In all my years of having music lessons, I had never heard of a Teaching Point. That was until my children started Suzuki lessons.
Sometimes, at the end of a music teaching lesson, the teacher would announce, “Your Teaching Point this week is….” and she would mention something like keeping the bow straight, or making sure that the fingers landed on the tapes.
Every now and again she would ask, “And what was your teaching point this week?” This was always met by a blank look or worse, “We didn’t know how to practice it.”
Like many parents, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t realize that the expression, Teaching Point is a euphemism for “something very important that needs a lot of careful practice.”
What is a Teaching Point?
•1 A Teaching Point is the main point of the lesson:
When you are taking notes at your child’s lesson, you will probably hear one thing mentioned or worked on several times throughout the lesson. It could be anything from maintaining a bow hold to developing more musical awareness. By default this is your Teaching Point and should be worked on in your music practice. Just check with your teacher to make sure.
•2 A Teaching Point is how to do a technique covered in a piece:
Are there any new skills to learn? Do they appear older repertoire? Can they be applied to earlier pieces?
•3 A Teaching Point is a remedial action to be taken before next lesson:
This means making sure that your child doesn’t hurt himself by learning or persisting in bad playing habits.
How not to practice your Teaching Point.
Many years ago, my children were taking part in a studio concert put on by a highly respected teacher. I was sitting in on the rehearsals as the teacher rehearsed one of the performers.
“Stop Jakob, that F sharp is not high enough. Remember your teaching point last week?”
Jakob played it again.
“No, that’s not high enough.”
He had another go.
“Come on Jakob, you aren’t trying. Why do I have to tell you, every single time you play this F sharp to play it higher?”
Another attempt was quickly followed by a scream of, “HIGHER!”
There was a short pause before Jakob put everything he had into it. This was met by a cry of anguish.
“OH NO JAKOB, now you’ve played it TOO SHARP!!!”
Easier ways to practice your Teaching Point, from The 100 Day Practice Journal.
•1 Work on your Teaching Point every time you practice:
Apply to everything that you possibly can. It was the focus of the lesson, because it needs practice to get it right. Take it gently. Playing it at practice tempo (the speed at which it can not go wrong) will help you learn it more quickly. Ask your child to tell you what the teacher wants to be done, rather than delivering machine gun instructions. If your child really tries to get it right, he may overdo it. Instead of shooting him down for his exaggeration, for goodness sake praise him for trying.
•2 Practice it as a warm up:
One of my colleagues sets a Teaching Point exercise, to be practiced at the beginning of each session. Her reasoning is that it is better to devote a few minutes every day than doing nothing at all.
•3 Practice your Teaching Point between practice tasks:
A couple of minutes of Teaching Point focus between each task, mounts up very quickly.
•4 A bonus point – TV Add Teaching Point Practice:
When I disappear into another room for the duration of the add break and practice my teaching point, I benefit in three ways.
a I practice with a fresh brain and body.
b I limit the amount of physical stress on my body at any one time.
c I also get to watch interesting documentaries without falling into a TV stupor.
How do you follow up on a Teaching Point.
•1 Expect it to be heard at the following lesson:
One of the most successful teachers that I know hears the Teaching Point at the beginning of the following lesson followed by tiny treat, building an association between “Practice Your Teaching Point” and pleasure.
A small acknowledgment of the hard work that has been put in over the week is always appreciated.
If my students don’t demonstrate the weeks Teaching Point to my satisfaction, they don’t get their teaching point sweetie. Instead, there is a gentle discussion on the importance to working primarily on the week’s Teaching Point.
•2 Refine your Teaching Point. Apply it to review pieces:
Allot 5 – 10 minutes to this. Play the first variation of Twinkle, at practice tempo, focussing on your Teaching Point. If you are successful, go on to the next piece. Continue till you have used the allotted time. If you can’t do it demonstrating the T.P. correctly, you will need to go back to the beginning making sure that you really are playing at practice tempo.
•3 Add it to a previous Teaching Point and do both together:
You need to make sure that the previous Teaching Point is bomb proof before adding another. I once observed a group class at a 5 day institute who did this, adding a new Teaching Point every day. I really didn’t think that this was possible, as they appeared to be a pretty unfocussed group, but as the week wore on, their improvement was outstanding.
The reason for having music teaching lessons is to get practice guidance from your teacher. Sometimes in our enthusiasm, we teachers shower children with too many teaching points and then wonder why there has been no discernible improvement at the next lesson.
If you are ever find this overwhelming, ask your teacher to give you explicit instructions on how to practice your Teaching Point this week. This should focus you, your teacher and your child on what is really important in your music practice.
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