Will Daniels Piano Studio
Philosophy of Music and Teaching

The following is a summary of my Christian-theological philosophy of music and teaching.

(To skip past the theological portion, click here.)

(pdf version)

FOUNDATIONS

As music is within the realm of God’s reign, existing within God’s creation, music declares the glory of God. All of creation is saturated with God’s self-revelation to his creatures, and that includes music. The student of music ought to recognize the voice of God telling forth His eternal power and divine nature through the patterns of musical experience. Every thought about music that lacks such a recognition or cognizance of God’s self-revelation is erroneous and undermines the process of learning. To lack recognition of God’s self-revelation in music is to lack the key to understanding its very substance as the creation of God. Such a lack of understanding negates veritas — that is, truth — which is the very heart of education.

Goals and aspirations

One of the hallmarks of musical excellence is skillfulness. Skillfulness is an ability — developed over time through training — to consistently achieve a desired end. The vocation of a teacher is to aid in this process. This raises the question: what should the desired end be? A teacher and student usually have different ideas about the outcome of the student’s training. While a student may want to be a Rock Star, their teacher may prefer them to be an accomplished Classical pianist. We may debate how the teacher’s and student’s goals should be reconciled, but we must start and end that debate with God’s revealed will for us. If the student desires to be a Rock Star, they are well advised to examine that desire. If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then a right desire is one that truly leads to God’s glory and one’s enjoyment of Him forever. What is often the case is that our earthly goals — such as being a Rock Star or an accomplished Classical pianist — are simply cases of setting our minds on things that are on earth, not on things that are above (Colossians 3:2). This is because our natural mind desires these earthly things for themselves, and not necessarily because they reveal God’s glory. Our natural mind glorifies creation over the Creator, exchanging the truth about God for a lie (Romans 1:25).

Scripture and true learning

We cannot truly understand anything in creation without God’s special revelation in the Scriptures. True learning is only possible when the student is taught alongside and through the Scriptures. The student of music ought to desire the worship of God to be the end that their musical training achieves. Knowledge of the Scriptures, therefore, is necessary for true musical education to take place. This is because without knowledge of the Scriptures the student can only have vague and futile notions of what the proper worship of God entails.

Thanksgiving, joy, and worship

Proper worship of God entails continually thanking God for all things. The Apostle Paul brings music in close connection with thanksgiving in Ephesians 5:19-20, “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Music exists to multiply our thanksgiving to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Music is inherently joyful and satisfying to our souls. Thus, we ought to enjoy music with thankfulness in our hearts to the glory of God. Furthermore, the joy and satisfaction that we experience in music aids us in our meditation on the joy and satisfaction that we have more perfectly in Christ. The teacher and the student are to strive together in “[seeking] the things that are above, where Christ is…” (Colossians 3:1). We now see how music can direct our minds away from earthly goals (Rock Star or Classical pianist) towards Christ who is in Heaven: by producing thanksgiving in our hearts.

Musical excellence

Paul sheds more light on how music may have a worthy end: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). So, it is not wrong for the student and teacher to strive to develop praiseworthy musical skill. Musical training has the potential to produce a skill in the student that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Paul exhorts us to think about these things. These attributes belong to God’s nature. When we see these attributes displayed in the skill of a student, they declare the glory of God and produce thanksgiving in our hearts.

APPLICATIONS

With the above foundations, I consider it my vocation as a teacher to find the best methods for directing students toward greater skillfulness to the end of displaying God’s glory and multiplying thanksgiving and enjoyment of God through music. I expect that this end will be hindered or facilitated to the degree that the student is also trained in knowledge of the Scriptures, although I do not consider that to be preeminently my responsibility as their music teacher. However, as I guide students to greater skillfulness in the worship of God with music, I must discuss with the student the importance of that goal and how music may be employed to that end. This would of course require the application and reminder of Scripture in the context of piano lessons when appropriate.

A lifelong process

The pursuit of musical excellence is a long and arduous process, but not because it is inherently difficult and should be avoided. Music has endless room for increasing levels of mastery and creative evolution. That is why the study of music is generally a lifelong endeavor. I believe that it is simply because the pursuit of music takes place over the course of one’s life that it also takes on all the contours of one’s life, including difficult seasons as well as easy ones.

Practicing

I endeavor to help each student establish a resilient course of study which can withstand the rocky contours of life. A regular habit of practice is effective in providing this quality of resilience. I always find that my students are happiest when they have diligently practiced throughout the week. They also tend to enjoy their piece only after they have played through it several times throughout the week, even if they did not care for the piece when I assigned it. I expect my students to trust that what I assign to them is for their joy even when it seems burdensome. I also expect them to persevere through difficult periods with a trusting attitude, continuing to diligently consider my instruction. Daily attention to musical study must be sustained year after year to maintain momentum and strength of character.

Diversity, World music, and open-mindedness

For the sake of human unity, the music student ought to have a global awareness and appreciation of diverse cultures and styles of music. Not only does this resolve unnecessary tension and distaste for other cultures and styles of music, but it also maximizes the richness of musical experience of the glory of God. Just as certain ideas are more adequately expressed in some languages than others, musical expressions are more vividly realized in some styles than others. I encourage my students to be open-minded with music. Open-mindedness with music will also encourage open-mindedness, patience, and humility toward others.

Classical training and more

Although I encourage a global appreciation for music, I consider the backbone of study for my students to be the Classical tradition. The advantage of Classical music and piano technique is that it has been refined and developed over three centuries by a wide civilization of people. Jazz has also developed a comparably sophisticated and rich tradition, having existed for over a century now. Jazz, therefore, is a significant secondary influence in the musical training I provide, and a possible field of study for my students.

I seek to prepare students for the highest degree of excellence and skill in music so that they may be prepared for conservatory training and a professional career in music if they are willing. I know that many students will not have this aspiration, nor do I believe that they should. I love to help those who only aspire to play some simple songs on the piano for sheer enjoyment. I teach them in hope that their enjoyment produces thankfulness to God. But even they must train consistently to a certain degree; otherwise, their attempts at music will always be frustrating.

Not only must the student train their fingers, they must train their ears. I strongly encourage listening to copious amounts of music that is complex, poetic, stylistically diverse, thought-provoking, and enjoyable. Mature musicians do not begin a piece with their fingers, but with a clear conception in their minds of the sound that they desire to make. This conception of music is primarily trained through exposure to music. The student’s concept of music is further refined and nourished by studying music theory and analysis, understanding historical context, and attempting to recreate music through improvisation, composition, and other forms of experimentation and exploration.

Joy to the glory of God in Christ

My desire is for musical study to be a source of joy for the student. I have found for myself that music reaches this highest aim the more I see the glory of God in Christ illuminated through and alongside music making. That is my aim for the student as well. My goal in teaching students is to provide them with the ability to play any type of music in any context, knowing that God’s glory will be declared anywhere. My hope for the student is that everywhere they make and study music, they will enjoy God and be reminded of His glory in Christ.