In my fourth installment of Effective Studio Teaching and Learning Strategies we investigated the primary pedagogically based teaching methods with reference to human learning and relevant teaching applications.
In my final installment I will continue the discussion on developing home study habits, along with further discussion on developing and sharing specific learning and practice skills.
A major consideration for cultivating successful individual study habits is assisting your student to understand the innate difference between ‘learning’ and ‘practice’. In the ‘learning’ stage the student approaches the sequence of pitches, rhythms, articulation and expressive challenges at a comfortable, slow tempo allowing the student to correctly perform the whole passage in question. In the ‘practice’ sequence the student now begins to bring the passage slowly up to required speed, while also refining the appropriate expressive control. However, there are several elements at work in assisting students toward developing a successful individual study habits commonly referred to as ‘practice’.
In developing effective practice habits one begins by promoting inspiration through programming the brain with superior musical images as mentioned in my previous installment discussion. These in turn engender dreams, visions, inspired imagination and future goals. Generating excitement through reflection on these aural and visual experiences plays an important role in further stimulating the creative mind. In effect, most physical actions that are learned are acquired through the act of imitating visual and aural images formed in the mind. It is important then to remember that time spent in creating mental images is much more useful than mindless rote repetition on target performance material that is ultimately finite and seldom retained past the target performance or exam.
The engagement with, and imitation of visual and aural images requires the capacity to remain ‘focused’. Concentration in the practice room can be fostered through encouraging students to be 'here and now’ in their practice sessions. Maintaining focus and attentive listening will aid in defeating the ever-present mental and physical distractions referred to by Timothy Gallwey as ‘roof brain chatter’. To assist in this task one should encourage students to practice in quiet environments. One should also require that students start each practice session with a plan, or 'roadmap' in mind. ‘What do I wish to accomplish today? How will I accomplish it, and how will I recognise when my goals are achieved?’
“If you don’t know your destination, any road will take you there.”
Another aid in improving effective practice skills is found in applying the three developmental learning stages. These are referred to by Kohut as the Synthesis-Analysis-Synthesis approach, meaning "from the whole to the parts and back again". The three stages are comprised of the following elements: The conceptual-learning stage where the student is presented with a model; the voluntary-action stage where the student tries to reproduce the model through trial and error practice; and the involuntary-action stage where the student’s performance through trial and error practice reproduces the original model. I observe the model. I try to emulate the model. I evaluate my attempt to reproduce the model. I now make the necessary adjustments and then try again, repeating the process until success in matching the model is achieved.
Like a master builder with the apprentice, first introduce the student to each tool and then show the student how to use the tool. This in turn will allow the student to create many kinds of objects of art or utility, while continuing to grow through the experience. By the age of 20, our oldest son had successfully completed building a beautiful 7 meter sailing vessel; a project of two and a half years. His manual arts teachers had never built a boat but they showed our son how to use and care for the tools he was to employ in building his boat.
The musicians’ inventory of tools includes the mastering of memory as the means, or process through which one is able to remember. Developing the tool of retention is building the ability to memorise, retain or remember. The ‘often abused’ tool of repetition is the act of doing something with thoughtful purpose and reflection, over and over, thus locking proper physical, visual and aural responses in place. As discussed above, the tool of practice is the act of repeating what is already known with a goal to perfecting the physical, visual and aural response. The tool of experience is exercised through the actual living through of the performance act in which we are engaged. The tool, motivation, is the desire, or the urge to achieve a goal or target found within an individual that provides the incentive for purposeful activity. Of all the components related to learning, motivation is the most important of all. Developing and refining strategies to introduce and demonstrate these tools should be one of the foremost goals of all teachers.
The teacher's role here is essential as student frustration and disappointment can dampen early eagerness. The use of suitable, stimulating study material and performance works, supported with proven practice strategies and identifiable outcomes is invaluable. Systematic learning and practice strategies supplemented with excellent teaching materials and repertoire will assist in sustaining students’ engagement, ownership and achievement. Once again, the student must begin to focus on the positive first, instead of the negative; observing what has been achieved, then moving on to what needs improvement. Remember to encourage students to use their strengths in addressing their weaknesses, not the opposite. "What you think upon grows." Anon
In a sense we teachers are investment counsellors. Our students are investors. We are asking them to invest time, money and energy into mastering their instrument. We must be able to demonstrate that the return is worth the investment. Our son’s vision of his completed sailboat was fed by the incremental successes he enjoyed along the way, gained through his investment of time and energy.
