The New Paradigm: Musician as Person


in Learning Music, Methods

A 3 part series on Why music Education is Changing – Part 2 of 3

Our entire world has changed. For the vast majority of young music students, earning a salary is the farthest thing from their minds. Today's music student is not a humble employee hoping to sell his services to wealthy audiences for money.

People study music today because they want to fill a void in their lives. They are drawn to music by its beauty and by its promise of self-discovery through creative expression.

The New Customer of Music Education

In other words, the “wealthy audience” is no longer the customer of our music education system. There is a new customer in town, and that customer is the student himself (and, wonderfully, more and more often it is the student herself.)

Today's music students are thinking, feeling human beings who want to grow, to create and to experience life for themselves. To put it simply, we are moving away from the old paradigm of “musician as performer” toward a new paradigm of “musician as person.”

Musician as Commodity

In the old paradigm of musician as performer, the dominant theme was competition. People made a great deal of fuss over which children seemed to show “musical talent” and which ones didn't.

If music didn't come especially easy to a child, then there was no point in making the investment in music lessons. And if a child did show potential, he would immediately begin a military-style course of study to develop this ability into something that society would value.

Musical ability, in this paradigm, is essentially a commodity to be sold on the open market. If there were no audience, there would be no reason to study music at all.

And to be sure, there are still people today living in the old paradigm. They live in a world of perfectionism, competition and hostility. When they play music, they are incapable of noticing anything but their own technical defects.

When they listen to the music of others, they are busy evaluating the technical performance instead of receiving the beauty. They are generally angry people. Angry that there are not enough gigs, not enough students, not enough love and respect for all their hard work.

Musician as an Experience

But there is a new generation of young people who are discovering the thrill of playing music for themselves. They are discovering that there is a paradise to which music can transport them.

They don't particularly care whether they play well or badly, because they have found something more interesting than their ego. They have found the bliss of being lost in a moment, meditating on a sound, a note, a musical phrase, a gesture of the hands.

It is this experience that has captivated them, and what they want from music education is to deepen this experience. These are the students of the new paradigm.

Where Are You Rooted?

It's easy to tell whether a person's thinking is rooted in the old paradigm or the new one. Take a look at some “old paradigm” questions. Have you heard any of these lately?

– Does my child have “musical talent?”

– Are my students playing at the appropriate level?

– Can I still learn music at my age?

– How can I get my students to practice more?

– Am I a good violinist?

Now look at these “new paradigm” questions, and notice how the person asking the question is coming from a completely different place:

– Would practicing music enrich my child's life?

– Are my students growing and becoming stronger people?

– Would I like to discover music at my age?

– How can I help my students to make the most of their lives?

– Am I allowing myself to enjoy the violin fully?

Self Indulgent Hobby or Magical Ride

For the uninitiated, this new paradigm thinking seems to turn music into a self-indulgent hobby. If there is no spirit of competition or comparison with others, then how will we preserve values like discipline, hard work and the quest for excellence?

But that is a question that we will have to leave for another article, because I think there are many interesting things that we could say about it.

For now, just let me assure you that this new paradigm has nothing to do with laziness or lack of seriousness on the part of the student. When young people discover the magic of music, they can easily practice so many hours that they run the risk of injury.

What we need to understand and embrace is what motivates today's music student.

Next, how you can thrive in the new paradigm!

David Reed is the creator of the “Improvise for Real” teaching method. Students of Improvise for Real learn to enter and explore the world of harmony on their own, and enjoy the excitement of creating original and new music. You can learn more at

Special bonus offer IFR go here. A review of the Improvise Method

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