Step up

With a diverse music studio in ages and abilities, I often question what I can do to constantly improve myself as an educator of such a wide range of minds. What’s next? How can I better the student experience and skill while still helping them develop a great relationship with music?

As most music teachers have realized, I use parent involvement in lessons, studio events, recordings and monthly performances to motivate kids and get them to discover the clear value in studying music.

I see my biggest challenge in the area of diagnosis. Diagnostics are not just for medical application. They are something music teachers and teachers in general do all the time.

At the root of all piano lessons are many symptoms and questions. Some are subtle and others are multi-dimensional, but always, these questions and symptoms are important and must be addressed by someone or through some process.
Why doesn’t the student know how to connect their correct clapped rhythm with their playing of the notes?

What is the best way to explain expression to a six year old?

How is this student practicing (or not practicing) at home that causes them to play like this in lessons?
As a teacher who inherited the bulk of my students from other teachers, I find it incredibly difficult to diagnose and rebuild students who have years of conditioning. Some of these habits or mindsets are inefficient and some are even detrimental to their physical health (e.g. tension, poor hand position).

Diagnosis isn’t only a difficulty with incoming students, but even more challenging in what I call the “Black Hole” or the space between lessons. Every week we send students home with all the knowledge and processes which we as teachers know will help them (i.e. practicing slow, in sections, separating hands if needed). Yet, some students still manage to come back 167.5 hours later with a handful of issues to resolve. What happened in that span of time (the black hole)?

How can this mysterious time be optimized or better yet illuminated?
Parents coming to the lesson usually are on their phone and if they do watch they usually will only remember a small portion of the information – plus they’re busy, that’s our job to secure the transfer of knowledge.

– Writing it on the score or covering the score with post-it corrections
– Having the students write it down in a journal
– Having the student explain the corrections to you
– Recording the lesson
– Writing a practice plan for the coming week

The list is infinite and the more of these you do, you find that you become incrementally more successful going forward. But what I have found to be the real success is when you are able to correctly diagnose the source of the problem.

– Maybe the student never practices in sections or never repeats sections a second time to improve
– Maybe the student doesn’t ask themselves how they can improve a play through
– Maybe their tv or iPad is sitting next to their piano
– Maybe the student practices before bed when they’re tired

These small habits during practice can make the difference between jumping 3 levels in a year versus barely making it through a single level.

This is not only a pain point for frustrated teachers, but also the students who are feeling that they are inadequate (so they keep effort to a minimum). This of course results in parents feeling that their kids aren’t putting effort into something which they pay thousands of dollars for each year. This vicious circle is often unavoidable (e.g. over-scheduled kids), but sometimes it can be diagnosed early and solved through a sit down with parents and students to clarify purpose or process.

For my own professional growth I am aiming to become the best possible problem-solver through diagnosing student challenges or errors. This is where I see the future of music education and the future role of the very best music teachers. Developing powerful diagnostic tools for teachers and parents to better oversee the learning process – that will revolutionize music education.

Although it would be nice to simply have a computer software algorithm help students during their practice between lessons, I know there is a better way at the moment. I believe more deeply in a potential symbiotic relationship of people and technology.

Until next time,

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