Music Teacher’s Helper

How much of your teaching depends on a student’s self-discipline? Is self-discipline natural to them, enforced by parents, or taught? What even is self-discipline?

Lots of studies have shown that self-control leads to success in learning, and in life itself — and yet, a new book reviewing psychological studies on this subject suggests that many of us may have an outdated understanding of self-discipline.

New Year’s resolutions are infamous for uncovering how hard it is to follow up on our annual bold promises to knuckle down and get everything right in the new year.

We try to deny it, but we know it’s true — forcing yourself to be disciplined often means fighting with yourself. The toll it takes is not only emotional, but physical. One study showed that it causes premature aging of immune cells.

Forced willpower is stressful — it increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels.

David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, just published a book in January called Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

He has found that compassion, gratitude and genuine pride (as opposed to hubris or arrogance) actually act to lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and to decrease anxiety and depression, while increasing people’s motivation to take on and persevere in difficult tasks.

Why? Because these emotions involve relationships with people. People go out of their way to help others, to do for others, to fulfill promises. Studies have actually measured that people who feel these emotions are willing to persevere 30% longer at tasks than people who make themselves do the work out of self-control.

Relationships are rewarding; self-control is in itself lonely and can actually be harmful over the long term. There seems to be an epidemic of loneliness these days, and its health effects are becoming better known.

How does this tie into teaching music? It makes us think about our priorities.

Here are a few ideas:

Generosity — consider giving students some materials free or at cost. Giving a few extra minutes at a lesson or outside of lessons if students have questions. Help them look at a new instrument even though you may not be paid for that time. Give an annual certificate or gift! Lending a hand in these ways will make many students grateful to you for your help. All teachers have run into students who may take advantage of their time, but you can draw lines, and to really motivate your students, it may be best to err on the side of generosity.

Friendly relationships with students are huge motivators for students, and we have choices all the time on how to build these relationships. Music Teachers Helper is a great aid by providing transparency for billing and payments, reminders of upcoming lessons, and emailed lesson notes, for example. When simply teaching a skill, it’s worth being aware of your language and whether you are building a relationship or forcing compliance.

This is not about treating students with kid gloves but about genuine connections. It is important for students to feel challenged and to see that they can rise to those challenges, but how the challenges are delivered can make or break your relationships. There are teachers who feel the need to use threats, demands, and even practicing contracts, but these types of interactions are likely to increase stress and reduce long-term success. The same can be said about the focus of some music teachers on teaching a fear of mistakes rather than a desire to play musically.

Social elements in learning — creating a community feeling can have a huge impact on student loyalty, sense of compassion and gratitude. Including group classes, recitals or playalongs, hosting a music party, and having one student help another can all help build relationships that motivate learning far better than enforcing old-style concepts of self-discipline.

I like to think that there are two kinds of discipline — external and internal. The external kind is the kind you often see exercised by school administrators, through rules and punishments, in the hopes of building good habits through tough love, and yes, fear. The internal kind you see instilled by good teachers who model enjoyment and quality, and develop curiosity, desire, and yes, fulfilling relationships with the teacher and other students.

As a music teacher, you certainly have thoughts on this far-reaching subject!

I hope you will share your comments.

 

Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

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Now to choose a method–my first private piano student just signed up. Wait. There are HOW MANY piano methods out there???

How in the world will you decide which to use?

Last month I wrote about starting a private music teaching studio. Five questions I’m most often asked, and one question no one asks, but probably should. Future articles will explore guitar and vocal methods, lesson supplements and business aspects of starting a private music teaching studio.

PIANO METHODS

You could simply start out using the books you learned from as a kid. But you might find others that fit you or your student better.

Ask These Questions about Each Method

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Isn’t it more work to put together duets and ensembles?

Maybe. But sooooo worth it! Check it out…

  • Group playing is a team sport. Participants must work together—listen to one another. They must be able to start together and end together. They lean on each other’s strengths in order to pull off a good performance. They bolster each other’s courage and support each other.
  • It is in duet and ensemble playing that musicians learn the importance of balance (one part should not dominate the others). A good life lesson!
  • As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
  • A group musical experience transcends culture, age, gender, language and economic/social barriers. Depending on the arrangement, the musicians needn’t even be on the same technical level.
  • If there’s a good fit of musicians, it becomes a safe place for them to express themselves emotionally, to make mistakes yet still be accepted, appreciated and cheered on. It’s a great way to overcome the fear of performance. There is safety in groups!
  • In rehearsing duets and ensembles, students will be forced to confront their rhythm and work at it.
  • As a soloist, a performer chooses his/her own interpretation. As part of an ensemble, individuals sacrifice their own ideas to benefit the group. It’s an investment made toward excellence. And that takes any sting out of playing a part other than the lead.

Playing in a small group can become a life experience, not simply something done for a recital since opportunities to perform abound. Over students’ lives, there will be town festivals, community events, holiday performances and church services or functions, to name a few. Get ’em started young!

Here are a few ideas just to get you going.

Piano Ensembles

  • Lists of fun piano duets and trios compiled by Wendy Stevens at Compose Create.
  • A simple search on the internet will turn up dozens of piano duet and trio books.

Vocal Ensembles and Rounds

  • “Coffee Break” from the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
  • Taco Bell Canon (even though this is pre-recorded by one person, Jul3ia, I included it because it was in tune…).
  • Another recording of Taco Bell Canon (in my humble opinion, the next best), features 7 young men.
  • Here’s an easy-to-pick-up round, taught on youtube using “Dynamite”
  • “Dona Nobis Pacem” is a well-known 3-part round. Here are words I have my beginning students use:

Part 1. Quarter notes__ Quarter rests__ Give them each one beat.

If you should break them both in half, they turn into eighths.

Part 2. Three___ beats____ dot—ted half has them.

Three___ beats___ hold on just for three.

Part 3. Three____ beats___ dot-ted-half and then three eighth notes.

Wait__  wait__  Now you start a–gain. (the words dotted half are themselves 8th notes)

Other Duets and Ensembles to Consider

  • Add siblings, parents or grandparents as accompanists or on duet parts.
  • Create an ensemble of piano, guitar, and rhythm—maybe vocals, too!
  • Drum circles can be fun.
  • Create an ensemble of whatever instruments students can play. Have they learned recorder in school? Let them show off their skills here. If they know five notes on their band instruments they should be able to work into a piece you arrange for them.
  • Take simple two or three part rounds and have students play each part on piano or other instruments.
  • Let the audience be part of an ensemble with a call and response led by students. Or let all students participate.
  • Another way to let the audience be part of the ensemble is with Wendy Stevens’ Rhythm Cups.

I hope you’re as excited as I am to have a recital of Dynamic Duets and Excellent Ensembles! I thank my sister, Vicky Dresser, for sharing five of her magical music recital ideas. You can read about the other four here:

Really Rad Rock and Roll Recital 

Mickey Mouse Club Musical Review

Family Folk Song Celebration

Make it More than a Recital!

What are your favorite recitals? We’d love to hear! And be sure to post photos on your Music Teachers Helper website. 🙂

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