Finally, teaching is a profession in which teachers give lessons or instruction on how to learn. Robert Duke in his text, “Intelligent Music Teaching” puts it this way; “Teaching is that activity which causes learning” After all, it is the students who do the learning. In other words, students generally learn through the act of doing. Students who are in possession of good learning skills and enhanced musical perception generally use effective personal practice habits through attention to detail, delayed gratification and focused attention span.
The process of learning can then be defined as the act of gaining inspiration, purpose, persistence, knowledge and skill. It is important to remember that the student’s personal ownership of the process of the learning is what will ultimately produce the lasting transferral of vision, knowledge and skills. It is essential that we imbue our students with the desire, ability and passion to go on learning well after the time for our practical input has finished. We must always be careful to link the ongoing process of learning toward achieving the desired performance goal. Performances, concerts, exams, festivals and auditions are no more than stops on the railway line of human experience, indicating our ongoing progress toward our ultimate musical goals.
In conclusion, for studio teaching to remain effective for both the musical and personal growth of students, it is imperative that studio teachers continue growing in their craft, thus demonstrating their relevance in today’s education environment.
Gallwey, T, The Inner Game Of Tennis, Pan Books, N. Y., N.Y., USA, 1974
Kohut, D., Musical Performance, Stypes Pub. Champian, Ill., USA, 1985
Suzuki, S., Nurtured by Love, 1969. Exposition Press, Smithtown, N.Y., USA
Robert D., Intelligent Music Teaching, Austin TX, USA, 2011
Severson, P. & McDunn, M. Brass, Wind Artistry, Accura Music, N. Y, N.Y., USA, 1983
Blum, D., Casals, and the Art of Interpretation, U. of Calif. Press, Berkley, CA., USA, 1980
Farkas, P., The Art Of Musicianship, Musical Publications, Bloomington, Ind., USA, 1997
Lautzenheiser, T., The Art of Successful Teaching, GIA Pub, Chicago, Ill., USA, 1992
Lautzenheiser, T., The Joy of Inspired Teaching, GIA Publications, Chicago, USA, 1994
Lisk, E., Intangibles of Musical Performance, Meredith Music, Miami, F A, USA, 1996
Lisk, E., The Musical Mind of the Creative Director, Meredith Music, Miami, FA, USA, 2010
Kohut, D., Instrumental Music Pedagogy, Stipes Pub. L.L.C. Champaign, Ill., USA, 1996
Palmer, P., The Courage to Teach, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, Ca., USA, 1998
Ristad, E., A Soprano on Her Head, Real People Press, Moab, UT, USA, 1981
Stewart, D., Arnold, and J.: Legacy of a Master, Instrumentalist, Chicago, ILL. USA, 1987
Wilson, F., Tone Deaf & All Thumbs?, First Vintage Books, N.Y, USA, 1987
In my last installment I examined the issues of developing and establishing an effective home practice routine. I also discussed the importance of both accountability and ownership in addressing effective student learning development.
In this 4th installment of Effective Studio Teaching and Learning Strategies I would like to investigate the primary pedagogically based teaching methods with reference to human learning and relevant teaching applications.
Before we can know what it is that we wish to teach, how to introduce and reinforce it, we also need to know some basic tenets on how people learn. And, we need to understand the central role of personal ownership in the learning process. In fact, fostering personal ownership in our students generally leads to their increased motivation towards learning. Duke Ellington says; “When a man finds out what he wants to know, that’s the beginning of education”. However, on the other hand, Plato states that, “All learning under compulsion has no hold on the mind”. It then should become our first priority to assist our students in finding out what it is they wish to know.
