Bruce Lee and the Art of Music Education

Those who know me are aware that I am a martial arts enthusiast (some would say fanatic). I am one of those nerds who watches martial arts instruction videos on Youtube just for fun. I was recently able to take Filipino Martial Arts for about a year. It was a blast!

Many would not readily see a connection between the martial arts and music education, other than sometimes wanting to use it on that one student who really tests your patience :). I find there is a strong connection at least between Bruce Lee and the art of music education. There are several parallels that I would like to post.

First, you must have a philosophy. Bruce Lee’s style of Jeet Kune Do is often called more of a philosophy than a style. Once the philosophy is in place, the learning can really begin.

Unfortunately for music educators, there is the caricature of the guitar-toting music teacher who walks into the classroom with no preparation and leads the class in a bunch of silly songs. As long as the students are happy and “love” music, the teacher feels that music education is happening. It does not matter if the student can read rhythms or analyze music. Musical skills and knowledge are not being imparted. At the crux of the problem is the failure to communicate anything other than the teacher’s love of music. To paraphrase an old saying, this teacher is giving the students a fish, not teaching them how to fish.

While it is laudable that we should teach students to enjoy music, it is more praiseworthy that the student’s love of music be based on true understanding. Imagine, if you will, a math teacher who teaches easy, silly problems geared to making students love math. The students might love math and the teacher, but the teacher would not be doing a proper job. Why? Because the students are not learning material that will help them in later life. A music teacher should communicate love and enjoyment of music. Music is supposed to be enjoyable. However, a music teacher should also give students the training to make music more proficiently.

In order for teachers to be effective, they need to know what they are trying to accomplish. Bruce Lee’s approach to martial arts was in this way. He believed that martial arts was the art of self-expression. In other words, the kinds of techniques that a martial artist used told specific things about that person, like body type, personality, amount of training, etc. The more “honest” a martial artist is, the more effective they can be in a self-defense situation. While more could be said about the application of this principle to music education, that will be left to subsequent posts.

For now, let’s say that step one is creating a philosophy or mission statement. What am I trying to create? What is my end goal? What do I want my students to be able to do by the time I am done teaching them?

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