Encouraging children to love music is easy but encouraging them to be brave and confident musicians is a skill to master.
I love music very much but I had many people (teachers, university professors, colleagues, friends and even family) tell me I wasn’t good enough.
I promise you that telling an 18 year old that they wouldn’t get in to university to study music was crushing. I’m so glad that I was determined to prove my music teacher wrong and I promised I would never be that teacher. BUT those unkind words still sit hidden away and truthfully have impacted my confidence at times.
So, let’s focus on helping students to love music and the many gifts it offers as a wonderful life-long hobby and potential career. Nobody needs their dreams crushed before they’ve even started.
- Encourage and praise good work and progress
This is so easy to do but we forget it all the time. Progress is a huge achievement and celebrating the small, consistent wins is essential. I always remind my students how far they have come in the last month – and get them to reflect on their successes. Positivity generates positivity and our students will be inspired to practice more frequently.
2. Support success by providing the necessary tools – instruments, books, reeds and accessories.
Have you ever driven a really terrible car? Have you ever ridden a scooter that won’t start properly?? It’s not a pleasant experience at all and makes you dread using these vehicles. Well, the same can be said about bad instruments and set ups. If the instrument doesn’t work properly as a beginner the student will automatically blame themselves.
In fact, I had a student who’s parents bought him a tenor saxophone. Unfortunately it wasn’t the one I had recommended and the music shop had clearly recommended their own cheaper in-store brand. So during our first lesson with the new instrument the teenage boy bursts into tears because he can’t make a sound and is worried so much that he will let his parents down as they had spent so much money. It was heart-breaking to watch his fears. All it took was changing the reed, sorting the strap out, recommending a better mouthpiece and some positive encouragement and he was back to playing again and feeling confident. That’s what we can do for our students when they are in trouble.
But the moral is – students want to do well and to make themselves and their parents proud. So invest in the equipment and share good advice on what students need at different levels of expertise.
3. Don’t demand perfection – the question is have they really understood the key concepts?
I remember when I was a Head of Music in one school my GCSE piano student had nothing to play for a recording. She was talented, conscientious and always practised so it didn’t make sense. When we chatted, she told me that her piano teacher wouldn’t let her learn any of the new graded pieces until she had learnt all the scales perfectly first!! This plan wasn’t really serving the student to succeed in all her musical studies.
Perfectionism is really riddled with shame, guilt, blame and not feeling good enough. Sadly at some point, most musicians have been made to not feel good enough and if you hold on to those messages they become limiting beliefs and stop us playing and progressing. We have to work hard at not passing perfectionism on to the next generation of musicians!
4. Live Music
So although live music is only just coming back in most countries, there is still such a wealth of wonderful music and musicians that can be accessed at a touch of a button. Keep being interested, keep sharing and encouraging your students to think outside of the box. Get them to listen to musicians who are 10 years older than them and to really think about the sound / musician they want to be. If we never encourage a saxophone player to listen to anything other than jazz music we are depriving them from a wealth of classical music and classical saxophonists who are inspirational.
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