Basic Principles of Teaching Any Instrument – 10 Tips on How to Teach a Music Instrument

Imagine you have just bought yourself your first state of the art computer. It is a very complicated machine. When you get it home, which of the following would your instinct lead you to do?

A) Open the manual and read it thoroughly before switching on.

B) Phone up a friend who has got the same machine and ask them to come around and teach you how to use it.

C) Switch on and work it out through trial and error.

In fact, you would probably learn to operate your computer over a period of time using a combination of the above. Nevertheless, one of those methods is probably more dominant than the others. Reflect for a moment on whether you think your own preferred learning style influences your teaching style.

Your pupils will also have their own instinctive preference. Some will be punctilious, will want to read their tutors carefully and will instinctively learn in an intellectual and methodical kind of way. Some will depend very much on you and your guidance and show little of their own initiative. And some will want to try everything out, play a lot by ear and generally want to learn in a more creative kind of way.

The following suggestions provide a summary of effective teaching practice. They represent a basic philosophy that successful teachers adhere to, even without conscious analysis of their own methods. It is impossible to be entirely comprehensive and you may be able to add further thoughts; it is really a matter of common sense.

1. Understand clearly in your own mind what it is you intend to teach and what you expect your pupil to learn. A little forward planning goes a long way!

2. Make your explanations clear; use language, analogies and illustrations appropriate to the age (and interests) of your pupil. Be prepared to explain the same problem in a number of different ways.

3. Make sure everything you teach is relevant and progressive.

4. Teach one thing at a time and ensure that it is understood before proceeding.

5. Ensure pupils have sufficient strategies for constructive and independent practice.

6. Revisit and reinforce new material (a weak link in the chain, which you may not notice at first, may come back to haunt both you and your pupil in the future).

7. Divide tasks into smaller manageable units if pupils are experiencing difficulties.

8. Use your pupil’s existing knowledge, skills and experience to make connections to new ideas.

9. Proceed from the known to the related unknown.

10. Always try to relate theory and aural to the particular repertoire being studied.