In my last installment I introduced the need for a fresh look at the importance and centrality of the private, or school studio music teacher in in the music student’s life as a developing musician. I also examined the various skills and experience necessary for preparing the studio teacher to engage and empower their students towards developing successful and fulfilling learning skills.
In this installment I want to examine some of the essential elements that a ‘first lesson/session should contain.
A 'first session' should begin with introductions, which are then followed on with the collection of background information on the new student. The easiest way obtain this valuable information is through an interview process, where one asks the student to briefly relate their past musical history, school music experience, and personal work ethic. If the student is not a beginner you should also ask about their current practice routine. The interview is generally followed up with providing the student with a standard form that allows for easy collection and organisation of routine information, including name, musical experience, former school, previous teacher (if appropriate), and contact details if not via the school.
The next item of business should be to share your expectations, including length of lesson time, policy on missed lessons and explaining financial arrangements, if any. Sometimes it is easier to convey this information in a personal fact sheet, which should include your strategy for a practice routine, the amount of daily/weekly practice you expect, and a discussion on the three types of goals present in successful learning.
1. Identification of the long-term goal, the ‘vision’ or ‘dream’ to which they aspire. 1 to 10 years. Why has the student chosen their instrument, and what do they wish to accomplish? You may wish to explain that these goals will most likely continue to change and expand as they develop, both physically and mentally.
2. Mid-range goals; those that are of a more specific nature and are measurable and achievable within 1 to 3 months. For example,
* The achievement of a specific piece of repertoire, either solo or ensemble works
* The mastery of a concert performance programme of either solo or ensemble works
* Mastery of a range of specific technique or interpretative challenges
* Advancement on a specific skill acquisition; rhythmic, melodic expression, or range challenge
* Improved technique and or dynamic control.
3. Short-term goals, which include very specific tasks or targets that are measurable and achievable within 5 to 30 minutes, or up to one week. (length between lessons) These short term goals should include the correct rendition of:
* full value notes,
* measured by sub-division,
* a specific rhythmic challenge,
* a specific fingering passage,
* a specific articulation challenge, i.e. staccato, legato, slur, etc., a specific phrasing/expressive challenge, etc.
All three types of goals should be considered working concurrently. It is essential that the teacher begins to encourage the transfer of these goals to their student’s way of thinking and their individual approach to daily practicing.
If the student is a beginner, it is now time to introduce the instrument itself. Assuming you are confident that the student’s chosen instrument is a reasonably physical fit (hand size, arm length, height, lip shape and teeth (for wind instruments), you will now need to clearly describe and demonstrate the following points systematically, regularly checking to see if the student understands:
* The parts of the instrument and how the instrument functions
* How to care for the instrument
* How to assemble the instrument (if applicable)
* Appropriate posture and hand position
* The formation of the embouchure (if applicable)
* The principles of tone production and projection, and if applicable, air support
Before the close of the 1st lesson it is imperative that the student shows a basic intellectual understanding, and can physically demonstrate the correct responses to the above points.
If the student is not a beginner it is now time to hear them perform a sample of music from a recent performance experience, or some examples on which they have been recently working. It is best to have a set of criterion, which will enable you to look and listen for basic skills and performance fundamentals. This should provide an indication of the student’s current state of development and future direction.
The criterion should include the following considerations:
1. Posture, hand & finger, bow or stick/mallet positions, and embouchure, voice placement (where appropriate)
2. Tone quality formation (breathing and/or manual control of bow or mallets)
3. Attention to technical detail such as:
· consistent tempi
· ‘full value’ notes
· attention to articulations
· instrument/voice range
· vertical rhythmic precision and sub-division
· technical facility/agility
· familiarisation with musical terms
· key and time signature cognition
4. Aural awareness and personal perception
· tone quality & pitching skills
· aural and visual evaluation skills
· expression (dynamics, nuance, agility and inflection)
· phrasing and harmonic contour: cadence arrival and departure
6. General deportment/attitude/expected work ethic
After the student has performed, a brief discussion should follow covering the teacher’s perceptions of the student’s present performance ability, remembering to be encouraging, supportive, and honest.
For both the initial beginning and the continuing student, it is now time for making the 1st assignment. The studio teacher will have a range of warm-up routines, a collection of tutor books, which include technical studies scales, arpeggios rhythmic vocabulary and melodic etudes on which they can use and/or recommend. They will also have a variety of appropriate solo repertoire, in which they have developed sufficient confidence in their suitability. If the private lesson is within a school environment, there may also be curriculum materials to be incorporated. As your first lesson is of utmost importance, the assignment should be drawn from the student’s present developmental stage and musical understanding. It should also reflect a new direction. Remember to keep this first assignment simple, attainable and especially programmed for success.
In my next installment I would like to discuss the issues of teaching material and warm-up training strategies and these are how these are connected to establishing good attitudes and motivation towards establishing effective home practice routine. I would also like to examine the importance of accountability and ownership in addressing student learning development.