There are a number of ways musicians offer private lessons these days. While there are many teachers experimenting with the online market, others like myself prefer to stick with a brick and mortar layout where we can meet face to face with our students. Even within the list of options for a physical location, you still see lessons being offered out of a private home, religious venue or the local music store or university. There is a lot of variety to choose from as a teacher and student. All options have their own benefits and drawbacks, which I’m hoping to address in another blog post soon!
As of the fall of 2018, I currently operate my studio by spending two days a week at the local Music and Arts, two days a week at the Community Music School at Shepherd University and one day each at a home studio and a local private school, Grace Academy. All of these venues are slightly different in terms of payment and scheduling, but one thing remains the same – I travel to a different location every day of the week, so I must bring along my own teaching supplies. Here is a list of the items I carry with me every day to help me be prepared for any teaching situation that may arise at these different locations! I've also included links to all products mentioned just in case you want to invest in some of these items yourself.
These are the items I keep with me for every lesson because I’ve found they can help make or break the finite time I have with my students. Having a consistent tool kit I can pull from regardless of my teaching location also allows me to ensure everyone is getting the same quality lesson as well. What are some of the things you always keep handy when you’re teaching?
Let me know in the comments below!
Today I wanted to share my top five tips for parents and guardians to use and help their students do well in their weekly music lesson. These are things that would happen in an ideal world, but I truly believe the more you implement these ideas the better experience your child and you will have while taking private lessons. Some of these ideas will look different depending on how old your child is, whether school is in session or not and other factors. Please use these as a starting point to discuss with me or your own music teacher!
1.Take Care of the Basics
This might seem simple, but encourage your student to take a sip of water, have a snack and visit the restroom before their lesson. Even though most lessons are only a half hour lesson, you would be surprised how these little things can determine the course of a lesson. Though it has happened only once in my experience, students can also have accidents in lessons if they are afraid to disappoint parents or their teacher by asking for a bathroom break. Even better would be to let your students have a special snack or drink before their lesson, to help them associate a special or unique treat with lesson time.
2.Establish Responsibility for Lesson Materials
This can change depending on the age of the student, but coordinate with your student or other parent who is responsible for making sure they have all materials ready and together for a lesson time. Several times a week I see students leave a book or practice sheet behind only to immediately turn to Mom or Dad to ask where their materials are. As a general rule of thumb, I would say responsibility for bringing the correct materials can be switched over to students between eight and ten years old. This includes all the books we are using in lessons, their instrument, bow, shoulder rest and anything else we use on a regular basis. I often see shoulder rests get left behind, or a book the student doesn’t like conveniently forgotten at home. This can really slow down our progress, make an already difficult task take even longer and drain motivation and momentum more than necessary.
3.Create an Environment at Home that Supports Practice
Students know when they are prepared for a lesson and most often they feel prepared when they’ve had a chance to practice. No one ever wants to practice all the time which is why it is important to create an environment where you can eliminate as many reasons to not practice as possible. Some of the most common reasons I get for little or no practice include no designated space in the house or no time. This might be an indication that your family is too busy. But it can also be as simple as asking your child “Have you practiced today?” before they go outside to play or before they get to play some video games on their tablet. If they don’t feel they have a space to practice, find a corner of their room where they can leave their music stand up through the week and leave their instrument unpacked. These little things make the instrument seem more accessible and serve as little reminders to pick the instrument up a couple times a day.
No matter the size of the accomplishment, encourage your child whenever they make a small step in the right direction. Celebrate the fact that they practiced today. Suggest having a weekly or monthly recital on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon where they can show their siblings or both sets of parents what they’ve been working on. This can be particularly fun when siblings get in on this together. When a baby first says “Dada”, they’re not really referring to their dad, but with the consistent praise and prompting, they eventually form “Dad” or “Daddy” and go from there to form phrases and sentences. This is true for music study, too. When you shift your expectation from a matter of if to just a matter of when, you can really find joy in all the little pieces that will add up.
As a parent you are responsible for communicating with the teacher. This includes notifying your teacher of upcoming absences that might distract from or completely prevent students from practicing. Other useful bits of information for your teacher to know are diagnoses of learning disabilities, physical limitations, home life situations and more. This helps your teacher most effectively plan lessons for your child – And isn’t the whole point of a private lesson to give your student an individualized experience?
Communication is a two way street, of course. Please make it a priority to learn how your teacher shares upcoming studio events, changes in the teaching schedule and the best way to reach them. For myself, I prefer communication through email so I can stay organized and file away our conversations, though last minute notices about illness, accidents on the way to lessons or more are welcome by phone. I share my studio events through newsletters three times a year and update my studio’s Facebook with specific information for upcoming field trips, recitals and more. But that is how I operate. Other teachers may prefer texting, while others would like a phone call. I encourage all parents to talk with their private teachers to see what their preferences are. I find this can go a long way in smoothing out teacher and parent relationships, which then allows lesson time to focus on the child’s progress.
