Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top 5 Techniques for Providing Quality Instrumental Music Lessons

For the next 5 minutes, I ask all Band Directors to put down their batons.  I know it can be scary, but we'll get through this together.  Just lay it on the music stand and back away slowly.  You can do it.  There, you did it.


Conducting a band is such an amazing experience.  We've all had those moments we just don't want to end when the students are totally immersed in the moment, all eyes are on the stick and beautiful music erupts....Wow!Our planning paid off.  We chose the right music, our notes from the last rehearsal helped us prepare and the recording of this rehearsal will guide our efforts for the following rehearsal.  All is good. 

We've laid the baton down so we can spend some time looking at how we can apply our skills as directors to ensure our instrumental music lessons, either individual or small group are just as successful.  Here are my top 5 techniques for providing quality instrumental music lessons.  

  1. Have a plan:  Know your student(s) before they walk into the lesson room.  Have a document to track the materials taught during the last session and the goals for the current session.  Make sure the students get a copy of that document as well.  Using that document, get yourself focused on the materials.  We all have a ton to do during the day.  If we can't remember what students are doing and WHY, we can't help them.  When they arrive, you will be ready to jump right in knowing exactly what to work on.  This effort doesn't have to take a ton of time.  Use the time between periods to review the document.  
  2. Stick to the plan:  Students can be tricky.  They have many finely honed skills on sidetracking us older folk including stories about their pets, friends or family and their upcoming holiday travels.  Stay focused.  If the kids notice they can consistently side track you, no amount of planning will matter to them.  They must know that you have a plan and that you will stick to that plan. This doesn't mean you have to be rigid. You can still remain a human being while ensuring students do not take control of the short about of time you have with them
  3. Set goals and make them important:  One example is setting specific tempo goals for exercises.  Track those tempo goals during each lesson.  Send those goals to parents as well (if you teach school aged students).  Have you ever trained to run a marathon, began a weight lose program or set a goal to bike 1000 miles? If so, you know the power of sharing that goal with others.  Use that same logic to help students.  Share their goals with the parents, make them a part of the skill improvement process.  Doing so lets the student know they are not alone and makes the goal more important.  When we strive for goals, and others know we are striving for those goals, we tend to not want to let others down.  Letting others know about a student's goals can motivate them to succeed. If you teach older students, encourage them to share their goals with others. One option is for you to maintain a program blog and allow students to talk about their goals with others.  Be creative.  We should always remember that music is important to those who participate.  We shouldn't try to hide our enthusiasm or the enthusiasm of our students.  
  4. Assess for Success:  If students leave lessons too often with little more than a "good job today" accolade, they soon realize the bar has been set pretty low.  Assessing their performance during lessons should be systematic and organized.  Use a rubric and comment on a variety of areas including tone, articulation, musicality, technique, preparedness, instrument care and handling, etc.  
  5. Model:  Be prepared to model the various skills on the instrument you are teaching.  If you can't play the instrument well enough, demonstrate using an instrument as close to the student's as possible.  The real goal is to demonstrate on the same instrument the student is playing.  But it's ok to demonstrate using another instrument as long as the effect and technique can be mimicked very closely.  For example, it is hard to demonstrate how finger technique effects sound for a saxophonist using the trumpet.  You could demonstrate the concept however, using a clarinet or flute if you don't play sax well enough.  
We may now all pick up our batons. The skills we demonstrate when conducting our group can tell us much about how to prepare for lessons.  Plan, assess, make goals important, model and most importantly, stick to the plan to ensure quality lessons.

What techniques do you use to ensure quality lessons?

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