Our goal is to make our students independent. I give my students a choice: “Either you can learn to read, count and think for yourself, or you can depend on me. If I have to be there to help every step of the way, then I’ll have to come live with you!” Funny... but not one student has thought that was a good idea!
Here's how to help your students become their own teachers:
When your students ask a question about rhythm, your answer should always be, “What did you do to try to figure it out on your own?” Did you try to figure out the rhythm before you tried to play it? Did you mark the beats? Did you first count out loud using syllables like “ta” for quarter notes, “tee-tee” for eighth notes, or “huckleberry” for sixteenth notes? Did you tap?
When your students make a mistake, instead of pointing out what the mistake was, say things such as “There was a rhythm problem there. What did you play? And what should you have played?” or “Something was wrong with the pitch. Were you sharp or flat?” or even “That’s not right. What do you need to fix?”
When your students make a mistake, instead of you marking or circling the problem, tell them to mark it. You’ll know if they understand, and the act of writing will help them remember.
Our goal as teachers is to become obsolete. Turn your students into independent thinkers, not trained seals.
Here’s a fun way to have students understand and remember the practice steps I recommend in my Practice Pointers page. (You may already have your own list of steps to learn a new piece correctly from scratch.)
Make a pile of eight poker chips, toy coins painted gold or gold-wrapped coins — anything that is colorful and that you can stack up for maximum “wow factor.”
Give your student the pile. Have him or her demonstrate the eight practice steps. Take a chip from the pile for every missed step.*
Once your student has learned the order of the practice steps, then have him or her demonstrate to you how to approach a new piece.
Ask, “What is step number one?”
“Now show me how to practice it?”
Your goal with the practice steps, as with all of your teaching, is to put the student in charge and independent of you.
* Thanks to Elaine Ferandahl, a Simply Music piano teacher in South Carolina, for this fun idea.
Step 1: Hold the student's hand in front of the your face while they feel you blow separate puffs of air (sometimes called breath kicks).
Step 2: Have the student blow the puffs of air at you — feeling the forward motion of the air.
Step 3: Still without the flute, blow a straight airstream then punctuate it with breath kicks of air.
Step 4: Do the same thing on the flute with a soft straight sound and loud breath kicks of vibrato. Really bend the pitch and make the vibrato obvious and “ugly.”
Step 5: Practice this slow vibrato (four vibrations per note) on scales, gradually building speed.
Step 6: After a few weeks of this exercise, practice vibrato on slow pieces. Stipulate how many vibrations will be on a beat: 3, 4 or 6 vibrations per beat.
Step 7: Increase the speed of the piece and use vibrato only on dotted half notes and above.
Step 8: Free yourself from counting the vibrations per beat. Vibrato is a measure of emotion and the number of vibrations per note depends on the feeling of each note.
For students with Billy goat vibrato, ask them to play a straight sound for two beats, then keep that straight sound (so there is a solid tone throughout) and put vibrato on top of that straight sound. The trick is for them to feel and hear a forward, steady airstream even while playing vibrato.
A daily practice assignment guides students through the process of learning. They can check off each step or mark the number of minutes practiced when completed.
Of course, every daily practice assignment will vary with the student, teacher, piece and goals, but here is a sample daily practice assignment for piano.
Write in their assignment book: “This week only play the first page.”
Monday (after your lesson):
Mark the beats. Analyze the chords. Practice only the right hand very slowly. Concentrate on hand and wrist position.
Say the names of the left-hand notes out loud. Practice the left hand only very slowly. Concentrate on hand and wrist position.
Put both hands together. Play each phrase 10 times. Concentrate on dynamics and phrasing.
Add the pedal. Play with the metronome. Circle the hardest measures.
Take a break!
Start with the hardest measures first. Play each hard measure five times in a row before going on.
Play with the metronome very, very slowly, and bump it up one notch for every successful run through with no mistakes.
Thrill your teacher with your progress!
The daily practice chart should also include what parts of a piece should be played (they should not play through the entire piece every day) and days when some pieces should not be played (they should not practice every piece every day.) These daily charts are more work for a few weeks but will pay off with more independent students in the long run.
Everything! Kids will listen if you make learning fun.
Henrietta and Earl, the squawking chickens, are a big part of my teaching. When a student does something really dumb, such as playing F natural in G major for the 10th time, and you feel ready to explode, let the chicken do your screaming for you!
A squeal from the chicken when the offense happens again gets the student’s attention, makes them laugh, and saves you from screaming. Try it, it works!
What is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music?
A NCTM is a member of the Music Teachers National Association. The following is from the MTNA Web site:
The mission of Music Teachers National Association is to advance the value of music study and music making to society and to support the professionalism of music teachers. The Professional Certification Program exists to improve the level of professionalism within the field of applied music teaching and helps the public readily identify competent music teachers in their communities. It signifies commitment to continued excellence in professional practice. In addition, it increases visibility, builds credibility, provides a goal for personal professional achievement and validates expertise for the individual and to those outside the field.
The program is based upon a set of five standards defining what a competent music teacher should know and be able to do:
Professional Teaching Practices
Professional Business Management
Professionalism and Partnerships
Standard V: Professional and Personal Renewal
To me, being a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music means that I have a commitment to teaching and learning and strive to help other music teachers attain high standards for themselves and their students and the respect our profession deserves.