Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Nasty Habits - Private Lessons

My teaching has started up for the fall semester. The beginning of each new school year marks a period of transition for student and teacher.

New students come in with fresh faces and ideas, looking to improve and adopt new habits. Each fall I spend a little time with my students planning the semester.

One way to get things off to a good start is to set goals and give guidelines for the semester. Most classroom teachers have a syllabus that includes policies governing attendance, grading, etc. Increasingly, the private lesson music teacher has adopted these, too.

At its best, a syllabus gives student and teacher clear guidelines for the progress of the semester. At very least it functions as a kind of contract between student and teacher covering grading policy, etc.

However, many teachers are uncomfortable with the imposition of legalistic guidelines upon the creative hour that is the private lesson. For the private lesson to be effective, there needs to be a great amount of trust between student and teacher.

Paradoxically, however, sometimes the trust is most easily established when the student knows that clear expectations and boundaries exist in the lesson format.

Setting up meaningful, clear objectives is one way to start out right. "Let's work on improving your intonation this semester." "Let's prepare for your degree recital."

In addition, I've found it helpful to post some points for my students to ponder as we get started for the semester. Here is a list from oboist, Elaine Douvas I've modified for my use.

How to get the best out of your teacher

You deserve to have my best effort -- my undivided attention for one hour per week; your progress and well-being should be the most important thing in the world for the one hour you are there. Unfortunately, a teacher cannot always give his best to each and every student, especially if he has many students, but you can be sure of getting that 100% effort if you always give your own best effort and do not make unnecessary extra work for me.

Consider the following:

1. Come on time; late arrivals show avoidance.

2. Don't warm up in your lesson. Schedule your lesson time such that there is time to warm up beforehand.

3. Help me stay organized; I keep a notebook of assignments but you must keep one yourself. At the beginning of the lesson, tell me everything you have practiced and hope to cover; remind me of what happened at the previous lesson. When you leave, find a place where you can spend a few minutes writing down helpful notes from the lesson.

4. Keep the energy level high: unpack quickly, don't waste time trying out 10 reeds, do not yawn. Additionally, don't waste the next person's time by taking too long to pack up.

5. Don't engage in too much small talk. Try to let me know that you have a great deal prepared and want to get through it.

6. For the teacher-student relationship to be most productive, there must be trust and respect for the assignments given and the material chosen by the teacher.

7. Meet me halfway in the lesson. The first part of your lesson is your performance for me of the work you've done that week. The second half is our chance to analyze and improve upon your playing.

8. Take initiative; do one or two things more than you were assigned.

9. Try to grasp things quickly; don't make me repeat things (a conductor only says things once!).

10. Have problems solved before each lesson; I get frustrated working on the same things with the same person week after week.

11. Don't be a "Space Cadet!" Don't leave things behind; it makes for unnecessary texts or phone calls and extra work for me.

12. If you need a recommendation letter, make it as easy as possible for me. Supply a link in an email to me or provide me with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a hard copy.

13. Schedule your practice time as you do your classes. Treat them with the same discipline as you do your classes.

14. Plan your recitals when I can come, otherwise I may think that you don't value my opinion. Also, notify me of other performances I may want to hear to be able to help you better.

15. Go to my performances. Hearing me play gives meaning to the comments I make in your lessons. Also, go to the performances of your fellow students.

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