Our job as a private instructor gives us unique perspectives and insights regarding a student’s abilities, potential, and character. Recently I have been asked to write various recommendation letters for my students for high school/college applications, summer camps, special recognition awards, as well as supporting documentation for competitions and scholarships.
Here are some of the tips I have to share:
1. State the facts – I always start by stating how long the student has studied with me. This is very important. Piano study requires time and perseverance. Being able to state that someone has stuck to the same activity for a decent number of years and not give up says a lot about that student’s character.
2. Make a list – What has the student accomplished during their time with you? List all the assessment exams/tests they have taken, what level, any high scores/honors they received. Also list any competitions they have participated in, including any prizes they won. If a student has not done any exams or competitions, then list approximately what repertoire they have studied, what level you think they have accomplished, whether they have progressed into an intermediate level or advanced level.
3. Personal observation – This is probably the most interesting part of the letter. What have you noticed about this student? What makes this student stand out from others? What are their special qualities? Does the student show enthusiasm and love? Is the student a consistent hard worker? Is the student conscientious and responsible? Does the student have a high standard for themselves? Does the student learn quickly? Is the student a joy to teach? Focus on the positives.
4. Other involvements – This is where I mention any other facts that I know about the student that may not be music related, such as academic or sports achievements. I also emphasize all the wonderful skills a piano student learns that can apply to other areas – goal setting, time management, accepting constructive criticism, etc.
5. Special mentions – Sometimes an organization requesting the letter asks for specific comments regarding the student – ability for independent study, leadership skills, community service involvements, etc. In this case, it may be necessary for the student to create special opportunities for themselves before you write the letter so that you can comment on their involvements. For example, ask the student to make arrangements to perform for retirement homes/charity concerts, so that there is something you can say about.
6. Wrap up – I also end with another personal note about my relationship with the student. How they have inspired me as a teacher, where I see their strengths lie, and where I see them grow.
7. Contact details – don’t forget to include all your contact information, so you may be contacted for further comment if necessary.
Do you write recommendation letters for your students? What do you include? Do share with us!