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Which teaching style is best?

  • Strict, expects the earth & sets scales, makes rules

    Votes: 7 17.5%
  • Has plan but allows student to modify it after discussion

    Votes: 12 30.0%
  • Leads from the front - plays & inspires & digs up new repertoire

    Votes: 7 17.5%
  • Uses textbook - Suzuiki or other scheme - & works through it

    Votes: 2 5.0%
  • Lets student make free decisions about repertoire & practice

    Votes: 5 12.5%
  • Uses mp3s & concerts to motivate students

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Works by challenging student with difficult or unusual assignments

    Votes: 3 7.5%
  • Other - give details

    Votes: 4 10.0%
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Discussion Starter · #21 · (Edited)
The poll was included merely to prompt discussion. I am glad that at last you have addressed the subject of the thread. I am interested to read your views but would point out that such ensemble playing is not possible for everyone, and that different adults may prefer a different way of proceeding.
 

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Inge, I think it might be kind to let Jaws express himself without taking it personally or responding as such. We don't know him or his personal circumstances. I'm sure he'll move on soon enough.

More importantly, I am impressed by your achievement of passing Violin Grade 3 and encourage you to document your ongoing progress with the instrument on TC. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #23 ·
Inge, I think it might be kind to let Jaws express himself without taking it personally or responding as such. We don't know him or his personal circumstances. I'm sure he'll move on soon enough.

More importantly, I am impressed by your achievement of passing Violin Grade 3 and encourage you to document your ongoing progress with the instrument on TC. :)
Thank you, Wood, that is very nice of you & I appreciate it. Live long & prosper! :)
 

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Inge, I think it might be kind to let Jaws express himself without taking it personally or responding as such. We don't know him or his personal circumstances. I'm sure he'll move on soon enough.

More importantly, I am impressed by your achievement of passing Violin Grade 3 and encourage you to document your ongoing progress with the instrument on TC. :)
I am an adult late starter oboist. I don't take exams on the oboe or the violin. I play the violin in an adult beginners orchestra, and a small string ensemble. I spend a lot of time with adult beginners. However I started working life teaching children to play musical instruments in schools and before that doing freelance work as a professional horn player.

When I was at school I took grade 5 and grade 8 on the horn. Grade 5 one year and grade 8 the next. So I know how easy these exams are. I also took grade 6 on the viola and was absolutely hopeless in an ensemble. After a long time when I didn't have a viola I eventually started again and a few years later started the violin. I can play the violin much better than I could ever play the viola without any lessons and by only playing in an ensemble twice a week. I have a group of friends of whom 3 are learning to play the violin by only playing ensemble music.

I used to teach children the pieces for grade 8 so I am fully aware of how easy this exam is in comparison to what a professional player is expected to be able to do, or even what an experienced amateur chamber music player can do. This is how I know that it is an elementary exam.

I have been to a music conservatoire in the UK without ever taking any grade exams on the instrument that I auditioned on.

On the horn I took LTCL performers exam. This was much much lower in standard than that required for freelance playing. A job in a professional orchestra these days requires such a high standard of playing that all diplomas are now much too low as standards for anyone hoping to enter the music profession to even bother to take. I have met someone who passed FRSM on the oboe by doing 2 hours practice a day and working full time in marketing. Unfortunately they still didn't know how to start notes correctly or how to control the sound on the oboe. They were still using a beginners method to start the notes. This proves that you can pass FRSM using beginner technique. So what does that qualify you to do?

What I am writing about grade exams is not my opinion it is a description of what they are. I have not got a problem with people who to quote a friend "don't have anything better to spend their money on" apart from grade exams. Basically the only thing that grade exams do is to make money for the exam board, and for children give them certificates to collect. If you read the thread that I have started that explains about these exams for people who live in countries where they don't do them you will get a very good idea as to why they don't mean anything.
 

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Let's get an analogy with reading going here.