The primary responsibility for studio teachers is to both passionately share and demonstrate the benefits and joys to be gained through investment in consistent, systematic personal practice. Therefore we should strive to lead our students towards developing their own learning process. The student’s growing self-motivation should, in turn be affirmed and strengthened through recognition of the rewards gained through successfully achieving realistic performance challenges. Private lessons will hold little value if students are not encouraged to engage in self-motivated personal practice on their own intuitive.
At this point it is important to assess how we ourselves as musicians were taught, incorporating those successful elements, while discarding those that are not effective in today’s educational environment. It is important to realise that we generally teach the way we were taught – How often have we found ourselves repeating strategies our teachers used with us?
Daniel Kohut, in his text, “Musical Performance”, states that… “There are many ways of learning, and no two people learn exactly the same. However, there are certain basic concepts of learning that can be broadly applied to almost everyone.” This model is known as the ‘Natural Learning Process’. It is this method that children regularly employ to acquire the basic human functions. This learning model is reinforced by Suzuki’s recommendation that children should learn to perform music the same way they learn to acquire other common functions such as crawling, walking, talking, etc.
The ‘Natural Learning Process’ involves the use of four primary methods of learning:
· Mental imagery
· Imitation (purposeful, comparative repetition)
· Trial & error practice
· Body feedback
We as teachers should seek to spend more time observing how children learn and this ought be a primary requisite in learning how to teach. Children learn by watching and listening, and then trying to imitate what they see and hear.
· Children are good at imitating others.
· Children learn by doing, and enjoy comparative, repetitive activities.
· Children improve their skills by trial and error.
· Children need love, praise, encouragement and understanding as much as food and shelter to survive and grow.
Through analysing and synthesising the above points one can then formulate an effective model for studio teaching. The teacher presents a model of what is to be recreated, either from personal demonstration or from another source; professional recordings or live performances. The student then tries to emulate, re-produce the model through ‘trial and error practice. Following their attempt to reproduce the model, the student is encouraged to compare their performance against the model. Once the necessary adjustments are applied they repeat the process until a close approximation of the model is achieved. Correct student performance is instilled as an automised habit by additional repetition through personalised application. We should strongly encourage them never to play the passage under consideration any faster than they can play the most difficult portion correctly.
This then is how we apply the ‘Natural Learning Process’ with our students. We begin by programming the brain with suitable musical images through demonstration, exposure to fine recordings and live performance models. (Be sure to play for, and with your students.) The student is introduced to the concept of learning to focus on the performance goal, not the performance procedure. That is, involving students in visualising what it is they wish to sound like, focusing on imitating the model instead of trying to work out how to achieve the desired result.
The next task is to reinforce the use of trial and error practice, always focusing on the end result with patience. This can be illustrated by assisting the student in measuring their performance against the model they are attempting to imitate. This is much like using a set of scales that measure and compare weights of objects against that which is be evaluated. If we are truly interested in the value of intrinsic, self-motivated study that can be applied to all learning tasks, then this system will promote personal ownership of the learning process.
At this point it is best to avoid over-verbalisation, moving directly to the creative experience of making-music itself. Be sure to avoid the temptation for excessive intellectualisation, for it is always better to show than to tell, and a picture, aural or visual, is better than a thousand words. In fact, words often have vague or multiple meanings. If a verbal instruction doesn’t produce positive results, either the verbal communication is faulty or there has been a misunderstanding of the words. Words too may block students’ ability to perform musically, often creating confusion. Timothy Galwey recounts the moment he realised that his best efforts to help a tennis student failed through giving too many instructions. The student only achieved the desired performance goal when Galway physically demonstrated the action, and then asked the student to copy his example.
Words describe experiences, but words are not the same as the experience itself. Music deals with emotions, feelings and insights that words often cannot describe. Essentially, we learn through doing an activity much more effectively than by trying to respond to verbal instructions about the activity. Regardless of what students may understand or misunderstand of verbal or written communications, the strategy should always lead to an artistic response. What does the student’s musical response sound like? The use of metaphors, analogies and stories can effectively aid students in forming visual musical images.
