An Overview for the Beginner Music Teacher: A Guide to Music Lesson Basics
One common question from new music teachers is how are they to decide which teaching method and repertoire to use in their music lessons?
Also, when should a music teacher introduce the student to music theory and music history?
It can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the more popular options before deciding which is best for you and your music students. Remember that no method is perfect and you will have to tailor any approach to the specific needs of the individual student.
To help get you started, we’ve reviewed some common approaches for your music lessons below. Take a look and do some research of your own to determine your best approach.
Early Childhood Music Education Methods
The Suzuki Method
Also known as the “mother tongue” approach, the Suzuki method was formulated by Japanese violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki and was introduced into North America in the ‘60s.
The philosophy behind the method was based on Suzuki’s observation of a child’s ability to learn their native language with zero difficulties.
It was initially developed for learning violin, but later it expanded to include a wide range of instruments. The main idea of this method is to involve parents in the music lessons.
This happens by having the parents attend the music lessons together with their young ones to help them guide their child’s practice back at home. Motivation and encouragement from the parents are critical aspects in helping the child to have a conducive atmosphere for their music education.
With the Suzuki approach, young ones can learn music with the help of their parents the same way they learn their native language from them. Children can begin to learn music from birth by merely imitating and observing their parents. This could involve exposing them to an instrument so they can learn by observation before they are mature enough for formal music lessons, which can begin as early as three years old.
One key thing that every parent should have in mind is that musical ability is not an inborn talent. It can be developed in a child the same way they learn to communicate in their native language. It means that every child possesses a vast ability to develop themselves musically.
Through repetition, memorization and listening, the Suzuki method harnesses a child’s ability to absorb information just as they do while learning a language.
The Orff Approach
Formulated by German composer Carl Orff, this approach engages the mind through activities like dancing, singing, drumming, or acting. Orff developed this approach for music lessons in the 1920s while acting as the music director of the Günther-Schule music school.
His philosophy is to make music education fun and playful, therefore making it an exciting activity for young people. The children’s performances primarily consist of their own composed songs and simple folk music.
Their music teachers also get to devise musical lessons to keep motivating the little learners. For instance, the teacher may come up with a poem or a story where the children get to engage in the composition through drumming on instruments. The music teacher can assess the learner’s comprehension of the music lesson by asking them questions about the process.
In this method, students get their training through improvisation, composition, imitation and exploration. Orff’s idea for this method was to meet the children at their point of interest; children prefer play to theory, therefore, making the lessons playful makes the activity more captivating. It also ensures that the lessons come at the children’s level of understanding.
The Kodály music education method was formed by Zoltán Kodály, a largely self-taught string player, pianist and composer from Hungary.
Kodály based his philosophy on the argument that music education can begin at an early age and even young children can acquire music literacy effectively. This method regards singing as the basis of musicianship.
Folk music, especially that from a child’s native country, is used to develop a child’s musical skill. As they keep developing, the learners acquire the ability to sing memorized songs while playing musical instruments.
In this technique, the children also get to acquire skills in both composing and reading music. This method is centered on building up the listening skills and ear training of the learner. The learning happens through a sequence of listening, singing, understanding, reading, writing and creating.
Kodály says that trying to teach a child to play an instrument without first knowing how to sing is pointless. In the Kodaly method, the parental role is quite minimal since most of the training leaves the teacher as the primary instructor.
This method was developed by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze; a Swiss composer, theorist and educator. It enhances musical ability through ear training, music appreciation and improvisation.
In this method, the body is used as the primary instrument in enhancing one's musical capability. It begins with the student listening to the rhythm of the music while in turn creating a movement in response to the feeling created by the rhythm. The sequence goes from the music, movement, mind and then to the body.
This training enables students to develop important skills including: imagination, concentration, inner hearing, flexibility, creative expression, understanding of musical concepts and musical appreciation.
How to select repertoire for your music students
Selecting appropriate repertoire is a crucial part in your role of helping a student succeed. You may recall a time in your own musical training where you were assigned a piece that was seemingly too easy or difficult for you. For some students, being assigned repertoire that isn’t a good fit is discouraging enough to turn them off.
Of course, musical capacity varies from one student to another based on several factors including length of time spent studying and age. Your role as a teacher is to help guide students into repertoire that challenges them enough to grow their skills.
Keep a constant dialogue with your students about what they are interested in learning and how challenging they find each assignment.
Performance anxiety is a challenge that can be addressed beginning with repertoire selection. If a student has experience performance anxiety in the past, it may be helpful to choose repertoire that he or she can become very comfortable with ahead of the performance. You can also give that student opportunities to recreate performance situations by having him or her perform for other students in your teaching studio.
