You were the first teacher hired after Dave started Beyond the Beat. What were the early days like?
At the time we started, it was really a lot about (and it still is) the showcase performances. We had so few people, that we conscripted the students into doing all parts of the shows together. What we discovered was how effective it was to treat the school like an integrated community of musicians that all know each other, as opposed to separate students aiming for separate performances by time slots. Now the team is much bigger but any chance we get to have the students working together, that’s what we do.
Why is the performance element so important?
If there’s one defining thing about Beyond the Beat with respect to how we work with and treat the students, it’s that we’re trying to closely approximate real world experiences. In the sense that this is precisely what you might encounter in the music industry, in your local music scene, working with other musicians in the studio or at live gigs. We try to make it as pressure-free as possible, but I see it like if you can conquer that public performance at this age, there’s not that many things you’re going to run into along the way in terms of an adult that are going to freak you out. Because the students learn you don’t always know what’s going to happen until you get on stage, and the students here take on the challenge fearlessly. Their courage is amazing and I see what their success on stage does for them.
It does something for you too, then?
Yeah I always wonder would I have been able at a young age to get up on that stage and do what they do? I’m constantly learning important new lessons because of how different all these kids are. I love the experience of starting to work with a student who comes in, and is maybe particularly shy or averse to playing with other people musically, and it’s amazing to see how much they can exceed their own expectations through little consistent, supported steps. At Beyond the Beat, the goal isn’t perfection, it’s to see what happens when you get up and try. I’ve always been shocked seeing new students get up and perform, they realize it’s something they can do, and it becomes one of their favourite things to do very quickly.
Describe your teaching style?
I have taught private lessons for several years now and I would say that it’s become obvious to me that I have a unique opportunity here because I don’t have to teach a curriculum here. I can actually teach every lesson as an individual lesson for this individual. And because of that I learn a lot about them and why they’re here and then I learn about why music, why do they like it enough to show up here and do this. And that’s the curriculum. It’s being written by their perceptions (of music) and how they’re being communicated to me. It’s exactly about paying more attention to what the student wants. To be clear, there’s no way around learning technique when you’re trying to play a musical instrument, but the question is why are you learning the technique, what is it that you want to be able to achieve, and how do we get you there. I teach a series of integrated steps that will get you there, but that’s how I approach it from the outset.
For those that are interested in music that might be more technically demanding, that often grows naturally with those students because they become interested in the music first. They say, it’s hard and I say, yes, but you can do it. That’s the best thing for me, when I see kids trying a song that they first heard and said. I can’t play that, that’s way too hard, that’s insane. And I say, okay but let’s look at it. At a certain point, they’ll try it and if they commit to it long enough, I promise you, they get there. And when they get to the end of learning that song, the change in them as a person is significant. They see how far they’ve come. It’s an amazing feeling for them to master a song that’s an order of magnitude greater than anything they’ve played before. There’s so much more confidence and a more relaxed approach to any other challenge they want to take on after that. That experience is shared across the board, whether they’re learning an instrument, creating original music or beat making.
You’ve been here about ten years. What is it that keeps you at Beyond the Beat?
This is a rare place. I attribute it to the community element, the kids and the parents that attend the events, and the general vibe in the school and at the shows we all put on. The students are supported. I don’t quite know how to quantify it but we’ve got a really cool team of teachers and students and I really do feel like it’s a unique group of people who come here. We all really do get that.
John Allen leads the beat making program at Beyond the Beat. Find out more about Beat Making here.