It is vital that we direct students toward obtaining personal problem solving skills. Teachers must be able to affirm, as well as lead students in recognising when a musical target is reproduced, passes the test of aesthetic judgement and that music is produced. As musical mentors, teachers should make it a point to share how and when significant musical performance is achieved in the lesson, as simply playing the right notes at the right time does not constitute a significant performance. The acquisition of effective personal assessment is dependent on understanding and implementing four fundamentals: good mental conceptualisation, relaxed concentration (the ability to focus completely on a specific goal), awareness of body feedback, and attention to proper posture/embouchure/hand position.
Of these four points, the ability to use relaxed concentration or ‘single-mindedness’, is the most important. Kohut describes four keys in achieving ‘relaxed’ concentration. They include: focused attention, requiring self-discipline; interested attention, requiring motivation; absorbed attention, requiring strong distraction to change focus, and merging with the experience. This is where the performer and the instrument become 'one', and are now capable of playing in ‘automatic response’ mode.
In the pursuit of acquiring musical conception, Arnold Jacobs states, "Begin by training the performer's brain, not the muscles". Before a musician plays or sings even a single note they must possess a mental image of the note itself, including all of the expressive and acoustical properties with which it is associated. Significant ‘music-making’ starts when we begin with an aural musical image. Aural images are acquired through active listening to professional performance examples. This involves a process most of us used as children when we first gained language skills: verbal association of speaking first, then reading and writing later. It requires repetitive and attentive ‘listening and response’. Likewise, it is through the ‘listen/response’ activity that we acquire our basic musical concepts of tone, intonation, internal pulse and expression.
Therefore the quality of our musical understanding is directly influenced by the quality and variety of the music our students hear. It is essential that our students’ musical ears be ‘programmed’, through systematic exposure to the finest examples of musical performance. The more brilliant performances our students hear, the more discerning their ears will become.
“The musical mind is concerned predominantly with the mechanism of tonal memory. Before it has absorbed a considerable variety of tonal experiences, the musical mind cannot begin to function in a creative way complex enough to be considered art.” Daniel Kohut
Effective teachers expose their students to superior musical performances while outlining specific things for which students are to listen. It is important to remember that the quality of past 'life experiences' can also influence the quality and nature of our student’s musical perceptions. These ‘life experiences’ may include reading an engaging novel, lingering over a lovely sunset, a visit to an art gallery, a great dining experience, going on an adventure or experiencing the joy of friendship, or of deep sadness and hardship.
Yet, it is one thing to work on developing our students’ musical perception. It is quite another to motivate the student in the use of their newfound musical understanding and appreciation. The student’s continued investment in personal practice requires a positive return from the time that they invest in practicing. What returns will the student receive for their investment? I believe that our students will return again and again to the practice room when there is recognition of tangible, intrinsic achievement rewarding students with a sense of personal accomplishment and lasting satisfaction.
In my final installment (5) I will continue the discussion on developing home study habits, along with further discussion on specific learning and practice skills.
In my last instalment on studio teaching we examined the anatomy of a typical studio lesson, starting with the first session looking at both beginners and those who have had former experience.
In this third instalment I would like to discuss the issues towards developing and establishing an effective home practice routine. I would also like to examine the importance of both accountability and ownership in addressing effective student learning development.
It is essential that the studio teacher introduces and reinforces the importance for developing a regular practice routine.
Essentially this routine should contain the following five components:
A typical practice session should contain the following components.
1. An instrumental/vocal warm-up routine should consist of:
2. A Technical focus ‘A’ should consist of :
3. A Technical focus ‘B’ should consist of:
4. A solo repertoire component consisting of works from a wide variety of graded, standard works across a range of style and genre suitably chosen to match the level of the student's technical development and expressive performance ability. Don't overstep this!
5. And finally, the ensemble repertoire consisting of works drawn from the student’s involvement and commitment to large and/or small ensembles of the particular groups in which they are members.
It is also important to recognise that not all of these components need to be incorporated into an everyday practice, with the exception of the warm up segment. They can be interchanged. For example, the student may choose to practice either 'A' or the 'B' Technical portions, or any other smaller combinations, thus relieving the student of using the same routine every day.
