5 Myths About Teaching and Learning Irish Traditional Music 

Introduction

Teaching traditional music is an art form that requires a deep understanding of both musical concepts and effective pedagogy. However, there are several misconceptions surrounding traditional music education that can hinder aspiring educators and misguide students (and their parents!). In this blog post, we’ll debunk five common myths about teaching traditional music and song to help teachers and learners gain a clearer perspective on this dynamic field.

Myth 1: If you play trad you can teach it

While being a skilled musician or singer is certainly an asset for a traditional music or song teacher, it doesn’t automatically translate into to effective teaching. Teaching requires a distinct set of skills, including communication, patience, adaptability, and the ability to tailor lessons to individual learning styles. A proficient player may not necessarily possess the pedagogical expertise needed to effectively convey concepts and inspire growth in their students. Teaching is an art in itself, and it requires dedicated study and practice.

Myth 2: We must teach this way – it’s ‘traditional’

Music education is not a static field. And that applies to teaching and learning in the traditional arts as much as to any other genre. The model of teacher-led, tune-led teaching that we currently uphold as being ‘traditional’ is, in fact, a 20th century construct, one that was created and popularised to address challenges being faced by the traditional music community at the time. It was inspired by – and informed by – methodologies and practices in the wider education system at the time. That education system has since transformed. And music education across other genres has transformed, revolutionised by advancements in technology, pedagogy and cognitive learning. Yet, burdened by the mistaken impression that the way we teaching is ‘traditional’, teaching and learning practices in the traditional arts have largely stood still. Staying open to evolution and improvement in teaching methods is crucial for providing the best possible education in music. It’s possible to teach traditional music and song in a contemporary way. Embracing innovative techniques and incorporating contemporary resources can enhance the learning experience, making it more engaging and effective for 21st century students.

Myth 3: Teaching tunes or songs equals teaching

While repertoire is an essential aspect of the teaching and learning of traditional music and song, a holistic education should also emphasise foundational skills, theory, stylistic development, performance practice, and much more. Providing a well-rounded education ensures that students develop a deep understanding of the music, enabling them to express themselves creatively and authentically.

Myth 4: There’s only one way to teach traditional music 

A common misconception is that traditional music teaching involves the teacher being positioned in front of the class, leading and directing the learning. While this teaching method certainly has its merits, it’s just one approach among many possibilities. Effective traditional music education can take on various forms, including student-led learning, collaborative learning, group discussions, experiential learning, flipped learning and independent research projects. Embracing diverse teaching methodologies allows students to engage with the material in different ways, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for traditional music. Additionally, incorporating technology and multimedia resources can further enhance the learning experience, providing students with a well-rounded education in traditional music. It’s important to recognize that there are multiple effective ways to teach and learn in this field. And it’s important to consider that students, as they progress, will flourish by being exposed to more than one way of teaching.

Myth 5: Teaching Traditional Music is not really a Profession

Really? Teaching traditional music is a legitimate profession that requires expertise, dedication, and a deep understanding of cultural heritage and musical traditions. While a relatively new concept, professionalising traditional music teaching is essential for ensuring the continued growth and preservation of this rich cultural heritage. One crucial step is establishing certification programs and qualifications for traditional music educators. These programs encompass comprehensive training in both musical proficiency and pedagogical techniques specific to the traditional music genre. Additionally, creating platforms for ongoing professional development, such as workshops, conferences, and masterclasses, allow educators to stay current with evolving teaching methods and technologies. 

Conclusion 

In debunking these five pervasive myths about teaching and learning Irish traditional music, we unveil a more nuanced and dynamic landscape for educators and students alike. It’s imperative to recognise that effective teaching goes beyond musical proficiency; it requires a dedicated commitment to pedagogical excellence. Embracing innovation and flexibility in our teaching methods, acknowledging the richness of diverse learning styles, and valuing the profession of traditional music education are all crucial steps towards a more vibrant and sustainable future for the traditional arts. By dispelling these misconceptions, we empower educators to shape a new narrative, one that honours tradition while propelling it forward into a modern era of musical exploration and growth. Together, let’s foster a community of passionate, informed, and inspired educators as we all work together to teach trad better. 

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