From 2006-2008 I attended the University of Tennessee Knoxville School of Music. I was disconnected with my intuition at the time, or maybe I didn’t trust myself, or maybe I never had the support of my family to make mistakes and find out who I really was. (It was all three)
I remember riding up to UTK with my dad and my best friend and his dad. My desire to fit in and be liked and be someone who these three men approved of was strong enough to drown out my intuitive knowledge that this was the wrong choice for me. I was going to audition to the school of music, to enroll in the jazz school.
I didn’t even like the majority of jazz music. I thought it was pretentious. Thelonious Monk was cool, but I didn’t need to go to a University to dig his music. You dig?
After 2 years in Knoxville I moved back to Memphis, TN. From 2007-2011 I attended the University of Memphis Rudi Scheidt School of music, under the tutelage of Jack Cooper, and Tim Goodwin.
Shaming in Music Ed
Tim Goodwin’s approach to music education was clouded by his shame-based paradigm (maybe it’s changed now – that’d be awesome). I remember one day in small group: I had been conscripted for a jazz gig at some university event and asked some of my fellow musicians in small group to help me. The gig was supposed to be 5pm, but for whatever reason I wrote down 7pm, and we missed it. Tim came barreling into the classroom, slammed the door hard, and called us motherfvckers. He preceded to yell at us and call us names for a couple minutes. He then demanded that I go up to the head of the music school and apologize.
I get it. I made a mistake. An apology seems perfectly reasonable. But the whole situation could have been handled better.
Throughout the next three years, Tim taught jazz in a way where he would suddenly stop the music and yell at the musicians, where he would shame us for making mistakes.
This had the subtle effect of making the mistakes seem bigger than they actually were. This creates musicians who look for mistakes. Since our perception shapes reality, this creates mistakes!
It’s like cooking a delicious omelette, finding a piece of the egg shell, and harping on the eggshell for 10 minutes while eating the omelette. If you harp on the audacity of the chef to include a piece of an eggshell in your omelette, you’re focusing on the small mistake and letting it overshadow the entire eating experience. Your whole breakfast focuses on the mistake. Furthermore, if you always look for the eggshells, you will attract more eggshells into your life!
Just so, in the shame-based approach, the whole practice can focus on mistakes.
The Healthy Alternative
After steering clear of musical groups for about 3 years, I recently helped create PXLS (“pixels”), a video game music coverband.
PXLS is a group that was organized about three weeks ago. I initially got together with Jeff – the bass player, a chip off Phish’s Mike Gordan’s goober groove, cut off the suburban stoner cloth; and Jon, a big twinkle-eyed drummer with a heart of gold. Both of them had trained with Tim Goodwin at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music.
We met Jon’s place to practice, a beautiful family-owned music school with fully functioning PA system and monitors. When I walked in the door, excepting a brief 2-3 day recording session in which we recorded Ben Church’s most recent EP and played an inpromptu “Copper Possum” reunion show one sweaty night at bar DKDC, I hadn’t worked on music with a group in…wow three years? Yes it was three years.
So here I was coming into this situation feeling rusty, feeling self-conscious, but also feeling a little giddy with the kid in me waking up to the possibility of completing my open loop of untreated validation, a sore left open from my early years in a dysfunctional family.
I had suggested 2-3 songs that we all look at for the rehearsal, just to give us some direction. Because it was the first rehearsal, I stopped several times during each song in order to feel out the different sections, process what I was feeling in different parts of the tracks, and work towards helping articulate the most important sections and ideas. Whenever I would stop, Jeff and Jon would continually ask me where they’d fvcked up. Yes, at times they would fvck up. At times, I would fvck up too. Even so, it was so early in the musical relationship that I felt like if I said anything disciplinary or condescending it would kill the musical vibe that I was trying to create.
And, for the sake of elucidation, what was this vibe? I wanted to have fun, and create really cool music. Period.
Anything else – perfectionism, guilt, shame – it all has no place in my vision.
After about 3 times of stopping and Jeff and Jon asking me what they did wrong, I cut them off.
I straight up told them I do not give a fvck if you make a “mistake”. We are all learning. I am not going to punish you or shame you like Tim Goodwin did.
It’s likely that Tim was raised in a shame-based paradigm. Because if he wasn’t, operating a musical education service from a shame-based perspective seems to lack efficacy. I will prove this efficacy now.
The efficacy of positive musical education
If you shame people for making mistakes, here’s what happens: they resent you, they feel “less than”, and a barrier is created in their absorption of information. If, instead, you encourage people to work through their msitakes, encourage their spirit, celebrate their victories – even the subtle ones – and lead them to believe in themselves, you get what I got: healthy, self-aware, confident musicians, effective and expressive musicians.
The discipline aspect does not go away though! In lessons, or in a band setting you still need to make tough decisions and draw the line. But if you encourage the dreams of your musicians, they will trust you. They will follow you, and they will SHINE.
I got a band of dudes who enjoy what they are doing, who have fun, who are inspired, and who will follow my lead. In short, you create a great band!
The Big Picture of Musical Education
Encourage the spirit. Encourage your student’s spirit first. Their spirit will shine through whatever they do, but it MUST come first. Without spirit, you may create technical brilliance in your students, but it will be missing an essential link. You must inspire. This means taking a look at why you are teaching. WHY. Is it for the money? I don’t judge you – it’s a function of capitalism to monetize services. But the depth and power of your service is determined by how deeply you’ve connected with why you are doing it. Simon Sanek speaks about this why aspect in his videos. Thanks again Forwardcounseling.com!
How do you learn?
It has come up for me that maybe not everyone learns like this. Maybe not everyone is as empathic and deeply feeling as I am. Maybe some people have thick skin and can take shaming and turn it into something positive. But if you’re like me, and you’re deeply feeling and feel shaming very deeply, then do yourself a favor and take yourself out of destructive situations and relationships. Recovery is possible, but the sooner you start, the better. Learn to love who you are. Love your heart. It will guide you home!