We are now ready to share the process of ‘charting the course’. Having initially observed and noted the new student’s strengths and weaknesses, we must now identify and build on the student’s strengths, with an aim to addressing their present weaknesses. Proven learning strategies are required to deliver positive, measurable results such as slow practice, the use of counting and sub-division, while employing comparative listening and repetition. But there is also the need to identify strategies and applications for each individual student’s needs. It is important at this point to understand that every private lesson should model how students practice at home.
What are we aiming to achieve in the student’s lessons? How can we maintain a passion for detail without discouraging the student? This is the great balancing act all teachers face. When are we to speak, and when are we to listen? Think:
Remember: it is easier to teach the way we were taught than it is to teach the way we were taught to teach or should teach. For personal and professional growth, consider regularly recording lessons, either using video or aural. Recorded lessons and practice sessions can provide the best feedback on the above points.
Further considerations for setting assignments:
"Teachers are the mediators who provide, or fail to provide, the essential experiences that permit students to release their awesome potential..." J.S. Acaro
"A wise teacher makes learning a joy" Proverb
In my next instalment I would like to explore some primary methods of pedagogy in human learning, with applications for assisting studio teachers with their task of assisting students in reaching their full potential.
Installment No. 2
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.
The success of our music student’s capacity to acquire effective learning and performance skills is often directly linked to the effectiveness of private music studio teaching, in or out of the school environment. Learning skills gained and fostered in the studio should in turn increase the student’s ability to succeed and excel in the experience of music making, and learning in general.
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.
In my last post we examined the associated components and benefits of effective rehearsal planning that can lead toward rehearsals that go beyond preparing for the next performance.
Here are some additional thoughts with regards towards effectively planning for educationally focused rehearsals, potentially delivering long-lasting, valuable learning and artistically rewarding outcomes.
To continue from past discussions, rehearsal plans should regularly include provision for the sight-reading of worthy repertoire that is both suited to the strengths of the ensemble as well as incorporating the application of our training material and learning processes. Remember that programming for successful outcomes, even in sight-reading should remain a part of our overall investment strategy. Students will continue to invest in our performance ensembles if the rewards of their investment lead to rewarding outcomes!
Sight-reading of significant repertoire will also aid in fuelling the student’s desire to continue developing technical and musical skills so as to fully experience musical success in performance. The more developed their skills and music intuition become, the more engaged and motivated they become in their music investment. Their exposure to quality repertoire should inspire students to the greater possibilities of music performance. Therefore a major goal of large, educationally based ensembles should always be to both introduce and familiarise students with the recognised, standard repertoire, which will, in turn include recognising each individual work’s attendant technical and interpretive musical challenges. Another important function of sight-reading is that it can serve as a system check, allowing conductors and students alike to see how well their acquisition of skills and musical expression is progressing.
To this end, rehearsals need to contain appropriate learning and performance strategies for overcoming the reading challenges contained in sight-reading, firmly establishing the correlations between technical studies and performance practice. It is important then to choose repertoire that will also provide the ensemble opportunities toward acquiring the expertise in meeting ever increasing technical and musical demands. One needs to possess the knowledge and passion for excellence that will grow their ensemble’s skills through exposure to attainable challenges, leading to positive outcomes through providing the necessary learning strategies and skills.
With the above in mind, one should be able to successfully define and conyey their musical and educative reasons for all or their repertoire choices, including training material, performance works or sight-reading literature.
To assist in understanding of the developmental needs of your ensemble, try writing a three-sentence profile on each of your students, outlining their known strengths and weaknesses. Then write a four-sentence profile on your ensemble, outlining it's known strengths and weaknesses. Ensemble rehearsals may constitute one of the few places in which the rewards of technical skill acquisition are clearly demonstrated and celebrated. Focusing solely on learning a specific work, without assisting members through introduction and application of practical practice strategies and a functioning learning process will ultimately lead to frustration and unrealised potential.
