Only a few of us ever study something just for the purpose of obtaining knowledge or skill. For most, that knowledge or skill must be applicable to a certain end. For example, what good is learning a language if you never intend to speak it? What good is learning to sculpt if you don’t produce a sculpture? Why go to school for MCS if you aren’t interested in working with computers?
Your student came to you for a reason. At the outset of your contract, a key part of your job is discovering what his reasons are for taking up study of the guitar. For some, the guitar is do-it-yourself entertainment. They want to sing around the campfire, or join their church band. For others, it may be a profitable hobby. They may aspire to performing at coffeehouses. For still others, it is a vehicle to a full-time career. Those are just three of many possibilities. Are you providing your student a path to his ultimate goal?
Some components of musicianship are constant, no matter what the student’s objectives. Practice is always essential. So is learning the finer points of playing live and playing with others. Some theory and ear training is beneficial at any level of commitment. One of my favorite things I tell new students is, “I understand you may not aspire to be a pro, but I will treat every student as if they all do.” In other words, I expect the best from my students; even the most casual learner must be held to high standards.
However, the actual content of the material being studied depends on the student’s personal objectives. Does she want to be a coffeehouse musician? Then improvisation and jazz theory are of a lower priority than rhythm techniques and self-accompaniment. A curriculum is important; but frame your lessons, however structured, in ways that speak to each student’s personal desires.
So far, I have discussed long-term objectives. Equally important are short-term objectives. These are mostly for you to set and enforce. If, for example, a student’s long-term objective is to start a band with friends, my short term objectives will involve coaching the student on song selection, rehearsal techniques, gig etiquette, and error correction. And I would set measurable milestones.
This is an important concept — measurable milestones. What I mean is that your short-term objectives need to be quantifiable. What, in the above example, would signify readiness to start a band? How about a knowledge of a certain amount of repertoire? Yes? Great, then let’s define how many songs would comprise a show of decent length, assemble a list of specific songs that are within the student’s technical reach, then assess how long it is taking to prepare each song and adjust our practice methods if necessary. That’s a pretty well laid-out plan that can keep you and your student occupied for months. Having that blueprint puts you in the driver’s seat; your student will respect your foresight and organization, and is likely to be satisfied with the outcome of his lessons.
In the next installment of Teaching Music, I’ll provide a suggestion that will not only help you define short-term goals, but that will also aid you in the assessment of student progress.