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   Rod & Keryn Christensen
by Rod Christensen (Musician and Music Teacher for over 40 years)

'What Is A Complete Musician'

A complete musician is one who has developed their natural feel, rhythm and ear abilities, their ability to improvise, their ability to read music fluently, and above all .. to be musically creative !

The traditional approach to learning music has focused heavily on the reading of music. When children first put their fingers to an instrument they have been immediately plunged into reading music. But having to concentrate on and comprehend the reading of music right from the word go, can inhibit and even suppress our natural 'ear', rhythmic and creative abilities. To put it in other words .. too much focus on initially learning music through our left brain can be at the detriment of the right brain which is our creative side !

My experiences with teaching through schools

For a few years I taught music for Education Queensland. When I first started teaching through schools I encountered so many young musicians, even at high school level, who were musically illiterate and had limited understanding of critical elements of music. Children would read music by associating a line or space position on a music staff to a finger position on their instrument, but they didn't know the names of common music signs and symbols or what they meant, they hadn't learnt many of the essential elements of music, they could not play songs by 'ear', and they had a poor sense of rhythm. As for their musical creativity .. it was ZERO !  I subsequently became discontent with teaching through schools and eventually left of my own accord to concentrate on teaching through our privately owned teaching centre.

How should a child first start when learning an instrument ?

The young beginner needs to initially discover and relate to their instrument, become confident with key and note positions, learn basic techniques relative to their instrument and simply have fun on their instrument playing basic songs by 'ear' and developing their natural feel and rhythm. This is very hard to achieve if beginners are having to focus too early on the reading of music which is the approach adopted by schools and many private music teachers. The reading of music needs to be introduced gradually and supported by a thorough understanding of music signs, symbols and other essential elements of music which can be achieved with fun quizzes and activities.

Creativity .. music from the soul !

Being a creative musician means being 'expressive' on an instrument .. being able to vary a simple melody and add natural rhythm and feel to make it sound pleasing to listen to (not boring) .. being able to improvise .. being able to hear a song and work out the notes on their instrument and play it by 'ear' ..  being able to jam along confidently with other young musicians even not knowing the song .. and in general, being able to make an instrument sound so good that people stop and listen, and especially tap their toes. This is called music from the soul !

Music must be fun !

It's so important that children are enjoying music and gaining personal satisfaction from playing their instrument. It must not become a hard arduous task as it so often can be particularly with a formal approach and exams. Exams in particular make music a difficult task and can put unnecessary stress on a child. There is little to no value in doing exams in music. Children also only learn to suit the expectations of the exam and gain a very limited experience and skills with music. They become very 'mechanical' players. Creativity is totally suppressed by doing exams !

My Background

Music started for me from when I was about 4 years of age but I didn't begin learning an instrument till I was about 9 years old. I first started by playing songs by 'ear' and just having fun on my saxophone. I also made up my own songs and learnt to improvise and make my instrument talk. Later I learnt the reading of music but still kept up the playing of songs by 'ear' and having fun with music. I began playing in bands when I was in my late childhood years and also learnt other instruments during my teenage and early adult years. I now play about 10 instruments.

My performing career has included playing in numerous small bands across many genres including jazz, blues, latin, rock, calypso, rock n roll and modern groove. I have played in brass bands, large swing orchestras and was musical director of a 12 piece country rock/caribbean performance band on the Sunshine Coast. I've also performed extensively as a soloist for many a private occasion and business function on various instruments.

My teaching career has spanned over 40 years and includes teaching through our privately owned music schools and employing and administering other music teachers, teaching through Education Queensland, and presenting music workshops on specific aspects of music. 

We (Keryn and myself) are consistently working on producing new and stimulating learning material to foster and achieve our goals with music education.

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