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“How Are You?”: Teaching Music Is So Much More Than Notes

The first thing I say to each student is, “How Are You?” When I ask that question, I actually mean it. I want to know how my student is doing. I will sometimes follow it up with “What’s new?” or “How is school going?” If a student is completely closed off, I will start the lesson, but continue to talk to them with kindness and gentle questions.

It is important to me to get to know my students. I want to know all about them. Every piece of information I can get helps form an aggregate picture of their lives. When I ask my students questions it makes them feel safe. And that is the kind of atmosphere that want to have in my studio.

I teach people how to play viola and violin. Yes. But I teach them so much more than f-natural is a half-step away from e-natural. With young students, ages 6 and under, they learn how to interact with adults that aren’t family or at school. For some I am the only adult they interact with on a one-on-one basis. My elementary aged students learn the fastest of all age groups. My favorite age is ages 8-10. Those kids are old enough to understand most of the words I typically use, but too young to be going through the drama of pre-teens.

The middle and high school students are the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. High levels of compassion are needed, but also, I have to know when to push them. I would imagine if you asked my students if I am a mean teacher, they would all say I am not. On the other hand, I have probably made each of them cry. [DO NOT ASK THEM THOUGH!]

I will reference my own mental health with students when appropriate. If they ask how I am doing I will also be honest. If I had a broken finger and someone asked about it, I would be forthcoming. Mental health shouldn’t be any different. Part of my life’s work is to normalize and destigmatize mental illness.

I have definitely faced difficulties because I am so honest and open. People treat me differently once they know I am not neurotypical (I have ADHD) or that I have depression and anxiety. Even people who have been in my life for years have struggled to understand my brain or how to interact with me in a way that maintains everyone’s dignity. I’m never going to stop sharing though.

Someday, the stigma will be lifted. I get better at dealing with my brain every day. I’m going to be learning about it forever. Teaching all of my amazing students helps me learn, too. My studio will always be a safe space for all my students and families. No matter what kind of brain you have; you deserve love, compassion, and kindness.

Now, go practice!

Christina Mixemong is an owner of Dynamic Music Studios and teaches viola and violin. Special thanks to Kyle Sleichter at Iowa's Photographer for the photograph taken last year at our open house.

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