Making Music and Enriching Lives

As a typical “multi-tasker,” I listen to audiobooks and podcasts all the time, occasionally read a book or shared Facebook article on my phone and try to catch the headlines of the New York Times on their website, but very rarely do I take the time to sit down and read an actual book. I love reading and that’s why I decided to set this goal for the month of August. My original plan was to read a book a week just for fun, but in preparation for my October goal of building a website, I’ve decided to choose books that will benefit that project. While attending the National Flute Association’s Annual Convention a couple years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie Blanchard, the author of Making Music and Enriching Lives and Making Music and Having a Blast. We hit it off right away and I purchased a copy of each. After returning to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, those books found their place on my bookshelf and at the bottom of an endless to-do list. In an effort to recharge my batteries for teaching, I’ve decided there is no better time but the present to tackle this series. During the month of August, I plan to share some of the key points that resonated with me in hopes to energize fellow teachers, my students and their parents.

Enriching Lives Through Relationships. In order to be successful teachers, we must build relationships with our students based on mutual respect and trust. When we allow our students to see our humanity in both success and failure, they see us not only as teachers, but as real people who they can trust and look up to for mentorship. When we give our all to our students and the music, they will reciprocate with love for the music and their lessons. Bonnie quotes it best in her book, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It Takes a Village. Providing opportunities for students to be together, like recitals, parties, festivals and ensembles allows students to form friendships, find “their community” and their role models in older, more experienced students and their teachers. After all, we are all in this together.

Teach Students How to Teach Themselves. When students don’t know the answer, teach them where to look, how to find it and then make them do it on their own. We won’t be around forever and are too busy to hover over their shoulders 24/7. If students hit a roadblock while practicing, we can’t allow them to wait until the next lesson to have the question answered for them. Teaching our students how to teach themselves trains students to become creative thinkers and ultimately independent musicians.

Make Practice A Priority. Encourage students to practice as soon as they get home from their lesson to ensure they were able to retain the information you provided. Teachers should set daily practice goals based on the individual needs of each and every student. Don’t forget to teach students what and how to practice. Remember the time your first teacher told you to go practice? Um, yeah… I always tell students they brush their teeth everyday and therefore they need to practice everyday. Along with this advice, Bonnie also tells students they only need to practice on days that end in y or on days they eat! 😉

In the book Bonnie offers the following practice hints and tricks for fast results:

1) Develop a practice routine

2) Establish a timetable

3) Check out a new piece first before you start to learn it

4) The right notes and rhythms are not enough

5) Try to enjoy practicing

6) Appreciate your progress

7) Practice with focus and concentration

8) Specifically mark all mistakes

9) Practice the notes before the mistake

10) Don’t practice everything everyday

11) Don’t skip the hard parts

12) Don’t always play straight through the piece

13) Take small bites

14) Chew slowly

15) Gradually build up speed

16) Practice enough perfect repetitions to ensure success

17) Try different practice methods

18) Listen to yourself and to others

19) Never put mistakes to bed

20) Just do it!

Communication Is Always Key. As teachers we often get so caught up in our own expectations and goals that we can easily lose site or fail to ask the student and parent about their expectations and goals for music lessons. Bonnie recommends student and parent surveys as well as yearly check-ups for brainstorming sessions that will hopefully maintain student retention and improve student/teacher/parent relationships.

Create An Atmosphere of Achievement. Rather than promoting competition, teachers should encourage students to compete against themselves and focus on personal bests. This goal can only be accomplished by regular lesson attendance and daily practice.

Stay tuned next week for more tips on making music and tackling teaching challenges. In the meantime, check out Bonnie’s website for teaching videos and information on the Music for Life series. (