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I've been on an instrumental hiatus from music for 2 years due to my GCSE exams and from singing for a year. I've been told I can take back up 2 out of the 4 instruments I used to play and have lessons for, so I picked piano and saxophone. The issue is that my mum volunteered me for teaching a 6 year old who lives across the road music theory and piano. It's all well and good that I now have a job, but I haven't touched a piano in 2 years and haven't had a lesson in about 3-4 years, and now I have to teach it. I only reached grade 2/3 on the piano as my teacher ended up teaching me singing and theory as well, taking up much of my lesson time. I'm concerned about not being able to play well enough quickly to teach her well, plus I was terrible at practising even as a small child, and I'm worried this habit will return along with other malpractices like not cutting my nails short enough and having terrible hand posture.

The books I was taught from (which I intend to use) had accompaniments for the teacher to play along with the pupil, while not overtly complicated, I'm still worrying. Also, I have limited practise time for both instruments as my father is a noise freak and hates almost anything louder than a whisper, however the keyboard I own does allow for headphones whilst still being fully weighted. How do I quickly get back into playing in a way that can allow me to teach an absolute beginner?

  • Hi S.Horgan - interesting questions. Can I suggest, though, that you split the saxophone bit out into a separate question, so answers here can focus on the piano teaching piece. – Doktor Mayhem Sep 1 '16 at 11:18
  • You seem to have a plethora of problems here. I take it your family is the source of that limit on how many instruments you can keep going on? But I think the most important thing here is that you can't teach a child the piano until you've taken some lessons or coursework in how to teach! – Carl Witthoft Sep 1 '16 at 11:25
  • @CarlWitthoft yes my family is the reason I have a limitation on how many I can take back up (my poor clarinet will have to sit in the cupboard for a bit longer) and I haven't heard of any teachers having to take a course to teach music, I don't believe my old piano teacher ever did, so some advice on what to start with would be appreciated. I don't know how long to ask them to practise because I had such bad habits and way too much homework for a small child. – Gladiator Kittens Sep 1 '16 at 12:54
  • @DrMayhem I will edit and cut out the saxophone part, thanks for the advice – Gladiator Kittens Sep 1 '16 at 12:55
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Consider the age group of your student

teaching a 6 year old who lives across the road

It's true that everyone learns differently, but generally you can anticipate your student's ability to learn and progress based on their age. The older the student, the more variance there is in this estimate.

At 6 years old, I can tell you from much experience, the progress is generally very slow and repetitive. This is good for you, because it gives you a very slow and steady pace to get comfortable with teaching an instrument for the first time.

I'm concerned about not being able to play well enough quickly to teach her well

At 6 years old, children don't have fine motor skills and often a very short attention span. Musical techniques that seem very basic to you will be difficult for a young beginner. You don't need a lot of knowledge to get your student started playing their instrument properly.

Your focus should be on your teaching method and not your ability

The most important thing you to do is focus on the delivery of the lesson not on your musical ability.

I know plenty of great musicians who have poor student retention rates. The main reason is the delivery of the lesson content; being a technically brilliant musician is not a big factor in good teaching.

Lessons should be fun

Endeavour to make every lesson as fun - this is crucial for children because of their short attention span. Young children tend to associate well with colours and characters; you should endeavour to use books which are recommended for children and have lots of colour. My personal recommendation for you is to try John Thompson's Easiest Piano Course: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thompsons-Easiest-Piano-Course-Part/dp/0711954291

There a few things to consider for your making your lessons fun:

  1. Try to turn boring subjects into games; this website a great resource for different ideas. http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/subjects/musical-elements
  2. Give students something they can go home and show off to their friends and family. What sounds more exciting to show off? Mary had a little lamb? Or a simplified version of their favourite song?

Teaching should bring out the best your playing

You'll find teaching will make you a better player. It's one thing to be able to play a melody, but explaining it as simply as possible is an extra challenge. You'll ask more questions (like here) for the sake of wanting to be better for your students. Don't worry about your ability, it will continuously be changing and progressing; even teachers have more to learn.

I'm worried this habit will return along with other malpractices like not cutting my nails short enough and having terrible hand posture

A regular lesson time every week will get you in a routine of playing regularly - even if it's not many times a week. Chances are you'll want to prepare for every lesson you teach, this will get you into the habit of playing because you're now responsible for someone else's musical progress.

If you know correct posture, you should endeavour to teach it. As you'll be going at a very slow pace this will give you a chance to correct yourself as you go.

