Autumn 2019: Questions and Answers
Note from Sam Holland
I've heard about including preparation activities in my lessons. Can you describe what these are?
Preparation activities are sensory-based experiences with a particular concept that the student and teacher do together, before that concept appears in the student's repertoire. These short, varied experiences often get the student off of the bench and help break up a lesson. For example, yet-to-be-learned rhythmic concepts require movement activities (marching, swaying, clapping) that only take two or three minutes. Concepts related to reading or musicianship can be prepared through rote activities using the keyboard, ear activities involving singing or listening, and more. Preparation activities provide a welcome break from lessons that can become focused solely on note reading, accuracy, and repertoire.
How can I include preparation activities in my already jam-packed lessons?
Your question speaks to the need for lesson planning—both short- and long-range. Keep in mind that a lesson plan is a blueprint, not a legal document. It must remain flexible while the lesson is in progress. The lesson plan contains not just the goals (e.g. hearing repertoire, working on technique, introducing new repertoire, etc.), it also expresses the intended flow of the lesson and includes a balance of activities that will not fatigue or bore. I compare the lesson plan to a musical score: it contains the goals and structure for your performance, but no performance (or lesson) is ever as planned and certainly no two are the same. When beginning to incorporate preparation activities into lesson plans, I recommend identifying every new concept presented in the student's method book. Then, I make notes a unit or two earlier in my copy of the book indicating that it is time to begin preparation activities for the upcoming concept. Then the fun begins! I think about ways for the child to experience the concept aurally and physically before ever seeing it notated or naming it. Because these are sensory activities, they take little or no in-lesson instruction, and take very little lesson time.
Once you have become more accustomed to thinking and preparing in this manner, I suggest that you are ready to do long-range planning. Try making a chart or spreadsheet for ten weeks of lessons, listing the concepts to be presented and when the preparation for these concepts should begin. Also list new repertoire, technical work, creative assignments, etc. In other words, lay out all the contents of your ideal lesson. Then, when making plans for that week the choices are in front of you waiting for you to tailor the plan to the student's needs.
Have you experienced parents taking issue with spending lesson time on concept preparation? What do you say to them to convince them that it is a very worthy use of the time?
I have never encountered such a situation but, if I did, I would briefly explain why I include preparation activities in my lessons—this is how children learn best. Telling is not teaching and learning to play pieces is not the same as becoming a musician. I would explain that, because of the effectiveness of concept preparation, their child will progress with greater confidence and ease. This, in turn, will free up lesson time often spent in fixing problems, and open the door for more time to make and enjoy music. In addition, I would invite the parents in to watch the weekly lessons so they can see that there is an appropriate balance of learning and music making. Observant parents will see and appreciate how happy their child is making music in the learning environment you create.