Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

It’s always healthy to feel like there is some competition in every discipline, this includes music. These “competitions” however, are not exclusively with another person, it also involves ourselves and surpassing our past selves.

This kind of motivation is sometimes thought to be unhealthy or unnecessary, but the truth is that it can be fuel for motivation. The thing is not to make it something bigger than it really is, what this means is that if there is someone that you feel is better at singing than you, you shouldn’t try to imitate him and win at his own game, but rather find the best that your voice can be, in order to feel like you can be as good as any other singer.

With students this can be a delicate situation sometimes, because there is always an unbalanced pool of students that teachers have to deal with. This of course doesn’t happen in online lessons, unless there is some sort of interaction between the students of one teacher which could be a good a idea.

Online lessons sometimes lack this competition between students due to the nature of the class dynamic, and in order to see if it can be possible, let’s see the flaws and benefits of these competitions, and how it could be integrated into online music lessons.

Class Room Competition

There is always that one student that is extremely talented and focused, and there is always that one student that gets frustrated because he’s not as good as the other students.  One is proud and the other frustrated. These are two profiles that often arise in a classroom, but this is not all bad, while it may cause some trouble, in the end it works as some kind of filter, where the frustrated one can go two ways, one is getting bored, slowly losing interest because it’s too difficult or not worth their frustration, or it can become an obstacle to overcome, in this case, a competition against the one with the amazing talent, and against himself in a way that pushes him to be better. However as teachers, it must be reminded to students that self satisfaction is the most important thing when it comes to competition, nothing good comes from being better than someone else as a goal, competition is the means to achieving a personal goal.

Competition in Online Lessons

The whole idea of the internet is to stay connected, to be connected with other people even though a physical connection cannot be possible, that’s why online music lessons shouldn’t be isolated one on one classes, at least not always. It’s a good idea to establish a connection between students and let them know that they can share their ideas, help each other out in a way a teacher can’t and make bonds that sometimes will end up in competitive attitudes. Another very clear way to make this competition spirit arise is to start music contests involving prizes and recognition for their work.

There are many ways to start a competition, the teacher’s job in this case is to make them remember that a competition is not a bad thing if it can be channeled into energy to learn new things and practice.

Whether it’s online or in a class room, interaction with several students in a teacher’s plan is important to develop a fuller learning environment in which students can surpass their own expectations and feel like they are closer to their goals as a musician.



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Whether you have your own teaching studio or work for an organization, there is a temptation to schedule lessons back to back. If you have a lot of students in a row, this can be a recipe for burnout.

I know, I’ve done it — figuring I can get through a lot of lessons on a single day with no breaks. Sometimes, it’s just hard to say no when there’s an opening for a lesson and somebody wants it.

But you do need to look after yourself, for the sake of not only your own mental and physical health, but also for the sake of your students.

I don’t need experts to tell me this, because I’ve found out the hard way, but the experts do say that it’s important to your metabolism that you eat every three of four hours. If you go too long between meals, your metabolism starts to shut down, and then when you eat a big meal, your body doesn’t know what to do with all the extra calories. Best to keep the fire going, keep feeding that stove, and eating on a regular basis, even if not as much at a time.

Whether you’re at home or teaching at a school, be sure to have quality snacks and drinks with you for time between lessons, and be sure to actually eat something significant (not necessarily a lot) every 3-4 hours. For this you’ll need to schedule time. Set that time aside by blocking out a “lesson time” for yourself in your Music Teacher’s Helper calendar. A half hour is nice but it could theoretically be 15 minutes if you have food and drink ready — and if you can finish the previous lesson on time.

When I tried this, I discovered that I maintained a much higher level of energy than when I tried to plow through lesson after lesson. I knew I could handle “plowing” through lessons — I have my Daily Summary from MTH and enough experience to really focus on and help my students — but when I’m reasonably fed and watered, I have energy to spare for humor, new ideas, and a varied approach.

You might choose to offer 55 minute lessons and finish on time so you can take a breath, and get a moment to yourself for a drink or snack, or even to enter lesson notes online into MTH and reconciling a lesson; or to write those notes with a pen or pencil (remember those?) in a notebook so you can transfer it to your online lesson notes later.

