In a special guest post for Pianodao, Paul Harris explores how lessons might best unfold.
A lesson is a journey.
A lesson is a journey. But a rather special kind of journey: more a voyage of discovery. And we, as teachers, are both pilot and guide, working alongside our pupils, sometimes planning the route together, with the ultimate intention of teaching them to guide themselves. And what makes each journey – each lesson – so exciting, is that we don’t necessarily know either the route or exactly where we are heading … until we get there! But, crucially, we need to ensure that the journey is both enjoyable and productive.
As a wise man once said – you may be able to predict the teaching, but you can never predict the learning; so, even though you might have some idea of where you want to go, the lesson may wish to go somewhere else!
We do of course have a certain amount of control over a pupil’s progress through a lesson. So let’s have a look at how learning really should work.
First, let’s remind ourselves of the constituent ingredients of our musical world; all those inter-linked areas that we instinctively know: for example: technique, aural, theory, sight-reading, rhythm and so on. We know them because this is where we live as musicians. And we’ve probably lived there for quite a while. We move effortlessly between them; we understand them; we understand how they connect and how they affect each other. And mostly we’ve come to do this instinctively. Maybe we’ve always known this world instinctively – that’s often why we’ve become musicians and teachers.
Most of our pupils, on the other hand, don’t know this musical world until we help them to, mainly through making connections – a core principle of my Simultaneous Learning approach. This approach enables pupils to learn multiple connections between ingredients, its voyage-of-discovery-ness builds a level of understanding which ultimately sustains all the connections. Conversely, a loss of direction and flow will soon occur in a lesson where ingredients are not connected or have been compartmentalised. The result will be that pupils simply cannot deepen their understanding.
And let’s not assume that connections will take place automatically. Pupils rarely know music as we do: our responsibility is to show them how to discover and keep making those connections themselves.
A Map for the Journey
You may be aware of my map of our musical world – the Simultaneous Learning Connections Map – I’ve written about it often in my various books. The map is designed to encourage a more imaginative and effective approach, both to lessons and practice – where we constantly make explicit connections rather than implied ones.
Recently it has become clear to me that this map plays an even more important role in our teaching than I once thought.
Lessons are a voyage of discovery around this map. We flow, naturally, from one area to another as a lesson unfolds, devising appropriate activities as we visit the next connected area. We could begin by playing the scale of the piece we are teaching in an appropriate pulse, which we then connect with some aspects of technique. Then we look at and play the scale from notation, then hear that scale internally (aural), play it from memory (still hearing it internally) and so on. This builds up a series of sequential and logical activities that begin to create a real sense of knowing music and involve the making of a multitude of exciting mini-discoveries (through understanding the connections) which enrich and carry the learning forward. This is at the heart of Simultaneous Learning.
There is no correct or pre-determined route around the map – the next destination is very much dependent on our pupil’s responses and what we think will enhance and develop their learning best at that moment. The number of criss-cross connecting lines on the map indicate just how many possible and productive routes there are – virtually an infinite number!
Every lesson can take a different route; no two lessons will ever be quite the same.
Even though we know this map, I’ve found it hugely useful to have one in sight during each lesson. It just may nudge me into thinking of a connection I might otherwise have overlooked.
It’s also extremely helpful for pupils to have one in sight when they are practising. It will help them to make their practice – where our pupils go on their own voyage of discovery – more imaginative, interesting, thoughtful and musical. Pupils will begin to manage their practice (and therefore their learning) more effectively: they’ll begin to think about what to do next, to set their own goals, and generally be more creative. Such a change from just playing though pieces and thinking ‘that’s practice sorted’! They will learn to create a sequence of connected and related activities (as we do in lessons) that will bring about real engagement, effective learning, much more fun and that all-important concept of really knowing music through a deep understanding of how the elements connect.
In this way we are adhering to both the Latin roots of the word education. Educare, which means to nourish, and educere, which means to draw out. Through our careful nourishing – our imaginative and well-considered teaching – we are causing our pupils to find their own meaning of music.
Others have of course said this before in their different ways. Among them Mrs Curwin, way back in the 1890s, Shinichi Suzuki and Zoltán Kodály in the mid 20th century – who all perceived the essence of education as a matter of inspiring their pupils to think and to find their own way into our amazing and infinitely fascinating world.
If you’d like to have a copy of the Simultaneous Learning Connections Map you can download one from my website. Feel free to make as many copies as you require.
Here’s the link:
Simultaneous Learning Connections Map (download)
After studies at the Royal Academy of Music and the University of London, Paul Harris has now established an international reputation as one of the UK’s leading educationalists. He has over six hundred publications to his name mostly concerning music education.
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