Before diving headlong into the final E, I think it’s worth clarifying again the aim of instrumental lessons. It may be that some students just want to have some fun, and certainly aren’t contemplating spending hours a day practising hard so that they can go to Music College. That is fine (of course!), but I have serious concerns about ‘teaching’ a pupil each week if the only objective is for them to have fun, regardless of their age or ability; why would this ever be desirable when they could have fun and learn at the same time?

Perhaps a more helpful word than fun would be to be fulfilled – to feel that we have succeeded, that we have done well and our teacher is proud of us. This is something which lasts and becomes a part of us. Fun is transient – it comes to an end, and although we can remember it happening, it doesn’t last. If we are fulfilled, our character is changed. We feel good when we are fulfilled, and that feeling is enjoyable – fun even!

Our ultimate goal should be to empower our pupils, to hand over control to them, to bring them to a place where they can stand on their own two feet and manage without us. This is hugely fulfilling for teacher and pupil alike! And it is transformational. Once our students have learned to learn, they can help themselves, and our job is done.

Reading is something which many people take for granted, but it is the most amazing skill to possess – once you can read, you can help yourself to limitless information. Once a child has realised this potential, there is literally no stopping them. This is empowerment. The child who cannot read will forever rely on someone else to feed them with the information that they want; stories for pleasure, other material for information, and so on. They will be entirely dependent on someone else to guide them.

My hope is that we can draw our pupils out in such a way that, eventually, they become confident musicians who no longer need us. Some won’t make it that far, of course, but whilst they are under our guidance, we should be ever-striving towards this goal.

There will be obstacles along the way, like exams for instance! These can act as a helpful guide and a carrot if used well – but if curiosity and musicianship are neglected in favour of merely constructing a temporary façade for a snapshot assessment, then they are not helpful at all, and in fact serve only to take our eye off the real goal. Although I do use ABRSM with my own pupils, my line, more often than not, is “Do you want a piece of paper, or do you want to learn to play the piano?” It’s possible to do both of course, but those whose only aim is the former are rarely empowered by the outcome.

These goals may seem a long way off, but actually we should be aiming to drip feed a little of this into every lesson. And the final test, without a doubt, is whether our pupils are able to practise effectively! It may be that our pupil is lazy, or has too many other demands on their time, or doesn’t really want to play after all – then again, perhaps we have missed one (or more) of the previous 4Es! It may be that we have set an impossible target for the week which our pupil doesn’t feel able to take on, or we may have been so vague (“More practice this week please!”) that they just don’t know where to start. I think if we get it right, our pupil should leave the lesson with a clear aim for the week, and with the firm thought planted in their head – or even their heart – “I can do that, and I’m looking forward to having a go!”

Follow this link to return to the top – The 5Es for outstanding instrumental teaching

11 responses to “Empower

  1. I wish I had had music teaching which had empowered me. My experience was of feeling inadequate. I was shown the level I should be aiming for and I could only really ever fall short. Things got briefly better when my piano teacher allowed me to choose two pieces of music I wanted to play- I enjoyed that because I wanted the outcome of being able to play them, though I sensed she was already disappointed in me and had given up….
    It wasn’t long before I did to.

    • If you’ll forgive me for mixing my metaphors, it sounds like your teacher beat you with a carrot! The child has to believe that they can manage every single step.
      An example: if a bar is proving difficult, try half a bar, or just the left hand, but break it down until every tiny component is easy. Easy is achievable! [Easy can also boring, but I reckon that’s still better than difficult, which is frustrating.] Then put every (easy) component back together again; in doing this, you’ll probably also find whichever tiny component it was which was causing the problem. Rather than making them feel inadequate, I suspect that my pupils find that this makes them feel quite good! The trick, of course, is for them to learn how to manage this ‘taking apart process’ (aka practice) by themselves. I model this every lesson, and it’s very exciting to see them finally get the message, even if it takes some of them a long time….!

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