a lot of competition and comparison. Being older now and with a different purpose, I knew that I would be a great teacher so my playing ranking wasn’t as dominating this time. I completed my course and off I went teaching music in Queensland in a music specialty school.

I lasted four years in the classroom and had to give it away as I approached breaking point with the students, parents and the education system, which was run with the same competitive pressure as the university system.

I knew that I could do ten years but not without becoming bitter and relying on substances to relieve the tension at the end of the day and this is not what I wanted.

So again I left music as a form of income and having it in my life, and I gave up on life. I started working a dead end job but was playing in a rock band that was all about me. I was going to have some fun and enjoy myself if I wasn’t going to go anywhere in life. At least I could say that I had played some decent gigs and met some people in the industry.

I did manage to do this but again knowing that it was not the answer to all that I was seeking. It lasted three years and then I moved on again moving away from music. Now at least I had some stories to pass on about my glory days of playing the pub scene having achieved some recognition and supporting some larger acts that people would know.

Music and life for me now are very different. I see that I have a musical skill and that it is only a part of my life and not the measure of who I am. It is great to have musical skills along with all the other skills that I have. Previously life was structured to ensure that there was space for music in my life and now my musical ability is just there to enjoy and bring out when required. Life is no longer based on any need around music and playing live gigs.

The way I play now is also very different. I no longer need to only be playing complex songs that require a certain level of achievement and ability to play them. I am not looking to prove anything anymore and love playing for the people listening and receiving the music as opposed to playing to demonstrate my skills and talent as a means of proving myself. Without the voices in my head, the expectations imposed on me from university, and being attached to what others will think of my playing, all styles of music are simple and are simply there to be enjoyed.

I have started teaching music in primary schools, which is something that I previously considered below me as it was far too simple and basic, and a job for someone else who doesn’t have the same level of ability as myself. But, in fact the complete opposite is true. It has been so inspiring and refreshing to sing simple songs with 5 and 6 year old children who just want to play and have fun.

The songs I have been singing with them are all about celebrating yourself and who you are.

There is a lot of joy in this, and the children get it, and haven’t been afraid to immerse themselves in it. This is the most inspiring way to teach music. It naturally brings the children alive to the fact that music is for everyone.

I have often heard children singing songs that are inappropriate for their age group and with messages that reinforce how miserable life can be. Being sung over and over again ingraining in them that they will be hurt, have heartache and broken relationships before they even get to make a conscious choice, before they even know what they are singing. The responsibility of song writing became real for me hearing this because the message and purpose of the song is now with the children in them as they play

I have also got that the children aren’t really impressed by my playing! They just like me, and love to join in celebrating each other and themselves with music. It really is that simple.

Filed under

Performance anxietySelf-worthTeachersUniversityEducationMusicians

  • By Daniel Bennier

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd