top of page

In the world of music education, the pursuit of grades can sometimes overshadow the true essence of learning and personal growth. Recently, we had an interesting conversation with a prospective student and their parent, which prompted me to reflect on our philosophy at Music Lab and the role of grades in music education.

It began with a straightforward inquiry from a concerned parent who had very specific demands regarding grades and the ability of our school to deliver on these expectations. In their message, they outlined the importance of achieving certain grades in music education.

**An Honest Response**

In response to their inquiry, I appreciated their detailed information but also realized that Music Lab might not align with their specific goals. I gently conveyed that while all our teachers are highly qualified, our focus isn't primarily on grading. Instead, we emphasize the cultivation of a growth mindset and personal development.

This response was rooted in our belief that music education is not solely about grades but about nurturing individuals to become better versions of themselves. We prioritize people before music, recognizing that the journey of self-discovery and personal growth often transcends the boundaries of traditional grading systems.

**The Importance of Nuance**

Their courteous reply highlighted the significance of grades in their perspective and their experiences with less-than-ideal teaching situations. It was a poignant reminder that not all students have had access to quality music education.

In response, I acknowledged their concerns and clarified my previous comment about "low grade." My intention wasn't to insult but to emphasize that music teachers should possess a high level of proficiency, typically at least grade 8. I shared our nuanced perspective on grades—it's not a simple "yes or no" but rather a "maybe."

**The Battle for a Better System**

At Music Lab, we firmly believe that music education should transcend the confines of grades. We're not suggesting that grades are entirely irrelevant; they serve a purpose, especially in structured systems. However, we advocate for a more holistic approach—one that values the human experience of learning and the development of a lifelong love for music.

In a world where numbers often take precedence, we choose to prioritize the human element. We're not claiming to be better; we're simply different. Our passion lies in teaching and nurturing individuals, ensuring that the joy of music remains intact throughout the learning journey.

**A Fight for Change**

Ultimately, our stance against the overemphasis on grades is a call for change—a change in the education system that sometimes reduces the richness of music to mere numbers. We're advocating for a system that values humans, appreciates their unique journeys, and fosters a deep and lasting connection with music.

To the concerned parent and all those who share their perspective, we understand your concerns, and we respect your choices. Music education is a diverse world with various paths, and we're here to champion the one that aligns with our philosophy—one that celebrates the beauty of music and the human spirit.

Music is a language of the heart, and its truest essence lies not in grades but in the emotions it evokes, the connections it forges, and the growth it inspires. At Music Lab, we'll continue to nurture this essence, one student at a time, with unwavering passion and dedication.


In the end, the conversation with this prospective student and their parent was a poignant reminder of the multifaceted nature of music education. While grades have their place, we believe that there's a broader, more enriching world of music waiting to be explored—one that transcends the confines of numbers and grades, where the heart of music beats strong.

We invite you to embark on this musical journey with us, one that places people before music, growth before grades, and the joy of learning at its core.

At Music Lab, we're not just teaching music; we're nurturing souls through the language of melodies.

Join us on this extraordinary voyage, and let's make music a lifelong companion on your journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

4 views0 comments

As educators, we often encounter students who are exceptionally hard on themselves, constantly striving for perfection, and deeply frustrated by their own perceived shortcomings. It's natural to want to reassure them by comparing their performance to that of their peers, but as the saying goes, "comparison is the thief of joy." Instead, let's explore a more effective approach to help these students thrive in their learning journey.

The Dangers of the "Comparison" Strategy

Comparing one student to another can be a double-edged sword. While it may temporarily alleviate their stress by showing them that they are doing well relative to others, it often leads to a harmful cycle of further comparison. In the age of social media and constant connectivity, young minds are already bombarded with comparisons daily. The last thing we want is to reinforce this tendency.

Why Mistakes Matter

Rather than relying on comparisons, we should emphasize why making mistakes is an integral part of the learning process. Mistakes are not failures; they are stepping stones to growth and improvement. Encourage your student to see their frustration as a positive sign – it means they care deeply about their progress.

The Importance of Challenges

It's crucial to discuss why learning should be challenging and why challenges are essential for personal development. Children are hardwired to seek challenges and overcome obstacles. It's not the difficulty itself that scares them; it's the fear of failing, falling behind, or disappointing others. This fear can be paralyzing, but it's also an opportunity for growth.

