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Saturday, 08 September 2012

The first in the 'E' series by Director of Music George Bevan

I have been considering how to put together some ideas which encapsulate everything that might be seen in outstanding instrumental/singing teaching, and have decided to structure these draft ideas under 5 headings, all beginning with the letter E. Herewith,

The 5Es!

The first two of these are vitally important in setting the right tone for the lesson,  so that excellent learning can then take place. Engage and Enthuse. Although these processes will of course continue to take place for the duration of each lesson, they must be there from the very first moment.


If we fail to engage from the outset, much of what follows in the next half hour might be too late! So much of what we say is actually ‘heard’ through our body language, and to engage our pupils as they enter the room, we need to look like we’re delighted to see them, fired up and ready to get down to work. If we are energised, purposeful and motivated, our pupil will sense that excitement, and realise that we are actually pleased to be teaching them! They need to feel that for the next half an hour, they are our central focus, and that they have our undivided attention. Our body language must back this up 100%.

I also feel that it is also really important that we show an interest in the whole person, and treat each pupil as an individual. Paul Harris’ opening line “How’s the hamster?” [The Virtuoso Teacher, Faber 2011] might sound daft, but he’s absolutely right! If we are going to pass on our skills to our students in a way which is enriching, fulfilling and meaningful, we need to know what makes them tick. Our approach needs to be tailor-made for each individual, where we are able to respond to pupils’ interests, needs and strengths. Showing our pupils that we care about them, that we have a genuine interest in them beyond just their evenness of tone, will help to gain their respect and trust.

Another gem from Paul Harris [not an original idea, but that's where I heard it]] which is surprising in its simplicity: “Telling is not teaching.” Giving does not ensure receiving, so that two way channel needs to be operating well for our wisdom to fall on receptive ears. It’s no good just saying that we’ve been over it again and again but the pupil still doesn’t get it; if that is the case, we need to consider whether we have engaged in a way in which the pupil understands, however clear we might think we are being.

Surprise is a great teaching tool; if a pupil doesn’t know quite what to expect next there can be a wonderful sense of anticipation in a lesson. They need to feel secure, of course, otherwise Monty Python springs to mind: “Our chief weapon is surprise …. surprise and fear….” We don’t want that! But we should avoid ‘same lesson syndrome’ where the pupil comes to the lesson and is subjected to a painfully predictable routine of ‘scales, pieces, sight reading test, see you next week.’ If, on the other hand, your pupil comes to each lesson  expecting something new, engaging and challenging for them each week, they are much more likely to bounce in, ready to learn and respond to your teaching. If we want our pupils to be creative, we should be demonstrating our own creativity, and we can do that through creative teaching.

Learning a musical instrument should be an adventure, not a chore, and as instrumental teachers we need to take the lead. If our lessons are dull and predictable our pupils will begin to question whether we really love what we are doing, and if we don’t, why do we think that they are going to?!

Next up, Enthuse!

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