Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

Do you play along with your students during lessons?  Clearly, much of the time it’s important for students to get used to playing on their own, and for you to be able to focus, listen, and watch them without trying to play yourself.  For piano teachers, of course, playing along requires a second piano or a high or low part on the same piano.

But sometimes it’s very useful to play along.  The benefits of doing this stood out this week with one of my students in particular, so I thought I’d throw it out for discussion.

As a student is learning a tune, or piece of music, playing with them can model for them what you find important.  At times, it may be your priority that the student play through a section for the sake of continuity.  By playing along and not stopping for mistakes, you communicate your priority without a word.

Another time, you may want to stop when a note is out of tune or a wrong note is hit, modeling a certain kind of awareness you want the student to think about.

When you play along,  [···]

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1. In learning music, as with many other skills, good habits lead to good results. All music teachers seek to build good habits.

2. Good habits come from discipline. The dictionary lists a dozen definitions of “discipline” but I suspect the most important types of discipline are only two: external and internal.

3. Musicianship, though it requires discipline, is more than a skill. It draws upon something deeper than habit. Some teachers consider musicianship fundamental; others feel technical skill must be established first.

4. Being aware of differences between external and internal discipline can help us lead students to good habits, good results, and good musicianship. Sometimes teachers and parents, or adult students, seem to have very different presumptions about what discipline is. Some uses of external discipline confuse management with teaching (school systems often carry this to an extreme).

5. “Internal” discipline is shaped by inspiration, pride, determination. It can be built [···]

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Do you have any rhythm war stories–student rhythm problems that have seemed intractable, or bizarre, or puzzling, or just comical?

Here are a few of mine, following up on last week’s blog. I hope you’ll add some of your experiences by clicking “Add Comment” below; I’m sure others, like me, would like to hear more!

Carol could not count beats as she was playing. After some experimentation we found that if she moved enough physically while playing, she could feel the beats and play the timings of the piece quite well. It turned out that she was so visually oriented that if she thought of “beat one,” for example, she would actually visualize the letters “O-N-E” and become distracted.

In an October blog (Music is Time) I mentioned my 72-year-old student, Harry, who at one lesson reduced all the quarters and eighths of a piece to straight eighth notes in order to “save time.”

Ruth and Christine had very unusual rhythm problems. One performed with a group regularly but came to me with a “rhythm problem” that involved a simple rhythm in 4/4 time. The other was the leader of an amateur group but always managed to rush the beat while leading her players. Both had such puzzling and persistent rhythm issues that I was suddenly reminded of the book, Soprano On Her Head, and tried a radical approach. I got up the nerve to ask a seemingly weird question [···]

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