A Balancing Diet
Who would deny the importance of having a balanced diet? This commonsense idea is frequently used as a metaphor to emphasize the importance of having a diverse and balanced range of projects in the music lesson.
This idea raises some issues: First, what is your idea of a balanced musical diet? What should every lesson include? In my studio during the last decade, the Four Arts of Music have become the musical equivalent of the traditional “four food groups.” In each lesson, I try to include some improvising, arranging, interpreting literature, and composing (which often means songwriting), as well as technique. (Theory is integrated into the other arts.) Of course, that’s not always easy or possible to accomplish, even in an hour-long lesson.
Yet, life is rarely as simple as our concepts or plans. I have a student who is a music therapist and mother of four kids. Her schedule is all rush-hour traffic—problems at work, sick kids, church commitments, and so on. Unless she starts getting up at four in the morning instead of her usual five, there’s little time to practice, yet she loves her lessons and needs them for her work. Does this woman really need a “balanced musical diet”? Perhaps she has a greater need for a “balancing diet.” Perhaps she needs just a few projects that will balance her rather than balance each other.
At her lesson the other day, we decided that she would only play two beautiful, calming improvisation Patterns for the next few weeks or longer. In this way, the piano would be a place of refuge, perhaps the only place she could just relax and play. As a result, her musical diet for this month (and perhaps the rest of the school year) is not at all “balanced.” But this imbalanced program may bring some balance to her hectic life.
I used to believe in a balanced diet. I suppose that now I see more value in a balancing diet.