I’m am certainly not opposed to telling my students what I want done as well, but music concepts are often times best expressed…well…musically. When I’m doing it right, I model the idea I want to get across repeatedly before ever mentioning it in conversation.
If for example I hear a nasal quality to the sound, I should play whatever music we are working on in a broad tone. Then we can go back and forth with “I play, you play” until things get better. I can then mention what I’m trying to get across if I have to. Sloppy attack? Extra point needs added to my attack. Note too long? My note must get shorter still.
I should also model technique. If my student is slouching in their chair, I need to sit up extra straight in my chair. Is their breath shallow? Mine needs to be full. Hands stiff, mine must get more fluid.
This you probably already know and do yourselves, but my tip to you is to take that same technique of modeling that you use and expand it. Don’t stop with musical and technique modeling, but try to model everything you want your students to do and to be.
Listen, when we are working as private instructors, we have an unusual amount of student/teacher face time. Because we are one on one, and because music is so powerful and inspiring an activity, we can have tremendous sway in the lives of our students.
How will you use this power? What effect do you want to have on your students?
Will we only make our students better musicians, or will we leave them better people?
We notice lots of things in others, in our students, that we want to improve, right? Have any trouble students? What bugs you about them? What flaws do they have that drive you nuts?
Now comes the hard part. When we identify something in a student that bothers us, then we first have to take a peek inside ourselves and see if we have the same issue. Then we can correct the issue in ourselves and model the correct way to be. If something is worth teaching others, then we need to do it ourselves, all the time. This is where I see the most failure in myself and in my fellow teachers. We fail to be the model for who we want our students to be. I see this failure in our teaching rooms, and I see it even more often outside of our studios, when there is time between students or when there is a break in lessons. Students see this side of us too!
Is your student late? Model punctuality. Are they unprepared? Be prepared yourself. Are they distracted? Be engaged. Are they crass? Be delicate. Do they lie? Be only about the truth. Are they unreliable? You be faithful. Trouble maker? Be helpful. Are they hateful? Model love.
Modeling the right way to be is appropriate and persuasive even when speaking something is not. That said, it can be really tough, no? Give it a try, but know that sometimes we will fail so badly that we need to model an apology.
(Written 9/14/3014 for Music & Arts Teaching Newsletter, Sound Teaching)