teaching music

The latest scientific research about mind vs body has huge implications for music teachers.  We are constantly working to train our students’ ears and muscles to produce music.  We continually work around egos, mental blocks, learning styles, and the basic disconnect between playing music and verbally describing it.

The bottom line in the new science is that there is no mind versus body.  The mind/body split, which has taken center stage in Western civilization for the past 2500 years, appears to be bogus.  Research now speaks of “embodied intelligence”.  The complex bodily systems are engineered to function and communicate so well with each other — electrically, chemically and physically, with whole-body signals taking place at a rate of about ten times per second — that the brain really functions more as a mediator and coordinator than as some kind of executive director.  One book liked the brain to being director of the choir, rather than the pilot of a machine.

I’d recommend the book I’m reading to anyone interested in this groundbreaking research.  It’s called Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More than It Thinks, by Guy Claxton.

One reason I’m excited about this book is that I’ve subscribed to its conclusions for some time now — I think my first Music Teachers Helper blog post relating to this way of thinking dates to 2008.  It is thrilling to see science support these ideas with detailed research, as described in Claxton’s very readable book.

You can read a few of my past posts* on this subject here in the Music Teachers Helper blog — especially Reversing the Learning Process.  In that post I suggest that while many people presume the brain tells the fingers what to do, and the ears decide if we got it right, the actual process is the reverse — the ears are in charge, and learn very quickly what is wanted; the muscles try to please the ears by testing and rehearsing their movements; and the brain takes notes on what has happened in order to provide help organize and replicate it next time.

Science says next to nothing directly about the effect of “embodied intelligence” on music, and that’s not only true of Claxton’s book but also in many other areas of research, including work in linguistics and dyslexia.  I can’t explain this disconnect, but whatever the cause, it does free us musicians to explore the meaning and impact of this research on our field.

The research calls into question any teaching of a musical instrument that places music theory as its top priority.  Consider that perhaps the names of notes, chords, harmonic progressions, keys, and musical syntax are all ways of organizing and deeping our awareness of what we hear and play, and should be presented after listening and trying the music, not before.  Perhaps the physical relationships of half steps, whole steps, the “microballistics” of hitting a note are all more important than, or at least take precedence over, memorizing theoretical concepts.  Theory and practice are both important but what really comes first for the student?  That’s the question for a music teacher to consider.

Maybe a student should experience a G scale and arpeggio before being required to recite the names of the notes in the scale or its key signature.  The theory can then be presented as an exciting way of understanding what the ears and fingers are already experiencing.  Maybe our method books would be better off placing the section on musical notation and theory later on, after some physical work has already been done, rather than at the beginning of the book as if these technical details were the foundation of what is to follow.

The whole concept of what is right and wrong — what a mistake is — in playing music can change as a result of this research.  If you tell a student to play a C# and they don’t, is it really because they didn’t hear you or ignored you?  Or is the concept of a “C#” not as immediate to them as, say, the physical proximity or a finger to another, or the sound of the C# in relation to the surrounding notes?  Maybe the verbal description “C#” is lower down the pathway of perception than these other factors, and perhaps there’s a way to teach with a more immediate impact.  At minimum, allowing for this could be good cause for more patience and perception on the part of the teacher as they try to figure out how the student is feeling and thinking.

There is a large body of research on the subject but I’ll just mention one detail here.  There is a part of the brain called “Broca’s Area” which appears to control the syntax of language.  When it is damaged, people can still speak but cannot connect words fluently.  For example, instead of saying “the porpoise jumped in the ocean,” they might only be able to say “porpoise…ocean.”  Interestingly, there is a mention in the research that the same effect happens in the sequencing of music.

My question, however, is:  if a person with damage to that part of their brain can play or sing elements of music but have trouble sequencing them, what unit is being sequenced?  Nonmusicians might presume that the patient is having trouble sequencing notes — but the words “porpoise…ocean” are not single notes in a musician’s mind.  “Porpoise” could be written as a sixteenth followed by dotted eighth, and “ocean” could be a quarter note followed by an eighth note.  In other words, the basic units of music are not individual notes but relationships between notes.  The sequencing of music would then take place, not from note to note, but from one group of notes to another, or on a larger scale, from phrase to phrase.  Teaching someone to read a measure at a time would then prove to be an artificial and nonmusical way of learning the music, since often the last note of a measure is a pickup belonging to the next measure, much the way the word “guitar” could be written using an eighth note at the end of one measure leading to a quarter note at the beginning of the next.

It is certainly food for thought to consider how perfectly music fits into the science of learning and intelligence. Since music integrates physicality, emotion and thought into one act, the new science of “embodied intelligence” can only be telling us that the playing or singing of music is one of the purest of human expressions.  It is up to us to find the best way to communicate that to our students.

