Do you make assumptions in the music lesson?

“When a pupil does something ‘correctly’, we may be forgiven for assuming that they’ve understood it. But it may well be an illusion! Just because they smile and nod their heads when we say ‘do you get that?’ doesn’t necessarily mean that they do”

Paul Harris, Improve Your Teaching: Teaching Beginners: A New Approach for Instrumental and Singing, Faber Music Ltd, 2008

Today’s post is a moment to reflect on your teaching. How much do you assume a student knows or understands when teaching them something?

Let’s take a really interesting example that I’ve heard colleagues discussing in the past. Imagine you are in a lesson but your student is really struggling to identify the notes. You say, “can you name me that note?” and your student puzzles for a while before exclaiming, “is it A”?. Seeing you frown, they pipe up with “ok, is it C?”. After a few more guesses they eventually land on the correct name.

Sometimes students just guess when they aren’t sure – particularly the younger ones – and might need some note drilling practice. But could it be because you made an assumption?

To us, it’s obvious that the note head and not the stem is what to look at when naming a note. But occasionally something gets lost in translation and students don’t understand. Perhaps they are actually trying to look at the stem and where it is positioned on the stave rather than the note head? This is a moment of confusion I wouldn’t have considered until I heard other teachers discussing it.

It’s a good example of where something so simple can easily be misunderstood. Perhaps we assumed they understood that the note name is related to the note head – without explicitly pointing it out.

Sometimes putting on the student’s shoes can be a good idea (metaphorically – not physically!). The concept you are trying to teach might be obvious to us as a teacher, but perhaps we need another layer of explanation to make sure they totally understand something.

Another common misunderstanding related to the notehead is the direction of the note itself. I had a beginner student of only a few lessons remark recently, “but that’s not the same note” when looking at a crotchet or quarter note which is upside down. It’s second nature to us as the teacher, but to our young students it’s a whole new exciting world to explore and understand.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you had any interesting misunderstandings occur?

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