Opportunity for feedback is the reason for lessons, it is the heart of instruction. In designing these feedback opportunities and providing effective feedback teachers shape the capabilities and attitudes of their students.
This is evident in the work I’ve done with one of my middle school violin students. He is relatively advanced in the repertoire but rarely plays with technical finesse and musicality. In the beginning of each lesson each week we begin with a review of previously learned, comfortable repertoire. While playing this repertoire I offer critical, rapid feedback on his intonation. We will play a phrase and I will say, “you are playing out of tune,” “your third finger was too low,” or “your A was exactly in tune.” I’ve found that he responds very quickly to specific observations of his past actions. Informing him that a note was out of tune often inspires much more change than saying, “Really make sure to try and land you third first finger a little higher this time.”
However, the opportunity for feedback that has been most successful has been inviting Neev’s own feedback on his playing. As Dr. Duke points out in Intelligent Music Teaching, far more relevant feedback comes from the environment and from students’ own minds than from teachers. When I first started asking Neev about his own playing he would merely shrug his shoulders or stare at me blankly. Slowly he has started to use the same negative and positive feedback language to reflect on his own playing. This self reflection leads to even more significant change than my own does, and it is a tool that he can use at home.
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.