Should You Trust That "Magic Bullet" Teaching Tool?

A two second Google search can bring up any number of teaching tools. Some are great, others are just gimmicks to take your money (and maybe your student).

Here are some questions to ask yourself next time you see one of these “magic bullet” teaching tools.

Does it have pedagogical value?

It happens all the time: a new student comes in after spending months working on their own with some YouTube “how to” video. Their fingering is often jacked up, their technique is out the window, and they’re having trouble playing without knowing why.

Frustrated and facing roadblocks they have no idea why things seem so difficult.

With the advent of the internet, anyone can broadcast themselves and teach… the problem is, they may not be a teacher themselves.

They might be able to get a student to the “goal” (say, playing the theme from “Jurassic Park”) but without the concrete foundation that's needed to support it. Sure, they can hunt and peck keys and get the song out, but does that actually help them in the long run?

Sometimes a student will pull up a video like that during a lesson, and that's fine – because I'm there to help guide them through the process, avoid the potholes, and give them the proper context. The ability to play one song is one thing – playing your instrument is quite another.

Does it try to replace the teacher?

There simply isn't a substitute for having a knowledgeable professional in the room with you. An app can't see your hands, correct you on fingering, or tweak dynamics with you.

Yet some, in an effort at a cash grab, will try to supplant the teacher and target the student. I've seen apps and methods that advertise with wording like “Forget about expensive teachers! Learn from the comfort of your own home!”

These things are junk akin to the “get rich quick” schemes found in the seedier corners of the internet.

If, however, the tool seeks to supplement the lesson – either by making the life of the teacher easier or enhancing the learning experience for the student — it's probably a good thing.

Does it simplify or complicate?

Sometimes technology can make our lives much simpler. Other times, it's just a needless complication – anyone who's unsuccessfully tried to set up a wireless printer can probably attest to this.

But take, for example, the concept of using iPads for reading music at live shows. Almost everyone knows how to use an iPad these days, and if not, they're pretty straightforward to learn.

What's more, it eliminates the need for carrying multiple books or flipping pages.

I was highly skeptical until I did a gig where we were required to use them – I was amazed at how easy it made things. Playing an outdoor gig on a windy day it would certainly be a huge benefit.

The crux, here, is more or less personal:

Does it save you time in the lesson, allowing you to focus on the student more?

Does it engage the student more fully in the process and excite them about music?

That's going to be something each teacher needs to research and decide for themselves.

There are great tools out there and there are bad ones. Nobody wants to get ripped off, or worse – waste their time on something that doesn't work out.

Asking yourself these questions can help direct you to the tools you could really use: the ones that have pedagogical value, work with instead of against the teacher, and most importantly, simplify and streamline everything to save time, so you can focus on the real reason why you’re a musician: to practice inspiration.