I learned to read English when I was three, and French when I was 6, and Greek when I was 25. Reading Greek was not too hard, because I already had a lot of knowledge about print and reading from my previous experience. These days I'm also managing to figure some Russian out informally. A bit like member Jaws learning another musical instrument as an adult, applying the experience and musical knowledge he gained as a child.

I recently spent a couple of years coaching a 65 year old woman who had never been to school as a child. She had never learned to read until her husband died 8 years ago. I got her quite late on in her learning journey, and she could probably figure out a text that a 7 year old would find easy. Progress was very slow, lots of barriers to learning including confidence, memory and lack of time. A spelling test written for an 8 year old would simply have terrified her.

Well, for an adult learning an instrument from scratch, with no musical background whatsoever, the situation can be similar. There are so many things to learn, from developing your sense of pitch, to molding your older body/fingers into new position, to overcoming your nerves at performing in front of others (remember, you never had those performing opportunities as a child), to learning to read the musical notation and relating it to a physical skill, as well as finding the time in a busy schedule to practise. Added to the fact that what you produce never corresponds to the model that you have in your head after years of listening to the best professionals in the world.

So for many adults the Grade exams are fine, because that is where they are at in their learning journey. They are at an elementary stage. Compared with professionals. But perhaps not compared with where they are likely to end up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 · (Edited)
Let's get an analogy with reading going here.

I learned to read English when I was three, and French when I was 6, and Greek when I was 25. Reading Greek was not too hard, because I already had a lot of knowledge about print and reading from my previous experience. These days I'm also managing to figure some Russian out informally. A bit like member Jaws learning another musical instrument as an adult, applying the experience and musical knowledge he gained as a child.

I recently spent a couple of years coaching a 65 year old woman who had never been to school as a child. She had never learned to read until her husband died 8 years ago. I got her quite late on in her learning journey, and she could probably figure out a text that a 7 year old would find easy. Progress was very slow, lots of barriers to learning including confidence, memory and lack of time. A spelling test written for an 8 year old would simply have terrified her.

Well, for an adult learning an instrument from scratch, with no musical background whatsoever, the situation can be similar. There are so many things to learn, from developing your sense of pitch, to molding your older body/fingers into new position, to overcoming your nerves at performing in front of others (remember, you never had those performing opportunities as a child), to learning to read the musical notation and relating it to a physical skill, as well as finding the time in a busy schedule to practise. Added to the fact that what you produce never corresponds to the model that you have in your head after years of listening to the best professionals in the world.

So for many adults the Grade exams are fine, because that is where they are at in their learning journey. They are at an elementary stage. Compared with professionals. But perhaps not compared with where they are likely to end up.
Yes, Natalie, I have had adults in my GCSE (O level) English classes at the sixth form college I worked in. One had better reading and writing skills than the sixteen-year-olds who were having to retake their English to improve their university chances. But when she had been at school, she hadn't had the chance to take an exam, so the lessons were a good way of her gaining confidence and refreshing her knowledge, and she was very pleased and proud to pass the exam at the end. Her son was in the same class and he passed too. Did she mind being compared with him? No, and why should she? She'd done good work and 'gone for it' and was an absolute delight to teach.

I learned the violin at school in a non-exam context, but there were girls in my violin class who took exams & private lessons and knew about scales and keys, which I didn't, because the teachers came and went in our local education authority and just hustled us through a few pieces every week.

When I returned to the violin two years ago, my focus was on folk fiddle. But then I discovered baroque music and it was like an epiphany. So now I long to know more about music theory, not just for playing purposes but also for listening & appreciation. My fab baroque performer-teacher doesn't do scales or arpeggios, though he often talks about the character of keys, assuming I know about these things. But I don't - which makes me grateful for my exam teacher, because with him I have the chance to learn all this.

