In his essay What to Teach Dr. Duke urges teachers to articulate the doing that indicates achievement of a particular goal. He asks teachers to mince out the specific actions that represent mastery of larger concepts such as performing expressively, being a responsible musician, and playing with steady rhythm. These actions are not what a student does at various levels of development, but how the student does them.
After reading “What to Teach” it occurs to me that the how-of-doing comes in three phases. First, a teacher instructs the how. Second, the teacher offers feedback while the student performs many versions. Finally, the student’s ability to perform the skill in a particular way is automated. At this point the teacher can introduce the skill to a new context and repeat the process.
I spent more time than usual in the first phase this week as five students new to violin joined my studio. In our short time together I established how to stand in rest position, how to bow to begin and end the lesson, and how to hold the bow. Our lesson included repetition of each new skill and feedback throughout, however I wonder if I bit off too large a chunk of skill because automaticity was not reached within the lesson. Furthermore, I fear the skills I chose were not related to musicianship or the joy of making music. The work I did with my five new students this week was clear and precise, but it was not obvious to student or parent the principle of music on which we were working. I am reconsidering my approach to the first lesson so that joy of music making is obviously coupled with, and the reason for, fundamental skills. I will continue to publish my discoveries as a modify my approach to the first lessons.
This post is one in a series of concise reflections on Dr. Robert Duke’s Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction. Find the others here.