A Simple Exercise to Help You Teach Well in the New Year. Revisit Your Soundtrack.

Eric Branner

Jan 4, 2017

My soundtrack starts with Billy Joel’s Glass Houses. If I hear any track from that record, I am transported underneath my parent’s kitchen table, listening to the new Walkman I got for Christmas 1984… I am a child, and that feels safe and good. When Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” comes on, I remember the feeling of not being embarrassed to dance. I’d lose that confidence shortly later in life.

The holidays aren’t always relaxing and restful, and that’s just fine. We can all relate to how a season full of parties, family, friends, events, and food can take it’s toll! Driving to my first full day of teaching following the holiday break, I wasn’t as rested, motivated, or prepared for the new year as I hoped to be. Honestly, I felt drained which is not a normal vibe for me to bring to a day of guitar teaching. Teaching is my most favorite thing to do. I needed an immediate attitude adjustment. During the slow crawl through Seattle traffic, I had a few big thoughts.

In such a post-holiday-haze situation, I propose that all you have to do is revisit the Soundtrack of Your Life! We all have songs that backing-tracked our formative years; they are the conduit to the energy, enthusiasm, and wonder that we felt as kids. If you can tap into that energy, you will spontaneously connect-with and inspire your students.

Gosh. Stuck in traffic. Lesson in twenty minutes. I need to pull it together. Here we go. Open Soundtrack of My Life Playlist. There’s time for two tracks. Choose well. Appalachia Waltz by Mark O’Connor. I heard Yo-Yo Ma perform a solo arrangement of this piece during the opening celebrations of Benaroya Hall, and it remains one of the most powerful musical moments of my life. I had recently moved to Seattle from rural Virginia, and was immersing myself in culture and new experiences. I was independent for the first time, and somehow found myself front and center for Yo-Yo Ma’s encore. When he played Appalachia Waltz, I cried uncontrollably. When he finished, I looked around me to see many of the other audience members, red-eyed and tear-streaked. I felt so inspired! This piece always reminds me of the power and importance of music, adventure, performance, and mastery.

Appalachia Waltz was over and I was still inching away in traffic, yet I felt much more myself. Suddenly, there were some ideas for what to teach! I ended up having time for a few more songs, but Yoyo Ma had been enough… I was back! I arrived at my studio so excited to play music…and to share that excitement with my students.

I believe that intention, energy, spirit, and enthusiasm can trump a lesson plan.(i love a good lesson plan too!) Sometimes, connecting with your own passion is the best way to improve your teaching situation. Access your joy and past inspiration with your soundtrack, and see what happens! I hope this little trick might help your new year of teaching as much as it did for me.

A few other classics from my soundtrack… every thing on Astral Weeks, Glen Gould’s Goldberg Variations, Upward Over the Mountain by Iron and Wine, Holland 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel..oh, Glory Bound by Martin Sexton and the entirety of Greg Brown’s One Night. I’d love to hear what the major hits are on the Soundtrack of Your Life.

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