For Taggart & me, music is the centre of our lives. We are in our sixties with no children and do not delude ourselves that we'll ever 'get anywhere' in performing terms. But we are getting such joy out of it & feel that our retirement has been blessed. We both love being on TC, where we have come across many kind, helpful friends, and learned such a lot.

I confess, I am at a loss as to why a simple announcement of my progress and my pleasure in it has sparked off all this frenetic thread production.
 

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Let's get an analogy with reading going here.

I learned to read English when I was three, and French when I was 6, and Greek when I was 25. Reading Greek was not too hard, because I already had a lot of knowledge about print and reading from my previous experience. These days I'm also managing to figure some Russian out informally. A bit like member Jaws learning another musical instrument as an adult, applying the experience and musical knowledge he gained as a child.

I recently spent a couple of years coaching a 65 year old woman who had never been to school as a child. She had never learned to read until her husband died 8 years ago. I got her quite late on in her learning journey, and she could probably figure out a text that a 7 year old would find easy. Progress was very slow, lots of barriers to learning including confidence, memory and lack of time. A spelling test written for an 8 year old would simply have terrified her.

Well, for an adult learning an instrument from scratch, with no musical background whatsoever, the situation can be similar. There are so many things to learn, from developing your sense of pitch, to molding your older body/fingers into new position, to overcoming your nerves at performing in front of others (remember, you never had those performing opportunities as a child), to learning to read the musical notation and relating it to a physical skill, as well as finding the time in a busy schedule to practise. Added to the fact that what you produce never corresponds to the model that you have in your head after years of listening to the best professionals in the world.

So for many adults the Grade exams are fine, because that is where they are at in their learning journey. They are at an elementary stage. Compared with professionals. But perhaps not compared with where they are likely to end up.
Please forgive me if I have got this wrong, but I always understood that if you were teaching an adult to read you would use try your absolute best to use resources to teach that represented the age of the adult. What I mean by this is that if you study a new language as an adult you would tend to go for a course that was related to what you wanted to use the language for. So an adult would most likely choose a course that would allow them to converse in the language on holiday etc. They probably wouldn't be very interested in learning about how to dress dolls or how to ask mom to help with baking cakes etc The problem with teaching to grades in the UK is that the material isn't designed for adults and is designed for use by small children. So you will get pieces called things like The Dolls Song or the Angry Crocodile. While you are learning these which are completely designed to appeal to young children you could be learning a "real" baroque piece of music.

In the UK you have to have a separate qualification to teach adults in adult education colleges. One for teaching children doesn't qualify you to teach adults. You don't need any form of qualification to teach adults music lessons privately so what some teachers do is to use the same teaching material for both children and adults. That this viewed as being acceptable is what I am trying to change.

I play in a small string group. When looking for music for this group I am extremely careful about what I find. If something looks as if it has been written for a school group I always ask if anyone minds first before we have go at playing it and if someone objects we wouldn't do it.

Recent research into learning music by adults in retirement shows that the vast majority of adult learners do not wish to use material produced for children, and that they feel that this is patronising.
 

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Discussion Starter · #29 · (Edited)
In my grade 3 exam, I chose to play La Rotta, a medieval dance - Carolan's Air, by the blind Irish harper - and Puttin' on the Ritz by Irving Berlin. None of these are children's works.

Other works on offer included Traumerei, meant for children but often appreciated by adults, a Corelli Gavotte, a Mozart piece, the Witches' Dance from Paganini, and Jardanyl's Hungarian Dance. In the supplementary music, you could also pick a tango - hardly kids' material.

Music exams are not just about performance, though a large part of the marks is given for that. It is also about scales and arpeggios, recognising major and minor keys, recognising time signatures, being able to reproduce musical phrases, and sight reading. None of these are skills unsuited for adults.

In preparing for the exam, I significantly improved my timing and my sightreading, both of which were deficient. I had not improved them in two years of constant practising and playing, but a few weeks of exam focus did the trick. Such is human psychology.

