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.
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…
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.
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.
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.