When I was much younger, I lived in an apartment with a few roommates, and I remember at that point in my life I had no idea how to get students, how to get gigs, I had no car, and I was just sort of like "Ok, how do I pay my bills?" So I job searched all over the city. All the music academies and music stores weren't hiring. Finally I got a job at a place that I thought would be good for someone whos good with kids, a play center for kids. I used to take the bus there at 8 AM every morning. My job was this: Pick up kids toys, make them chicken nuggets, and sometimes I even had to dress up in a character costume and dance for them. There was no tips, and I made exactly minimum wage. I would take my entire paycheck, and hand over most of it for rent. When I got the job, they told me one day I may be able to teach music classes to the kids. I wrote up an entire curriculum. With songs / interactive games. But they just swept it under the rug and I kept picking up kids toys and making them chicken nuggets. There was a little toy piano in the Toy Room, that I would play on breaks. A tiny thing with just a few octaves. One time a mom stopped in the room while I was playing and said "Wow, you are really good" I remember my soul lighting up for a quick second and I said "Thanks" And then I had to go back from break. I remember standing there, behind the cash register, with Disney songs blasting in the shop, with my boss yelling at me "Joey, Elmo costume in 5" asking myself "Joey, how the hell did you get here" And I remember I literally just shut my eyes and prayed. I remember playing that little toy piano and thinking "One day Im going to be able to teach this for a living" And it turned out all I needed was a little time. And I needed to grow up a little bit. And find my way. And ask questions. And learn from my failures. And get up and just keep trying again. Things come with time and take time. Sometimes we just have to say "Life, come at me, I'm ready"
This past year, I did a bunch of volunteer piano teaching at a homeless shelter. I would show up for the day, walk into the rec room with a small keyboard, and who ever came through that door I had to teach. The residents varied with who needed a place to sleep that night, and there was almost no consistency.
Immediately I had to shift my approach. Because a few things became immediately apparent:
1. There was almost zero chance these students were going to practice.
2. The goals of these lessons would be slightly different from what I was used to.
I realized the lessons I was teaching were NOT about progress how we typically measure progress. Not about technical skill. But lessons were being measured in joy and emotional impact.
How can I make the most impact right here, right now. How can I help make a memory. How can I make a difference.
I remember there were two 5 year old twin girls that would come and go from the shelter. And I used to play lots and lots of games with them. We used to draw pictures on pieces of paper and improvise soundscapes with them on the piano. We would jump around the room and act out stories and incorporate the piano as sound effects. We would write songs together, and the mom would sing along.
Another teenage boy, said he loved salsa music. So I played a salsa accompaniment for him in the bass, in a way that he could improvise ANY RHYTHMS HE WANTED in the right hand on black keys. Pure creativity. Exploration. Being in the moment.
When I got home from teaching my first day there, it then hit me.
That all lessons can be this way.
Of course, students can practice. Students can have forward motion. Students can have structure.
But what the shelter taught me is at its core, music in it's most basic form is emotion.
How can we make a difference for a student, right here right now.
How can we help make and be a part of a memory.
Ever wanted to get that Mccoy - Pentatonic Sound? Curious about Upperstructure Triads and Pentatonics? Check out the video below!