Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Talking to your Students

Friday, August 20th, 2010

By Valerie Kampmeier
Republished with permission from Music Teacher’s Helper


When I was growing up, I often heard the words “No” and “Don’t” in piano lessons, and so when I came to teach, it was only natural to use them too. “Don’t use so much pedal,” “No, that’s not the right fingering”, and so on. It was a revelation to me when I first encountered Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey’s classic book “The Inner Game of Music”, and discovered a completely different way of working with others and myself.

Ed Pearlman recently touched on some interesting aspects of the student-teacher relationship concerning healthy boundaries. Another very important aspect of this rich and sensitive relationship is how we address our students. Is your choice of words important? Are you aware of the powerful effect your words may have?

Green and Gallwey’s book begins by outlining their theory that we all have a Self 1 and a Self 2— Self 1 is a learned series of responses that often manifest as an inner critical voice, while Self 2 is the natural, intuitive, playful self that we experienced as a child, and can still learn how to access. The book offers many ways to get in touch with Self 2, and shows how these approaches can be more effective in learning and teaching music than simply responding with Self 1.

For example, they advocate using awareness as a primary tool. In the previous example, rather than the afore-mentioned “Don’t use so much pedal”, what would be a more positive way of correcting the student’s problem? Learning what works takes practice. I would probably say something like, “Notice the difference the pedal makes to the sound. Let’s try this passage with and without pedal…. Now, does the music sound clearer changing every half note, or every whole note? How often would you like to change the pedal?” What I love about this approach, even though it takes more conscious effort, is that it assists the students to become more aware of their process, and eventually, to acquire the skills to teach themselves. Ultimately, my goal is to render myself superfluous.

Going a step further, I’ve noticed that many problems are created by teachers who make critical pronouncements about their students. Several years ago, I was coaching a singer on a French opera duet. We had worked together frequently, and I knew that her grasp of sung German and Italian was excellent, yet in this instance she was struggling with mastering the French, and was becoming increasingly despondent. I tried every trick I knew, and nothing seemed to help. Finally, she shared with me that many years previously a singing teacher had said to her, “You’ll never be any good at singing in French.” This belief was inhibiting her success as effectively as a curse from a fairy tale. Until she found a way to let go of it, it would be impossible for her to focus clearly enough to master the language. Letting go of negative beliefs is a rich topic that there is no room to cover here; however, you can find an article I wrote on the subject here.

You can do your part not to create or reinforce inhibiting negative beliefs by taking care to acknowledge your students’ strengths. That said, it is important to acknowledge effort, not just achievement. If playing an instrument is easy for Connor, it’s not very satisfying for him to receive compliments on his achievements. However, if his teacher notices when he has put in the extra effort— for example on an area he finds challenging— and mentions that in particular, that can be much more satisfying, and may encourage him to persevere with other areas in his life that don’t come easily.

This approach can work for more challenging students too. How about Hayley, still struggling to get to grips with a beginner’s piece? What can you say to encourage her that will ring true? Maybe highlight something else, for example, “I loved your improvisation today- it was so sensitive, and the way you used those colorful clusters throughout the piece was very effective.” Letting your students know specifically what you heard and noticed will boost their confidence.

Finally, beware of comparing your students to each other, or of talking about your students in front of them (for example, to their parents). It’s common sense, but remarkably easy to overlook. I can still remember squirming as a child, when my teachers talked over my head to my parents. Is there a way of addressing the child directly that would still be effective? Make them an active part of the discussion. Ask them for constructive feedback.

I’ve been working on noticing the words I use for many years now, and it’s been a remarkable and fruitful journey with great results. I’d love to hear about your experiences in this area too, so do feel free to comment below.

Dealing with REALLY Difficult Students

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

By Michelle Payne
Republished with permission from Music Teacher’s Helper

I’ve only had 2 students that I would consider REALLY difficult. The way I define this type of student is like this: They have a really bad attitude, they like to argue, they don’t practice, and they try to insult the teacher with personal remarks. Both of these students started acting like this upon their 10th Birthdays, and I have noticed that students in this age group tend to start arguing more frequently as they develop their individuality. To say it is frustrating is an understatement.

The first student would frequently ask me about my hair, make up and clothing. I would continuously explain that I would prefer to stay on the topic of music. In order to get me to react, she started taking it a step further by criticizing the way I look! Of course this hurt my feelings! I am a human being and not made of steel. I thought about it for a couple days and decided I would put her on probation. Why should I have to take abuse from a 10-year old?

