One of my students had her last lesson with me yesterday, and it got me thinking about the role that music plays in my students' lives.
Some of my kids are very dedicated and have incorporated music and the flute into themselves as part of their identity. Others think it's fun to play and just want to be able to perform a little better in their school band program. I treat both types with equal respect and give the same quality of information to both.
When I first started out as a private teacher, I took it as a sign of personal failure if a student decided to discontinue taking lessons. This was a good instinct on my part; self-examination is how we learn and improve. What I failed to recognize at the time, however, was that most of the time when a student doesn't want to pursue private lessons, it's usually because they don't have enough time or money to continue.
I've been lucky enough to have students who remain in my studio for a long time, so when one of them does have to leave, it's usually under good circumstances even though it's always a little bittersweet to see them go.
So this week, I just wanted to remind everyone--and myself--that not everyone has to pursue music to the collegiate level in order to have it mean something to them.
Since it's the start of the school year, I wanted to share a classic post about the beginner's mindset. Click the link below to read, and share your thoughts in the comments!
Going Back to Beginnerhood
When you teach younger students, you'll find that sometimes their parents will want to sit in on their lessons; this can be helpful, because it gives the parents a better idea of how to help their child practice over the course of the week, but parental presence in the studio can undermine your authority if you aren't careful.
My number-one tip for this situation is to be clear with the parents about what their role will be if they choose to sit and observe. Parents are always welcome to sit and watch their child's lessons in my studio, but I do request that they refrain from chiming in with their own comments, because it can be confusing or distracting for the student.
One way I keep this from becoming an issue is through judicious studio setup. I make sure that the student is facing away from the parent but angled in such a way that the parent can still get a reasonable view of what's going on; this keeps shy kids from feeling self-conscious about being observed and allows the parent to feel somewhat included.
At the end of the day, it's up to you to set the boundaries in your own teaching space. By and large, families will respect whatever reasonable rules you set for your studio, and it's up to you to create an environment where everyone--parents, students, and yourself--is comfortable.
I've noticed an interesting phenomenon over the last few years: while I customize each student's lesson to their specific needs, a trend tends to emerge over the course of my teaching day in terms of what my students are struggling with or asking about.
Some weeks, everyone seems to need a little extra help with a tricky technical passage or be wondering about the weird fuzz at the edge of their sound. It doesn't happen every week, but it happens often enough that I've taken notice of it.
Does this ever happen to you? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Starting to teach private lessons back in 2008 was an intimidating experience; I wasn't quite sure yet how to establish authority while teaching, but luckily I have been graced with willing, engaged students who don't require much in the way of classroom management.
One thing that helped me to feel more comfortable and in control while teaching was to figure out a routine for the lesson. The beauty of private lessons is that they're highly customizable to individual students' needs, but the basic layout for any lesson I teach is the same. It goes something like this:
1.) Guided warmup time
Figuring out a useful warmup routine is challenging, so I like to present different methods to my students so they'll have options over the course of the week.
2.) Technique study
Depending on ability level, this could mean scales, etudes, or experimentation with extended techniques such as multiphonics.
3.) Solo pieces
Once we've spent some focused time working on individual skills during the technique portion of the lesson, we combine those skills in the student's solo piece.
4.) Sight reading duets together
Most intermediate students can sight read duets, and I've found it to be a nice way to build both sight reading and chamber music skills. It's also a low-pressure way to end the lesson; I make sure my students know that sight reading will, by its very nature, be imperfect, and that it's absolutely fine to mess up as long as they recover and keep going.
This plan of attack isn't set in stone, but it seems to work for my students most of the time.
Do you have a routine that you use during your teaching? Share in the comments!
School band season is upon us, and parents everywhere will soon find themselves staring at school instrument rental contracts and wondering if it wouldn't be worth it to save the hassle and just buy an instrument.
If you have a child clamoring to start learning an instrument, go with the rental option first. As much as I wish that every child who started playing an instrument fell in love with it, the truth is that some kids will give band a try and decide it just isn't for them.
Another thing to be aware of is that when a child starts playing an instrument, they'll need a fairly basic beginner model, which isn't worth purchasing because beginner instruments are built to take abuse, not to sound beautiful or respond to nuance. If your kid really takes to their chosen instrument, use the purchase as a time to step up to a more advanced model.
Speaking of instrumental abuse, your child most likely will not treat the instrument as gently as it needs to be handled; this is born out of still-developing motor skills and unfamiliarity with how delicate instrumental mechanisms really are. Reputable rental companies will maintain and repair their instruments, sometimes at no extra cost to you, which will save you a lot of money in the first year of your child's school band experience.
At the end of the day, remember that you're investing not only in an instrument, but also in your child's social and brain development. Be happy they show an interest in music! It provides a lifetime of benefits.
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When I did district and all-state music festivals back in my middle and high school years, I was never entirely sure what I was being judged on during my audition. I knew what scales they wanted to me play and what piece they expected to hear from me, but I had no idea what things they were listening for within those requirements.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, you can look online at the evaluation sheets that the adjudicators use to score auditions. They're public knowledge, but I had no idea when I was young and shaking in my boots at the thought of someone taking notes about me while I played.
So in the spirit of making things easier for the next generation, here's a list of where you can find evaluation sheets for all the different district festivals in Massachusetts. If you're not sure which district or festival applies to you, your band teacher should be able to guide you to the correct one, and if you live in another state, you can most likely find a similar offering on your own state's district website.
Eastern District Senior Festival
Eastern District Junior Festival
Central District Senior Festival
Central District Junior Festival
Western District Senior Festival
Western District Junior Festival
Northeastern District Senior Festival
Northeastern District Junior Festival
Southeastern District Senior Festival
Southeastern District Junior Festival
Once you know exactly what you'll be graded on, take advantage of that knowledge to direct your practicing! Print out a bunch of copies of the evaluation sheet for your festival and keep them handy in your band folder. At least once a week, record yourself playing the audition piece, then listen back and grade yourself using the sheet. Use the areas that are the weakest as jumping-off points for your practice that week. Good luck and happy audition prepping!