A Positive Approach with High Standards

By Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis

In any educational profession it is difficult to strike a balance between maintaining a high standard and being positive and encouraging towards students. In my five years of experience teaching piano and voice I have often thought about this distinction. It varies by student, of course. However, I have discovered some principles which help to sustain what I believe to be a healthy balance.

1. Always allow a student to sing or play through an entire piece before making comments:

As a child I studied with a teacher who stopped me repeatedly in the first three or four measures of a piece. I was never allowed to go on until the piece was perfect linearly from start to finish. This method of critique was not only discouraging, but also enforced a bad habit of stopping and starting after every mistake. When I went to college I found the habit very difficult to overcome. For that reason, I encourage students to go all the way through a piece before doing “spot work.” I want to enforce the performance element in every lesson- “the show must go on.”

2. Always give positive comments first and carefully word criticism:

I feel it is extremely important to begin your response as a teacher with positive feedback. It must be genuine, of course. There is always something positive to say, even if it is small. However, to say something like, “good job,” is not at all specific or helpful. If the student did not practice consistently, then saying that they did well in a broad sense in not genuine. Instead say, “good job with melodic phrasing in the B section,” or “your note accuracy between measures 12 and 14 has really improved from last week.” This feedback is not only specific, but also shows that you were paying close attention.

3. Teach by example and build independence:

A teacher should always illustrate spoken concepts by playing live or finding pertinent recordings, etc. Catering to different learning styles is so important for growth. Teach so that your student will become independent of you. Hopefully they will grow to make their own musical choices and assessments.




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