Let’s face it, you teach the way you were taught. Play this exercise, learn that scale, come back next week and play that piece. Sound familiar?
This is certainly how I was taught 20 years ago. It pains me beyond belief to see that the large majority of instrumental teachers still give lessons in exactly this way. It’s not down to lack of talent or lack of knowledge. These teachers are bored, jaded, waiting for the next pay cheque and most of all – lazy.
In the 21st century with countless calls on your students attention span it is no longer good enough to teach every pupil the same, use the same material all the time or use the same structure for every lesson. You need to be creative to stand out from the crowd and you need techniques to ensure that your students work effectively outside of lessons. Remember they are with you for perhaps thirty minutes per week. For the other six and a half days they’re one their own.
How are you going to ensure they enjoy themselves and make progress in this time?
1. Make sure they know in precise detail what is expected over the coming week
Don’t just write some random notes in a scrappy notebook and hand it back to the pupil at the end of the lesson – this ensures poor progress. Instead show the student what you have written, tell them what is expected and then have them tell you what is expected. In this way you have the best chance of them remembering.
The notes you write in the notebook are important too. All too often I have seen messy, random, unclear instructions. Instead replace these with clear detail. Which pieces, which bars and most importantly which outcome. How fast are you expecting the phrase next week? How many bars memorised? If you don’t make clear what the student is aiming for during the weeks practice how can you expect them to achieve it?
2. Discuss in detail what they did
Having made clear, precise notes you need to follow them up in the next lesson. Have a positive discussion about what they did, what worked, what didn’t and what they might do better next week. This discussion will inform your decisions on what practice to set for the coming week. Without the feedback you could be setting more ineffective routines for your student.
Whatever you do don’t fall into the usual trap of making practice a battleground – only to be discussed when it hasn’t been done. Don’t get locked into a battle of wills over how much was done. Minutes don’t matter! Did the student achieve what you set? That’s what counts.
3. Show them how to practice
What this site is all about. When setting practice for the week, in addition to being precise with your instructions, you need to give the student methods to achieve what you have set. Take them through how to repeat properly, or show them how to break their piece up into smaller sections. Whatever you do, give them the tools to complete the practice job.
4. Mix it up
Just because your lessons were always the same doesn’t mean that they have to be for your students. You can keep enthusiasm and motivation high by introducing new ideas and changing the things you do in lessons and the practice tasks you set.
Why not spend a lesson outside? Or perhaps do some analysis of their piece? Perhaps you could disassemble and clean the instrument? Make up some games?
Practice tasks can also be varied too. Set a task to go to a concert and write a report or maybe research the history of their instrument.
The possibilities are endless and if introduced occasionally will keep the student guessing.
5. Broaden the scope
Sadly many instrumental teachers believe the only role of lessons is to teach instrumental technique. This should not be the case – you want well rounded musicians who can bring a general musical knowledge and appreciation to bear on the music they are learning with you.
Include theory, listening, improvisation, composition, history, harmony and the whole spectrum of music in your lessons.
6. Communicate with parents
Parents are not just there to pay the bill. In the main they are very keen for their child to progress and do well. If coached in the right way they can also be a tremendous help to you during the week.
Make sure they know what is expected of the child. Show them the notebook and explain to them what the child has to do. Explain what makes good practice and what is not so good. Also make it clear that effective practice does not sound tuneful – it will be disjointed, repetitive and largely unmusical.
Finally a word on responsibility.
Yes, your main aim is to teach the instrument but surely you also want a well rounded musician who is going to enjoy their music for a lifetime? Focusing purely on instrumental technique and exams is not the way to acheive this.
You might consider some other areas to be your main responsiblity:
- for beginners and younger learners enjoyment is the priority
- for progressing students motivation is the priority
- for college and university students preparation for life in the music business is the priority.
In fact I cannot think of any stage of development where instrumental technique the the most important thing for you to be teaching.
Why is it then that most teachers only teach technique? Perhaps because they are lazy . . . . .