Drawing Parallels with Games

If your student enjoys playing video games, you can draw parallels between their gaming experiences and learning to drum. Most gamers will tell you that easy games quickly become boring. On the other hand, games that are too hard can be frustrating. Learning to drum is just another game, one that becomes more exciting as they level up their skills.

Remind Them of Their Support System

It's important for students to know that they are not alone on their learning journey. They have a support system in place, including parents, teachers, and even their fellow students. Reinforce the idea that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Validating the Struggle

While it might be tempting to say, "No, it will be easy," to comfort your student, this can backfire. They may become even more frustrated when things don't turn out to be easy as promised. Instead, validate how hard the learning process can be. Acknowledge their struggle and emphasize that the "easy" path has lost its appeal because they've outgrown it.

Highlighting the Value of Difficulty

Reframe their perspective on difficulty. Let them know that "hard" is not a negative attribute; it's a sign that they are pushing their boundaries and growing. Encourage them to embrace the challenge and relish the journey of improvement.

The Case Against Exams

Lastly, consider whether standardized exams are truly necessary for their drumming education. Standardized assessments can often add unnecessary stress and hinder the joy of learning. Encourage a more holistic approach that focuses on mastery and personal growth rather than rigid examinations.


Helping a student who is exceptionally hard on themselves requires a thoughtful approach that goes beyond comparisons and superficial reassurances. By emphasizing the importance of mistakes, the value of challenges, and the support available, we can guide them toward a more resilient and fulfilling learning experience. Remember, it's not about making it easy; it's about making it meaningful.

3 views0 comments

In the captivating world of music education, the journey to mastery often revolves around a critical choice: Do you focus solely on perfecting the piece you're meant to perform in an upcoming exam, or do you take a more holistic approach, diving deep into the underlying concepts and skills? It's a choice that can make all the difference in your musical journey.

**The Common Pitfall: Tunnel Vision**

Many music students, particularly those preparing for exams, fall into a common trap—a tunnel vision that fixates solely on the specific piece they'll be assessed on. Hours are spent diligently practicing the notes, tempo, and dynamics of that particular composition. While this dedication is commendable, there's a more profound approach waiting to be explored.

Research by Hallam (2010) highlights the power of music education in intellectual, social, and personal development. However, the study does not delve into the importance of meta-level learning.

**The Power of Learning at a Meta Level**

What if I told you that the secret to true musical growth lies in understanding the concepts and skills underlying the song, rather than just the song itself? Let's delve into why this shift in perspective can be a game-changer.

**1. Elevating Your Skill Ceiling**

When you focus on learning concepts and skills at a meta level, you're not just preparing for one piece; you're laying the groundwork for a broader range of musical proficiency. McPherson and Renwick (2001) conducted a longitudinal study on self-regulation in children's musical practice, emphasizing the importance of a broader skill set.

**2. Confidence That Soars**

Understanding the inner workings of musical concepts fosters a deep sense of confidence. You're not just hoping you remember the notes; you know why they are played the way they are. This knowledge is a powerful ally when you step onto the exam stage. Your performance becomes a testament to your comprehension, and your confidence shines through every note.

**3. Learning Diagonally, Not Just Vertically**

By learning at a meta level, you're not progressing in a linear fashion, moving only vertically toward mastering one song. Instead, you're learning diagonally, making connections between different pieces, genres, and musical techniques. This lateral growth allows you to draw on a broader range of skills and insights in your musical journey.

Woody's research (2004) on musicians' strategies for studying and remembering music emphasizes the importance of a multifaceted approach to learning, which aligns with diagonal learning.

**The Importance of Learning Sideways**

What sets this approach apart from the conventional method of learning solely for exams? The key is learning laterally, not just vertically. It's about understanding the "why" and "how" behind your playing, rather than merely regurgitating and perfecting the information found on a piece of sheet music.

Learning laterally is akin to stepping back from the canvas to view the entire painting. It's about grasping the big picture, the emotional connection to the music you're playing. And most importantly, it's about understanding the concepts and skills that make the music come alive.

Why is this lateral approach so crucial?

**Understanding the "Why" and the "How"**

When you learn laterally, you're delving into the intricacies of the music. It's not just about playing the right notes; it's about comprehending why those notes work together to convey emotion and meaning. It's about understanding the "how"—how to infuse your playing with the intended emotion, how to shape phrases, how to convey the story the composer intended.

