Written by Dr. Edwin C. Kruth
Reprinted from the winter 1991 LeBlanc Bell

A Simple Caveat to the Inexperienced Teacher: Teach what you know!

Teach what you know – it’s a seemingly ridiculous statement, a needless admonition, almost insulting.

Too frequently, however, there is a tendency among young conductor – teachers, as well as experienced ones, to fall into the trap of relying on a repetitive series of rote statements and rehearsal techniques in their classes.

“Wrong note,” “too loud” and “try that again” are among the most trusty standbys. Learned teaching techniques – the how and why-are frequently neglected or forgotten.

Inexperienced teachers have a tendency to regress to teaching techniques that were used in high school when they themselves were students. Techniques learned in university classes tend to be temporarily forgotten and must be consciously relearned, transferred and applied to the real class environment when the teacher-in-training is at last placed in the role of the contract teacher.

The reversion of teachers to pre-university techniques does not necessarily reflect negatively on the individual’s earlier experience, but it does necessitate careful analysis of each teacher’s rehearsal and teaching methods. After each class, students should feel that they have learned something new about music, performance, their instruments-indeed, about how they can be better individuals in society. Education involves constant and positive behavior change, and this objective calls for a wide spectrum of teaching techniques that, once learned, must be regularly reviewed and reinforced by the teacher-conductor.

All instrumental music students, whether in college or the public schools, can benefit by keeping a daily diary or notebook of teaching techniques. This record should be used later as a daily reference in teaching. It should be regularly supplemented with reference materials from periodicals and clinical sources. This notebook becomes the teacher’s richest source of ideas and a constant reminder and reference.

A study of scores for harmonic content, form, balance and style is only the beginning. Fingerings, bowings, articulation and intonation problems and general teaching techniques are also primary. Compiled data for each of these issues should become a regular reference source before each rehearsal or performance class in order to anticipate the countless problems that can threaten to make the session neither meaningful nor memorable. Use these reference notebooks daily; we need regular reminders of successful past techniques, as well as new ones, to keep our teaching fresh and inspiring. Bear in mind, though, that if the material hasn’t been well organized from the outset, it probably will never be used.

Some teachers teach only one way and use the same techniques year after year; others teach differently each year, using new ideas to augment workable techniques already proven to them. The author knows teachers who have been given yearly suggestions at festivals as to how their groups can improve-one of the main reasons we go to festivals in the first place. Often, however the suggestions fall on deaf ears. In fact, some teachers even perform the same materials with their groups every year. Is this teaching? Or is it meaningless repetition? No wonder we are vexed by the dropout problem in so many of our school’s music programs.

The concept of a lesson plan, while essential, frequently evokes a negative response from student teachers. This reaction is often transferred to the contract teaching situation, as evidenced by he nonexistent lesson plans of so many music teachers. All too often, teacher’s scores and other materials never leave their desks other than to be used in rehearsal or in the classroom, while it should be obvious that a score cannot be effectively analyzed during the confines of a five-or six- period school day. The teacher-conductors work really begins when he or she leaves school, yet how many teachers head home every day without a brief case of study material?

Teaching is a 24-hour job.

A music teacher is always considered to be a teacher-performer, so use your performance skills. All music teachers are required to achieve a level of performance on a “major” instrument, so utilize this skill for demonstration at every opportunity. A verbal explanation plus a performance demonstration maximizes the teaching experience. This dual technique also enhances the teacher’s prestige in the eyes of the students. The ideal teacher knows his or her verbal and performance limitations and strengthens these skills to best advantage at all times.

Teach what you know – and realize that superior teachers give fully of their skills, whether technical or personal.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.