Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

Dear MTH blog readers,

I hope you are all having a fantastic holiday!

I realize it has been a while since I last posted. My 2-year-old daughter certainly keeps me very busy. She is very active, and enjoys exploring everything around her, including sitting at the piano and just having fun with the instrument. You can see her “progress” by visiting her Facebook page JingJingAria.

2017 has been an unforgettable year for me. I was actually pregnant again, but lost the baby at 6 months gestation. It was a very difficult time. I am sharing with you all here, because I know these things are rarely talked about, and there may be some of you out there that have experienced similar losses. It is easy to celebrate joy together, as I shared with you the birth of my first child. We all deal with grief differently, and for me, finally being able to talk about it brings a certain sense of peace.

Around the time I found out the baby had complications, I started teaching a new student who is blind and autistic. I will write more about him in a future post. He opened my eyes and heart. I had the option of terminating the pregnancy very early on, but teaching this new student was so inspiring that I knew as long as the baby had a heartbeat and even a 1% chance of making it, termination was not an option for me. In the end the baby did not make it, but I am grateful for the time I had with her and for all the lessons she taught me.

Every child that walks into my studio is a miracle. If they can learn to play the piano, that is a wonderful thing! What is our job as teachers? I still need to remind myself to be ever more patient, more encouraging, more inspiring, and more loving. It is difficult to do sometimes, when the student did not practice, when they have an upcoming exam and their piece is not memorized, when they do not remember how to do Secondary Dominants after you have explained it 100 times, and when you know they simply have not lived up to their potential. But in the end, what does it matter? The child is breathing. The child is happy. The child is going to have a meaningful life. What is our role? What will they remember from us 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now?

Of course our job is also to inspire excellence. To cultivate the idea that hard work will be rewarded. To challenge and help our students to accomplish new tasks. To help to raise good citizens that can discover and appreciate beauty. To teach the art of playing the piano or whatever is your chosen instrument. As 2017 draws to a close, I ask myself the question, if I have been the right balance of praise and criticism for each student.

Thank you for reading this post, and letting me share with you some of my thoughts and reflections. I hope you are enjoying your holiday break, and giving some time to yourself to do whatever it is you have been wanting to do but never had the time.

Happy New Year!

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Guitar methods are out there. But how can I tell whether they’ll fit my teaching style and my students’ needs? Will I end up reinventing the wheel anyway? What will work best for me and my students?

In the past couple of months I wrote about starting up a private music teaching studio. And I touched on the plethora of piano methods out there.

The guitar teaching method question is, to my mind, a tougher and more complex one.

Asking some questions might help zero in on who you are as a teacher of guitar students.

Questions to Ask 


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1. The effectiveness of lessons is dependent on the relationship between teacher and student, not merely on the information being conveyed.

2. Music theory is only meaningful in terms of the relationships between notes, and progressions of harmonic ideas. The minor key, for example, is all about the relationship of the third to the root.

3.  The length of a note — half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc.– is only meaningful in relation to when the following note is played.

4.  The impact of a beat note depends on its relationship to the pickup notes or breath that introduced it.

5. The musicality of a duo or ensemble is based on the relationship of its players and their musical connection, not in whether they play the notes, rhythms or tempos correctly.

6. Good intonation is based on the relationships of notes to each other, not to the correctness of their frequencies. This is true for voice, stringed instruments, well-tempered piano or any other instrument.

7. Crescendo, decrescendo, ritard, accelerando all depend for their effectiveness on the relationship between the starting volume or speed, and the finishing volume or speed.

8. A conductor’s downbeat is only meaningful in relation to the preparatory upbeat or count.

9. The excitement or calm of a section of music depends upon its relationship to what was played just before.

10. A change of tempo depends on the relationship of the second beat to the first.

11. Finger placement on an instrument is based on patterns — relationships of scales and arpeggios, and the proximity between fingers, not correct placement according to an objective measurement. For example, fingers on a string or across strings touch or remain a finger’s width apart, or may feel stretched or close depending on the interval, and these connections mean more to the muscle memory than whether a note was technically correct.

12. The value of a practice session is found in its relationship to the previous one. “You don’t get good, you just get better.”

Bonus: Using Music Teachers Helper improves relationships between students and teachers!


Photo by Marius Masalar on Unsplash

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