Within all the work I do as a teacher, I keep three things in mind: Ability, Variety, and Freedom in music.
I work to help my students be highly able musicians, equipped with the technique, knowledge and understanding they need to enjoy their music-making and be successful musicians. Each student's needs are different, so depending on the situation, I offer lessons on :
Physical Technique, Movement & Posture, Ear Training & Playing by Ear, Theory & Context, Improvisation, Composition & Arrangment, Sight-Reading, Sight-Singing, Rehearsal Technique, Performance Preparation, Studio Work
My teaching combines traditional methods with innovations drawn from modern mindfulness training and somatic practices, including work with imagery, mood, character, emotion, association and felt sense. The aim is to work with the whole person in music, therefore helping people access more of their potential and creativity.
Variety is part of my musical make-up. It was the basis of my PhD at the Royal Academy of Music, where I explored the concept of 'polymusicality': composing and performing music in radically different ways. In our highly diverse, eclectic modern world, this is something I think we all increasingly do as musicians and music-lovers. In my own professional life, I have performed and composed in a huge range of styles, including classical, blues, jazz, experimental, electronica, pop, rock, rap, and music from around the world.
I bring all this to my lessons, and enjoy working with a great variety of students from different backgrounds and with different goals. I also see the great benefits of teaching that variety to my students. Where possible, I like to include a variety of pespectives, methods, and approaches, and explore different styles and genres with each person. More generally, I advocate for a good helping of spontaneity and playfulness as the grounds for good music-making. The aim is a well-rounded sense of musicianship, students who feel more comfortable in themselves: relaxed, joyful and able to adapt to different musical situations as amatuers or professionals.
I try to help people find a sense of freedom and well-being through music. I believe that's also where musical brilliance happens. When we feel mentally, physically and emotionally free, our musical ability seems to rise to new levels, above and beyond what we often think is possible. To the ourselves, the listener or the live audience, we appear to shine.
People call it being "in the zone", in a state of "flow", or "in the moment". I like "being in the musical moment" in the context of playing and singing. I have long been fascinated by the effects of being in that frame of mind, and ways we can "get there" in our music-making.
Over the years, I have collated a Toolkit of techniques, exercises, practices and hacks that help both myself and my students reach into that state, perform and compose at our best, and reduce performance anxiety, self-doubt, expressive-inhibition and creative blocks.
The toolkit is ever-growing, and draws from perspectives in contemporary psychology and contemplative traditions, my own training in mindfulness and meditation, and experience in professional situations.
A lot of the techniques help us access our direct experience in the musical moment - beyond our thoughts, worries or negative thinking. They are integrated into the music-making and therefore give us resource to more of our actual potential in the here and now. I also have a particular interest in mind-body connections, and in working with the body to free up the mind as we play, sing and compose.
There are two over-arching approaches behind the toolkit. The first is seeing music-making as a solution-focused activity. That is, a practice of starting, recognising a difficulty or technical issue, and experimenting to find the 'thing that works' - frees us up - in the moment.
The second is cultivating compassion for ourselves and others in and through music. In the midst of all the difficulty and searching and trying and failing and discovering and succeeding - self-care is integral to finding that inner sense of freedom - and brilliance - we long for.
Robert Szymanek © 2020