It’s not a crime to schedule 45-minutes on the hour and allow 15 minutes between lessons! I know, it’s hard to think you’re deliberately spending an hour and only getting paid for 45 minutes, but it might mean that you can have a bit, drink more water, feel better, enter lesson notes you won’t have to do later, and generally have a more energetic and calm presence for your teaching time.

You might mix and match, and schedule a few back to back 30 minute lessons, but allow 15 before a longer lesson, or just leave a space of a half-hour for your own sake.

As to snacks, remember that there are really tasty snacks out there that won’t leave you feeling bloated, jittery, or on a sugar-high (i.e. maybe avoid doughnuts and coffee!). You just need to be a little creative and do a little research and trial-and-error.

For your breaks, you may even want to bring a novel to read, or a magazine that has nothing to do with music, just to give your mind and spirit a break for short periods of time. Facebook, texting, etc., probably will only add anxiety and not provide a break to your over-multi-tasking modern mind!

So plan for some mental breaks, quality snacks and periodic meals, and be sure you drink enough water. It’s amazing what a difference these things can make in turning a heavy teaching day into a fun and productive one. And don’t forget — one of the easiest and most effective mental and physical breaks is to simply take a 15-minute walk.

For both you and your students, look after yourself!

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There is an ongoing problem about the way we approach to tools or instruments today, which makes us focus more on how to use them rather than understanding how they work.

Some may say that it’s not necessary to know how an instrument works, or how it was made, however the same could be said about music in general. You could say someone is very good at playing, but doesn’t know a thing about scales, notes, and music reading. The point is that, this can stay this way  but there would be more control and freedom for creativity if there is also the knowledge to support the practice. The same goes to the instruments themselves, wouldn’t it be better if you knew how a guitar was made, or how the piano produces the sound it does, or knowing about the difference between one type of strings or another, it even goes as far as knowing about sound waves and materials.

How is sound produced?

There are a lot of vibrating causes, these include vocal cords and strings with tension, but to make vibration there must be a certain amount of tension in the vibrating body. These different vibrations can also be amplified in very different ways which involve different sizes of bodies, mics and more.

Sound can be quite malleable, and to understand its malleability it’s important to know at least a few of the sources.

Strings, percussion and wind

There are obvious differences between each of the instruments that can be found, but first, it’s important to make a first division in these three main categories: strings, percussion and wind.


These are instruments that sound due to the tension of strings mostly made of nylon and steel. As the vibration area becomes smaller the pitch gets higher, and more space means lower pitch.

This category is comprised of guitars, basses, violins, violas, cellos, harps, and many more.


Percussion is all about “hitting” musical notes, this means that they are simple instruments which sound based on size and in many cases tension of leather.

These instruments range from barrels to drum sets.


These trigger sound with air, more specifically vibrating columns of air. These instruments are played by blowing which then makes the column of air vibrate, depending on its size the pitch is higher or lower, and it gets amplified by the tube.

Wind instruments are

Tuning an instrument

Tuning an instrument is an essential part of playing, not only is it necessary to maintain the right notes, but it gives more freedom as to the sound that we want to make. For example many guitarists use the drop d tuning, which is mainly used for power chords, hard rock, metal; it gives a heavier deep sound but also more possibilities with easy chords.

One of the most beautiful things for many before an orchestra is about to play is when everyone is tuning their instruments at the same time, for some it may be a disaster, but others hear many different sounds slowly falling into a place where great music can be achieved, it’s as if everyone in the room is synchronizing both in terms of sound and mind to deliver an experience.


Through experiencing music in the digital age, knowing how to manipulate sound to a certain degree it’s almost a requirement these days, and a computer is part of music composition as an instrument, it’s part of production, and a very integral part of the whole musical process. That’s why knowing at least how sound works digitally could help the overall knowledge in music.

There is just something important about getting to know a little bit more about the instruments we use, something beyond understanding how it works and fix it when it goes bad, it’s about getting the whole experience as a musician and learning every detail there is to learn.



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