7 surprising ways to improve your music students – The Overview (part 1 of 8)

Shifting my career from a concert pianist to a music educator conditioned me with several counter-intuitive insights. When I began teaching, I read everything I could possibly read on music education and followed with experiments to see what worked and what didn’t work. Most of what I had learned as a touring concert pianist was contrary to what music teachers and educators were doing and writing. So I decided to first test their ideas and see how it worked with my students. These were seven of the most widely held beliefs that, after testing, I found to produce negative results for my students or the studio:

Created negative results:
1. Have one or two major recitals per year
2. Ask students to log practice time
3. Reward top performing students with prizes
4. Suggest to students to practice 1 hour per day
5. Maintain privacy in all student media (recordings, photos, projects, presentation videos)
6. Regularly provide report cards for parents
7. Offering private lessons only

Aside from these pointers, a lot of what I read did turn out to be true and very helpful. But after experimenting I found everything above produced net negative results or were not helpful enough for the time invested.

For the next 7 blogs, I’m going to deep dive into each of these surprising insights, explain how I tested them and then layout the counter-intuitive changes I have made to these standard practices. There are challenges involved, but the results may be incredible for you and your students.

As a disclaimer, these insights are what worked for me here in Silicon Valley and may not translate to your neck of the woods. And as with any advice – it’s not one size fits all students. I still thought it would be helpful to share with others. Here are the surprising results I found:

Created positive results:
1. Have a recital at least once every other month and it can include more than just the instrument you teach.
2. Have students set their own goals guided by your own insight and encourage them to always reach higher. Be firm once they set these goals.
3. Reward students intrinsically with small phrases that condition them over time with a growth mindset.
4. Suggest to students to focus on achieving their practice goals. If they do practice long amounts (1 hour or more), ask them to split it up into smaller more focused sessions (30 and 30 – or 20, 20 and 20)
5. Share student successes and media with other parents and students as a reward for hard work. “Look what Shawn did everyone after a month of practice!”
6. Send a quick text or message to parents if they don’t sit in on the lessons or allocate 1 minute at the end of lessons to provide specific feedback.
7. For beginners, properly structured group lessons can outperform private lessons with students learning up to 3x as fast. Group lessons using social accountability and faster feedback loops are likely to produce top performing students and musically educated parents.

There are several more insights that I found to be helpful, but these were the most surprising and created the best impact. The best takeaway I have found since starting is that the status quo in music education is evolving and standard practices can be more damaging than helpful.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *