Teaching – Delivery of information or a truly two way process?

Learning, teaching and the student

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When a student has lessons there are always clear expectations, and perspectives, from both teacher and learner.  The relationship between teacher and student will always be in a state of change, and it is important to be aware of how to use this to create the most effective learning environment.

Traditional Teaching

Traditionally the stance is that the teacher should provide information, review and assess the understanding giving advice and guidance where necessary.  However, is this the best way?  How else could this be approached to provide variety and contrast within lessons so that students remain interested, alert and motivated?

Of course there will need to be times where key things will need to happen, but most lessons will most likely contain some or any of the following:

  • Listeningwhat-brass-player-want-trumpets
  • Questioning
  • Assessing and feedback
  • Reviewing playing
  • Giving advice/guidance
  • Modeling good practice

Lessons structured in a careful way will ensure that key points are covered to ensure that a warm-up is included, that technique is approached in a way that helps with pieces, orchestral repertoire or ensemble music.  There will be times when you are playing along with the student, singing or demonstrating.

The lesson could follow a format, such as:

  • Warm-up
  • Scales & Arpeggios
  • Studies
  • Aural work
  • Pieces
  • Warm-down

This will work fairly well for a lesson that lasts half an hour or an hour, but will not be ever so applicable for the lessons within school that may have to be just 15 minutes or less.  Often it is possible to have students arrive 5 minutes early to warm up independently so that lesson time can be fully maximized, but this is not always possible.  Any format or plan like this should be flexible to ensure variety for the student – consistency and a methodical approach is important but can have a numbing effect if applied with little flexibility.

Learning and Teaching

Dealing with the students approach to learning is crucial and will allow for maximum progress.  Students may well bring lots of baggage or concerns with them and as an instrumental teacher it is important to try and read these issues quickly and address as necessary.

An important element of teaching is giving the opportunity for students to develop their own thoughts and ideas.  This can be through discussion relating to interpretation, dynamic contrast or tempo.  The main aim for any teacher is to make sure that they aim to make themselves redundant.  The student should be given the opportunity to learn how to deal with problems on their own through considered listening, an awareness of musical context and being happy to experiment and get things wrong.

This is not always an easy thing to achieve and some students, particularly adults, often want to make sure that everything is right or perfect with little understanding of what perfect sounds or feels like.  Teaching students to let go and be willing to explore is a fundamental part of the teaching process that is sometimes easy to overlook when time is so pressured.

What should the student play?

Music will have a big impact on student’s motivation and it is important to try and match the desire to play pieces for fun as well as those pieces that enhance technique or musicality (which will also hopefully be fun to play!).  Very often motivation is improved through duet or ensemble playing and this can be a very enjoyable part of the lesson.

It is important to mwhat-brass-players-want-metronomeake sure that students understand how to take thoughts, ideas and key points away from the lesson.  Setting goals for the year and reviewing progress every term can also provide a sense of achievement and direction.  Using a practice diary can be very effective for this and there are many different formats available to purchase if desired.  However, very often a simple notebook may well suffice.

For any instrumental lesson to be effective it should be an unequal mix of direction and student-led learning or exploration.  The responsibility for this however should never rest entirely on the shoulders of the teacher.  I think the biggest challenge for any instrumental teacher is creating an atmosphere of curiosity and desire in which the student is willing to experiment, fail and enjoy a range of musical experiences.

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