'I think there's a massive gap in how we teach more advanced learners': Liz Doherty on Her New Online Course for Teachers of Traditional Music
For thirteen years up to January 2020, Liz Doherty was a full-time lecturer in Irish traditional music at Ulster University. Before that she lectured in University College Cork, where she did her degree under the late Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, and she received a PhD from the University of Limerick in 1996. Doherty is a well-known fiddle-player, both as a soloist and a previous member of the groups Nomos and the Bumblebees. As well as releasing a number of recordings, she has also published books on Cape Breton music and the fiddle-player Dinny McLauglin, and co-edited the papers from the Crossroads Conferences and the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention.
In 2019, Doherty was also awarded a National Teaching Fellow for her work in traditional music education, and was voted Inspirational Teacher of the Year by students of the university, but she still felt there was still more she wanted to do in Irish traditional music. She has therefore now left her position at Ulster University in order to start her own venture, an online programme for teaching teachers of Irish traditional music, titled I Teach Trad.
Teaching traditional music is tough!
The programme brings together her experience of over twenty-five years teaching in Ireland and around the world. ‘Here’s what I’ve learned along the way,’ she writes in the introduction. ‘Teaching traditional music is tough! Don’t get me wrong – it’s absolutely brilliant, and we all do it because we love it. But in what other teaching job would you find yourself having to create your own learning programme, devise your own methods and practices, build your own resources – all with zero training and support? It’s assumed that, because we can play traditional music, we can teach it. But, of course, it’s not at all as straightforward as that.’
The programme therefore provides 28 videos of between 10 and 25 minutes in length for traditional music teachers. The course is a ‘framework’ for teaching and does not specify the repertoire or content for classes – rather Doherty provides a broad way of approaching traditional music education and leaves it to teachers to populate the classes with their own specific content.
There is already a certificate in teaching traditional music from Comhaltas, which musicians can attain after a week-long course, but Doherty is interested in expanding the available resources in this area. ‘There’s no laid-out curriculum for every teacher,’ says Doherty, ‘on how to teach traditional music right through from a beginner all the way across their journey … You can do your exams up to Grade 8, but that’s only a part of the learning journey… I think what we do really well is that we teach beginners and people at the early stage of their learning, but I think there’s a massive gap in how we teach more advanced learners.’
She feels that ongoing support for traditional music teachers is key for the art form. Using the I Teach Trad programme she has already worked with Ealaín na Gaeltachta and is currently working with several groups of Music Generation teachers around the country.
If I was an accountant, school teacher or doctor there would be yearly opportunities for me to upskill, to learn new things, to see what are the latest tricks of the trade… or what the fresh thinking is, and of course there are things out there, but you’ve got to find them yourself, so [I Teach Trad] pulls all of that together so that people have a one-stop shop.
From philosophy to practice
Among the content are videos on writing your teaching philosophy, building your teaching tool-kit, providing feedback to students, teaching your students how to practice, how to make traditional music teaching your business, continuing your own professional development, and how to help students prevent tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
One of the significant challenges for traditional music teachers, Doherty says, is that that many experience self-doubt.
A lot of young teachers come to me and say that they are riddled with self-doubt, and that breaks my heart… And these are young teachers that I think are doing an amazing job… They’re afraid that because there are not a whole lot of clear benchmarks that maybe they’re not doing the right thing…
The I Teach Trad course includes a 30-minute advice session with Liz that teachers can use at any time, and there’s also a 60-page workbook to help them. Everyone who completes the course receives an I Teach Trad certificate. It is a paid course, and visitors to the website who sign up her to newsletter can receive an ebook titled 20 Top Tips for Teaching Irish Traditional Music, which will give them an initial overview of the course.
Everyone else feels that everyone else has it sorted… what I’m trying to do is create something that eliminates those less positive feelings and help everyone get on with doing what they love, but with a bit of extra support, information, help and guidance.
For more, visit https://iteachtrad.com.