Tips for developing the whole musician

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As the new term gets underway, Steve Legge, Gloucestershire Music’s Head of Instrumental and Vocal Tuition, shares some tips on teaching to develop the whole musician, not just instrumental skills. This is an edited version of an article that will be published in the British Trombone Society’s magazine.

How do you teach a young person to play the trombone? I could waffle for hours on the importance of buzzing, posture and which mouthpiece you should use.  But what about developing the whole musician? Here are my top tips to ensure young people get the best start, irrespective of which instrument they play. They’re based on our approach to Whole Class Tuition in Gloucestershire, but can be applied to any learning situation.

1 Choose a tutor book that allows students to discover

I’ve found that the most useful tutor books are those that allow students to discover and learn for themselves, rather than dictate a rigid plan. They provide questions, activities and challenges that slowly unlock the skills and knowledge needed.

During the first five lessons of whole class tuition, I use backing tracks and flash cards to introduce the students to basic rhythmical symbols. At this stage I don’t bombard the students with the names of the rhythms (crotchets, minims etc.) but allow them time to feel, see and hear the rhythm.

If you are using a tutor book, make sure it stays closed for the first half of the lesson. Devise games and activities that build a picture of what you want the students to learn during the lesson. Students need to fully understand a new concept (rather than just show they can do it or play it) if they stand any chance of being able to help themselves whilst practicing at home.

2 Recap and reflect each lesson

Outstanding teaching isn’t about what students can ‘do’, but about how well they can communicate what they have learnt, and how they think they can improve.

At each lesson, remember to check what students remember from the previous one. Use this to work out if they need to recap on any specific areas needs to be achieved during the next lesson.

For example – you ask a group of students to play a C.  They all oblige.  This means they can ‘do’ the task but the teacher needs to now check their understanding.  Can you sing the note to me?  If I play three different notes can you tell me which one is the C?  Can you draw the note on the stave and explain to me how it looks different to a D?  Improvise a short tune using the notes Bb, C and D making C the loudest note each time you play. And so on…

3 Use tools and techniques that allow you to step back

A really simple but useful resource I’ve used for the last few years is a set of 30 postcards,developed with the help of staff from Gloucestershire Music and students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Each card has a simple task written on it, that they can work on in a group, while the tutor takes on more of a coaching or mentoring role, providing direction and advice but never dictating or provide the answers.

4 Reflect on and analyse your own teaching

Helping students to lead their own learning in your classes is something that may require a fair amount of reflection on your own part about how you teach. It’s easy to forget how often you’re giving students the answers rather than letting them discover them for themselves. One strategy I have found useful is to watch a video of a lesson I have given.  I focus on how many times I could have asked a student a question or time to work it out for themselves, instead of me providing them with the solution.  I usually spot half a dozen opportunities where I could have improved my own teaching practice. A little research into the different approaches of music educationalists like Froseth, Dalcroze, Susuki and Kodaly will give you ideas of how to develop different strategies.

It is worth looking into the definitions of Deep Learning and Shallow Learning, which I find is a reliable guide to remembering good teaching practice:

DEEP LEARNING occurs when a lesson is…..

  • co – constructed – where the teacher leads the student to answers without providing the answer
  • has greater involvement of learner
  • is inquiry based
  • is reflective and questioning
  • is challenging
  • has greater Independence for learner
  • encourages intrinsic motivation – motivation that comes from inside an individual rather than from any external or outside rewards.

SHALLOW LEARNING occurs when a lesson is……

  • delivered / done / taught
  • controlled by the teacher
  • based on remembering and replicating
  • dependent on the teacher / expert
  • has aspects of extrinsic motivation – refers to motivation that comes from outside an individual. The motivating factors are external, or outside, rewards such as money or grades. These rewards provide satisfaction and pleasure that the task itself may not provide.
Photos: Malcolm Pollock.
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Posted on September 9, 2013, in Music Education and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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