*other related posts:  Mapify and Tonalize, Mind Over Muscle, Verbalizing the Work of the Ears, Muscularizing Music

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Hi, Everyone. Don’t forget, if you’re attending the Music Teacher National Association conference later this month in Baltimore, come say hi to us at Booth 312 in the exhibit hall! We’re also organizing a meetup for MTH members so keep an eye out for details in your email.

Here are a few fixes made this week in the new version:

  • Entering large expenses over $1,000 were not saving correctly for some members in the new version.
  • Adding decimals in an event, such as adjusting the lesson price, was showing an error message, requesting members to enter a rounded number. This has since been fixed and allows you to edit a lesson fee with decimals, such as $40.50.
  • When canceling or rescheduling an event, the changed time was defaulting to AM instead of PM for some members and has since been fixed to match the meridian you select.
  • Birthday reminders were sending out more than once for some members instead of just the one scheduled time.
  • The main titles and logos on the studio websites for some teachers were not showing and have since been restored.  

Did you know that you can click and drag an event?

For a quick scheduling change on the Calendar, simply drag and drop an existing event to its new time and/or day. One left-click with the mouse button hovered over that event selects it and then dragging it over to its new location will edit the time that event takes place. The changes are instant and this saves time from having to edit the event and typing in a new time and date.
If you are experiencing any issues or have any questions for us, please reach out to support@musicteachershelper.com. Happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

Hi, Everyone. Welcome to March. Our programming team is working on improvements to the billing and lending library features and we’ll have announcements here as they become available. If you’re attending the Music Teacher National Association conference later this month in Baltimore, come say hi to us at Booth 312 in the exhibit hall!

Here are a few fixes made this week in the new version:

  • Invoices were not saving in the invoice history for some members.
  • ”Automatic lesson fees’ appeared even if a member was charging each student per lesson.
  • When creating invoices, the Bill To information; name, address, phone number, and email address of the family were showing blank fields for some members. Also, some invoices were showing incorrect contact information and is now fixed.
  • If you experienced an issue trying logging in, that has now been resolved.

Did you know that you can copy and paste an event?

Quickly duplicating an event is useful if there’s a non-recurring event you want to happen again. Or, if you want to duplicate an event and make a slight tweak, it might be quicker to copy and paste and existing event instead of creating a new event from scratch.

Just click on an existing event and select the copy icon. Select the date you would like your copied event to take place, and click Paste Event(s). You’re done! Change details by clicking on the event and then the Pencil icon, which allows you to edit your event details.

If you are experiencing any issues or have any questions for us, please reach out to support@musicteachershelper.com. Happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

Reuben Vincent

Teaching Adults

March 6th, 2017 by

Teaching adults music is both rewarding and challenging!


I enjoy teaching adults. During the course of their lesson, our conversations together are very stimulating. The stories they relate from their own life experiences are a great source of enrichment and entertainment. Over the weeks and months, we form good friendships together. From a practical point of view, teaching adults can also help to strengthen our teaching businesses. Adults can often come later in the evening when it’s too late for younger pupils, or if they are retired or work shifts, they might be able to come in the daytime.

One thing I like about adults is their high level of motivation. They seem to fall into either one of two categories. Those who started having lessons as children but stopped for one reason or another. And those who simply never had the chance earlier in life. Either way, they have probably wanted to take up lessons for quite a considerable time and are therefore incredibly determined.


Adults often tell me that they don’t think they can make very quick progress because they are Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

The six practice strategies listed below come directly from the cognitive psychological scientists at LearningScientists.org. Megan Smith and Yana Weinstein hold doctorate degrees and have systematically applied current research on the brain and how it learns to the classroom setting.

I’ve taken their learning strategies one step further and applied them specifically to practicing an instrument. A good portion of the following paragraphs closely resemble their findings and I greatly appreciate their inspiration for this post!

The main point of their research is how the brain remembers best. It’s not through repetition nearly as much as through retrieval of information.

“Every time you leave a little space, you forget a bit of the information, and then you kind of relearn it. That forgetting actually helps you to strengthen the memory. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but you need to forget a little bit in order to then help yourself learn it by remembering again.”

-Weinstein from TheCultofPedagogy.com

You may find the list below validating like it was for me. I’ve encouraged most of these tactics for years and am thrilled that they are now scientifically proven to work thanks to Dr. Smith and Dr. Weinstein! Perhaps you’ll feel the same? Each strategy is first defined in the clinical terms found at TheLearningScientists.org. Next, you’ll read how I relate them to practice. I’ve also connected visuals to each strategy to help practicers understand and recall each one. Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Hi, Everyone. We hope your February has been going great! We recently added a feature that will save you from having to log in each session. If you select the checkbox, you can automatically access your account when entering that Tab’s URL. For instance, if you bookmark the Calendar Page URL, https://www.musicteachershelper.com/teacher/calendar.php, you will not be required to log in to go directly to that page.