If your student does copy your bad posture, don't be afraid to tell them that your posture is wrong but you know that's it's wrong. Show them how to do it properly and that you want them to always play it that way so they can be a better pianist than you one day (this isn't a comment on your ability).

I like to motivate my students by telling them if they practice hard and keep playing music, they'll be better than me when they get older.

Don't rush lesson content

It may come as a shock to how slow progress could be with young students. Don't be afraid to repeat the same content over and over, while trying to keep it fun and interesting.

You'll find when you teach a student a song they like, they will be happy to play it over and over for weeks, if not months. Children love repetition - so giving your student new content every week is probably not in their best interest.

It's much better to solidify understanding rather keep moving onto fresh content - which brings us to the next subject...

Children are resistant to change and challenges

It comes as no surprise that we all want to get things right the first time. With music, however we all know there are challenges along the way to getting better. These challenges can very quickly frustrate and demotivate your students.

Your job is not only a teacher but a coach. You need to encourage your students along the whole process. You need to get excited and congratulate them when they do something well; reward them on an emotional level and reassure them through difficult obstacles.

Summary

If you want to be a successful teacher you need to concentrate on your lesson delivery. If you want to be a successful player you need to go and practice playing. The two skills go hand-in-hand, but they really are separate skills that need to be developed.

I recommend you take this opportunity as it will be a good experience for you. I also recommend that you don't take on any other students for at least 6 - 12 months so you can get comfortable with the teaching process.

  • These tips are fantastic! When I was taught to play (10 years ago at age 6) my teacher used a book called "Me and My Piano" which was based on colours of the rainbow for fingers. I was thinking using my old book would be a good place to start before committing the student to any books I don't know how effective they are yet. I'm going to check if the book I used is still in print as I remember loving it as a child – Gladiator Kittens Sep 6 '16 at 22:13
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I somewhat agree with Tim, Rob Chapman one of my personal guitar heroes also started teaching guitar when he was 16. I personally also started teaching music theory long before I actually came to the music academy.

I was not uneducated though as I had various of musical theory exams under my belt and just by the way I actually have a 100 percent distinction record with my exam candidates. So it is not like you cannot teach children in a meaningful way without a College diploma

As long as you are honest with your prospective student's parents and them happy to accept you as the teacher with the qualifications you currently have then teach.

You will not be the first musician that has taught a bit on the side while he worked on his qualifications. The convenience of having music taught so close to the child's home may convince the parents that it is still worthwhile.

Just one piece of advice I can offer is start working for very little money, If your fees are in line with your qualifications and experience then you can still work with people. A student should not be asking the same money as a Julliard graduate.

  • Roughly how much would be sensible for a student to charge? I have grade 5 music theory and singing, grade 6 saxophone and clarinet and grade 3 piano – Gladiator Kittens Sep 2 '16 at 7:27
  • @S.Horgan - that's better answered by googling some local teacher contacts, and ask what they charge - you could even masquerade as a beginner pupil... Lesson duration is another factor to consider. – Tim Sep 2 '16 at 12:05
  • @Tim that's a good idea, especially as I'm recommencing piano and saxophone lessons anyway – Gladiator Kittens Sep 2 '16 at 17:40
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It's often been said that the best way to learn something is to teach it.

Assuming you're going to not be a disastrous teacher, grab the opportunity. If nothing else, it will make you practise the accompaniments that you'll use with your pupil. Go easy on the theory - often young children are overwhelmed by it - and this pupil will have nothing to hang it on till there is some practical stuff learned.

As long as you can answer any questions that may be asked, and play as an example, you should be o.k. Being more than one step ahead, which you are, will suffice for now. It should encourage you to develop your own playing better, too.

  • "It's often been said..." but that doesn't make it true, especially when you consider how much posture, technique, etc. matter in learning to play a musical instrument. If you were, say, to teach redox equations to a chem class, then, sure you'd have to fully understand redox, and teaching would help. For teaching music, absolutely not. You would never (I hope!) suggest that you'd learn proper sax embouchure by teaching sax. – Carl Witthoft Sep 1 '16 at 13:54
  • @CarlWitthoft - I have to respond. When something is 'often said', there is a good chance there's some truth in it. It cannot be stated as 'the truth'.When teaching anything, one would presume to have at least basics already established, so if one taught sax, for example, one would already be cognisant of embouchure forming. What I hoped to imply was that when teaching something, the concepts generally become clearer in the mind, and often physically, due to having to have a clearer vision of aspects to impart to one's student. In the early stages,I find that posture, technique etc. incidental – Tim Sep 1 '16 at 18:42

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