Final 5 Teaching Tips Inspired by Physical Therapy
Following an accident, I discovered similarities between physical therapy and teaching music. Fifteen of them.
Below are my final 5 teaching tips inspired by physical therapy.
11. Hydrate: my therapist Katie offered me water after a strenuous exercise. Dehydration causes fatigue. Our bodies contain up to 60% water. Our brains, 73%. By the time we feel thirsty, we’re already dehydrated.
I’ve sometimes offered water to my voice students. Katie’s act reminds me to make water available to all my students. Have some water!
12. Repeat. Repeat again: Katie reminded me that it takes much repetition to become expert at anything.
Whether you aim to strengthen your body or to learn a musical pattern, repetition is the key to developing muscle memory or motor skills. (It’s called practice! Find a structured plan of practice in this short article: Practice Plan)
13. Slower Takes More Muscle (or Technique) Than Speed: Okay, I’ve got this exercise down cold. See how quickly I can do it? I must be really good at it if I can go this fast! Katie smiles at me. “Slow it down now and see how it goes.” I do so.
“Ouch.” I get the point.
My student proudly tells me she’s got the song down cold. She takes off and her fingers fall over each other, blurring the scale notes. I smile at her. “Slow it down now and see how it goes.” She does so. “Oops.” Some fingers play, others lag behind. She gets the point. We decide she should practice slowly and carefully, building dexterity in the fingers individually instead of relying on impetus.
14. Fewer Repetitions More Often: “Too many reps isn’t going to do you much good. In fact, it could cause strain,” explains my therapist. “Do fewer reps more often.”
I think about my students who go all week without practice, and then try to learn their lesson in one sitting. “Practice shorter amounts of time, but more often,” I say. Even playing the song once a day for six days generally yields a better result than a panicked six times through on one day. Build gradually. Leave the instrument out where you’ll play it more often.
Develop skill progressively, in small doses.
15. The Tools We Use: the therapy clinic has a treadmill and bike, some monkey-bar equipment, weights, exercise balls, etc. But instead of suggesting I spend money, Katie says I can heft soup cans or climb stairs. The primary tool in therapy is my own body.
Students might need a costly instrument. But they wonder if in addition they need an electric tuner or a finger strengthener. Not necessarily. You improve with practice. If you play your instrument, your fingers will get stronger and more nimble.
Bonus 1: It is possible to practice in the busiest of times. Two minutes here, five there…
Bonus 2: There is satisfaction in the sheer physical act of exercise–or of playing or singing. With improved strength and agility, even walking brings greater pleasure. In music, each level of ability offers new freedom and joy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my final 5 teaching tips inspired by physical therapy. I’m a more aware and better teacher as a result of my therapist’s help. Thanks, Katie!