One of my very first students, Erin, recently showed me a 3 ring binder that had been sitting on her shelf for years.
It was filled with notation of songs that I taught her. There were many of the same songs I teach today and some I had totally forgotten about.
Younger students are surprised to learn that I use to teach with notation. In fact, I don’t have any students now that were around when I changed to teaching by ear.
When I first began teaching violin, my intention was not to teach by ear. I simply wanted to teach kids music that was fun to play together. I assumed if I taught Drowsy Maggie in lieu of a Bach Minuet, kids would enjoy playing and jamming more.
So, I wrote out lots of my favorite fiddle tunes, printed them up and taught them from the notation. Then they would go home and practice with the tools I gave them. Specifically, the notation.
There was never a precise moment when I began to quit giving students notation. It happened slowly. And it coincided with changes in tools that were useful for practicing when there were no musicians at home — like iPods and CD slow-down tools.
And I began to notice the difference.
Students who didn’t use notation were playing more. They were showing up for more jams. And they enjoyed the learning process more.
Students didn’t play using the same bowing patterns. Sometimes they changed the melody slightly or use an open string instead of the 4th finger.
My original vision of trying to have more fun with the music still holds true. But what I learned in the years since I taught my first students, is that having fun has as much to do with how the kids learn music, as what song they are learning.