Lindsay Brazell

Music Educator and Creative Professional

Apprenticeship In The Arts

I recently finished reading Jeff Goins’ book The Art of Work and was deeply inspired by his words. While I may not have read the book with intentions of finding my life’s work, I found some great ways to enhance my current career, specifically for the needs of the people I serve; my students.

During the Middle Ages, the primary source of education for artists were called ateliers. These were workshops designed to have apprentices assist the master artist to create works that ultimately were published to the master’s name. This created a collaborative work experience, benefiting both the artist (more work produced) and the apprentice (professional experience). Jeff tells a story of an artist who started a studio with intentions of training younger artists, as well as creating that collaborative environment.

“…it was hard to not think education should look more like this – paint splotches and messy smocks in a cramped studio – and less like large lecture halls with passive students parked in seats for ninety minutes at a time, eyes glued to a slide presentation.

Can you imagine a world where school looked more like an atelier and less like an auditorium?”

Personally speaking, I remember college classes where I played on Facebook, or, when times were really rough, FarmVille, to pass the time. I can only listen to a lecture for so long, especially in a subject area that I wasn’t too excited about. Isn’t that sad? I’d rather harvest digital strawberries than listen to a lecture that I was essentially paying for? I know, it’s sad enough that I played FarmVille in the first place. I digress.

In the arts field, the best, and only, form of apprenticeship we have is our clinical practice or student teaching. I lucked out and had incredible mentor teacher in one of our state’s best choral programs, but I’m sure not everyone is as fortunate. How can we create more apprenticeship learning opportunities throughout our careers? Better yet, how can we create provide apprenticeship opportunities for our own students?

A way we can implement this kind of training for our students is through leadership positions. Whether they are future music educators, gifted and talented, or have a love for music and your organization, guiding students in a leadership role may be the closest thing to an apprenticeship. Here are just a few examples of how you can impart your own skills and knowledge to your student leaders:

  • Have your choir president/student director lead a small chamber ensemble. You can allow them to assist in selecting repertoire, or you can supply it. The student can run rehearsal while you observe and offer advice. They can conduct in the concert or lead in a self-conducted ensemble. I have done this with my Madrigal ensemble, and it’s been fun to watch them grow and musicians in this area. (Plus, it’s nice to sit and watch sometimes!)
  • Have designated student leader run rehearsals in your absence. This is usually section leaders or class officers in most cases, but it’s an ideal situation for the future music educator to get their feet wet and hone their skills.
  • Have students lead warm ups. In my freshmen choir, students work in groups to present 10-15 minutes of warm ups at the beginning of rehearsal for a grade. They can use any vocalises from class that I do, implement new ones from a previous teacher/school, or come up with their own. I like doing this activity with younger students as it usually instills a sense of ownership, which in turn creates more leaders!
  • Job Shadow Day! This is a great opportunity for future music educators to spend a day by your side learning the ins and outs of the job. I have had one student shadow me thus far, and we were able to engage in conversations about the world of music education that we may have never covered in rehearsal. While this is a one-time event, there are creative ways you can design the day with your “shadow” so that they have an outstanding experience. I had my student direct an ensemble that she was a part of so that she was familiar with the music. I gave her feedback on manual conducting, classroom management, and general problem solving. It gave her a small, yet hands-on taste of the job.

The more we can do as educators to ensure our students the chance to explore a career field, the more comfortable and successful they will be. I am currently re-designing my entire student leadership system so that each student has a specific role that not only takes care of logistical material, but that benefits the student by teaching them real-world skills.


How are you fostering apprenticeship and leadership in your classes and ensembles? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.


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About Lindsay

I’m Lindsay, a choral music educator by day, a singer-songwriter by evening, and a writer when time allows. You can find my latest album, The Room I Found – Lindsay Morelli on iTunes.

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