When teaching adults to read, you can use anything that interests them. There's a lot of simple material meant for adults, but there's nothing intrinsically wrong with using children's literature to teach a father or grandmother to read.

There is nothing shameful in being a child. And there is nothing shameful in being an adult taking exams with children. Thousands of us do it, in all sorts of subjects, every year. There is nothing shameful about being pleased with a good result, either. It's called 'being human'.

There is also nothing wrong with being a music teacher teaching to exams or a music examiner marking or setting syllabuses. These are honourable people, making a living, but thinking about the welfare of their students. If they were merely making money in a cynical and useless fashion, they'd soon enough be found out, by the media or by education ministers!
 

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Yes, Natalie, I have had adults in my GCSE (O level) English classes at the sixth form college I worked in. One had better reading and writing skills than the sixteen-year-olds who were having to retake their English to improve their university chances. But when she had been at school, she hadn't had the chance to take an exam, so the lessons were a good way of her gaining confidence and refreshing her knowledge, and she was very pleased and proud to pass the exam at the end. Her son was in the same class and he passed too. Did she mind being compared with him? No, and why should she? She'd done good work and 'gone for it' and was an absolute delight to teach.

I learned the violin at school in a non-exam context, but there were girls in my violin class who took exams & private lessons and knew about scales and keys, which I didn't, because the teachers came and went in our local education authority and just hustled us through a few pieces every week.

When I returned to the violin two years ago, my focus was on folk fiddle. But then I discovered baroque music and it was like an epiphany. So now I long to know more about music theory, not just for playing purposes but also for listening & appreciation. My fab baroque performer-teacher doesn't do scales or arpeggios, though he often talks about the character of keys, assuming I know about these things. But I don't - which makes me grateful for my exam teacher, because with him I have the chance to learn all this.

For Taggart & me, music is the centre of our lives. We are in our sixties with no children and do not delude ourselves that we'll ever 'get anywhere' in performing terms. But we are getting such joy out of it & feel that our retirement has been blessed. We both love being on TC, where we have come across many kind, helpful friends, and learned such a lot.

I confess, I am at a loss as to why a simple announcement of my progress and my pleasure in it has sparked off all this frenetic thread production.
Please don't take this personally, but I had no idea whether you understood what having passed a grade exam means or not.

I spend a lot of time with adult starters on musical instruments, and I have to correct a lot of misconceptions about these exams.

The main one being that having passed a grade exam means that you have a qualification in music. Which isn't true you don't, all you have is a certificate.

You have tried to compare the achievement with passing grade music exams with GCSEs but this doesn't work. I think you will agree that if an adult passes a GCSE they have a real qualification that can lead to A levels or maybe more responsibility at work or even a small pay rise. So passing a GCSE as an adult would I understand give someone a real achievement.

Grade exams do not lead to anything other than another grade exam. You can't use them to get a job or a pay rise or more responsibility at work because they are not recognised as qualifications in the music business or even in music education. So you can't apply the same logic to them as you would to other forms of qualification. You can still feel an achievement for passing one, but you can't expect other adult musicians to support you in this.

From a lot or experience I have found that many adults cannot grasp the concept of an exam that doesn't lead to any form of qualification in music apart from a qualification within grade exams. So when someone says "I have passed grade 3" they aren't saying" I am qualified in music up to the level called grade 3," they are actually saying, " I have passed a test called grade 3 that means that I would probably pass one called grade 2 but would probably fail a test called grade 4. I personally can't think of any other test in anything that is like this, so I completely understand why an adult would find this confusing.

What I am trying to do is to suggest that there are better ways of getting satisfaction from achievements in music than taking grade exams. Do you know about the Benslow Trust? It is in Hitchen and it runs residential music courses for adults. Have a look at their programme of courses. They run courses for folk music, beginner string ensemble, baroque music courses etc. A Benslow course actually costs less than a grade exam when you factor in all the costs of the exam, the music, the exam scale book which only contains scales for grade exams, the entry fee and all of the lessons dedicated towards preparing for the exam.