Rehearsals should also provide group listening experiences that can offer our students opportunities to experience a variety of fine performances, both live and recorded. Human learning is greatly assisted when models are provided and can often offer great impetus and inspiration. My high school band director exposed our ensemble to the wonderful recordings of the Eastman Wind Ensemble under the direction of Fredrick Fennell. In fact, one of my fondest memories of my high school band experience was when our director arranged for our entire ensemble to attend a performance of Puccini's La bohème, performed by the San Diego Opera Company. It made an incredible impact on me.
Finally, we conductors must be willing to keep growing personally, continuing to seek and search for opportunities to learn, experiment, share and give. We must remain impatient with the present limitations of our knowledge, seeking to move forward. The acceptance of the mundane and mediocre must remain a constant enemy. We must remain committed to the nurturing of our musical souls.
Five keys to successful rehearsing:
If one agrees that educational ensembles give concerts because they rehearse, then part of the entertainment value, and its ultimate satisfaction factor should be derived from the communal joy of a successful progression from one level of performance achievement to the next. School concerts, while entertaining the audiences of friends and families, should also provide reality checks for the conductor, the ensemble and each students’ overall musical and learning progression. One should avoid sacrificing the product-producing process gained through the mastery of fundamentals for the sole pursuit of the concert itself.
Therefore, concerts or the performance of substantial repertoire should never constitute ultimate destinations. Instead, concerts should be viewed as vital stops on the way to the final destination; The laboratory experience that assists in producing independent life-long learners who will make the valuable connections of process learning to their overall educative experience. It will be the day-to-day learning journey, of which rehearsals form a vital part that will ultimately remain and impact our student’s lives, empowering them to succeed in any endeavor.
In conclusion, school performance ensembles can provide excellent opportunities to reinforce and consolidate the individual student performance practice and attendant general academic training for their members. They have the potential to give students the experience and tools necessary for enjoying a lasting experience in music making, while forming a valuable part of their overall education.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and musings on developing and planning for educationally rewarding rehearsals.
Best wishes for a wonderful conclusion to your school activities.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
In my last installment of planning for educationally focused rehearsals, I examined the philosophy and related benefits of effective rehearsal planning. I would like to continue this week by considering specific learning strategies and how they can assist us in developing both academically accountable and rewarding learning experiences through musical performance.
Effective rehearsal planning should aim to create an environment in which students grow in their present performance ability and musical understanding towards increased automated technique facility and more independently motivated musical expression. We as conductors will need to effectively assess our student’s current musical understanding, ‘skill level’ and ‘knowledge base’. We will need to improve our skill in interpreting the visual and aural cues that increases our ability assess their present understanding and performance ability. To this end we need to assist students in determining their present technical skills, musical comprehension and expressive abilities. Therefore, we will need to utilise strategies that enable students to both identify and address the technical and musical challenges contained in our performance repertoire.
To aid in increasing visual and aural recognition skills, conductors need to develop, employ and share with their students a clear set of evaluative visual and aural templates. A template can be defined as a correct skill, response, knowledge base or objective that is superimposed over a response which is observed as incorrect or out of alignment in order to identify and use the proper strategy necessary to improve the performance target. A reasonable use of ‘attention to detail’ provides opportunity for a systematic employment of rehearsal templates. Conductors will need to encourage and engage their ensemble’s ‘listening and observation skills’ towards specific targets throughout the rehearsal. This, in turn will assist students in acquiring their own set templates that they can apply towards their own individual performance. This will also aid in the students’ acquiring the ability to specifically identify and respond to both the technical and musical elements in music, assisting personal musical growth and development.
So, for what specific sorts of things should conductors and students be listening and looking? Here is a suggested list for your consideration:
• Are ensemble members, both mentally and physically engaged in the rehearsal? (Posture can often provide an effective visual gage of active engagement. And, is consistent rehearsal attendance and being on time an issue?)
• Is the ensemble/individual producing an acceptable characteristic sound i.e. tone quality, balance and intonation? How is this being addressed and achieved?
• Is the act of achieving good intonation a question of 'sharp or flat', or of matching and adjusting? What are the strategies/remedies for addressing and improving section, and individual intonation?
