I admit to having a slightly different philosophy from the music teachers I grew up with.

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate what they gave me, especially when it comes to the in-depth knowledge of technique I now share with my students.

But it was a narrow path, one in which the flute could only be used for one kind of music, and however you played was measured up against an abstract standard of perfection.

Eventually I felt burnt out. (When you’ve disconnected from the music itself by reducing it to a series of technical challenges, well, that can happen.)

When I became an adult and found my way into the world of traditional music, I reconnected with my musical soul. Melodies I had learned to disparage as “simple folk tunes” turned out to be incredibly complex. Finding my musical voice in that world also turned out to mean making friends literally all across the world who share in the same passion.

It’s a model for lifelong playing that I return to often when I think about my hopes for my students.

Many of my students do win auditions and receive top ratings at Solo and Ensemble competitions. It’s just never the focus.

Instead, my guiding light is: what sparks each student’s joy?

For some it is the classical repertoire. For others it’s learning how to improvise off of chords for their church’s praise band. Or taking a deep dive into the world of baroque music. Maybe it’s learning how to play backup in their friend’s garage band. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach because that’s just not how life works.

Whatever our goals are – and whether I’m teaching flute or beginning piano – I integrate recording technology into everyday lessons.  At some point I realized that technology had moved forward so much in even the past 10 years that it only made sense to seize on its possibilities.  Even my youngest students practice the dual skills of listening critically and celebrating successes.

As a result, I’ve seen all my students start to define themselves as artists: knowing what they like, why they like it, and feeling the motivation to develop the skills so they can sound the way they want.

Want to hear what I mean?

Take a listen to this beginning elementary school piano student, who transformed a song from her 5-finger piano book into a hip hop masterpiece:

And here’s an intermediate high school flute student, who selected a song and created her own arrangement:

I’ll admit, it’s a slightly different path from the traditional lesson format of working through Book 1 and then starting Book 2.  While there can be wisdom in that approach, right now I’m seeing too much growth in my students to think about going back!