Choosing the right kind of material
Empowering students in the process of selecting repertoire is key. When a student feels partially responsible for selecting the repertoire, he or she is more likely to feel a sense of ownership for the material and be more motivated to spend time practicing. It is your job to balance what a student naturally gravitates toward with the kind of repertoire that will challenge them and grow their skills.
Setting goals and measuring success towards them is an important factor in selecting repertoire. Take time in your music lessons to have these conversations with your students.
Goals can range from learning one particular piece of music, to more longer-term objectives like getting accepted into music school.
You can use these goals to determine the best mix of repertoire for your student to focus on. Remember to take time to review and update past goals as your student grows.
Music theory is the study of musical possibilities and practices. It develops a child’s understanding of how music works and informs how they approach a piece of music. Understanding music theory is the difference between simply knowing how to drive a car versus knowing how to drive a car AND understanding how the engine works.
To avoid this you can always encourage your student to try out some practical tasks based on the theory sessions.
However, music theory without any practical application can be very dull for the student.
There are a number of theories that surround the history of music. However, music is known to be present in every single culture with historiographers coming up with six different periods of music that include:
1. Middle Age (6th to 16th century) This music age occurred in the 6th to the 16th century, and it represents the historical events of the time. It also represents the start of musical polyphony.
2. Renaissance (16th and 17th century) This age is also known as the rebirth period where new trends in music were introduced. It included having instrumentals and other elaborate music forms to the music world.
3. Baroque (17th to 18th century) The Baroque music period contributed to the advancement of styles and musical contrasts that also led to the development of opera instrumental music.
4. Classical (1750 to 1820) During this period there emerged simpler melodies where also the middle class had access to music, unlike the past years where it was only accessible to the highly educated members of society.
5. Romantic (18th to 19th century) This is a period where musicians began to tell a story through composing songs. Instruments like the flute and the saxophone were developed during this period.
6. 20th Century - In the wake of the 20th century, musicians became more open to trying out new forms of music when exploring technological devices to advance their music - like blues, jazz, rock, pop, rap and hip hop.
How to teach Music History
Music history is quite an important subject for any musician that is willing to enhance their musical skills.
To make the learning process easier, it’s always a good idea to begin with the topics that you know the student enjoys studying; it will keep them motivated to keep learning.
If the student has a favourite composer or poet, an idea would be to start with the music history surrounding the composer or poet's time of life, and then move on from there.
One dominant mode through which music history can be taught is by having your students share their own cultural history and exploring music's history through their own culture. That way you can be able to expose them to various sounds and expressions that will help them understand various musical traditions better.
Future of Teaching in Music Education
The future of music education is exciting when you stop to think about how technology can help you and your music students. As our lives become more and more digitally connected, and as we get bombarded with information at all times, we need music as a respite now more than ever.
Incorporating technology into your music lessons and teaching will not only streamline your time so you can spend more effort on what’s important, it will also give you new tools to ensure the success of your music students.
As a small business owner running your own private music teaching studio, you know that your time is important to you. Fortunately, there are so many digital tools that can save you time and money so that you can focus on delivering a good service to your students.
We recommend using online services like Quaver to handle your payments, scheduling, accounting, and project management. Don’t waste any more time using a pen and paper to schedule and reschedule lessons!
You can also use digital services like social media and a website or basic webpage to attract new business and market your services. As a music teacher, marketing is in your job description now! However, don’t worry if marketing wasn’t part of your musical training. There are so many free online services that now make it more accessible than ever. Try experimenting with advertising yourself using Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
In addition to maintaining your professional Facebook page, you should also be setting aside a small budget for paid advertisements. Again, there are many online guides to walk you through this process.
It’s also important to always be growing your email database and sending regular updates on what you’ve been up to. Services like MailChimp or Constant Contact can be used to build and deploy your emails with ease.
Have you considered what digital tools you can use to enhance your student’s learning? Technology brings new opportunities for how you can introduce new material to your music students.
We’re hearing that more and more teachers are taking advantage of video conferencing with their students.
Broadband connections and affordable hardware make it possible to teach your students remotely.Now you can have students anywhere in the world, or answer a question live while a student is practicing at home.
Most video conferencing programs, including Skype and FaceTime, are free and easy to use. As well there are new products being launched every day to make video connection more reliable, high quality, and secure. Here is one example from Facebook.
At Quaver, we believe that technology can do the heavy lifting so you can focus on what matters most: your students. We can help you free your time while providing a high level of services for your students.
Join our online global music teaching community today to bring your teaching studio into the 21st century!
Over to you!
How do you select repertoire for your music students? Do you have an innovative way of teaching music history or music theory? How do you use technology in your music lessons? We'd love to hear from you! Comment below or send us an email with your #StudioStory.
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