Written by & under performance, Program Development, teacher resourses, teaching.


“Give a person a fish, and he/she will eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and he/she will be satisfied for a lifetime.”

In my last blog, Igniting the Spark, I wrote about my goals for the year – empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning. Since then, I have experienced an amazing paradigm shift and as a result, am truly enjoying my teaching. I have always enjoyed teaching, but am easily frustrated when students arrive at lessons unprepared or “check out” in the lesson! The shift this year has been a conscious effort to give students the tools for independent learning, talking less and demonstrating more, and holding them accountable for each week’s assignments. I am feeling much more relaxed and students are working a lot harder, with less stress on my part. I have focused on three main areas:

Teach Effective Practice Skills

Practice in the lesson. Students need to experience repetition in the lesson. They won’t automatically repeat the most difficult section on their own, because it is hard! Also, our 21st century students are used to instant gratification. Learning an instrument or new skill takes patience and perseverance. Be specific on numbers of repetitions. Make it fun! Use an abacus to keep track of how many correct repetitions have been done; roll dice or pick a card to get number of repetitions. I also like to use the student’s age for the number of repetitions that need to be done, e.g., if a student is 8 years old, they must play the passage 8 times correctly. In addition, I insist that high school students write their own notes at the lesson and keep a journal of their practice record.

Demonstrate, don’t talk!

Teach students to hear their mistakes. Demonstrate what to listen for. Rather than telling them that there is a wrong note, demonstrate by playing it correctly and incorrectly. Allow the student to be the teacher by listening and making the correction. This also works really well with students who have difficulty keeping a steady beat. Demonstrate a rushed tempo and a steady tempo, and ask them which sounds better. When demonstrating a new piece, get them excited about it, which means I must practice to provide an excellent model of sound!


Hold students accountable for completing their assignments. Have high expectations for your students, and expect that they meet them. What has helped me most in this area is using the reconcile feature in Music Teachers Helper and Studio Helper. After each lesson day, I reconcile all lessons. This feature allows me to write comments both for the student and myself. The notes meant for the student are then automatically sent to the student if I click on the send email box. My teacher comments are private but show up on my daily reports, which I use for lesson planning. I have been doing this for several years now and both students and parents have come to expect the emails with comments.

As the above quote states, teaching someone a skill will last a lifetime. As music teachers, this is one of our greatest gifts to our students. The more I teach, the more I learn; and the more I learn, the better I teach!