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Teaching Tips – You’re The Student

A studio I teach at has a policy where if I can’t make a lesson, if at all possible that lesson gets subbed by another teacher who works at the store. It’s not an uncommon thing, and besides some of the details of how the policy is applied at this particular studio, I like the concept, except when I feel my students received a lesson that I consider sub par.

Recently when catching up with students after an absence, and they’ve been subbed by a particular teacher, I’ve been getting reports that the outlined or implied lesson is being skipped, not because the sub had a different specific vision for the lesson, but because he felt uncomfortable working with written music. This isn’t to say that this teacher cannot read music, but his skill is limited mainly to reading and writing simple drumset beats, one or two measure patterns.

Reading is deeply integrated into the way I teach, and all of my students read. That’s not to say that every student is a great reader, but that reading is a weekly part of the way we interact with music in lessons. Most students are working through a basic snare reading text as a core part of their lesson each week. When those students are subbed, they lose that part of their lesson. Students that are working on marching band, mallets, auditions, rudiments, chart reading, or most other specific musical concepts lose out completely. I had a student recently that ended up working on drumset randomly in his lesson the week before he was auditioning for marching band because the tacher that subbed him “doesn’t do that stuff”

Now when I started teaching, I sucked at reading music. I mean, I could usually get through a piece, but having any sort of deep understanding about what was happening on the page was not happening. However I kept trying, and eventually I got really good at it. This is because teaching isn’t a one way street where knowledge flows one way, out of you and into whomever is in your path. Quite often you may think you’re the teacher, but, you’re the student.

Just because you don’t know something, doesn’t mean you can’t levearge the knowldge the student already has about the subject into a way to help them improve. Maybe you can’t read melodically, at all. That does not mean you do not know what music sounds like and can’t give good tips on how to perform the music.

Case in point, I learned ‘the old way’ for traditional grip, where the stick rests along the middle phalange of the ring finger. For years I’ve heard of the newer concept where the stick rests along the cutical at the end of the ring finger instead, but I didn’t really have any use for it. More recently that style has been adopted by some of the local high school drumlines, and so I had a student of mine who was well versed in it show me how to do it. Now whenever I’m working with a marching student I am also working on making my modern traditional grip better.

The big thing to remember is that the student did not come to you to become you. They came to you to become better versions of themselves. Don’t put your own limitations in their way.


avatar Otto (116 Posts)

Jeremy Otto wears many hats. He is a music educator, composer, performer, recording engineer, and hack writer. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. When he's not teaching you can find him doing any of the other aforementioned activities.