Violinist Christian Tetzlaff working with a student in a master class

Violin Master Class

“There are plenty of fine educators in the world – and some not-so-fine ones, too.”
The Musician’s Wayp. 293

I advise numerous aspiring music educators each year, and I find that many lack clarity about a vital aspect of teaching and learning.

That is, they confuse showing for teaching, which then undermines their potential to become accomplished educators.

Teaching vs. Showing

When we teach music performance, we do lots of “showing,” of course, as we demonstrate to students how to execute techniques or shape phrases. But effective teaching involves much more than demonstration.

In fact, the distinctions between teaching and showing are many, but I’ll focus here on what I deem to be the primary one: When we teach, we take responsibility for student learning outcomes.

By comparison, if we solely demonstrate a skill or explain a concept to students without any additional follow-up or assessment, we haven’t taught; we’ve shown.

“When we teach, we take responsibility for student learning outcomes.”

Effective Teaching

Effective teachers pinpoint what students should learn, they employ wide-ranging teaching strategies (demonstration included), and they evaluate and build on student learning. They continually ensure that students understand what they’re learning and why.

Whether that teaching occurs in semester-long courses, summer workshops, one-off master classes, or lessons that continue for years, skilled music educators steadfastly implement such best practices.

With that in mind, if you’d like to upgrade your teaching, here are some tips to do so:

1. Articulate Student Learning Outcomes

  • As much as possible, determine learning outcomes in collaboration with students so that they take ownership.
  • Whether learning aims are written, spoken or both, have students repeat what the objectives are and why they matter.
  • Refer to learning goals often so that students connect instructional activities to specific objectives.

2. Use Varied Teaching Strategies

  • Incorporate diverse activities in lessons and classes so that students approach problems from different angles – e.g., employ video/audio recording with self-evaluation; present a mix of problem-solving tactics such as those described on pages 58-70 of The Musician’s Way.
  • Accommodate differences in student backgrounds and learning tendencies, adopt inclusive teaching strategies, and commit to success with every student.
  • Lead students to experiment and solve problems using their own ingenuity rather than merely providing solutions.
  • If a particular teaching approach isn’t working, change strategies.

“Lead students to experiment and solve problems using their own ingenuity rather than merely providing solutions.”

3. Assess Learning & Give Feedback

  • Provide frequent opportunities for students to play, sing, explain, write or otherwise make clear what they have or have not learned. Regular assessments reinforce student learning and enable teachers to identify learning gaps.
  • Avoid excess talking during music lessons; students learn best by doing and reflecting, so focus lessons on playing or singing paired with student self-evaluations.
  • Given frequent, concise, non-judgmental feedback.
    • High-frequency, low-magnitude assessments and feedback are the rocket fuel of deep learning.
    • In contrast, low-frequency, high-magnitude assessments – e.g., in courses where grades depend on midterm and final exam scores – promote shallow learning and rapid forgetting.
  • Here are examples of two written self-assessments I created for music students who use The Musician’s WayThe Musician's Way book cover
    as a textbook: Assessing Your Practice Habits | Assessing Your Performance Skills

“Regular assessments reinforce student learning and enable teachers to identify learning gaps.”

4. Apply Learning to New Contexts

  • As soon as students grasp concepts – whether artistic, technical, or intellectual – provide activities in which they apply those concepts in contexts that are distinct from those in which the concepts were first learned.
  • Communicate to students that the successful transfer of skills to new contexts is the goal of learning.
  • When students can’t transfer concepts, it often signifies that they mimicked what the teacher showed them and didn’t understand essential principles.

The Musician’s Way is the only book to offer comprehensive guidelines for aspiring performers and performance educators to achieve inclusive excellence. Read reviews.

Related posts
4 Attributes of Effective Teachers
6 Ways to Identify High-Quality Music Teachers
12 Affirmations for Music Teachers
Communicating with Teachers
Making the Most of Music Lessons

© 2021 Gerald Klickstein