Advice For Jazz Students #20: T is for Teaching

I never wanted to teach. I did my best not to, but the hours are flexible and people think they want what they think you have, so it’s good business model. It wasn’t that I felt “above” teaching so much as unworthy of the responsibility. And introverts don’t always like to hold forth, to “present” things. Ask me a question instead, I have a million answers.

Anyway I started small with teaching, kids of 11 or 12, escalated to teenagers, adult learners, and finally, as the cravings escalated, the higher education crowd. It can sometimes feel that teaching works against creativity, it’s the “other thing” we do. However, acres of spare time doesn’t work for me, I need to be boxed in. And teaching is great for that. Deadlines and windows work well together.

At some point, acknowledging that teaching can enable you to play and be “creative”, financially and mentally, led me to the conclusion that one has to somehow combine teaching and performing so that they feed off each other. You probably will have to, so make plans about how to enjoy it.

It’s good to think about how you want to teach from the off. After all this time, it fascinates me how people learn, why they learn, and whether it is any of our business as teachers what our students do with that information. As I said above, I’m more of a reactive person, responding to questions, finding out where people are and going from there. Some teachers have a method, a syllabus almost, and that is great too. Charisma and humour are good, but mostly people are simply paying for you as a musician to be isolated in a room with them and to get what they can from that opportunity. Don’t abuse this by being taciturn and abusive.

My advice is to think of how you can make learning creative, the same way you have to when being taught. You know, assessments, patterns of this and that in every key, one day you might be on the other side, dolling this stuff out. It’s tedious, unmusical, but as long as you accept that it will feed into your music and be useful. Don’t learn it as music, don’t teach it as music. You are teaching people to make lemonade, to find mistakes profitable, to soldier on.

Not all of your students are destined to become jazz musicians. An English Lit course does not churn out forty novelists every year. Jazz education is a general musical training for all kinds of work (and play). It’s not a straight line to virtuosic stardom for everyone. But you might be creating an audience, a group of promoters, journalists, that will support you, and us, in the future.