Had a conversation about giving a child piano lessons recently. I told the lady that although I can teach from scratch, my preference is to let someone else start them off and when the student gets to that “end of first year frustration with progress” point, as so many do, then THAT’S the point where I like to take them. There is psychology involved in why this works best for the student: first of all, the new face/teacher and new dynamic in teaching style are the first two things that make an instant change.
The third is where my successful participation comes in: I take the student from where they are now, let’s call it in a rut of frustration because they want to go faster than the teacher is allowing them because they may or may not have mastered the techniques they need to master before going on or else they may develop bad habits that will perpetuate. OK, that’s from a piano teaching perspective. However, the student isn’t interested in technique at this point, he or she wants to play the piano and make it enjoyable. If it’s enjoyable to the student, then the student is motivated to keep playing and practicing, which then leads them to their own conclusion that they need to learn more technique. Like I said, psychology.
So where I like to come in is to teach the student musicianship and to work with what they’ve got at the technical point they’re at right now. They discover on their own how limited their technique is; but if learning about rhythm and how to accompany themselves singing shows them how useful playing the piano can be, I find that they are more inclined to want to go back and learn more technique.
I approach my music ministry teams the same way. Where they are is where they are, not knocking them at all. I would never walk in and declare a group of volunteers as not being up to par because that’s conceited. I mean minister to them like Jesus did, right where they are now. I walk in and find out where they are right now, what kind of music they enjoy singing, ask them to pull out copies of pieces they like and feel they sing well and work with those for a few weeks to observe. I discover what the dynamic of that particular group is and then help them to enhance what they already like doing to help them to do it better. As they get better, their confidence builds and they are willing to try new and different kinds of pieces, which then helps increase technical skills and through it all, letting the Holy Spirit move through me as their leader to them to help them grow spiritually.
I always remember and teach my teams to remember also that ministry is about the people and helping them progress in their own spiritual walks. That and I always remember something a wise old retired pastor once told me as a young music director saddled with a speaking voice that sounds like I’m perpetually nine years old trying to “herd cats” who are usually my Gramma’s age. He said not to think of anyone as any particular age, since we are all God’s children, and that I should strive to be as kind as a kindergarten teacher and as firm as a kindergarten teacher. The humor in that has served me well when having to address adult behavior that amounts to “running with scissors.”