I found myself in physical therapy following a car accident. I expected decreased pain and increased endurance and strength. But I was surprised to find parallels between PT and teaching music. Here are 5 teaching tips from physical therapy:
1. Study the Student: my therapist checked me over, had me try a number of exercises and studied how best to help me before our next session. She brought a book to show me the anatomy of my injuries. She studied my injuries and my responses.
Likewise, good teachers assess a student’s abilities and needs to determine a plan of action. We give thought and care to choosing methods and materials on which students will thrive and grow musically.
Be a student of your students!
2. Active—Not Passive—Learning: the limbs, the muscles, the ligaments—they need to do the work. A spoken treatise on the subject (a lecture, a lesson) isn’t going to cut it. Just do it.
Talk less. Play or sing more.
3. It Takes Practice: I’d forgotten just how awkward new movements can feel. You wouldn’t think that you could tip over from a prone position. But wobble and topple I did. Still, my therapist encouraged me, and I kept trying. And it got easier.
So it is with piano, passing a thumb under without the elbow chicken-winging. Or using the register key on a woodwind for the first time. Or fingering that new guitar chord (can fingers do that?).
It gets easier with practice.
4. Beware of Adding Too Much At Once: my therapist tells me I’m ready for more, but she doesn’t want to add new exercises, because that can get to be too much. Instead, she beefs up the ones I’m already doing. I am grateful, because it’s already taking forty-some minutes three times a day. And I do have a life beyond therapy. She rarely tweaks more than one exercise at a time. This is good, because it’s a gentler learning curve. I’m not as likely to forget how it goes. This is like a reward for doing well.
Students will appreciate this, too. They have busy lives. They are more likely to excel at one tweaked exercise than three or four brand-new ones. I should be reluctant to say, “Your reward for working hard is to work harder and longer.”
You worked well; let’s work smart, too.
5. Location, Aesthetics: my therapist’s studio has windows overlooking the Wisconsin River. Bald eagles perch on nearby branches while early sunbeams pierce the rising mist. The atmosphere is pleasant, energizing, sunny. How about our music studios? Light, temperature, space and artwork can enhance lessons.
Art begets art.
Physical therapy has heightened my awareness of certain aspects of teaching. I’m reminded to study my students; to speak less; to encourage them that it’ll get easier with practice; that it’s okay to take smaller steps forward, and my studio’s atmosphere can inspire and free the art of music.
I hope you found these helpful. If so, watch for “5 More Teaching Tips from Physical Therapy” here at MTH blog next month, February 28.