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In Focus: Dr. Jennifer Blackwell

Federal Office AMEB

Dr. Jennifer Blackwell's lifelong evolution of music passion and pedagogy.

Dr. Jennifer Blackwell, a passionate and accomplished music professional, is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music. Her dedication to music education has earned her global recognition in the field.

Dr. Blackwell's research delves into music teaching techniques, performance expertise, and student well-being. Her work has been published in prestigious journals and presented at conferences worldwide.

Dr. Blackwell brings extensive experience as a woodwind teacher and ensemble director, having worked with diverse students across various age groups and settings. She actively contributes to the music education community through leadership roles and resource development initiatives, such as AMEB's Teaching syllabus and resources, including AMEB's Teaching Music Performance: A Guide for Evidence-Based Pedagogy.

Key themes: evolution of music passion, teaching philosophies, enhancing teaching practice, developing resources

What attracted you to music, and how has that passion evolved throughout your professional life?

While neither of my parents would call themselves musicians, I grew up in a very musical environment, from listening to my mum's country music records to singing and dancing along to the radio to making silly songs with my brother. I credit my family for helping me see music as a joyful part of everyday life. My interest in performing music began as a teenage guitarist with a passion for rock music, which eventually morphed into becoming a professional classical saxophonist and pedagogue. I always loved performing and playing with friends, but when I started teaching, I found my true passion in music. While my career has evolved to include a greater focus on research into music teaching and learning, my passion for music as an artform and sharing that passion with others continues to drive my work.

Can you share some of the most impactful shifts you've observed in teaching pedagogy?

One of the most profound shifts we see in teaching pedagogy is a major focus on ensuring students are well while learning music. As a profession, we're learning that "suffering for your art" is a dangerous myth and that students can genuinely enjoy their musical learning without sacrificing the highest levels of musicianship. Learning music is challenging, of course, and can be frustrating or disheartening at times, but teachers can help students encounter those challenges in healthy ways. We now know that when students are appropriately supported by teachers who compassionately foster their musicianship, they can become outstanding musicians and flourishing human beings.

Can you give us an insight into the philosophy that informed your approach to the Teaching syllabus?

Our main priority in crafting these new syllabuses was to make sure there was a focus on being both evidence-based and practically useful. Like many studio teachers, I started my teaching career without any real instruction on how to teach lessons, and thus I simply did what I believed was best. In these syllabuses, we have sought to take the guesswork out of what works and clearly connect research to practical recommendations for teaching so that teachers are empowered to teach with clarity and confidence.

What revelations in the teaching syllabus do you think will spark the most discussion among educators?

One of the things I'm most proud of in this process, and I think will spark the most discussion, is the companion text we devised to go along with the syllabus. There is a lot of information about teaching in the world, and coming at that information for the first time can be truly overwhelming. To help candidates be successful, we have crafted a text focused on key elements of music teaching so teachers can then apply those principles to their teaching practice, regardless of the instrument they teach or the level of their students. We hope the text will generate a lot of great discussion amongst teachers!

What's one piece of advice you'd offer to educators who want to take their teaching to the next level?

I'm going to deviate from instructions here and provide two pieces of advice!

One thing that can be invaluable is recording yourself teaching and watching those videos back with specific goals in mind. For instance, you might ask yourself how much feedback you gave the student, what advice you gave the student for practising, how often you interrupt their playing, how much time you spend talking vs. how much time the student is playing, etc. Watching yourself teach and identifying your strengths and areas for further growth can be incredibly illuminating.

Second, I know this sounds very simple, but I think teachers start by asking their students, "What would you like to do?" As simple as it is, considering what students want to get out of their education and crafting lessons that connect to those student goals is one of the most surefire ways to support students' intrinsic motivation in learning music.

Discover Dr. Jennifer Blackwell's lifelong evolution of music passion and pedagogy.
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