Among the challenges of teaching applied music lessons to students over the course of their undergraduate studies is dealing with monotony, or at least the appearance of monotony. Musicians have a difficult task of practicing their instruments for hours a day, every day of the week, often doing the same types of exercises over and over. So, it is inevitable that this routine occasionally becomes tedious. The same is true of the actual lesson with the student. There is a danger of falling into patterns that lose their effectiveness, efficiency, and impact over time.
How to combat the tedium? Well, to a certain extent the answer to this question is personal, unique to each individual. Each musician has his or her motivations for making music, and this is often enough to stay on the path of progress. Sometimes, however, this is not enough. I have developed a strategy which I believe works for me and my students.
The first step is to build as much variety as is reasonable into the lesson and change the structure of the lesson itself once in a while. This prevents predictability and can keep both the student and the instructor engaged. The second step is to identify the elements that appear to motivate the individual student and incorporate them into the lesson. In the third step, I introduce students to music and performers that they have not heard of in an effort to keep music and music-making novel and inspiring. Sometimes I introduce a student to an unusual type of music or polarizing performer simply as a way to elicit a strong reaction, as that can help them feel more confident in their own musical preferences and choices. The challenge of dealing with monotony is a daily one, but dealing with it is key to staying oriented on the long journey.
The first meeting with an applied lessons student is always exciting. This is the first opportunity to interact with a person that I will get to know well over the course of the next several years and for whom I will hopefully be a motivating and positive influence. Who is this person and what is his or her background? What knowledge and skills do they already possess? Where are they on the paths of artistic development and personal achievement? Does this person seem open or is there a sense of hesitancy?
Of course, the first meeting does not reveal all answers. A student may be shy and reserved at first, but eventually develop the ability to be more expressive and convivial. Or a student may be seemingly extroverted but reveal a more restrained and introspective side later on. In those first encounters, however, it is important to understand where the student is on the long path and to meet that student there, wherever he or she happens to be.
Students may arrive with underdeveloped skills, limited knowledge of music notation, inefficient or incorrect technical habits, an aversion to regular practice, etc. As an instructor at an open enrollment institution, I strive to assist all of my applied students in improving their skills and progressing toward their musical goals, both professional and personal. From those first few lessons I seek to foresee the long-term development of this student over the course of 4 years of study with me. I have to be realistic with the student and with myself in determining what the students’ strengths and weaknesses are and how to address them.
Students arrive at CSC having already started along the long path. I simply join them.
As a teacher of applied music, I am fortunate to interact with students weekly in one-on-one sessions. This type of interaction is invaluable in getting to know individual students, their academic habits, their struggles and successes, and their approaches to learning and practicing. Because I will be working with individual students over the course of two to four years, I have a tremendous opportunity to help instill effective learning habits and strategies using long term goals and broad learning concepts. This personalized type of instruction is not readily available to many professors across campus who teach courses filled with large numbers of students. In a course consisting of many students, professors work hard to include each student in the overall conversation. However, the types of instruction are not tailored to individuals for necessary practical reasons.
In writing for the Route 6×6 Challenge over the course of the next several months I plan on reflecting on the particular advantages afforded the applied music teacher. Some of these benefits include:
- Meeting students where they are
- Adapting to an individual student’s style of learning and communication
- Developing trust and encouraging students to share openly about their academic experience
- Giving instant feedback
- Developing personal responsibility as students cannot rely on their peers
- Increasing a student’s ability to focus
- Personalization of assignments
- Teaching one-on-one requires that the instructor be confident in his/her mastery of the subject in order to adapt rapidly according to a student’s needs.
In addition to these benefits, teaching one-on-one also has potential disadvantages. These include:
- The danger of monotonous teaching caused by seeing the same student in the same teaching situation for several years
- Measuring progress when trying to compare to other students can be difficult
- The student may feel added stress in preparing for weekly personalized interactions with an instructor
- The risk of developing a student-faculty informal relationship. Some students may see their applied instructor as more of a friend than a teacher.
I look forward to exploring and reflecting upon these thoughts over the course of the next several months!