Article: Saving the Private Teacher’s Energy

An article written by David L. Jones, a professional voice instructor in New York. He writes many helpful articles and I have learned a lot from reading the information on his website I highly recommend following him on Facebook and periodically checking his website.

This article addresses some of the basic personality types you might discover when teaching private lessons, and though often times the younger students are a bit more complex than these profiles, I feel that they are a good starting point for identifying and working with differing personality types you will encounter in any studio. (If you don’t want to read the article you can skip down to the tips section.) He mentions energy drain in a way that leads me to wonder if he might be a follower of some Eastern beliefs regarding energy, which I do not subscribe to, but most of his tips and tricks seem to be sound.

My own tips:

Do something different: If a child is being difficult, try something different. Play an echo game (for vocalists) or hearing the difference between high and low sounds. Have them find all the Ds on the piano, or teach them a chord. Do stretching exercises. Get away from the book and try to improvise. Often students get tired of doing the same thing for the whole lesson, or they are frustrated by lack of success. Approaching the lesson differently can help.

Get to know the student: While I do not want to waste valuable time talking too much with a student, I always try to ask them about their day, what their Holiday plans are, etc. This disarms the student and makes them feel comfortable, it also gives you a point of reference to help with describing concepts later.

Find out about any personal problems: I have one student who absolutely refuses to spend the entire class time working on the music. He complains a lot, about everything, and always has some excuse why he shouldn’t play that day. I don’t think his home life is very appreciative (his mother seems to put the guilt on him. Oy.) and he is also ADHD. The medication he takes sometimes makes him very tired and I’ve discovered that sometimes having some snack for him (with mom’s permission) when he hasn’t eaten really helps. While he eats his snack I play through some music from his book, and that usually helps him focus. Sometimes relating to the student also helps, if you can say you understand why they are tired or frustrated, it can encourage them. With my slightly autistic student, it helps to know that sometimes he gets overwhelmed easily; because I know this I can pace my lesson accordingly.

Discover their learning style: Every student learns differently. I have a basic method that I use, especially with my young ones, but sometimes it changes. I have one student who is 5 and he always wants to come right in and just play through the song assigned from last week without counting through it or saying the note names etc. For many students I require them to say the counts/notes first, but with this student he works best if I let him show me what he can do first, and then correct it. Another student (the ADHD one) really likes to work when he plays one hand of the music and I play the other. Usually by the time we do that he is ready to play it himself. Also, learning when to deviate from your usual plan is great. Sometimes I ask students what song they want to start with, and giving them a choice helps them feel in control and they enjoy the lesson more, and practice more.

Find their motivation: For students who don’t want to work, or won’t cooperate in a lesson, find what motivates them. Some students are motivated by severe consequences, like telling them that you will end the lesson early if they don’t cooperate…none of these children want to talk to their mothers about that! Some students are motivated by approval, or by wanting to progress, and these students are wonderful! Others are motivated by the promise of a sticker, or by working toward the goal of a recital or a reward. (One student was jealous of a brother who always got trophies in soccer, so his mother and I got him a trophy for finishing book 3 in his series. He was so motivated he talked about it for months.) Some students are motivated to practice so they can simply be done with a song that they don’t like, and many of them end up liking the song once they can play it.

Show them you care: While many teachers discourage any emotional attachment between the student and the teacher, I find that I truly do care about each of my students, no matter how frustrating. Sometimes that’s what the student needs more than anything, to know that someone cares and believes that they can achieve something great, like playing the piano. I try to make each student feel special, that they are wanted, and to never feel like a burden. I ask them about their day, or recent event, wish them happy birthday, send their parents interesting things about music that might help, tell them I missed them when they’re absent, and one student often needs to hear “I’m glad to see you.” One of my professors, Dr. Matthew McCutchen, used to always remind us “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

About Lady Fair

Lady is a musician with a bachelor's degree in music education. She plays multiple instruments and has participated in numerous musical ensembles, giving her a wide variety of experiences and knowledge to use in her teaching career. Of her ensemble participation, she has fifteen years of band experience, nine years choral, and four years in orchestra. Éowyn's primary instrument is clarinet, with voice and piano being close secondary instruments. Throughout her musical education career she studied voice and clarinet simultaneously. In addition to clarinet, piano, and voice, she has also studied violin and oboe at the college level, and also plays recorder, tin whistle, and other instruments in the woodwind family. If you ask her, she will say, "I chose to major in music education because I have a desire to use my knowledge and experience in music to share its beauty and foster a love of music in the hearts of my students. I hope to encourage my students to try their hardest, feel like they have accomplished something, and give them a life long passion for music." Lady currently teaches private lessons on clarinet, sax, flute, oboe, piano, and voice, and recently gained a position teaching orchestra and chorus at a local middle school. She is also a member of the Once Upon a Dream woodwind ensembles.
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