EP08: Scott McBride Smith – The Music Teachers National Association President’s view of Music Education

The Podcast

Show notes

Scott McBride Smith’s Website: http://www.scottmcbridesmith.org/blog/

Scott’s Opening Monologue: “I think of music study as like a big umbrella. Under the umbrella you’re going to have lots of different students interested in lots of different things.”

Standout Quotes from this interview with Scott McBride Smith:

[on the benefit of the MTNA membership in today’s world] “For a lot of people historically there are several reasons to join MTNA. First of all there’s the camaraderie with other teachers. A lot of us of a certain age…grew up where to be a piano teacher was an isolated thing. … We still have to have that camaraderie and sharing but we have to have an online presence that works for younger people today.”

“The second reason people join is to have their students take part in festivals and competitions. Traditionally, that was all run by volunteers, but the problem is lots of young teachers don’t have time to volunteer anymore so technology plays a bigger role than before.”

[On the American Popular Piano Series] “Improvisation was something you did in smoky jazz clubs with a glass of whiskey, I never had a clue of how to do it…nor did my teachers.”

“The idea of American Popular Piano is to give people like me, that aren’t super well versed in improvisation and popular styles in the first place, a tool that the can use in their teaching that will appeal to students and at the same time not make them feel like they’ve got to learn so many new skills.”

“My estimate is would be 1% of piano students are interested in working super hard and playing Beethoven Sonatas and Liszt pieces. At the other end you have a bunch of students who have absolutely no interest in that whatsoever. And then in the middle you’re going to have people that like lots of different kinds of music and want to play all of it. So our teaching industry has to be able to serve all of those.”

“We’ve got to open our minds to what the reality of what youngsters and adults want to study.”

[music on the radio] “It takes milk to make cream. If we want to get the cream of students being serious about study—classical study, jazz study, playing in a punk band—we have to have a lot of people studying. If we’re too picky, or define piano study in a super-elite formal way…what we do is we turn a lot of people off and then they don’t study…and pretty soon the whole thing collapses.”

[on the reason a lot of students drop out at the middle school level] “The first reason is time conflicts, the second reason is the music is too hard and they don’t have time to practice. And then the third thing is, as one girl said, ‘Why do we always have to play pieces by dead people?’”

“When people say they don’t have time, what they mean is they’ve got other things they do that are higher priorities. So we’ve got to do some things to make sure that music stays a high priority.”

[on parent education] “A lot of times the big cuts in public music education took place in the 80s. That’s when it all started. So a lot of parents of students that you’d be teaching or I’d be teaching, grew up maybe without too much music study in their own life. So…a lot of what we have to do as teachers is educate people.”

“Yes, you have to rehearse. Yes, you have to practice. Yes, you have to stop and fix mistakes. I think a lot of people don’t know that anymore and it’s our job as teachers to tell them.“

“People like things they’re good at and people like things they improve at….It’s more fun to play the piano if you can actually play, if you see what I mean. You can’t get to that place you can play without knowing how to practice and knowing how to learn.”

[on young people entering the business of music teaching] “We need to have a world to pass on to them. We need to make sure that they have opportunities to grow and thrive just like we did.”

“There’s too many activities, life is complicated, there’s more homework. And all of this impinges on music study.”

[on helping people prioritise music] “I think we’re talking about all the right things: more use of technology, more use of popular styles. Maybe finding some more efficient ways of teaching, maybe performing in ways that are more meaningful for young people than having a once a year spring recital in a church.”

[on effective teaching strategies] “No matter what you do, learning to play the piano isn’t a multi-tasking thing and it’s not really fast moving.”

“What works is setting intelligent goals, breaking them down into components, drilling the components until each one is good and then you move onto the next thing.”

“Sometimes a student who has an interest in it just has an intuitive sense of what the next step is, and sometimes a student just doesn’t have any intuitive clue at all. So those non-intuitive students, what you have to do is break it down even more and drill it even more and be super specific on every little thing you want them to do. And then set up some kind of feedback system so that they’re not waiting one week to see if they’re doing a good job.”

“I have them send me tapes on Drop Box, recordings of them practicing and they have to fill out little records on what they do. Any kind of tracking that makes them see that big brother is keeping an eye on them really helps.”

[on the parallels between sports and music education] “We’re talking about something that’s a physical skill in both cases. So there’s a lot, and of course in general sports have more money than we do so they can do some really interesting studies.”

Scott’s recommended resources

Noa Kageyama’s Blog https://bulletproofmusician.com/blog/