Want to Schedule a Lesson?

Call, text, or email me!

(916) 960-6882     carrollaugustin@gmail.com

Teaching Philosophy

I believe that learning to play an instrument is an extraordinarily personal endeavor. Music is a whole-brain task, and every student, no matter how "talented," will connect with some aspects of music intuitively, and find themselves challenged by others. Accordingly, music lessons need to be very personal, and adjusted to help the student lean into their natural strengths and grow to overcome their difficulties. In my experience, the number one factor that determines whether a student succeeds is the quality of the teacher-student relationship, and so I strive to know my students well enough to guide them through their educational journey in a way that feels intuitive and brings them joy and excitement rather than frustration and boredom.

Although having goals is important, students who don't enjoy the journey burn out quickly, so it's important to me that students value the process of learning, not just what it gets them. In a sense, learning music can be much like a meditation practice, a way to center oneself and grow as a person, and I encourage students to see their studies as a journey of self- discovery as much as much as the acquisition of external knowledge. I have had the joy of seeing students not only learn music theory or piano technique, but also gain an exquisite awareness of themselves and the workings of their own minds and bodies.

Parental Involvement

A young students' support from their family is an essential part of their success, but my approach to parental involvement is somewhat unconventional. I highly discourage parents from managing their child's practice regimen, whether that be through scheduling practice time, setting time requirements, nagging, incentivizing with rewards, withholding other activities until practice is completed, etc. It is my position that aside from an occasional gentle reminder, parents should not push practicing on their children. This can be a very difficult philosophy for parents to accept, especially since a lot of kids flounder for a while before they find a good routine. While parents have the absolute best intentions by trying to get their children to practice more, the result is usually negative. Here are the reasons I discourage parents from being over-involved in practice routines:

  1. It prevents the child from developing their own discipline and motivation. Students need to learn that practice discipline is something they have to work to develop, not something their parents do for them.
  2. It binds the act of practicing piano to the parent-child relationship. If a child sees practicing as something their parents want them to do, then not practicing is a way to rebel when they're upset. It is important for me to develop a strong teacher-student relationship, so that I can communicate expectations directly without the interference of the ups and downs of other relationships.
  3. It makes music a chore. Over time, students tend to increase their practice as they build a relationship with their instrument and see their hard work pay off, but their interest is unlikely to blossom if they categorize practice with doing homework and cleaning their room.
  4. In the end, excessive parental interference doesn't even work. Practice doesn't happen in the fingers, it happens in the mind. A student can sit at the piano and run through everything they're "supposed to," but if their heart isn't in it, their mind won't be focused. If a child can't watch TV until they practice for 20 minutes, they will sit at the bench, "do their time," and learn virtually nothing.

I have spent many years working with new students to help them explore their musical curiosity, and in my experience, children are usually much more capable of developing their own discipline than adults expect, so long as they feel that their independence and maturity is respected. Interest in music can be encouraged, but attempting to force it almost always has the opposite effect.

I encourage parents to be highly involved in their child's musical education in other ways that make the student feel supported instead of lorded over, such as (if possible) showing up to lessons and being aware of what their child is working on, listening to piano music with their child, and offering positive feedback on their child's playing while letting me be the one to tell them what could be improved. It can make a world of difference for a parent to bring a book or laptop into the living room and simply be present while the child practices.

The most successful young students are those whol feel supported and encouraged—rather than nagged and criticized—by their parents, and I work hard to help parents be a positive part of their children's learning experience.

Adult Beginners

Adults sometimes ask me if it's possible to pick up music later in life, and I always say "Yes! Well, it depends..." The truth is, our brains' ability to change and reorganize, called neuroplasticity, reduces as we get older, which is why it's much harder to learn something new as an adult. That being said, neuroplasticity never goes away completely. We can always learn new things.

For composers, our most important learning happens passively, as our unconscious brains learn the conventions and workings of the music we listen to. If you've loved to listen to music all your life, and maybe messed around on an instrument a little, you actually may have a great foundation for composition.

Playing an instrument, on the other hand, is a different story. The complexities of the fine motor skills used in playing an instrument are so precise that as adults, lifelong musicians have structures in their brains that are so conspicuous that they are visible to the naked eye on a brain scan. Those kinds of motor skills take a lot of time and work to build, exponentially so for an adult. I encourage adult beginner piano students to focus on the the joy of the process rather than attach to outcomes, as adults usually do not have the practice time that building performance-worthy skill would require. Is it too late to become a concert pianist? Yes, it's probably too late. Is it too late to take up piano as an enjoyable hobby? Not at all. My own father began taking piano lessons as a beginner in his late forties, while he was still a full-time physician. He didn't have a lot of time to practice, but his teacher was patient and encouraging, and he still loves to play (even if he would never do so in public.)

You may have heard of Tony Cicoria, a orthopedic surgeon who was struck by lightning and became an acquired savant pianist. ("Wouldn't that be nice?" some people say.) But here's the thing that people probably don't realize about Tony Cicoria: The brain injury inflicted by the lightning didn't give him musical abilities, it just gave him an obsession with piano music. He woke up early every morning and practiced until he had to go to work, then came home and practiced until midnight. He became skilled because he compulsively spent all his free time practicing. Theoretically, anyone with the right motivation could do that without being struck by lightning (although personally, I would recommend a more moderate approach.)

The simple reality is, we all get from music education what we put into it. The rate of return decreases as we age, but it never drops off to nothing.

Want to Schedule a Lesson?

Call, text, or email me!

(916) 960-6882     carrollaugustin@gmail.com