Educator and Guitar Player Pritesh Walia on Sharing Music Education

Posted by Mike Schumacher

Award-winning educator and guitar player Pritesh Walia clearly has a deep love for music. He plays across a huge number of genres, including big band, modern jazz, and singer-songwriter, to name just a handful. 

He’s worked with renowned artists as a session player and has played big-name venues including Berklee Performance Center and Agganis Arena. 

For over ten years, Walia has been teaching masterclasses and music clinics in his home country of India in an effort to provide quality music education to as many people as possible. 

There’s so much to talk about with Walia’s impressive career and his status as a top-level player and instructor, but it’s the teaching side of things that we’re going to get into today. 

We have a feeling that most of you reading this have had your own experiences with a range of music teachers, and maybe some of you are music teachers, too. 

Despite what School of Rock would have you believe, teaching music is no easy gig, and Walia was nice enough to share some of his hard-earned expertise with us so that we could share it with all of you. 

If you’re a music educator yourself, get ready for some keen insights, and if you’re a player, this will be a peek at the other side of the fence. 

Offering music education to more people 

For someone here in North America growing up in a decent school district, it might be easy to take music education for granted. Heck, some students might even hate the idea of having to learn how to play their instrument from an instructor. 

But having access to high-quality music education is a big deal, and not everyone can be so lucky. 

Based on his own experience while growing up, Walia has a deep respect for the value of music appreciation. 

“Music education plays a vital role in my life. Coming from a country like India, education was a luxury, a blessing. During the formative years of my musical development, I never had the opportunity to learn and educate myself about different aspects of music. I believe that’s the reason why I want to share my knowledge with others.”

Walia wants to pay it forward, and he’s been doing just that by hosting a large number of clinics and sessions where students can learn about the intricacies of music theory and performance. 

In fact, Walia believes that all musicians, and especially music educators, are obliged to share their knowledge and wisdom to keep these traditions going strong. 

“I feel as musicians we are also historians, and this wisdom should be passed on to others. This keeps the art form alive and the music lives on forever.” 

Learning how to teach 

You know, we don’t tend to hear very much about how great teachers became great teachers, and that’s why we wanted to ask Walia about his own history with learning how to teach. 

It was a process, but based on what Walia told us, it sounds like it’s a process that he’s really enjoyed, and also one that just keeps going. 

“My early years of teaching were a huge learning experience for me. Not only did I learn a lot about teaching but I also learned a lot about myself.” 

A common outsider’s misconception about teaching is that it’s all about communicating the material effectively to a group of students and keeping them engaged. While that’s not entirely inaccurate, Walia stresses just how different the needs of each student can be. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when teaching music or any other subject. 

“The success of a teacher lies in their ability to reach their students, and in my initial years of teaching, I was still working that out. Every student is different, and a good teacher can understand these aspects and build a curriculum around them to facilitate effective learning. It takes a long time to see the results, and the journey can sometimes be very tiring. But the reward is very inspiring and definitely worth the wait.” 

Whether one-on-one or in larger class settings, Walia knows how to tailor the material so that it gets through to all students, even students who might be struggling with the lesson. 

From a student’s perspective, this is a massive help and can prevent feelings of being left behind. It’s just another way in which Walia executes next-level music education. 

Breaking down complex topics 

Ok, so music theory is no walk in the park. Is it interesting? Of course. But it’s also deeply rooted in complex concepts and hyper-specific terminology that can be hard to decipher, especially for beginners. 

While Walia loves music theory and what it can offer to musicians, he also recognizes that not everyone can jump right in. 

“I consider myself highly inclined toward music theory, but it can also be really challenging to communicate complex music theory ideas to students.”

So how does Walia manage to communicate these complicated ideas? Well, through experience he’s developed new abilities, new methods for meeting each student at their level. 

“I’ve learned a new skill through teaching music: the ability to break down complex material. My ability to explain sophisticated concepts and break them down into very small digestible pieces of information depends on how well I know the concept itself. I also try my best to relate the information through a piece of music that is relevant to the students and reflects the current era.” 

It’s still a highly academic approach, but it also brings these concepts closer to students’ existing knowledge and musical experience. 

But of course theory isn’t the whole of music education, is it? 

Beyond theory 

It takes much more to be a professional musician than just knowing how to play and how music works at the theoretical level. In every case, working as a musician involves plenty of practical aspects as well. 

This is something that some aspiring musicians might not want to hear, but ultimately, even being some kind of hyper-famous stage act is still a job. 

Being a working musician also means putting in the time and collaborating with lots of other people. 

When it comes to covering these parts of professional musicianship, Walia’s many years of experience are a major advantage. 

“Everything I’ve learned in a live performance situation or in my session work is directly applicable to my teachings. Over the course of ten years of playing with multiple musicians and playing different styles of music, I’ve realized the essential skills required for a musician to stay at the top of their game.”

According to Walia, some of these key skills include understanding depth, dynamics, and the stylistic qualities of different genres. Also important are matters of etiquette and professionalism such as consistently being on time, being prepared with each piece of music, and staying approachable and communicative.  

These can be just as important as knowing your way around an instrument, and a student’s music education wouldn’t be complete without it. 

Virtual teaching: a blessing in disguise? 

Oh boy, just say the phrase ‘virtual teaching’ and both students and teachers alike will probably give a long sigh or roll their eyes.

As we all know, the pandemic necessitated quarantine measures that meant every educational institution on the planet, along with every student and teacher, had to suddenly adjust to a virtual teaching environment, which typically consisted of prolonged group video calls. 

Many students struggled to stay focused on each class while resisting the temptation of unlimited internet access. Teachers struggled to keep students’ attention on top of illustrating various concepts with limited tools and visual capacity. 

For music educators, virtual teaching posed a special challenge, since, as Walia confirmed, instruction for a specific instrument benefits tremendously from an in-person experience. 

Walia’s in-person lessons came to a complete halt at the start of the pandemic, which he says was both frightening and even a little de-motivating. But he quickly learned how to use virtual teaching tools, and even more importantly, Walia says that these circumstances forced him to renew his own teaching techniques.  

“Teaching guitar while not being in the same room as the student was hard. However, it also helped me discover new ways of teaching old concepts. I found myself writing out older concepts in a new fashion that is simple yet educational. All in all, this made my teaching practice stronger and helped me start my own online teaching business.” 

Despite the initial drawbacks, it’s possible that the sudden shift to virtual teaching may ultimately have done more good than harm. For Walia at least, that certainly seems to be the case. 

Respecting differences 

If there’s a theme to Walia’s comments on music education and how to reach more students, it seems to be that understanding and respecting differences of all kinds is key. 

Musicians are constantly playing different kinds of music, often for different kinds of crowds. Students are coming from very different backgrounds with different levels of experience. 

These differences can’t just be shrugged off. Just the opposite: taking them into account can make for better music education all around. 

“It’s very important to do justice to every piece of music, to take the time to dissect every situation and push yourself to learn new things and find ways to add your unique voice to the music, to understand that every student is different and they all require their own personal teaching plan and methodology. I think this is what differentiates an amateur and a professional musician: the ability to be honest and do justice to the given situation.” 

Special thanks to Pritesh Walia for sharing his music education insights, and thank you for joining us for this discussion. Now get out there: teach, learn, play! 

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