Who then are the people that are generally placed in charge of the individual musical and personal development of our vocal and instrumental music students? On what criterion are they hired and what training have they received in the art of studio teaching pedagogy? In fact, what training have they received towards preparing them for one of the most demanding, challenging, thankless and yet rewarding jobs in our music departments? What professional development training is available for further development, and how many teachers can, or are willing to avail themselves of professional development opportunities? Is there sufficient communication between itinerate and permanent staff members in our department? And finally, how are these integrally important staff members included in the overall planning and course development for the future directions of our music departments?
These are complex questions, which I suspect get lost in the day-to-day teaching and administration load. After all, who needs another administrative task?
It is my hope that these instalments on the art of studio teaching will provide opportunities to explore the essential, complex and often little understood role of the private studio teacher. I trust that I will be able to offer some fresh ideas and strategies for all who are involved with either private teaching or the supervision of studio teaching in their institutions.
Early on in my 20 year tenure as Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Tasmania, I became convinced of the urgent need to address the lack of training for studio/private music teachers, for it is common knowledge that most music graduates at some point will find themselves in a private teaching role: There seemed to be no provision for the neglect of this obvious fact. Therefore, one of my self-appointed responsibilities was to convince my colleagues of the crucial need to include a yearlong unit on studio teaching within the general undergraduate course. My first task in writing the unit was to consider the many facets of this complex job. I decided that the best place to start was with a comprehensive position description, beginning with a basic list of essential elements required for successful studio teaching, such as: The personal and professional qualities and abilities studio teachers were likely to need, and what economic and business knowledge/skills the job would require. Also included were the knowledge base and communication skills the studio teacher would need to effectively accomplish their task. Focusing directly on the above considerations, I believe the studio teacher will need to:
* Acquire and develop the ability to both listen and observe discriminately, through employing a set of visual and aural 'templates' (more on these later)
* Introduce and model correct responses while encouraging the student’s engagement with, and use of critical listening and observation
* Successfully diagnose performance strengths, while identifying specific areas for improvement
* Introduce, demonstrate and reinforce effective practice/learning strategies
* Shape, guide and encourage, while holding the student accountable
* Inspire students in the pursuit of excellence, tempered with patience and compassion
* Encourage students’ personal ownership in developing their own personal learning processes.
* Possess a good understanding of best business/tax practice.
It is often our personal experience, past, present and future that usually inspires and informs us towards developing and delivering a truly effective teaching style. Of course, this requires constant attention to our own personal growth and development, which includes a commitment to continual personal study, listening, searching for new and proven teaching strategies, impatience with the mundane and intolerance of the mediocre.
Studio teachers who aspire to excellence in their craft will need to maintain their love of, and passion for music and music-making, as well as genuinely desiring to share their passion and musicianship with others. The rewards for diligently seeking to develop teaching skills, or aiding those who are seeking to improve their craft can be equally exciting, such as discovering more questions than answers, experiencing frustration, joy, anger, success, failure, triumph, fatigue, elation, challenge and disappointment. One of the major difficulties of this job lies in the close, ‘one to one’ relationship between teacher and student. In a sense, there is nowhere to hide. Our strengths and weaknesses are laid bare for students and colleagues to see, through either the success or failure of our students to advance in their musical development. Is it any wonder that students will travel across oceans and continents to study with a celebrated teacher? The reputation of an inspirational teacher often functions like a beacon; they draw all who seek success from contact, study, and the inspiration of a master. Many teachers continue to make significant impact on lives of their students and colleagues throughout their life.
Having established the fact that studio teaching consists of a number of complex demands and abilities, it is important teachers continue to seek out strategies that will assist in meeting those demands and acquiring those abilities. The newly gained strategies will, in turn enable one to provide students with the very best learning environment and learning skills, allowing for successful development of the student’s musical potential. Therefore, fostering a commitment to professional development is essential. It is easy to forget that one needs to frequently re-calibrate their personal approach to teaching and learning. New strategies appear regularly and we need to avail ourselves of them. Conferences are great places to mix with inspirational, leading educators where shared philosophies and successful strategies can be heard. One will also find that their network of colleagues will have many similar issues and may have the answer for one’s specific need. Then again, there are great resources in new and old texts, as well as great ‘on-line’ resources literally at our fingertips.
One of the most important traits of a successful studio teacher is that of personal and professional integrity, which leads me to one of my favourite quotes’.
“My mission is to live with integrity and to make a difference in the lives of others” Jeff Morrow
Studio teachers can also bear a great responsibility for their student’s personal well-being, self image and confidence. One must remain honest, discreet, trustworthy, compassionate and wise in all their dealings with their students. If we fail in this responsibility we may have doomed our students to a musical life of mediocrity, or worse.
In my second instalment on studio teaching we will examine the anatomy of a typical studio lesson, starting with the first session.