John Nichols III in Italy
John Nichols III at Contemporanea (Udine, Italy)

From my experiences as a student and teacher, I recognize that teaching and learning both evolve over time. Open-minded, receptive teaching is the result of open-minded, receptive learning. An essential characteristic of effective teaching is the ability to evoke one’s natural willingness and desire to learn. The learning process combines one’s innate facility with training. This is achieved through a balance of leadership and discipline that allows for a student’s abilities to blossom.

My teaching style implements the heuristic approach. As the Ancient Greek term for “discovery” [εὕρεσις (heuresis)] implies, my conception of teaching emphasizes self-discovery. As a mentor, I recognize and adjust to the needs of students and influence them to explore what they can do in a given situation. The discovery process is punctuated through experimentation and group discussions, as well as traditional methods incorporating handouts, slide presentations, examples, and demonstrations. Because my method centers around self-discovery, I believe in a perennialist system, where basic principles take precedence.

I teach this way because my teaching philosophy is rooted in critical theory. I believe that inquiry and critique can influence and change society. Students can realize underlying concepts of art and then build essential skills in their field of study while keeping those ideas in mind. The resulting debates and discourses are important in developing practical knowledge and should continue as the process of globalization continues.

Further, my teaching underscores the continuing efforts to break new ground in sound and composition. This is achieved through resource development, which promotes a collaborative environment that allows students to learn the necessary skills for a professional setting. For instance, one of my goals is to establish an international library of surround sound audio for schools around the world to access online, thus creating a much needed repertoire for students and scholars alike.

I recognize and advocate for the belief that we are living in perhaps the most exciting, innovative, and influential time in the history of music. In an age when sound quality is becoming increasingly important, the demands on musicians to present high quality audio for audition tapes and ethnomusicologists to present clearer field recordings—to cite two examples—is apparent. I hope to help students exploit the incredible expansion of experimental sound design for composition, as well as the concerns of orchestral and jazz musicians, musicologists, recording artists, and those who wish to pursue commercial music, gaming, and film. My goal is to provide students with access to expert instruction, recording studios, and the necessary instruments to practice a thorough assemblage of recording techniques. Students can utilize tools and strategies for sound editing and video software to give them a competitive edge in the marketplace. A curriculum that includes electronic music ensembles can assist students in collaborative innovation and realizing the enormous potential for music in the information age.

In my classes, students can expect an instructor who is interactive and engaging in the classroom. Always striving for a productive classroom atmosphere, I balance discourse with a hands-on approach; combining collaborative projects with all-inclusive, lively class discussions to develop fresh ideas, positive relationships, mutual respect for a diversity of opinions, and communication skills. Further, I demonstrate concepts through performance (e.g., trombone, piano, singing, etc.) and encourage student performances when appropriate.

Students are frequently thrilled to participate in my classes because I combine theoretical concepts with practical implementation and gentle encouragement. My classes quickly filled up because students were anxious to get a combination of knowledge united with active participation. Perhaps it is owing to this enthusiasm that in 2009 I was one of four instructors in the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to receive a teaching award from the University Student Senate, which was determined by a popular vote from students.

Ultimately, I believe both teaching and learning are deeply connected through a shared evolutionary experience. Encouraging self-discovery and emphasizing fundamental principles that give a basis for indispensable skills through critique and inquiry are the guiding principles of my teaching. I am an advocate of incorporating music technology into the curriculum while providing interactive and flexible methods in order for today’s students to excel in tomorrow’s music.