The Madness of Clarinetists

The construction of a clarinet. Edited from th...

Tomorrow I will be doing my Grade 8 Clarinet exam.  But this is not a post about nervousness or preparation or any of those good exam-like things.  It is a post about the madness of musicians, and of music teachers in particular.

You see, exams are things that we traditionally associate with school.  As things that you have to do while you are at school, while you are of school-going age.  We also make the assumption that no one chooses to do exams, that normal people would avoid them like the plague.  Enter the first sign of a music teacher’s madness.  I chose to do this exam.  I chose to put my mouth, my fingers and my ears through this, so I have no one to blame but myself.  Except for my teacher.

We have known each other now for 20 years.  She was my primary school teacher when I was in Standard 4, then she became my clarinet teacher, then my teaching mentor, then my colleague and now my partner in crime.  We coach orchestras and choirs together.  We transformed a music department together.  And now she wants me to do this exam.  Don’t get me wrong – of all the people that have influenced my life, she is one of the greatest.  She is an incredible musician, an incredible teacher and an even more incredible friend.  But she is even madder than I am, which is saying something, considering that we are both music teachers.  And clarinetists.

My reasons for doing the exam are all very admirable, I think.  Firstly, Grade 8 is the highest one, and I went off to university and things before I could finish it off.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  I did my Grade 8 Ballet when I was 23, far too old to be dancing like that, in that clothing that makes curvy women look like elephants, even when they’re not fat (wish I still looked like that though!).  I did my Grade 7 Clarinet when I was 26.  So it’s taken me two years to work up to finishing it off.  I also think that somehow, it sets a good example to all my students, that you are never too old to learn, and that you should never stop learning and developing as a musician, or as anything else.  I also know myself quite well, and I wasn’t going to get any better as a musician just by picking something to play and working at it. I needed a tangible goal, preferably one that was a little scary, to make me do it.  However, now that my fingers are falling off and I can’t sleep because I have the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (I’m playing the 3rd movement tomorrow) in my head, I’m wondering about the wisdom of it all.  Already the butterflies have begun to flutter, and I still have a day of teaching to get through.  At least I am doing mine tomorrow, and all my students are doing theirs on Friday.  I might have a peaceful night and be prepared to make all kinds of mistakes in the accompaniment for my children.  Oh well.  Such is the life of a music teacher.

The madness continues.  My teacher and I are already planning the next exam.  Maybe finish off the piano, or another violin exam?  Or maybe I should now focus on preparing the children I teach for their exams.  One thing I do know, though.  They will all end up as mad as I am.


Top Tips for Teaching One-on-One

Teaching and coaching one-on-one can be extremely rewarding, both for the teacher and the student. It allows the teacher to be completely focused on the needs of one learner, rather than having to accommodate the different learning needs of a group. Here are some tips for successful one-on-one teaching.

Enthusiasm – Always be enthusiastic and full of energy when you are spending time with a student. Whether your student is an adult or a child, they will respond to your energy and the lesson will go accordingly. Your enthusiasm will allow the student to make mistakes with confidence, so that they can be corrected.

Understanding – Understand the needs of the student you are with. Knowing whether your student is primarily visual, kinesthetic or auditory will allow you to adapt your teaching method and materials to the specific needs of the student. When you are teaching to the primary learning style of your student, they will grasp the material more easily, and you are less likely to have to re-teach the concept the following week.

Creativity – Be creative in the teaching strategies you use. If the student comes to you daily or weekly, creative teaching methods will help to maintain their interest in the subject and your enthusiasm for the class. Your creativity will encourage the student to put forward their own ideas and be creative too.

Organisation – Be organised and prepared for the lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, discuss specific goals and objectives for the lesson, so that both you and your student experience a sense of achievement at the end. Tasks set for the following lesson should reinforce the concepts covered, or pre-assess knowledge of the next topic. When you are organised and clear about your objectives, take home tasks are easier to plan.

Focus – It is vital to remain focused on the task at hand throughout the lesson. If you allow yourself to become distracted, the student will become distracted too. However, don’t be afraid to leave the student time to think or plan during the lesson. Your one-on-one time allows a flexible goal schedule, so use it to encourage self-directed learning and assessment.

Feedback – Always provide feedback at the end of the lesson, even if the task is not complete. It always helps if feedback is presented in a positive manner, particularly with children, as it will encourage them to look forward to their next session with you. If they are looking forward to the next session, they will find it easier to get any take home tasks done.

All of the above factors help to create a positive and personal relationship between teacher and student. For those, like me, who make the jump from classroom coaching to one-on-one teaching, this is the best reward of all.

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