Be Positive: Teaching Kids What they Need To Know Before They Will Learn What You Want To Teach

2011 Symposium2

Perhaps more than teachers of other disciplines, we music teachers tend to be highly critical of ourselves and others. Our main focus in rehearsals is often error detection and correction. We fix mistakes, shape musical phrases, and pretty much spend most of our time turning sonic chaos at the first rehearsal into a splendid musical treat at the concert. Our students by and large try to meet our expectations and frequently do, but it is often a frustrating journey of struggling through. Students often succeed inspite of us rather than because of us, as they try to find a workaround what we are prescribing they do to obtain the result we are demanding. Wound into that struggle are kids who don’t really get how to practice, how to rehearse, how to evaluate or how to refine and improve each attempt they make. In addition, they lack the social and psychological skills to functions easily and effectively in a highly social environment, where individuals depend on the group, and vice versa. When all of these demands are combined, musical skill, learning skill, social skill, and psychological skill, the demands on some of our students can be much more than we realize. It is easy to miss the importance of teaching kids how to learn, how to function in the environment in which they find themselves in our classes and ensembles.

While most teach their students entry and exit routines, such as where to store andsinging-kids retrieve their instruments, where to put empty instrument cases, where to put book bags, how to ask for help, and so forth, I have come to suspect that it is far less common for  students to receive from their music teacher such instructions as what to do when they cannot stay still in their place, how to tell a student next to them that they need more space without pushing them out of the way, or how to tell a student directly behind they are singing too loud and not very well without putting him or her down. These are things we often assume kids know, but that many have never learned. Any of these situations could result in a child becoming angry at another, and disrupting the flow of a rehearsal. Instead of reacting negatively when anger has been vented, it is much better to instruct the student in the correct way of handling things at the first sign of agitation.

Get in the habit of reading body language. Clenched fists, scowls, or abrupt turning toward another student are reliable signs that trouble is near. It worth stopping and asking is there is a problem, and calmly helping the student find relief from what is bothering him or her before he or she has a chance to inappropriately vent anger. A steady rise in unwanted noise, even quiet talking from students who either should be singing or playing, or from those who are waiting for another section to practice a passage, is an indicator that it is time to move the session ahead, or sometimes to create a light movement where everyone can have a good laugh at doing something silly before returning to serious rehearsal once again. We can tell our students to won-t-listen-stubborn-girl-24158354stop unwanted behavior all we want, but at some point everyone gets impatient and antsy, and needs things to go in a different direction, even if only momentarily. On the other hand, there are also things we can teach our students to do to occupy their attention and minds at such times, such as audiate, or even think of a different interpretation for the phrase being rehearsed by someone else. This can be a constructive application of the musical skill of extending musical ideas.

There are many reasons why students may not do what we want at any given time. At times it is willful disobedience, but not nearly as often as we may think. More often, it is lack of skill in handling the situation and problem they are faced with. For these times, it is a great idea to teach them how to handle those situations and problems. You and they will enjoy the more pleasant turn things take, and the increase in instruction effectiveness and student achievement.


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