These are just my top five suggestions for parents interested in helping each lesson be a great lesson for their child at this time. Parents are so important for setting the tone for a child’s life, whether that be music lessons, school or anything in between. All of these tips apply for both parents of a student as well – I’ve seen this in action in my own studio. When students can sense music lessons are less of a priority to one parent or the other, this can be discouraging for motivated students and an easy out for students who are less engaged in their lessons. Let’s all work together to make private music lessons for your child the best and most enriching experience for them!
For parents, what are some ways you have found to work with your own child in lessons? For other teachers, what do you think of these tips? Are there other ideas you would add to this list? Feel free to share those ideas in the comments below and share this post with your own studio families!
For the students I start in private lessons, their first taste of violin is purely of a solo nature. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching individual lessons is the ability to work one on one, getting to know the student and the parents in a unique way that I believe is difficult to replicate in the classroom setting. But how do we help our students prepare for playing with others? Especially for string instruments, large ensemble works are so important to what our instruments can do - Think of Beethoven's symphonies or Haydn's string quartets. What I've noticed as an often occurrence is stage fright does kick in if students are never exposed to other players or people outside of their circle of friends and family. How do we expose them to larger works for either chamber groups or large symphonies outside of assigning more listening homework?
This is where group lessons and participating in local community groups come into play. Only so much can be accomplished for a student in the private lesson and a teacher can only simulate playing with others by playing duets or accompaniments for so long. I work hard to keep students informed on the group opportunities available to them throughout the year and have prioritized offering limited, free group lessons in the summers to help my students become exposed to these experiences. Here are a couple of the reasons I truly believe playing in a group benefits all music students:
These are just a handful of the benefits I see when my students get to participate in musical groups. Feel free to ask what others might exist specifically for you or your child. In Hagerstown, MD and the surrounding areas, I am so thrilled to see so many opportunities for people to get out and interact in a musical way. There is the Shepherd Community Orchestra and Junior Strings, which I direct, only a short drive away in Shepherdstown. The Cumberland Valley School of Music also offers a five week community orchestra in the fall and spring, and this fall they're starting a new beginner orchestra called "Fiddlesticks" - How cute is that? There's also string ensembles available at many of the local community colleges. There truly is something for everyone at all ages, levels and commitment levels, and it is my hope that every one of my students takes the time to play in a group at some point in their musical journey.
For those of you outside of the Hagerstown, MD and surrounding areas, what programs do you have available to you? What benefits have you observed in your students or your own playing? How do you encourage participation in your studios? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram – Find me at @shawstrings!
Full disclaimer: I originally wrote this review in 2015, when I still had a handful of beginning piano students in my studio. Now that I've had three additional years of using this app with my students, I can say it has become a tried and true resource for me with students for review and theory work. What teacher can't use more of that? Read below to find out more!
Recently I found myself looking for an application to review basic rhythmic notation and syllables with students studying either piano, violin and viola in my studio. It was with this goal in mind that I found Rhythm Cat and immediately found it to be very complementary for my students to use in their lesson times and in their homes.
I found the bright colors and whimsical images to be very fun and light-hearted - perfect for children! Beginning with level one, I felt confident in proceeding after reading the simple instructions provided. As I quickly found out, it is important to make sure each tap is sustained long enough for your device to register your rhythm. After adjusting my tapping, this was no problem in further levels. Following the first level, students are steadily guided through half notes, quarter rests and more with increasingly difficult exercises.
As a Suzuki violin/viola instructor and piano instructor who has traditionally used the Alfred method series, this fits right in with the progression of students' first pieces in both methods. I am happy to report my students have taken quickly to this app, with many requesting to play this game in the last few minutes of their lessons; some have even downloaded it at home on their own devices! Several parents have even reported use at home without prompting - Something I love to hear! And I think parents appreciate not having to hound their children to do something musical or education related. Personally, I have found myself using this app in lessons when students have had an exceptionally good lesson or to introduce a change of pace when a student needs a bit of a brain break.
Pros: Logical progression for rhythm, fitting with Suzuki and the Alfred Piano series, particularly "Music for Little Mozarts". This has proved to be a fun way for my students to review rhythm values and syllables. Best of all, there is both a free and paid option! For my purposes, I have been using the Lite version to just give students a little taste of the game and keep them from expecting to do it every single week.
Cons: There is a slight learning curve when adjusting to how the game will give four counts before students should begin tapping the written rhythm. I found it helps students to demonstrate how to play the app first before giving them a turn on their own.
