The work of the independent piano teacher can be as varied as it is rewarding, and this throws up innumerable challenges on a regular basis.
Every student is unique, and each lesson different from the previous or next one. Holistic teaching requires not only a deep subject knowledge combined with pedagogic expertise, but also psychological insight, access to multiple teaching strategies and resources, tactful diplomacy and administrative efficiency.
It’s little wonder that many piano teachers struggle to be equally adroit in all these areas, or to have well-honed skill-sets to meet all these varied demands. And while answers to many of the questions we face – and situations which arise – are probably to be found in our previous knowledge, experience and common sense, it is nevertheless a huge asset to go through each day prepared for what may arise, and thoughtful of the ways in which we can improve as well-rounded teachers.
Help is at hand in a recent book written by Penny Stirling and Karen Marshall, and published by Collins Music.
How to Teach
How to teach instrumental and singing lessons – 100 Inspiring Ideas is part of a series of mini handbooks which also includes How to teach Primary Music and How to teach Secondary Music. The series was nominated for an award at this year’s Music Education Fair, and really deserves a look.
Introducing How to teach instrumental and singing lessons, Collins Music tell us that the book,
“… presents 100 diverse ideas for teachers of every instrument. The ideas are concise, easy to implement and tackle everything from scales, sight-reading and performance anxiety to group teaching, special needs and business practicalities. Whether you’re new to teaching or a seasoned practitioner, this practical handbook offers fresh and varied ways to invigorate lessons with any pupil.”
Giving the book coherence, the 100 ideas are grouped into the following sections, allowing the reader to follow through a full section in more depth where they want to dig in:
- Qualities of the instrumental/singing teacher
- From the top (first lessons, etc)
- Planning and Structuring
- Everyday Essentials
- Musical pick ’n’ mix
- Group teaching
- Teaching approaches
- Beyond Lessons
- Business bits and practicalities
Each of the 100 ideas is presented on a single page (or occasionally a two-page spread), starting with a short quote, followed by an overview of the theme, some more in-depth bullet point advice, a “top tip” in its own box, and sometimes an additional anecdote.
Given the depth of potential subject matter, it is natural that in some cases the advice given serves simply as a basic reminder, and in others an appetiser that will hopefully inspire inquisitive teachers to explore subjects in greater depth.
To that end, many of the 100 ideas include a box with suggestions for “taking it further”, including links to useful websites, resources and suggested teaching activities.
It doesn’t surprise me that some who have seen the book have wondered aloud exactly who would most benefit from it – the old adage of “trying to teach grandmother to suck eggs” will resonate for some, while at the other end of the spectrum the new teacher will need to explore the subjects covered here in more depth elsewhere.
Personally, I feel the book works best as an aide memoire for teachers at all levels – a reminder of the basics, and a useful pointer towards areas of study or personal reflection that we have inadvertently postponed.
Certainly, dipping into the book has repeatedly rewarded me with encouragement to remain mindful of the myriad important elements of good teaching.
Perhaps the greatest of the book’s many strengths is the warmth and clarity of the writing. Even when seemingly stating the obvious (at times unavoidable!), authors Karen Marshall and Penny Stirling are never patronising, but speak from the heart as respectful professional colleagues. This is no mean feat – the book is brilliantly pitched for its varied audience.
For a modest investment, this book offers a wealth of helpful, concise and pertinent advice from two of our best-loved and most experienced practitioners. Keep this small volume close to you, and it will be a reliable companion!