Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

Dear MTH blog readers,

It has been a while since I last posted! I hope you have all been well. You may remember from one of my previous posts that I had a baby (which is why I have not been able to keep up with my blogging!) Well she is 20 months old now!

Anyway, I am still teaching, and I wanted to share with you one of my studio secrets. It is called the Music Teachers National Association Music Achievement Award Program.

What is it?

“The purpose of MTNA’s Music Achievement Award Program is to help encourage ALL the students in the teacher’s studio, especially the “everyday” students, to continue their music study and to strive to achieve goals that will not only help them become better musicians, but also will enhance their love and appreciation of music.

The teacher sets goals that are both realistic and attainable for each individual student according to the student’s needs, ability and motivational level.

The student achieves the goals over a specified period of time.” – MTNA Member Resources

I have been doing this program for the last couple years. Basically every student in my studio participates in it. If you are a member of MTNA, there is detailed instruction on how to implement the program in the Members-Only area of the website. The beauty of the program is that the teacher can tailor the program to suit each individual student. Some students may complete as few as one goal, while others may complete as many goals/events as the teacher’s studio offers.

Here is my studio’s goals/events list for the past year:

For the beginner students, the goals can include completing a method book, listening assignments, and even attending live concerts. MTNA provides a very detailed list of suggestions for goals.

At our annual studio recital, I award the students that have completed their program with a trophy. Here is what this year’s trophy looks like:

Having this program in place really motivates my students to work hard throughout the year. It also saves me time as I plan the program at the beginning of the school year for each student, and at each lesson we can see clearly what is our upcoming goal and what repertoire we need to focus on.

This is only one of the many benefits of joining MTNA. If you are not yet a member, now is time to join before the next school year starts!

Here is wishing everyone a great summer!

 

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When I was a kid, I loved buying expensive pads of manuscript paper. Trouble was, I didn’t quite know what to do with them!

Now, thirty-something years on, I’m always reaching for some manuscript paper to demonstrate to my students, scribble down an idea or to give to my pupils so that they can transcribe their latest creation. [···]

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My old music teacher leaned over towards me, his frail and aged frame and old-fashioned dress sense reminded me of a character from a Dickens novel. “Here you go boy! This will help you with your sight-reading.” His outstretched hand held out a music book of Bach, his favourite composer. I had long feared the sight-reading test in my music exams. After playing the examiner my scales, with which my eighty-some-thing teacher was obsessed with, and then my pieces, next came the bit which was a complete and utter mystery to me! The sight-reading and aural (ear-training) tests. Dum, dum, DUM!!!! Now don’t get me wrong, I have a real passion and respect for Bach now, largely instigated by my wonderfully eccentric teacher but as a teenage boy, most of the preludes, chorales, inventions and selected dances in that book were simply too hard for me to learn let alone sight-read.

I had long feared the sight-reading test in my music exams. After playing the examiner my scales, with which my eighty-some-thing teacher was obsessed with, and then my pieces, next came the bit which was a complete and utter mystery to me! The sight-reading and aural (ear-training) tests. Dum, dum, DUM!!!! Now don’t get me wrong, I have a real passion and respect for Bach now, largely instigated by my wonderfully eccentric teacher but as a teenage boy, most of the preludes, chorales, inventions and selected dances in that book were simply too hard for me to learn let alone sight-read.

Fast-forward on, as a teacher myself now, I have been obsessed with helping my pupils over the years to be successful at reading at sight (as well as helping them to develop good musical ears!) Partly fueled by my own inadequacies and knowing that developing good sight-reading ability just helps students learn songs so much quicker. Also, good sight-reading skills enable them to fit into ensemble playing with greater ease.

I am a big fan of the Paul Harris series “Improve Your Sight-Reading!” so was very interested to stumble on a new series by the same author and publisher (Faber Music) with the extended title “Improve Your Sight-Reading! A piece a week (Piano).”

The purpose of this series is to give students a new piece to learn each week (or two weeks max.) so as to help them avoid the trap of just laboriously learning exam pieces my memory. Rather than merely sight-read the piece, the composer’s introductory comments encourage them to fully learn the piece but with the idea that a short new song each week will really build their music reading confidence. There is a lot of material. 26 pieces in the grade 1 book with a wide variety of styles designed to appeal to the modern student. The pieces are fun often featuring interesting techniques and the evocative titles. There are three activity pages (musical terms word search, crossword and some quite innovative “detective” activities involving analyzing the pieces that the student has been learning).

So what about the pieces? Are they any good? You’ll be glad to know that my sight-reading skills have significantly improved from those spotty teenage days of Bach and therefore I have “road-tested” this material for possible use in my lessons.

I have to say that although none of the songs are going to massive hits in my music studio, they are very well written from the perspective of a person just developing a little bit of confidence in reading music. They are very accessible which I like and give a real chance to teach the importance of a steady pulse and to incorporate dynamics and articulation as an important part of the storytelling. Overall I am quite impressed and I am seriously considering how to incorporate them into my students’ lessons. I think between exam preparation they could really help students build their reading skills in a gentle and imaginative way. I am sure that some of the pieces would be revisited by students. I think this series will be an excellent supplement to aid teaching students to enjoy the pleasure that reading music brings.

Oh well, I’m going “Bach” for more! (Sorry!)

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