• How does the ensemble exit or enter silence? How effective are the conducting entrance and release gestures?
• Are accurate articulations a part of the interpretive process, or 'technically' inspired?
• Staccato, accento, marcato, tenuto, legato. Is there a clear aural image for each of these articulations as derived from the musical context? Remember: the performance of correct articulations is not optional, however this remains constantly variable as dictated by the musical context.
• Correct pitches; are they centred and well rounded?
• Is there consistent rhythmic vertical alignment within the phrase structure?
• Is there clear evidence of expressive phrase shaping as dictated by the musical line, harmonic context and contour achieved through energised long notes and imaginative accompaniment?
• Is the ensemble simply following the ‘notational instructions’ or responding to the musical intension itself?
Musical concepts are often difficult to convey. It is important therefore that we are able to clearly define and explain our intent with relevant applications to the musical context. One of the most important and effective teaching tools can be found in the use of metaphors, analogies and narrative (illustrations and stories) to assist students in making the appropriate connections. The conductor should strive to increase their store of these revelant, valuable teaching aids.
Conductors should be committed to continue personal growth as an informed, observant and passionate listener, both using and promoting visual and aural observation.
• Aim to become more aware of what is really happening within the ensemble through increasing the powers of visual and aural observation. First, be sure to get your head out of the score and your attention off your conducting. Secondly, be sure to always use a rehearsal plan, outlining your goals and specific points for attention for each and every rehearsal.
• Try sharing your rehearsal plans through weekly email communication, or at minimum on a whiteboard. Know your scores in relationship to the ensemble’s technical strengths and weaknesses and choose reading and performance repertoire accordingly.
• Conductors must become self-sufficient, developing their own teaching/learning pedagogical strategies. But it is also true that they should also observe and research rehearsal techniques for expanding their own strategies.
• It is the conductor’s responsibility to recognise and reinforce the ensemble’s strengths, which in turn will aid in addressing their weaknesses.
• Conductors need to visually project through their rehearsals what it is they wish to create, shape and instill in their individual ensemble members. Do we as conductors ‘look like the music’? Would we rather ‘show’, or ‘tell’ the ensemble what the music requires?
Rehearsal points for consideration ought to include:
• The use of strategies for reinforcing and improving tone quality, timbre and intonation.
• Strategies, training material and suitable repertoire the provide opportunities for acquiring and developing independent internal pulse, meter, and increasing rhythm vocabulary.
• Developing a passion for correct pitches, beautiful, centred intonation, harmonic sensitivity, aural/sight cognition and rhythmic accuracy.
• The desire to train our ensembles to hear, recognise and effectively perform what they see before them.
• Strategies for developing key/tonal relationship awareness, including the connection with practical application of scale, chord and arpeggio skills to the performance repertoire.
• Attention to finger patterns; automisation of manual skill dexterity acquired through utilising the skill of methodical, ‘mindful’ repetition.
• The development of musical intuition, nuance and agility towards superior expression.
• The need for creating phrase contour and shape in relation to the harmonic context.
• Conveying the importance of articulation and inflection and its impact on interpretation.
• Exploration of expression that is achieved through dynamic contrast.
• The need to create harmonic balance with tonal blend.
• The importance of personal musical intuition and sensitivity.
• Encouraging personal conviction and ownership of the music through the process of sharing leadership responsibilities.
I know that I had alluded to the fact that this installment was to be the final episode. However, I need to frame a fitting conclusion, so you will have to wait one more week!
Warm regards and best wishes for your final few weeks of term and great closing performances!
Mr. Mumford holds an international reputation as a conductor, adjudicator and clinician, contributing regularly to the field of music education and performance studies through conference presentations, publications, professional development offerings, and master classes. He is highly regarded for his musical experience, expertise, passion and effective teaching style. He is in demand as a guest conductor, music education consultant, and adjudicator, providing performance strategies and professional development for music educators, administrators and students alike. From 2015 -2017 Mr. Mumford was engaged as Advisor and Lead Educator for the Melbourne Youth Orchestra Teacher Professional Development Programme.