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More Teachers: New Ears, New Ideas

Having worked at Taaqademy for about six months now, I’ve noticed many remarkable points about how things work around here. As most of our faculty are professional musicians with their own projects, bands and other musical commitments, students are sometimes assigned alternative teachers if their regular faculty member is otherwise occupied. Our founders, Bruce and Rajeev, believe that rather than disrupt a student’s consistent pattern of learning and practice, the thread of regular class and regular practice should be maintained even if their usual faculty is performing or away. I’ve had ample time to assess this thought, and six months later, I find this to be entirely true. This practice called “teacher rotation” ensures that students are always in the vicinity of well-studied, diverse and unique individuals when they come in for a lesson.

I’ve often seen young children pass by another friend’s lesson and linger around to listen, or perk their ears up on hearing another teacher mentioning a topic they themselves recently studied, but explained slightly differently, prompting new questions. This thread of curiosity that connects each piece of learning makes students’ experiences all the more vibrant and fulfilling, and is extended in a large part by the concept of teacher rotations.

Teachers are always informed well in advance about the students’ history and the session notes from previous classes are passed on to ensure that no time is wasted in preliminary discussion or questions. I’ve recently had some substitute lessons where I found ways to bring a new perspective to the most basic topics so that even young beginners have something new to take away from the lesson. I know I’m not alone in this. Recently, a student once mentioned how her substitute faculty exposed her to Bossa Nova in her regular teacher’s absence, and she found a whole new genre of music to dive into. All of our faculty come prepared and ready with new ideas every lesson, and especially so if substituting for a regular teacher.

While advanced students benefit the most from this as they are better equipped to process more complex information or try different stylistic approaches, every single beginner has the advantage of working on challenging concepts with a different approach. A new teacher is anything but simply a stand-in for an hour of class. They introduce new technical exercises, new ways of addressing existing difficulties, a whole new body of personal expertise and stylistic ideas. I’ve seen a huge positive development in attitudes on both students’ and faculties’ parts, teaching both to adapt to different learning environments and constantly trying to make the most out of each hour. I’ve always enjoyed talking to different musicians about the same concept in music, just to hear another perspective on a single topic, or another way to have it explained, or even just to hear an anecdote on the subject. There’s always something you can learn from another person, especially if you know what to look for and how to ask. While many students can feel intimidated or out of their comfort with another teacher, one needs to remember (and remind themselves) that this is exactly the hardest part of the learning process. It helps you learn to be confident enough to present your work to a new face, to look for constructive criticism and expand the reach of your abilities.

When in college, while my piano instructor was on sabbatical after the birth of his daughter, I had the incredible opportunity to spend three months studying under a Lithuanian pianist who introduced me to three unusual composers and a wholly different way of interpreting classical music. Her approach was different, more playful, finding stories to tell within each piece, and I found that her method did a lot to inspire me to find pathways through an otherwise somewhat dense and impenetrable series of sounds (Grieg, anyone?) Each teacher I’ve had, no matter how short the duration of our interaction may have been- has left their mark on my playing. I’ve practiced the same piece (Chopin Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor, Op. posth.) under three different teachers, who each brought something new to the table, the most memorable one of all being my two-week teacher named Sylvia who told me to imagine one of the sections as “a Nutella and peanut-butter milkshake that has just been put into the blender. You don’t want to put the blender on high immediately, do you? You want to ease into it so you don’t destroy the integrity of both ingredients! It’s not mush! It’s gotta have texture!” I don’t think I’ve ever performed that piece without reflecting the phrase she used.

I would even go so far as to say that studying under teachers who play instruments other than your own is both a necessary and enlightening experience. A guitarist might provide a pianist with a simpler way to voice a chord, or a drummer might help you entirely revamp a piece by helping you understand it in a different groove. All these experiences are invaluable and show you several new ways to approach a subject, and more opportunities to explore it deeper and understand it in new contexts. Each person’s eye (ear, rather?) is caught by something unique, and that gives each one a perspective that can’t be replicated, or even seen exactly the same by somebody else. This is what each lesson with a new teacher gives you, and that is the Taaqademy difference that I have come to appreciate.

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