By Nicole Douglas
Music is about connection. Connecting with the composer. Connecting with the instrument. Connecting our experience with the past. And at the heart of it all, our music teachers are the people who help us discover these connections. We are used to building connections by being in the same room with each other—we have worked in office settings to be near our coworkers, we travel to our clients to visit them in person, we travel to family reunions to be in the room with our loved ones. But being in the same room with another person does not inherently build connection. We are “in the room” and spend hours on an airplane with the same group of people. Yet we don’t always walk away from those experiences feeling appreciated and educated and uplifted. It is possible, but not always a guarantee. So, what is it that creates that sense of connection?
Marketing agency MBLM’s in-depth quantitative study led to the creation of the Brand Intimacy Model—a way to describe how relationships are built. Part of their findings states that strong emotional connections are determined by the degree of overall positive feelings we have toward a brand and the associations of that brand with key attributes: fulfillment, identity, enhancement, ritual, nostalgia, and indulgence. What does this have to do with music education? Everything.
We study music because we want to feel fulfilled. Feeling fulfilled comes from meeting and exceeding expectations. How can we better exceed expectations in music education? One of the biggest frustrations for students is feeling like they get stuck when they weren’t expecting to feel that way. Students need to have a way to ask quick questions or share progress without it feeling like they are interrupting teachers.
Tonara Studio and Tonara Connect both provide a built-in chat center that is easy to use, and the layout helps set it apart from typical texting apps as a dedicated space to talk about music and practice. This decreases the feeling that students will be inconveniencing the teacher when they want to quickly share something. One new student of mine simply forgot the strategy we talked about in their first lesson for finding middle C. He was brave enough to message me in Tonara with, “I forgot how to find middle C. Can you remind me?” One simple reply and he was back to practicing and ready to show up for his next lesson feeling proud of his progress.
When we set a goal and work hard to achieve it, it becomes part of our identity—part of our core values. This makes it not just something we do, but something we are. Once that happens, it often means we want it to stay a part of who we are. How can we better set goals and work to achieve them in music education? Students are used to hearing, “Practice these two exercises and these three pieces.” But a challenge music teachers have is how to make that mean more—how to turn that into identity-building goals.
With Tonara Studio, it is so easy for students to see how to turn tasks into goals and to feel that satisfaction of completing goals in small bits at a time. Assignments can contain links to admired performers that inspire them, videos of recent students who have achieved their goals with the piece, engaging audio tracks and instructions, and pictures—all to make these practice tasks feel like aspirational goals.
Enhancement & Ritual
Enhancement and ritual are important parts of feeling how the small things matter, and that someday these small things will add up to great things. Each day’s music practice feels like a small thing. But as students start to connect what progress they feel they have made with visual representations of what they’ve done so far, they start to see patterns that can influence their future choices. And when students feel like they are getting better through music practice, their habits around practicing and experiencing music become an important part of their day. Tonara Studio provides a place that feels engaging and fun for students to view their past practice times and points earned for practice. Points are earned for the amount of time Tonara hears the instrument being practiced, so this builds that ritual of “when I practice, I am making progress.”
I remember once my teacher asked me to tell her what I thought the third theme in Fur Elise was all about. My 13-year-old self responded with what I thought was a pretty good answer—it’s a storm that builds and grows and then dies. My well-meaning teacher said something like, “Not at all. It’s about love lost and grief.” Fortunately, at that age, I had not experienced much about losing loved ones or unrequited love or grief, so this did not make much sense to me. So I continued to imagine a storm…until the time when I understood what she meant. Now I feel it much more deeply. But the important message I learned is that students are going to connect music to their own experience—that’s the only experience they can comprehend. I may not be able to take my students on a journey of unrequited love, but I can talk about Beethoven’s childhood and how he felt alone and lost his hearing. These are the things young students can fathom. As a parent, I noticed my children were drawn to true stories. Historical fiction was one of their favorite genres. Children love hearing stories about how their grandparents met, or the funny things their parents did as kids.
So let’s share those stories about ourselves and the composers who brought us these great experiences. Talk about how music connected with you as a child. Give them things to feel nostalgic about later. This is what will create a personal connection to the music itself. And Tonara Studio makes that easy to incorporate into the weekly assignments. Attach a chapter from a book you want them to listen to, or a portion of a documentary to watch with their families. Give them a photo of the composer. Ask them to draw a picture of what they think of when they listen to the piece. Then have them take a photo and post it in the chat. And if you set up a group chat, the whole studio can communicate and enrich each other’s experiences inside Tonara Studio. Give them memories they can treasure.
Everyone loves to feel special at times. What makes these times feel special is that they feel out of the ordinary. Can you think of a time when everyone cheered for you? Did you have a mentor or teacher who said something they treasure about you in front of others? When we meet for music lessons in person, we can make our students feel special. But it says something, even more, when we take time to write something or post a video or picture about how proud we are of a student. When students see that online communication can be a force for good, we can show them how we can all celebrate together the accomplishments of a student who worked really hard that week. Sharon Ellam, a Tonara Studio teacher, recently shared that a 6-year-old student really wanted to reach the top of the leaderboard that week, and with daily practice she did it! What was incredible was seeing the 9 and 13-year-old students chime in on the group chat with how proud they were of the 6-year-old for her hard work. They learned that they get to each take turns being celebrated. (And the next week when the 6-year-old didn’t do as well, one 9-year-old even said, “Please can you send her 1,000 extra points this week because she’s worked so hard and she deserves it.” So precious.)
Connection Comes through Experiences
What it comes down to is relationships and connections are built through experiences—experiences that include the feelings listed above. Yes, we may be socially and physically distanced during this time, but let’s use the technology and time we have to design experiences that build connection. This is possible no matter where we are located. We are hearing from teachers all over the world that Tonara Studio is giving them the tools they needed to create these experiences. It takes investment in time, in people. But the rewards are so worth it.