Jazz Camp Wraps Up, Good Teachers vs. Good Motivators – By James Danderfer

This is a guest post: by James Danderfer. “One of the best kept secrets in Canada, … a truly remarkable musician.” (- Bill King, Jazz Preview, Jazz FM91.1) James gained experience as both a band leader and sideman performing in Canadian jazz clubs, festivals and CBC radio programs, on cruise ships internationally, and in New York City. After his celebrated debut recording “Run With It” (Cellar Live, 2005), James’ curiosity for traveling and learning about other cultures lead him to Shanghai, China where he worked as a freelance jazz musician and music instructor at international schools. After his first year of living in China, James proposed a project to the Canada Council For The Arts to compose a musical imagery of modern-day Shanghai, a juggernaut of development in the forefront of a rapidly changing nation. This year long project resulted in a concert tour of China and a subsequent CD recording in Canada entitled “Accelerated Development” (Cellar Live, 2008). More about him at: Jamesdanderfer.com

Two words,… jazz camp. That’s right, all week long I’ve been waking up at 7:30am, driving an hour across town, and teaching kids (age 12-17) how to swing. … Despite the fact that I, myself am not sure how to swing at 8:30 in the morning!

There were just enough kids for two 7-piece jazz combos and the format was well suited to my abilities as it was quick, focused, and goal oriented (a concert at the end of the week). I like to think I’m a pretty good teacher, perhaps “over-thinkers” are handy in this way because we really think through the processes of what it is we do.That said, I’m really only effective in certain situations.

Case in point; I’ve tried teaching kids private lessons over a longer period of time (6-12 months) and if they didn’t really want to be there (and most of them did not) then I found it damn hard to motivate them to practice. I’d play for them and find songs they wanted to play, or give them great recordings to check out, sometimes I’d offer incentives to practice (ie candy and/or stickers). As a last resort I even made one kid do push-ups as punishment for not practicing, which by the way, was fucking hilarious . (Hey! Don’t judge! The kid thought it was funny too.)

Alas, my methods failed with all but a few of my private students at which point I decided that I was not a good teacher. However, since that time I’ve realized that I am a good teacher, just not a good motivator. If a student comes to me wanting to learn, I can deliver. If they don’t care to learn, I’m useless. I know some professional musicians who are great with kids and know how to inspire them, and God bless those people, we need more of them.

Anyways, that’s a long way of saying that this year’s jazz camp had a lot of eager young musicians and was therefore a success!

On that note, I’m going to tap out of this SMNP. Thanks to the jazz camp students for an enjoyable week and to Mr. Holmberg for organizing the whole thing again this year!



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