Signature style: A new model for teaching music

Change agent Dick Ford has created this new model for music education:

Tucked into the basement of a big stone church on Genesee Street could be the future of music education in America.

Syracuse resident Dick Ford, 72, has created a model music education program that differs from today's norm and is yielding statistically better results for the music profession.

It all starts with the approach to music. "It's not recreation," Ford said, "It's got to be seen as academic."

Ford, a pianist, former big band leader and music educator started a summer camp 15 years ago at Ithaca College.

Then, 10 years ago he formed the not-for-profit Signature Syracuse program. Based in Syracuse, the program offers one-on-one private lessons for students in grades 7 through 12. The typical public school music program offers group instruction beginning as early as grades 3 and 4.

Ford says it is a myth that the younger you are when you start studying music the better. He said children who do succeed with this early start often are from musical families where there is a lot of parental focus on music at home. "It's not genetic," he said, "it's environment."

Without that focus the younger the child is the more likely he/she will quit before getting to high school.

Ford said the way to teach is from the inside out, "You don't put something in, you draw it out." Instead of a gift it's aptitude and desire, "But it takes superb teaching to negotiate," he said, adding that it takes learning how to practice, and often the younger children are not able to focus to the degree that is necessary.

Sometimes kids will drop out and never go back - assuming they don't have the aptitude, whereas they were just not mature enough for the discipline required. Ford claims that Signature Syracuse takes beginners in seventh or eight grade and with private lessons quickly makes up the three or four years of learning they might have had in elementary school group instruction.

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