What makes an effective music teacher? We could come up with many answers to this question, but only one can truly encapsulate all of them: Great educators inspire their students. The inspiration does not have to be specifically related to performance. While it is true that all piano teachers would like their students to achieve the greatness of Hélène Grimaud, they would be equally happy to learn that they inspired them to continue studying and playing; more importantly, however, is knowing that students have decided to make music an important part of their lives.
A piano student who for some reason stopped playing but continues to be a passionate listener of Hélène Grimaud will forever remember the day she was introduced to this musician, and she will also remember that it was her piano teacher who introduced her to this and other performers she now deeply enjoys.
What you can certainly do as a music teacher is to follow habits that can increase your effectiveness as an educator. Some music teachers are able to make a deep impression on students by virtue of sheer charisma. Jazz legend Charlie Parker never worked as an educator, but some of his contemporary musicians such as Miles Davis looked up to him as their most inspirational teacher. Parker had tons of talent and charisma despite his tumultuous personal life. Not all teachers will be able to develop this charismatic aura because Parker was the type of individual we refer to as being “one in a million.”
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Five essential habits you will want to practice as a Successful Music Educator:
Making Yourself Redundant
This is not so much a habit as it is the ultimate goal of any educator: You want your students to advance their learning to the point that they could follow the curriculum on their own and without your guidance. The habit here is one of self-awareness in the sense that you do not want to be seen as a leader but as a facilitator. What you want to do is move your students towards developing a certain level of independence as well as a love for music.
The first step in making yourself not needed is to envision your students making progress on their own according to a curriculum that you need to share and review with them; one way you can do this is by setting up milestones that students can look forward to. With young piano learners, for example, you can tell them that they will be playing easy songs such as Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Camila Cabello’s Havana at some point in the future. Let the students know that the classroom work they complete today will allow them to later become proficient with those two songs. What you are doing here is planting a seed and selling your students on an idea; the hope is that they will start tinkering with the keys in and applying learned concepts in anticipation of the day they will get to play those songs. If your students ace the songs on the assigned days, you will know that they have been practicing on their own, thus making yourself redundant.
Always Plan Your Lessons
If you are employed by a public school district or a private academy, you may be given lesson plans ahead of schedule, but this is a highly ideal situation that you may not always encounter. Lesson planning is vital to the teaching experience.
Once you have been teaching for a while, lesson planning becomes second nature; in fact, you are often able to reuse previous lesson plans that you only have to briefly review prior to execution. Grizzled and jaded teachers will tell you that they can recall old lesson plans from memory and verbatim, but quite of few simply do not want to bother with planning anymore. The problem with skipping lesson plans is that you cannot reasonably expect to hit lesson goals if you are not clear about your aim. At a time when thousands of free lesson plans are available online, you should not be skipping this academic tradition.
Steering Teacher-Student Relationships
Popular culture has given us an image of laid-back and highly gregarious music teachers who can easily make friends with their younger students. There is also the dramatic perception of music teachers being a lot cooler and more understanding than the parents of their students, thus allowing them to be their buddies. These are situations you really want to avoid. It is perfectly fine to be friendly and kind, but you still want to project the image of an educator who should be respected as such.
Respect goes both ways in the relationships between teachers and students. As a music teacher, you have to respect, appreciate, and admire young students who are happy to be in the classroom. At the same time, you want to present yourself the right way; not as a musician but as someone who knows how to deliver lessons in a ways to inspire their students to get deeper into music. Respect is gained through honesty and trust; the latter is a choice while the former is non-negotiable. You have to steer music lessons towards a point where students are always giving their best shot; this will lead you to trust their abilities. When providing feedback, you have to be honest while at the same time tactful. Once you achieve trust and honesty during class, mutual respect will start to develop.
Upholding Music Fundamentals
You probably know about colleagues who are results-oriented teachers; the kind of educators who can have students playing an entire songbook in just a few months. For the most part, these are private tutors who cater to the whims of both parents and students, but they do not worry too much about teaching fundamentals and the essence of music.
Understanding is the key to effective learning. If you want your students to fall in love with music and understand its many nuances, you have to teach principles and fundamentals before getting to techniques. Here at Prodigies, we believe that children can get the most out of music education when they start off learning topics such as:
- Beginner Instrumental Instruction With Deskbells, Mallets Or Piano
- Absolute/Perfect Pitch Development
- Solfege Hand Signs
- Free Play
- Meaningful Exposure To Individual Notes
- High Information Music
- Singing, Composing & Improvising
One of the roles fundamentals play in music education is that they strengthen the capacity of students to understand music beyond performance; this is why you should teach and enforce fundamentals.
Becoming a Fountain of Knowledge
Students of all ages enjoy being taught by educators who are educated themselves. When planning your lessons, make it a habit to research interesting tidbits of information that your students will enjoy learning about.
Let’s say you are working with students towards playing Fur Elise on piano; in addition to the standard listening maps, sheet music, and finger placement charts, you can also introduce some facts surrounding this famous bagatelle. You can talk about:
- How Fur Elise was never performed during Beethoven’s life because it was not discovered until after he passed away.
- How Elise was not one of Beethoven’s many unrequited lovers but simply the piano student of a close friend.
- The various definitions of “bagatelle.”
- Beethoven’s hearing disability.
When you introduce these nuggets of information, your students will truly appreciate them. Happy Musicing!