Music Teacher's Helper Blog

5 More Teaching Tips Inspired by Physical Therapy

Number 5, red

To help me recover from a car accident, my doctor sent me to Katie, a physical therapist. I was surprised to discover parallels between physical therapy and teaching music. I shared five of them a month ago. Find the first five teaching tips here: 5 Teaching Tips

Below are 5 More Teaching Tips Inspired by Physical Therapy.

6. Warm Up First: Cold muscles are less pliable and more prone to injury. It’s best to get the circulation going, blood and oxygen to body parts that will soon work hard. Spend a few minutes on a treadmill or bike; walk; even climb stairs.     Treadmill

Fingers, wrists and vocal cords can also be strained without warming up. Voice students can begin low-to-mid-range and gradually move higher or lower. Piano (or other instrument) students stretch fingers, play scales and arpeggios, and loosen tight shoulders. Correct posture helps.

Make it a habit. Warm up.

7. External Feedback is Crucial: Katie asks me if my back is straight. I can’t tell. She says I can lower myself more, and more, and yet a little more—there, now it’s straight. Or she reminds me my feet can move out further to take pressure off the knees. I wouldn’t have known.

A voice student might not realize there’s tension in the jaw without the teacher’s notice. A piano student’s shoulders creep up, or the wrists sag. A guitar player’s hand grips the neck like it’s a baseball bat.

A teacher’s gentle touch on the shoulder, a rounded toy ladybug under the hand, a reminder to relax or to breathe…

Feedback from teacher

Experienced eyes and ears are there to help.

8. Internal Feedback is Crucial: Katie asks me (again) if I can tell whether my back is straight. I can’t. She talks me through the motions (again). I lower my back until it’s straight. She says I should remind myself to pick up my feet when using the elastic bands at home. This makes me more aware, and I think about it later.

Similarly, I ask a student to play a passage. He does. I ask how his dynamics were. He says “great.” I ask him to show me how loud he thinks it ought to be. He plays it. I ask if it was that loud the first time through. He says no. So I have him play the passage again, and this time the dynamics are great.

Train students to assess their own performance.     Listening boy

9. Physical Memory: My longsuffering therapist asks (yet again) if my back is straight. I still can’t tell. She suggests I pay close attention to how it feels when she indicates it’s straight. I should imprint that feeling. It clicks. It works.

I’ve practiced vocal exercises for months before physical memory kicked in and I could automatically find the “pocket” where I should send my tone to pop off certain pitches. We can help students develop a memory for instrumental finger patterns, scales, chord inversions… Vocal students can develop a memory for precisely how much to inhale before a phrase so they have the right amount of breath—not too much, not too little.

Remember how this feels.

10. Compete With Yourself:     Compete with self

I see an older woman doing the same exercise as I, but with elastic bands. I am weak by comparison. A few minutes earlier I was proud of my hard work. Now I feel like a wimp. I say something about how far I have yet to go. Katie reminds me I mustn’t compare. Everyone moves at their body’s level of ability, or else they can get injured—and discouraged. I agree. I remember what it was like when I began, and how far I’ve come.

That’s often how I encourage my students. I might pull out earlier-level music for a student to play, and let him feel brilliant. I can remind him how hard it was when he first began lessons.

Have you improved? Then you’re on track.


Physical therapy has reminded me how important warmups are; the necessity for both external and internal feedback; to use physical memory to advantage; and to compete only with myself. You’re welcome to share comments or stories below.

Next month, March 28, I’ll post another 5 teaching tips inspired by physical therapy—plus bonus tips. I hope to see you then!     Number 5, blue

About the Author

Robin Steinweg has found music to be like the creamy filling of a sandwich cookie--sweet in the middle--especially making music with family.
A great joy is seeing her students excited to make music for themselves. From her studio in Sauk-Prairie, Wisconsin, she teaches ages 4-84 piano, guitar, voice, woodwinds, ukulele and recorder.
Musically, she composes, arranges, performs, directs, consults... [Read more]


  1. Lori Lipsky

    Terrific insights, Robin. Here’s the one I’m especially going to try to apply more in my teaching in the next few months: “Train students to assess their own performance.” I haven’t been doing enough of this lately.

    I enjoy having students assess their performance when they’ve played well and aren’t sure, but then I can confirm it. What fun. Thanks for sharing the ideas from your physical therapy experience.

  2. Robin Steinweg

    Lori, I’ll look forward to hearing how your students discover they can critique (and enjoy) their own performances. Thanks for reading!

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