Overall, I have been very happy I added this application to my arsenal and I am looking forward to trying out the two partner applications, Treble Cat and Bass Cat as my students have need for these skills. I hope my students, their families and other music educators consider adding Rhythm Cat to their devices at home and in their studios!
For more information on this app and it's developers, please visit their website here.
This app is available on both iOS and Google Play. Check it out!
Hello and welcome to my new blog: Shaw Strings and Things!
My name is Renee Shaw and I am a violin and viola instructor based out of my hometown of Hagerstown, MD. I started my studio while completing my undergraduate degree at Shepherd University through a home studio and Shepherd’s Preparatory Division in 2011. Gradually I added studios through Music and Arts and the Cumberland Valley School of Music as I completed my time in school. Soon after graduation I added Grace Academy of Hagerstown, Maryland to my teaching locations in 2015, which rounds out my teaching schedules as of June 2018. Through these fortuitous openings, I have been able to establish a private studio that would allow me to keep my students as my full focus and devote extra time to performing in local nursing homes, holding student recitals, scheduling field trips to our local symphony orchestra and more – I wouldn’t have it any other way! I love getting to see students on an individual basis each week and seeing them progress on their own terms.
When I’m not working with students or keeping up with the administrative side of the studio, you will probably find me at home: Sipping my coffee or tea, snuggled up with my two cats, journaling and reading some French folk tales or poetry. Or I might be tending to my growing house plant collection and tackling my next house project. Between now and November 2018, I’ll also be planning my biggest event to date: My wedding to the most patient and sweet man I’ve ever known, who also happens to be quite the guitarist. We’re fresh off our adventures to England and France and eagerly looking forward to our future together - Hopefully with even more trips to far flung places!
So you might be wondering, why would a private music instructor want to start a blog?
Especially when it sounds like you’re always planning something! Since the third grade I have maintained a physical personal journal – Writing is one my primary modes of processing everything around me. Teaching is not excluded from this! I take my job as an educator seriously and strive to be the best teacher I can be. By having a writing space designated for this part of my life, I hope to be better suited to recognize patterns, fully develop my own teaching philosophy and continue to work on my craft. As John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” I want to constantly be reflecting and learning how to be a better teacher.
What Are You Going to Be Blogging About?
What I do day in and day out is about much more than teaching the violin – I am teaching and encouraging others to push themselves. A teacher trainer in the Suzuki method once told me Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy could be distilled to the phrase “every child can”. It is my job as a teacher to find the best means possible to cultivate ability in anyone I work with. Somedays that might cause me to reflect on the teaching supplies I use, other days I might be analyzing why we stress listening to our repertoire or attending performances. Even discussing the business of teaching directly impacts the kind of teacher I can be, so I would expect posts on that as well. Anything that might make me a better violin instructor is fair game! Hopefully you find these thoughts, review of my teaching techniques and more to be beneficial to you, too.
Who Are You Writing For?
So far you’ve heard a lot about me and what I hope to get out of this blog. However, I believe I am not the only instructor out there who believes in being the most creative and engaging teacher they can be. If you’ve found this blog, you might be one of those teachers, too. It is so easy to look around, see the teachers who are just phoning it in, aren’t engaged or invested in improving themselves or their students. I hope to be a lifelong learner in this field I’ve chosen and I know there must be other teachers out there that feel the same way. I hope this blog can help connect more teachers like myself so we don’t fall into complacency!
One of the few downsides I experience in teaching privately is the sense of isolation from other teachers. Where can I observe others’ techniques to teach music theory? How can I see what tricks other teachers have to maintain interest in the Twinkle Variations and Theme? When dealing with parents, how do I approach them in a way that reassures them my first interest is their child’s progress and well-being? There are many tough questions rolling around in my brain and I only have solutions for some.
By writing this blog, I am hoping to access all of you! The teachers who are struggling with these issues in their own studios. The parents and caregivers looking to know how to work with their children and teachers in the most effective way possible. The students interested in knowing the motivation behind their teachers nagging to fit in 15 more minutes a day. If you fit any of these categories, I believe you’ll find something of value here.
This sounds great – How can I get connected?
Let’s be friends! Please enter your email to receive updates on when new blog posts come out – My goal is to post at least two new posts a month. This list is for my eyes only and I’ll only send material that I feel has really benefitted me and my teaching. You can also follow me and my studio on Facebook and Instagram! When you’re there, you can see how I conduct my studio in real time and get more regular updates on what I have in the works with my students. Hopefully you can find good ideas for your own studio so more students can have a wonderful experience with their music! And isn’t that the whole point?
Thanks for joining me around the studio!
Welcome to Shaw Strings and Things!
This blog is dedicated to sharing my teaching experiences and resources as a private violin/viola music instructor. I think most agree you can always be improving, learning and developing new techniques as a teacher - I'm glad we're doing it together!