How a 5th grader opened my mind and changed the focus of my career


I had a student a few years ago who uttered one simple, yet profound, sentence that confirmed the educational direction I would be headed for the rest of my career.

We were doing a unit I called  “The Class Band Project”.  During this 6 week period of time, the students were learning how to “Jam” to simple folk songs…….in other words, make up their own instrument parts.  At the end of one of my classes, I asked this question to the class,  “What has this unit taught you?”  Carolyn W., typically a quiet student, raised her hand and said, “I learned that there’s more than one way to play a song.”   Her words hit me like a ton of bricks because  I realized at that moment that she knew for the first time that there isn’t only one way to play a song…….but I also knew instantly that many other students mistakenly thought that there was only one way to play a song.

Where does a student get that idea from?  I know music teachers don’t literally say, “There’s only ONE way to play a song”, but do we subtly give that message if all we’re asking students to do is ‘play what’s on the page’?  In that moment I felt like she was speaking for multitudes of music students who could suddenly feel liberated by the idea that there really is more than one way to play a song.


When I invite the creativity of my students into our music-making wonderful things happen, and I’m looking forward to helping many other people see that Carolyn is absolutely right…….there really is more than one way to play a song!

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