music education

Have you 'got' it?

It’s great when students get things. That happy moment when the penny drops, the eyes light up and we become enveloped in that warm glow of satisfaction knowing that our teaching has been successful.

But then, oh dear.

Our students return the following week and that new fingering or rhythm seems to have departed from their minds. What they had (and please forgive the usage) gotten, they seem now to have for-gotten. Interestingly, to forget tends to imply that the information isn’t entirely irrecoverable. In saying we’ve forgotten, we generally mean “I can’t remember it at the moment, but it will probably come back.” And that may indeed be the case. 

But it’s often not the case.

I love a particular word that disappeared from common usage many centuries ago. And that word is un-get. This is often what happens after we teach our students something new for the first time. The fact is, it hasn’t been temporarily forgotten. Whatever that thing was that they had got, they have now un-got.  It is irretrievable. It has completely gone! 

But that’s okay, let’s not worry about it. Instead, and with good humour, we simply need to teach it again, to encourage them to re-get it! And how do we do this?

The secret is to teach it again from other angles.

One great way to achieve this is by using the Simultaneous Learning Musical Map of the World (available to download free here) which will give you lots of ideas for teaching the matter in question in different ways and contexts that are linked to the piece you are working on. The key is to alter the order of steps that led up to that teaching/learning moment.  Simply make the appropriate connections in a different order.

This will help us discover what hasn’t quite been understood and is therefore preventing our student from properly getting it. Maybe they are not playing a phrase staccato – although they did last week. The reason they haven’t entirely got it yet might be aural – they are not hearing the staccato in their musical ear – or it could be a technical issue, or maybe it’s to do with dynamic levels or some aspect of their technique.  Let’s explore all these possibilities, vary the order in which we do so and, all being well, our student will eventually get with less likelihood of subsequently for-getting or indeed un-getting.

And so here is my ‘re-’ declining of the verb to get:

I get – which happens sometimes. But often… 

I for-get – which is possible. But more probably…

I un-get – which is more likely!  But that’s okay, because with a good teacher to reinforce the idea…

I re-get! – and it stays!

And that can’t help but make us all feel so much happier…

Paul will be presenting “Are your students really learning?” at the Music & Drama Education Expo, London on 6 March 2019.

Now you're learning!

Considering the optimum environment for effective learning.

Successful learning is something we would like all our pupils to experience. Let’s consider three factors that are central to bringing this about.

As teachers we like to be in control. We know what’s best. We know what works. We have all the answers (or most of them anyway).

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But for really effective teaching and learning we also have to go with the flow. Everyone we teach is different. Recognising each individual’s needs, harmonising with their learning speed, acknowledging each response and then responding back appropriately are all key aspects of truly successful teaching and learning. So, be in control… but do also go with the flow. We can balance these two life forces, and applying this balance when you are teaching is crucial. In practice, and in general terms, we do need to know where we’re going with each pupil and have a clear idea of a lesson’s path. But we also need to be constantly adapting. We may well have an agenda, but it must be very flexible. Teach the pupil through the music and the instrument.

We also need to be patient. And so do our pupils and their parents! Appropriate patience in teaching and learning has a lot to do with expectation: learning to manage expectation and being as realistic as possible is so important. Pupils and parents are often impatient, usually because their expectations are unrealistic. If we can bring realistic targets to all teaching and learning situations we will really begin to instil happy and contented learning.

Finally, empathy. In my opinion, the most important quality of the Virtuoso Teacher is an ability to communicate. For really effective communication to take place we have to do our best to understand deeply the person or persons with whom we are communicating.

“When our pupils feel they are understood then they can begin to relax into really productive and secure learning.”

Here, we must do our best to determine their interests, their learning speed, their level of motivation, their natural energy levels and what makes them tick musically – all without them actually realising! When our pupils feel they are understood then they can begin to relax into really productive and secure learning.

So, be in control but go with the flow; set realistic and understandable targets to create a patient approach and empathise with your pupils. You will be delighted to see your pupils becoming truly happy and effective learners.

The Double O Mindset

Simultaneous Learning is rooted in a ‘can-do’ world where activities are always pro-actively set up to flow sequentially and so provide the greatest chance of success and therefore persistent progress and direction.  This continually allows both teachers and pupils to live in in an environment of positivity.  And if we explain carefully how the process is working as we are teaching it during lessons, then pupils learn to use the same process in their practice. 

This doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong from time to time, however careful we (or our pupils) are in setting up the next thing to do.  Maybe a pupil struggles (in a lesson or practice) to get something technical to work or can’t quite figure out a musical point.  

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I’d like to suggest a way to deal with this, and I call it the Double O Mindset.

So often, musicians and others who find they can’t do things, get annoyed and frustrated: “I CAN’T do this” or maybe “Why CAN’T I do this?” they inwardly scream. This often leads to the follow-up thought: “I’m no good,” or worse, “I’m useless.” 

Of course, it’s entirely the wrong reaction; the wrong response. Rather than this aggressive, subjective, and angry riposte, teach pupils (and ourselves if we need to) to go for the Double O Mindset:

 

Observe and be Objective

In other words, we quietly observe what exactly is going on, and then analyse the situation in an agreeably and peacefully objective manner.

Instead of ranting “Why CAN’T I do this?”

We say, gently and thoughtfully,

Why can’t I do this?

We observe carefully what we are actually doing and we objectively search for a slightly different way that may well simply solve the problem. 

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The word carefully is important.  When we analyse what we are doing we often don’t delve nearly deep enough.  If it’s technical, try to look, for example, exactly at hand position, use of all muscles involved in the task, exactly at what is being done in relation to the intended outcome.   If it’s musical, is there something not quite understood in the sequence of thought required to be at that particular point.  If our pupil takes this view, they may well solve the problem or realise what it is they don’t get, and bring that with them to the next lesson when, together, we can solve it.

 

So, do consider the Double O Mindset:  Observe and be Objective. It may well save a lot of time and emotional and misdirected negative energy.

Thoughts on the Virtuoso Teacher

I much enjoyed my short visit to Scotland a few weeks ago to do a Virtuoso Teacher Day at the University of Aberdeen under the auspices of the ISM. It’s always wonderful to meet a group of lively and committed teachers and, as usual with these days, many interesting topics were aired and discussed.  


Of course the central theme of the day was the concept of The Virtuoso Teacher. And as our society seems to become more and more disinterested in serious culture, it becomes increasingly important that we aspire to Virtuoso Teacher status. Or, in other words, aspire to teaching at the highest level in order to keep more of our pupils on board and inspired to go out there and be musically independent. 

"Teaching is about sharing"


What exactly do I mean by teaching at the highest level you may be wondering? It’s certainly very challenging trying to sum it up in a few words or in a single point or two (you’ll have to come to one of the VT days to get the whole picture!). And it’s got nothing to do with the level of our pupils. But if pushed, I would say this: teaching at the highest level is strongly connected with the necessity to teach with a generous, big- and open-hearted spirit. Teaching is about sharing. Of course we know more than our pupils. And we can do things a lot better than they can. But teaching is essentially a sharing experience… sharing our love and enthusiasm for music, sharing our deeply considered views on the music we teach and thus helping our pupils in turn to love and share their music. If we can pass this on, humbly and without ego, we have got a chance to help humanity remain cultured. For without culture, humanity becomes dry, cold and meaningless. This, in essence, is what being a Virtuoso Teacher is. 

A sunny day in Aberdeen for the Virtuoso Teacher talk with the ISM. 

A sunny day in Aberdeen for the Virtuoso Teacher talk with the ISM. 

Talking to teachers about the Virtuoso Teacher in Aberdeen. 

Talking to teachers about the Virtuoso Teacher in Aberdeen. 

News from Denmark and thoughts for a productive new term

Following my tour of South Africa, I’m just back from a wonderful visit to the “happiest country in the world”, Denmark, presenting teaching workshops, giving a recital and working with young players. Wherever I go in the world, there are two things I can always rely on: the unqualified enthusiasm of young learners and the reflective and thoughtful enthusiasm of their teachers. 

Our aim in life should always be to make things better. Through our music, it should be to refine and develop our own playing or singing and to guide our pupils to develop theirs. To do this we all, teachers and students alike, simply need to open our minds. We need to minimise the ego and allow ourselves to re-evaluate our methods with unconditional honesty.  

That will be at the heart of the fourteen insets I’m about to embark on as the new academic year gets under way. I shall be talking about Simultaneous Learning, Group Teaching, Being a Virtuoso Teacher, Teaching in the Digital Age, and much more.  I hope we may meet during these next two weeks. 

Whether we do or not, I hope 2016/17 is a great year for you.  Let’s do our best to transcend any problems, enjoy our music making and teaching and try to inspire others with what we are doing! 

 

Teaching in Copenhagen, August 2016

Teaching in Copenhagen, August 2016