Are you a music, instrument, or vocal teacher? Would like to become a better music teacher and have your students engaged in your class? Then this article is for you.
Are you an effective teacher? What is effective teaching? Are your lessons effective? Consider these important questions for a few minutes before reading on and make a note of your thoughts.
You might think effective teachers are those whose pupils seem to display both quality of performance and enthusiasm. Surprisingly, this may not always be the case; some pupils manage to maintain their enthusiasm even in the face of the most weary and indifferent teaching.
Even if you are well-informed about the theory of teaching, make careful lesson plans, and select appropriate material, you might present what could be termed a good lesson but it might still fail as an effective one.
So what, then, is effective teaching, and how can you be sure that your teaching is always effective? Those teachers who take a real interest in the actual learning processes and who carefully monitor the extent to which their pupils have understood what they are trying to teach can feel confident that they are moving significantly towards effective teaching.
Central to the concept of effective teaching, therefore, is the importance of a two-way dialogue; you should be continually aware of whether or not your pupils are switched on to what you are teaching. Watch them carefully; often a facial expression or negative body language gives away the fact that a pupil doesn’t understand, or has lost interest in, what you are trying to teach.
Talk to your pupils; ask them to explain back what you have just taught them. Never, under any circumstances, simply assume that your pupil has understood, and thus learned something.
In teaching, just as in everyday life, making assumptions often inhibits smooth and effective communication. As we go through any day we are continually making assumptions; we assume any comment or action we make is being understood or interpreted just as we intended it to be.
Similarly, in making a comment or giving an instruction, we assume the recipient has already understood or assimilated perhaps a whole chain of concepts or skills necessary for the safe receipt of this new information. Remember that what you know and take for granted is all relatively new to your pupils.
For example, young pupils may not realize that F and F natural are the same note, or that a rhythm is the same whether the note stem points up or down. When introducing something new, try to be conscious of how each pupil understands and relates it to what is already learned.
Be aware of (unspoken) confusion – very few pupils will have the confidence to ask pertinent questions at this stage in their learning.
For example, on first encountering a note with a down-stem the pupil may perceive this note as being ‘upside-down’. Even though they may not express the concern, they may be worrying about whether this note is played in the same way as ‘an ordinary note’. This anxiety may well be undermining the learning process. A few words of explanation will soon put your pupil’s mind at ease!
Effective Teaching – Asking Questions
As you begin to think along these lines, many areas of possible misunderstanding will emerge. Get into the habit of asking questions to ensure that fresh or unfamiliar ideas have been understood. Ask your pupils to explain a new musical idea or technical skill back to you. Occasionally you might try some ‘role reversal’ – ask your pupil to teach you something that you have recently taught them.
It is essential to revisit and reinforce new concepts and skills many times. Effective teaching will take place when pupils can successfully apply what they have learned. For example, when teaching ‘tied notes’ begin at a simple level with one kind of tie (say, two quarter notes on either side of a bar line). Once the pupil has clearly understood the function of a tie, try tying notes of different values, you will soon know whether your teaching has been effective.
There are two distinct but interrelated disciplines central to the teaching of instrumental music. On the one hand, we must teach our students the skills necessary to play their instruments to the best of their ability, and on the other, we must help them to develop their sense of artistry and musicianship.
To do that we need to have a closer look at the teacher. Some of the main components are listed below. They are not in ‘order of importance’; after reading them through add any you feel have been omitted and then put the whole list in your own order of importance.
Knowledge and understanding of instrumental skill
Having a deep knowledge of how to play your instrument and its repertoire is, of course, essential. Simply being able to play well, however, is not sufficient; teaching others involves as great deal of analytical thought and understanding.
A Love of Music
This needs no explanation, although perhaps it is important to add that you should be open-minded about all types and styles of music.
Understanding your instrument and having a love of music must be complemented by the ability to communicate. Students are individuals; they learn at their own pace and in their own way. It is a great challenge for a teacher, therefore, to develop a flexible approach so that the explanation of concepts and skills and the communication of the much more abstract world of artistic expression will be understood by all.
Your musical imagination, independent of that of your student, must be constantly nurtured and may involve going to live performances by other players ( or at least listening to recordings). Reading, and generally taking an interest in other artistic media, is also important and inspirational to many musicians.
To be an effective teacher you must always be sensitive both to subtle relations and to the occasional unpredictable or unexpected response of a pupil, either of which may require a sudden change of strategy or approach.
Working out timetables, filling out festival and exam forms, and dealing with payments for lessons are among the many administrative duties the teacher will have to perform. Students and parents will appreciate an organized teacher!
There is a vast amount of knowledge instrumental teachers are expected to carry with them:
- An awareness of the various exam boards and their syllabuses.
- Opportunities for holiday courses and local and national orchestras.
- Piano tuners and good local instrumental technicians.
- Music shops.
- An awareness of the latest publications from publishers and the availability of scholarships.
Those represent just some of the information you may be expected to know! Access to a good library, up-to-date music reference books, and the Internet will certainly prove invaluable.
Enthusiasm, a methodical mind, a sincere concern for your students, a good deal of patience, and a sense of humor are all essential qualities for the teacher. In addition, you must have a certain measure of self-esteem and confidence in what you are doing; possessing a certain degree of self-respect will help both to achieve warm and supportive relations with others and to promote the development of similar self-respect in your students.
An accepting and rewarding approach to each student will enhance their view of themselves as people of worth and thus can have quite a marked influence on the effectiveness of their learning. Also, never underestimate a student’s ability to ‘see through’ their teacher; they are in a strong position to perceive and evaluate their teacher’s feelings towards them and this is a central factor in the development of the student-teacher relationship.
Ability to Inspire
Think back over your own learning experiences and whether you have been inspired by any of your teachers. If you have, consider what it was about their teaching or personality that caused you to be inspired. Of course, no one can be expected to be inspirational all the time, but you do need to keep your pupils interested, motivated, and excited about playing music.
Effective Teaching Conclusion
It would be unrealistic to expect every teacher to possess endless reserves of all the above, but a simple awareness of them is a good point of departure. The relative importance attached to each is really for the individual to decide, for every teacher is an individual and your quest must be to endeavor to forge your unique style and to respond effectively to all types of students.
Teachers should occasionally enter into a situation where they are doing the learning! It is very revealing to find out what learning a new and complex skill feels like. Choose a pastime such as Chess, Bridge, Tai Chi, or perhaps learning a new language, and use the experience to reflect on your own student’s learning experience.