Consider this: Anyone can learn to play a sequence of notes, but it takes a musician who learns laterally to make those notes sing with emotion. It's the difference between reading the words of a poem and understanding the poet's intent and emotions behind those words.

**Transcending Rote Memorization**

Rote memorization has its place in music education. It helps you remember the notes and the technical aspects of a piece. However, it's only when you learn laterally, when you dive into the "why" and "how" of your playing, that you truly transcend mere memorization.

Rote memorization might get you through an exam, but it won't make your music memorable. It won't allow you to connect with your audience on a deeper level. It won't make your music sing with authenticity.

**The Emotional Connection**

Music is more than a sequence of sounds; it's a language of emotions. Learning laterally allows you to speak this language fluently. It's about understanding the emotional nuances of the music and translating them into your playing.

Imagine playing a melancholic piece without truly grasping the sadness it conveys. Your notes might be correct, but they lack the depth that comes from understanding the music's emotional core. Learning laterally ensures that you not only play the right notes but also convey the intended emotions.

To truly emphasize the significance of learning laterally, let's consider an analogy. Think of a chef who follows a recipe to the letter versus a chef who understands the science of cooking. The former can replicate dishes, but the latter can create culinary masterpieces.

In music, learning laterally transforms you from a mere player of notes to a creator of music. You move from being a technician to an artist, capable of infusing every piece you play with your interpretation, your emotions, and your unique voice.

**The Journey, Not Just the Destination**

Learning laterally is not a shortcut; it's a profound shift in perspective. It's a commitment to the journey, not just the destination. It's about becoming a musician who can take any piece of music and breathe life into it, regardless of whether it's for an exam, a concert, or personal enjoyment.

When you learn laterally, you don't just play the music; you become the music. You're no longer confined to the notes on the page; you transcend them, reaching the hearts and souls of your audience.

**Practical Steps for Learning Laterally**

Now that we've established the importance of learning laterally, how can you incorporate this approach into your music education?

1. **Study the Composer**: Dive into the life and work of the composer. Understand the historical context, the emotions they wanted to convey, and their unique style. This knowledge will inform your interpretation of their music.

2. **Analyze the Score**: Take a close look at the sheet music. Understand the structure, the key changes, and the dynamics. Identify recurring themes or motifs. This analysis will provide valuable insights into the composition.

3. **Listen Actively**: Listen to various interpretations of the piece by different musicians. Pay attention to how they express emotions, shape phrases, and use dynamics. Active listening will broaden your musical vocabulary.

4. **Experiment with Expression**: While practicing, don't be afraid to experiment with different ways of playing. Try conveying various emotions within the same piece. This experimentation will deepen your understanding of the music.

5. **Seek Guidance**: Consult with your music teacher or a mentor. Discuss your interpretation and seek feedback. They can offer valuable guidance and help you refine your approach.

6. **Record Yourself**: Record your practice sessions and performances.

**The Song as a Byproduct**

Here's the delightful twist: when you invest in understanding concepts and skills deeply, the song becomes a byproduct of your newfound proficiency. You'll find that you can tackle it with ease and creativity because you've built a strong foundation. It's not just about "practicing" the song; it's about knowing how to express it.

**Your Musical Odyssey**

As you embark on your musical odyssey, whether it's preparing for an exam or simply honing your skills, remember that learning at a meta level is your ticket to unlocking your full potential. It's a journey that leads to greater confidence, a higher skill ceiling, and a more profound understanding of music itself.

So, don't just play the notes; understand why they sing. Dive into the concepts, dissect the techniques, and let your musical journey take you places you've never imagined. In the end, it's not just about passing an exam; it's about becoming the musician you aspire to be.



Hallam, S. (2010). The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social, and Personal Development of Children and Young People. *International Journal of Music Education*, 28(3), 269-289.

McPherson, G. E., & Renwick, J. M. (2001). A Longitudinal Study of Self-regulation in Children’s Musical Practice. *Music Education Research*, 3(2), 169-186.

Woody, R. H. (2004). Musicians' strategies for studying and remembering music: Schumann’s “Carnaval” in the case of a concert pianist. *Psychology of Music*, 32(1), 101-126.

8 views0 comments
bottom of page