Sunday, 09 September 2012
The fourth blog in the 'E' series by Director of Music George Bevan
If you have read the preceeding 3Es – Engage, Enthuse and Develop an Enquiring mind – I hope you will agree that with all of these in place, the teacher is in a much stronger position to equip his/her pupil with the skills that they need to make excellent progress. In fact, we have very likely equipped them with a great deal already; after all, a willingness to learn, enthusiasm and a curious nature are all fantastic attributes in a student!
There a numerous things which we need to equip our pupils with, some obvious and easy to identify, and others less so. Again, a number of these have already been covered, but let’s go back to practice for a moment. Now that we are sure that our pupil is able to self-assess their performance through asking the right sorts of questions of themselves, we need to ensure that they are organising their time well. If it’s not pushing the Monty Python thing too far: “Our two weapons are fear and surprise … and ruthless efficiency!” We still don’t want the fear, but ruthless efficiency can be handy! It’s worth spending some time making sure that our pupils are using their practice time well. [This is not the time to go into a detailed analysis of exactly how to practise - maybe later]]
Determination and perseverance are excellent skills to be developing in our pupils. Both in lessons and in personal practice time, our students will be getting things wrong all the time. This is, after all, how they learn – assuming that they are able to make appropriate judgements and improve on their subsequent attempts. But even the most enthusiastic student can find it a hard slog sometimes, and they need encouragement to keep going. In the same way, self-belief is something which needs to be nurtured if our pupils are continue to stride onward. Well-pitched targets, which they can succeed in regularly, will help pupils to feel that they are achieving, and improving their skills. Praise and encouragement go a long way, coupled perhaps with a little carrot to lead them continually on to the next success.
Perhaps most tied up with the whole question of developing the enquiring mind is the issue of developing musicianship. Firstly, I believe passionately that everyone has musical ability; some find it very easy to access that musical expression, and others most definitely do not, but wherever the student fits in this spectrum, their music teacher should take the responsibility for nurturing this talent, for drawing it out.
I find it very helpful to think of myself first and foremost as a music teacher, but one who just happens to teach that musicianship through the piano. A good technique is necessary, of course, but if the pupil has no understanding of the music which they are playing, it seems a perfectly reasonable question to ask why they are bothering! Over many years of teaching I have encountered pupils who have no idea what key they are playing in, or even the tonality of the piece; who are desperately trying to count note values but can’t even tap the pulse of the music; who think their piece is called ‘A1′; who can’t sing from a C to a C# or D; who show up to an exam expecting to play a Brahms sonata movement, having never even heard the piano part; who have been playing a piece in 6/8 time for six months but who can’t tell me how many beats there are in a bar; who are playing high level repertoire but do not have the first clue about the implications of the harmony. The list is pretty well endless.
It is the music teacher’s responsibility to equip their students with all of these things, and a whole lot more! We need to equip them with the skills that they need to be a musician, not just an instrumentalist or singer. It’s a big job!
And so to the final E, the best one perhaps – Empower.