Friday, May 2, 2014

Teaching Cello Lessons: The First Month

I have now been teaching cello to my student for a month. I thought it would be nice to look back on some of the challenges I've run into, the things I've learned, and what has been pleasantly nice about teaching cello lessons.

I didn't have a lot of time to prepare for lessons before our first day. I told his mom to buy the Suzuki Cello Book 1  (I'm not a Suzuki Method teacher, so I will use it more as a performance book) and I would look for a method book for the next week. That first lesson, without a method book, was challenging. It has been 15 years (yikes!) since I started learning cello, so it is hard to remember what we did. I found some helpful action studies that I assigned to him, taught him the strings, proper sitting position, and just had him play around on the cello. After that lesson, I went to a music store and hunted for a method book. I found several that I had used in elementary, junior high, and high school. Looking through their book 1s, I did not like them. I finally decided on one I had never used, the New Directions for Strings series. We'll see how it goes. It is a learning process for me, too. I know this method book and the others I looked at (All for Strings, Essential Elements, etc.) are designed for a classroom setting where all string players are learning together. However, I do think it is helpful to have an order to learn in, especially when I'm a new teacher.

I've learned that parents seem to overstate their child's ability. I was told that he read music a bit because of some piano lessons. He pretty much does not read music, so that's something else I have to teach him and try to figure out how to do it. I don't remember learning to read music, as I was 6 when I started piano lessons. I've done some reading and I think I will make a bass clef using vinyl and a cookie sheet and use magnets as notes and use that to test him. Way more fun than flash cards, right? But that's testing, not teaching. There's always the pnuemonic devices (Good Boys Do Fine Always for the lines and All Cows Eat Grass for the spaces in bass clef). I would also like for him to make some of his own compositions. However, it is something that just needs to be memorized and internalized. I think note fluency is very important; maybe I'm old school.

Another challenge is keeping the lessons interesting. Just sitting there and going through the book is pretty boring. During the month of May, I'm going to try some more kinesthetic activities. I know that some students learn better visually, aurally, through reading, or active lessons. The cello covers most of those categories, but instead of focusing on a conglomerate of all that you have to do, breaking it down into smaller pieces will probably be helpful. Note reading can be boring, so I want to get his hands involved. Working on your sitting and hand position is hard to comprehend in yourself, maybe looking at some images will help him make changes in himself. Playing the cello is great, but incorporating some singing will connect with a verbal part of his brain. I will update you on things that I do to keep our lessons interesting.

A pleasant surprise is that he is quite musical and wants to learn the cello. He actually practices and I can tell! This is so much nicer than my student a few years ago, who never practiced and wasn't musical. I feel a lot better about taking his parents' money when he practices. I don't think that you have to be musically talented to learn an instrument. But you do have to practice. If you are naturally talented and don't practice, what is the point of your ability? I'm pretty positive that Mozart, Beethoven, Yo Yo Ma, and thousands of other talented musicians practice(d) a lot.

Another nice thing is how it has driven me to practice my instruments more often. It feels good for me to pull out my cello and play along with him, even if it's just tuning my instrument and playing DDDD AAAA DDDD AAAA or DDDD EEEE F#F#F#F# GGGG. I want to sit down at my piano and play for a half hour and actually drill songs. I am more likely to sing in the shower, and with better technique. Teaching is making me into a more consistent musician.

I am enjoying teaching lessons. I would like to expand my studio, maybe after new baby comes in August. I would love more cello students and I wouldn't mind some piano students. A challenge with expanding the teaching studio is what to do with my own children. My mom taught piano lessons all during my growing up years, and we pretty much had to entertain ourselves while she taught. El needs to get better at entertaining herself. I've also thought about getting involved in Kindermusik or something similar or my own small music preschool classes. We don't need the money, but I feel like it is giving me an outlet besides cleaning, changing diapers, and reading. I will, of course, keep you updated on where I go with this.

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