The instrumental teacher holds a very individual position within a student’s experience of formal education. The one to one or small group relationship can be unique in the student’s experience of teacher-pupil relationships. This relationship can be used to positive advantage by the teacher, becoming a very important outlet of communication for the student. When placed in such a powerful position, the teacher must possess certain qualities including humility, adaptability, imagination, awareness and a general interest in the whole student.

The student should always feel relaxed in the teacher’s presence, and some of the lesson time should be spent developing the pastoral side of the teacher-pupil relationship. Find out about the student’s general likes and dislikes, their family background and hobbies. It is important to create a bond of friendship and trust when working with the student.

A student will frequently come to their lesson presenting all of their negative qualities, often related to either a lack of preparation or an inability to complete the tasks set in the previous lesson. As a teacher, it is important to give the student a positive experience from the outset. Reassurance and praise are essential, providing that they are honestly given. Conversely, any criticism should be constructive, with a range of strategies of how to overcome the obstacles encountered rather than just a series of negative observations. Remember that sharp words, badly placed criticisms and even the sheer physical presence of the teacher can all be unnerving to the student. So much long-term damage can be caused by badly thought out communication.

Instrumental lessons should always be a positive experience. Some students may be less than gifted, sporadic in their achievements and not necessarily naturally suited to their chosen instrument, but whatever their ability they have (usually) chosen to be there and have a desire to make music. Often you may be their only musical experience in the week, so always try to make it a positive one. Remember to praise things done correctly, and that giving strategies to improve areas that need a little more work is a far better approach than focussing on the negatives.   

If things go wrong in a lesson, question yourself rather than the student. Had you set your expectations too high? Lessons should be well planned with not only a cohesive structure but also with achievable aims and objectives catered to the individual.  

Respect goes two ways and the way a student responds to you is a reflection on the way that you communicate with the student. As teachers, we are in an incredibly powerful position to nurture a student’s self-esteem, but conversely, we can destroy it, causing deep down insecurities that may last a lifetime. Let us be a positive force in a student’s development, they deserve it!

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