Music Teacher Talk

Blog April 21 2014


At times I have to remind students, particularly the older ones, to stop talking to each other in class. Students are highly social people, and they have to practice resisting the urge to to use their words to socialize. But it is also true that there are times when I talk too much to them. They want to get right down to making music, and I want to prepare them for the day’s lesson with teaching and instructions. What I am doing is sound teaching methodology, but sometimes less is better. If I am not introducing new material, I really don’t need to talk as much as I often do. Today I will offer some tips that will help you (and me) talk less in order to free up more time for students to do more.

First, have routines for getting the class under way. Good lessons begin by getting the students’ attention, and lecturing is not the best way to accomplish this. When students know what is going to be expected before they arrive at your class, they can begin meeting that expectation as soon as they arrive, without a word from you. Many teachers use a “do now” activity. It can be duplicated on a handout that students pick up from a table near the door, or it can be written on the board in the front of the room. The activity relates and prepares students for the main activity of the lesson, but does not require any teaching or assistance from you. I like to set a timer for completing the “do now” and I always give students the same amount of time: five minutes. This makes transitioning to the lesson smooth because everyone knows when the “do now” is over and the next activity will begin.


The main part of the lesson can also be structured with procedural routines. Procedures for performing, creating, and responding can also be established. By simply writing “performing,” “creating,” or “responding” on the board, students will know which procedure they will be using that day. For example, when my students are beginning a new performance project, they know that they must first select a piece based on their interest, knowledge of the piece, their own ability, and the context for which the performance will be given. They know that next they will analyze the structure and context of the work, and explain the implications of their analysis on their performance. They must then interpret the work to discover the composer’s intent and how it can be expressed in their performance. Then, they begin to practice, evaluate and refine. Finally, they present their selected work in a performance. Similar processes exist for creating and responding.

As students work through the performance procedure (or any of the others) the teacher rarely needs to speak to the class. Instead s/he circulates through the class offering support where needed, looking at students work in an ongoing assessment mode, and initiating transitions from one step to the next. For example, most classes will need to be told that everyone needs to complete selection and begin analysis. Again, as with “do now” setting a time goal is a good idea. Selection can often be completed in 10 minutes, whereas analysis will typically take longer. By circulating around the room and viewing every student’s ongoing work, (not just those who need support,) you will have a good idea of when the class is ready to move on, and when the class needs more time. As long as everyone is working on-task, times can be flexible. For example, you might find that the time you set for analysis is up, but that most students are still working on it. You could say, “I’m pleased how well all of you are working on your analysis. I have observed good progress in your work. I see that if we take a little more time on this step you will all be able to complete excellent analyses, so please keep working. You are working so well, I don’t mind giving you the extra time.” This accomplishes two things. First, you are encouraging and complimenting their effort. Second, you are connecting their good effort to the results they have achieved: they are getting good results because of the hard work they are doing. This in itself is valuable. You always want your students to work hard and achieve much.

In most situations, less teacher talk is better. When you talk less, students have the opportunity to do more. This puts them in the position of having to assume more responsibility for their learning, and that is the best approach.


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