Music Teacher's Helper Blog

What’s in a Name?

Someone once said that “the most important word in the English language is a person’s name!” These profound words underline the importance of properly using the names of our music students. The first step in developing any relationship with another human is to learn their name. Our name is the means to identify us from the crowd. It becomes part of our personality. It always impresses me when someone I don’t know too well, remembers and calls me by my forename. To me, this says a lot about them as a person. Why! All of us parents have spent much time agonising over what to call our children, it’s important that that effort should not be wasted!!! But isn’t this obvious?

Let me tell you about one of my piano teachers with whom I studied with as a teenager. He rarely could remember my name in lessons, sometimes referring to me by the names of his other students. Combined with his strict, ‘old school’ demeanour, it felt difficult to have a relationship with him. Each lesson felt very impersonal and consequently my motivation between lessons was largely based on fear! Worst of all was when I completed any exam. Several weeks later the certificate would arrive with my name mis-spelt in huge gold letters! So now I have a collection of mis-spelt music certificates ‘proudly’ stored somewhere in my attic! In hindsight, I should of told him about it but as an awkward teenage boy, at the time it just seemed pointless. As a result of such experiences, here is a few of my personal thoughts that I try and apply to my pupils:

  1. Learn their name as soon as possible, ideally before they arrive for their first lesson so that I can greet them at the door
  2. Learn how to pronounce their name properly, especially if it has an unfamiliar sound by listening carefully to how parents say it. There’s no dishonour is asking for the name to be repeated slowly. If anything, this impresses upon the pupils and/or parents that I care
  3. Find out how they like to be referred to as. One parent recently registered her son’s name as “William” on my MTH. However, it soon became clear that everybody calls him “Will.” Probably, the only time he hears his full name “William” is when he is being told off! I want all my pupils to feel relaxed in my company, especially the very young, so calling him “Will” instead of “William” should help him feel at ease.
  4. Watch that I spell their name correctly. Even common names have various ways of being spelt
  5. Learn the names of other lesson attendees, such as siblings and friends, parents and grandparents
  6. Use the name of the pupil periodically during the lesson, especially at the start and conclusion of the lesson
  7. When writing notes about how they performed a certain piece in the lesson, include their name in the opening commendation sentence before moving on to what they need to work on
One word of caution: It is probably best to avoid the use of nicknames even though the pupil’s  family might do so. I taught one boy whose real name was Liam but his family and friends referred to him as “Spud!” When I enquired the reason for such a nickname Liam replied: “‘cos when I was a baby, I looked like a potato and it’s stuck ever since!

Inspiration Corner: Hans Zimmer – The Dark Knight Rises (soundtrack to the film). Hans Zimmer is a Hollywood A-list composer who’s style is known for his fusion of conventional orchestral film cues with contemporary electronica. His music is a great way to introduce pupils to the power and magic of the orchestra who, at the moment, would be dismissive of the traditional orchestral repertoire. Who knows, hopefully one day they will also come to appreciate the genius of the Beethoven symphonies!

See other posts by Reuben Vincent

About the Author

Reuben Vincent
Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!

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