Bypassing the login will last for two weeks before needing to re-check the box.  It’s device specific so you will need to select the checkbox on all devices you want to stay logged in. And make sure not to use this feature on devices you share with others that you don’t want to have access to your account.

Here are a few fixes made this week in the new version:

  • The list of names that come up for “Use Subscription For Payment” was showing the entire list of student names and not just the ones who have entered their credit card info to be auto billed.
  • The secondary billing contact was not showing on the generated invoice for some teachers.
  • Charges in transaction logs of each student were missing momentarily in the new version but have since been restored.
  • Some event reminders were sent out a day earlier than scheduled in the new version and have since been corrected.
  • If you received a PayPal integration error message related to an integration update, that has been resolved by the programming team and everything now works smoothly between your account and Paypal.
  • If you were having issues changing the default time format in Settings, specifically when clicking from am to pm, this has been corrected.
  • For some teachers, the Transaction Log was not showing changes but the invoice was.
  • When some teachers were creating available times on their calendar, students were not able to click available time slots to sign up for a lesson. If any of your students were experiencing this, they can now sign up for time slots you make available.

Did you know that you can choose multiple instruments in the settings page?

If you teach multiple instruments, select all that apply so you can assign which instrument(s) your students are taking lessons with. Head over to Settings (top right drop down) and scroll to the bottom of the Studio Tab to select which instrument(s) you teach. Make sure to click Save Studio Settings when finished. Instrument icons will also show next to the students’ names and scheduled lessons as a reminder for you.

If you are experiencing any issues or have any questions for us, please reach out to support@musicteachershelper.com. Happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

We hope you’re having a great week. We’re excited to announce this week that the new features we’ve added to Music Teacher’s Helper have now moved out of Beta and are part of the new version. If you see a green bar near the top of your dashboard, you are able to switch between the two versions. If you’re new to Music Teacher’s Helper within the past four weeks, you’re already using New version.

Here are a few fixes made this week:

  • When exporting the fees and credits, the details were not being included for some teachers.
  • We fixed some issues with editing the lesson history.
  • Lesson dates were not changing for recurring series when you change the date of the lesson to another and Apply changes only to this lesson the date was not changing.
  • When rescheduling from the calendar and changing the time, the window was disappearing once you choose a different time and preventing the schedule change from taking place.  
  • Creating an event in Chrome or Firefox web browsers was not working for some members.

We’re continuing to work on new updates to the Billing & Invoicing system to make it simpler and easier to use. We’re also working on a new website and blog that will include a more updated look and layout.

Did you know that you can view sent email history in Manage Students?

If you’d like to see a list of emails you sent students and parents, including the automatic email reminders, you can do so in Manage Students by hovering over the Email Students Tab and selecting Sent Email. The System Email History tab will show a list of all the automatic emails sent out along with the date and time, what type of email reminder, and who received the email. This is helpful if you need to recall when past conversations took place or confirm that your automatic emails are working as you intended.

If you are experiencing any issues or have any questions for us, please reach out to support@musicteachershelper.com. Happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes

Reuben Vincent

Music Arranging

February 16th, 2017 by

What is music arranging?

Arranging music simply means taking existing music and making it playable on your instrument or for your ensemble. Good reasons to arrange might be to make a piece easier to play. Or convert music originally written for an ensemble so as to be played on a solo instrument, possibly with accompaniment. Although arranging can be a highly complex skill, it is also realistically within the grasp of every music teacher and most music students. Also, it’s great fun!

Why arrange?

I have personally found that arranging pieces especially for my students has given me a USP (unique selling point) to help me market my music teaching business. The idea that a prospective student can learn any song they want at the skill level they are at, is an extremely appealing reason to start having lessons. I also enjoy arranging as it is often very creative without the pressure to compose something from scratch. Encouraging students to try their hand at arranging is a practical way for them to develop their Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Happy Valentine’s Day! Be sure to check out our Robin’s blog post about an Easy Holiday Composing Activity you can implement in your studio.

If you’re using the New version (formally referred to as Beta), you will notice the hourglass was replaced with a metronome icon when pages load. And here are a few fixes made this week:

  • Former students’ birthdays were not showing on the Calendar for some teachers.
  • Icons weren’t showing as faded (complete) for reconciled events on some calendars.
  • Event information in the mobile browser was out of order when the screen size was narrowed.  
  • On the Android and iOS app, when changing a student’s status, the parents status was not changing.

Let us know if you have any questions by reaching out to support@musicteachershelper.com. Happy teaching!

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Posted in New Features and Fixes