I spent the following days before her next lesson trying to be compassionate and understanding of what it was like to be a 10-year old girl. I knew that her behavior was not ok, but I wasn’t going to scold her, because I truly believe that kids at this age just need to learn right from wrong when it comes to how you treat people. I wanted to give her a chance to change.

From the very start of the next lesson I told her that I was very unhappy with her behavior in the last lesson. I told her that her words were very hurtful and that I would not continue teaching her if she kept it up. I was very honest with her about my feelings being hurt. I did this on purpose, because I remember being a child and thinking that adults were invincible. She definitely looked surprised that she had the power to hurt my feelings. I’m glad I opened her eyes to this. I want to let my students know that it isn’t ok to treat *anyone* with disrespect, because it just simply hurts.

I explained that she would have 4 weeks to change her behavior. Each week we would check in at the end of each lesson. I needed to see improvements each week in order for me to continue teaching her.

She was not happy with this, but stated that she wanted to continue lessons. Her behavior improved dramatically after the 4 lessons, and I continued teaching her.

That was about 5 years ago. The second student is more recent. She’s definitely mean-spirited and loves to argue with me. As soon as I sense that she is trying to start a fight, I just say, “I’m not going to argue with you about this. Let’s move on.” And that’s the end of it.

I ended up giving her a very similar speech that I gave the first girl. She took me very seriously and seemed genuinely sorry for her behavior. We are currently in the probation period, and it is going okay. I’m still pretty unhappy with her, but I can tell she is trying. It’s just killing her to not argue with me!

Some readers may ask me why I did not just go to the parents. Well, I will if I have to, but I prefer to take care of the problem myself. I don’t really like giving my power away, and I find that the students respect me more when they see that I will not run to their mommy every time they make me mad. Anytime I have to get firm with any of my students for talking back, I get the feeling that they respect me more for that too. The bottom line is that kids not only need boundaries, but somewhere on a sub-concious level, they like boundaries, too.

How to Write a Music Bio

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

By Sarah Luebke
Republished with permission from Music Teachers

60607384.redshoe-150x150Some of you may have seen the Boston Globe article last December about a Boston University voice teacher who had allegedly embellished career milestones on her personal bio, which had been posted on the university’s website and published in university programs and brochures. For a look at last month’s article, click here.

It can be tempting to write a bio that you think prospective students or even your colleagues want to read. Some voice teachers I met rank their past performing career as paramount in their bios, without much mention of their current career as teacher. For some of these teachers, it has been 15 or 20 years since their performing career, and you wonder where the information about their teaching is hidden. And, like Prof. Daniels and Boston University, you may take what little information there is on your career, and put it in an obscure if not totally truthful light.

As teachers who are always peddling their business to prospective students, it is important to write a bio that is honest, which fully discloses your qualifications as well as your accolades in the field of teaching. Here are a few tips on how to write a compelling, yet truthful biography.

1. Your professional bio should be a few paragraphs, and should not exceed one page. A short amount of information, left justified, is easier for the reader to digest and skim.

2. Always write your bio in third person. Refer to yourself by your name and “he/she” as appropriate. For example, “Ms. Smith is an active member of the Minnesota NATS organization.”

3. Not only do prospective students want to know what you do, but also whom you work with—because they might want to work with you! A professional bio should include a sentence or two about your business niche, as well as the types of students you may teach. Here you may also mention famous students you have worked with (over a longer period of time than one lesson), or the awards and honors your students have received recently.

4. Make sure you include a list of awards you have received. It is a good thing to advertize your talents and the organizations that recognize you for them, but again, keep this clear and honest.

5. Include names of organizations, clubs or associations to which you belong. These connections might lead to a connection with a potential student.

6. Include any professional certifications or designations you hold. Write out their names in full for clarification.

7. Have you written any articles, books, or blogs? Self-published or not, your works add to your level of professionalism and credibility.

8. Were you or your business featured on or mentioned in a newspaper article? Have you been a guest on any media show? Include this information, as this adds to your credibility and presence.

9. After you have written your bio, edit, edit, and edit again!

You may need to do a dozen revisions before you get it right. Eliminate extra words, use descriptive words, keep the sentences short yet varied in length, and have a variety of friends read it. Ask if the information is clear, if the bio was easy to digest, and if the information is not misleading. Make sure to revise your bio regularly to keep it up-to-date and refreshed.