Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Write Down the Vision

Stick to your vision, but adapt your planA couple of weeks ago, I was teaching a client, and suddenly I thought to myself, “What are we doing here?”

The lesson was going well, and the client was focused and learning, but I still had this deep impulse that asked me: “What are we building here?”

I stopped the lesson, took out a notebook, and I asked him, “What do you want to do better as a singer? What part does singing play in your life?”

I proceeded to ask these questions to all my clients that week, and the answers I received took lessons on a new trajectory, and in just a few short weeks, my clients have been gaining new and surprising ground.

I want to share some of the answers I received. We teachers forget what delicate stuff we are dealing with when we work with our clients. Things as fragile and fiery as a student’s dreams, passions, and emotional growth.

One client said to me, “I don’t want to perform anymore, but singing is what gives me joy and peace. My life is like an MGM musical. In the car, in the shower, wherever, I have to sing.”

Another said, “Singing is helping me learn how to fully and joyfully express myself in every other area of my life.”

Then of course there are those who want to create a leading role on Broadway and win a Tony award. While that’s not a goal in anyone’s control, I then know how we need to work and focus before they move to their 7×10 New York studio apartment.

All that being said, these questions opened my eyes to my clients’ deeper hearts. From 12-year-olds to septuagenarians, asking a few questions and writing down their answers on notebook paper provided a powerful focus to our work.

I created two sheets: 1. technical goals and 2. life/repertoire/performance goals. Now when the client comes in for a lesson, I take out their manilla folder and put their goals sheet in front of me at the piano so that these things are right in front of my eyes. Then I can literally see how their ease of breathing, use of legato, and ability to navigate transitions is really improving. They have a copy as well in their binder, and we build, add and change as necessary.

I’m also using lesson notes and the repertoire tracker in the MTH software so each client can log in and see progress there as well. I haven’t utilized the practice log just yet, but that’s next on my list of components.

With all this, I can also see how my students are moving forward in the face of fear, perfectionism, and the temptation to shut themselves down with self-criticism.

Having the vision written down in front of me helps me to encourage them to keep taking one more step, to relentlessly forge ahead through (and even celebrate) the failures so that they find the gold, and pretty soon we’re checking off goals and writing down new ones.

It’s seriously the simplest and most effective tool I have discovered for myself as one who is helping others to realize their dreams, or even to realize they have one buried in there. It’s made me a better teacher, and it’s made me care even more. I make it my responsibility to help them step into these new places and then ahead to new ones.

Let’s never lose sight of the deeper role we are privileged to play as music teachers. Think of your teachers who impacted your life so much.

We get to train others to skillfully participate in this mysterious, beautiful, ordered, soul-altering communication. Just think about music for a moment and aren’t you mystified? We get to swim in that ocean every day and teach others to enjoy it as well.

Writing down the vision will help your students learn to swim that much faster. Happy teaching!

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  1. Aaron

    I’ve been doing this with my students every summer and every new year: a goals, expectations and repertoire recap. I use google docs and make a table and song list and share it with them.

  2. Dan Callaway

    Thanks for sharing, Aaron…great idea re: Google Docs, and every six months is a great check in schedule…time for growth and accomplishment and regular enough to assess what’s going on.

  3. Kim

    YES! I wish more music teachers thought this way. I recently began working towards certification as a personal trainer, and their goal-focused approach has revolutionized my voice coaching + songwriting studio. I started prescribing voice training programs based on each student’s needs and timeframe; rather than the term-long enrolment and “whenever-you-want-to-come-by” deals I did when I first started. They’re getting measurably better results, and I’m getting better attendance and retention.

  4. Dan Callaway

    Thanks Kim! I could probably use some tools you’ve learned in your own training. Glad the blog was helpful!

  5. Eric Beaty

    Great article, Dan. I’m reminded of Habakkuk 2:2 – “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.”

  6. Dan Callaway

    Thanks a lot Eric… I actually did have that passage in my mind when I titled the article. Glad you enjoyed it.

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