To solve your problem of theory and scales, buy a scale book, not one of the ABRSM ones as they don't have all of the useful scales in them and buy a book on music theory. Much of the music theory that the ABRSM exams teach are not what musicians do in practice, so for baroque ornaments you need a book on baroque ornaments not an ABRSM theory book on ornaments.

Here is an example of music theory that is not quite correct but taught as theory. Staccato is taught as being half the value of the note that it is written on. This is not correct. A staccato note is the length that fits into the style of the music that you are playing. So sometimes a staccato crotchet will be almost a full crotchet or less in value than a semiquaver. It depends on the context.
 

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Discussion Starter · #31 · (Edited)
I spend a lot of time with adult starters on musical instruments, and I have to correct a lot of misconceptions about these exams.

The main one being that having passed a grade exam means that you have a qualification in music. Which isn't true you don't, all you have is a certificate.

You have tried to compare the achievement with passing grade music exams with GCSEs but this doesn't work. I think you will agree that if an adult passes a GCSE they have a real qualification that can lead to A levels or maybe more responsibility at work or even a small pay rise. So passing a GCSE as an adult would I understand give someone a real achievement.

Grade exams do not lead to anything other than another grade exam. You can't use them to get a job or a pay rise or more responsibility at work because they are not recognised as qualifications in the music business or even in music education. So you can't apply the same logic to them as you would to other forms of qualification. You can still feel an achievement for passing one, but you can't expect other adult musicians to support you in this.

From a lot or experience I have found that many adults cannot grasp the concept of an exam that doesn't lead to any form of qualification in music apart from a qualification within grade exams. So when someone says "I have passed grade 3" they aren't saying" I am qualified in music up to the level called grade 3," they are actually saying, " I have passed a test called grade 3 that means that I would probably pass one called grade 2 but would probably fail a test called grade 4. I personally can't think of any other test in anything that is like this, so I completely understand why an adult would find this confusing.
Thank you for your concern, but I am not under any misconception. I have a friend who was in the same violin class as me as a child who took all the grade exams which were useful for her academic course in early music at university and she has had a very fulfilling career as a teacher, a player in provincial symphony orchestras and is now retired and enjoying making experimental music. As a retired educational professional, I am well aware of what music exams amount to, and as I have explained in a number of posts, my decision to take exams was embarked on as a specific strategy to increase my knowledge of music techniques and theories. Most of my time is spent playing klezmer, baroque, folk tunes, Playford and Carolan with my 'repertoire' teacher who is a respected performer in baroque and folk music. So you see, I don't need your guidance.

May I say that I think assuming that adults don't understand concepts that you see so clearly is underestimating the intelligence and diversity of adults. Thank you for telling me about the Benslow Trust. I will look into it. But of course I have several ideas myself about fiddle schools (fiddle 'hells' :)) in Britain and Ireland as I belong to another Forum that specialises in Irish Traditional Music.

I have all sorts of self-help books, but as I have difficulty with understanding theory, I really think I will do better with my well -qualified exam teacher (a performer too; he runs a string quartet to play at weddings etc), as he is brilliant at demonstrating and explaining. Experiments in education suggest that females often fare better learning something when discussion is involved, and whether or not that is correct, it certainly applies to me. Words are my forte! :)

It's not the first time I've learned something as an adult. Some years ago I took an AS level in Religious Studies which involved learning New Testament Greek. I enjoy studying and learning new things, and as PetrB says, exams do at least provide a deadline which can spur you into action.

On their own, exams can be limited and narrow. But as a part of a balanced diet, they can provide much needed nourishment.

So rest assured - I know myself - I know how I learn best - and I know what I want to achieve in music and fiddlecraft.
Best of all - I'm having fun!
 

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Discussion Starter · #32 · (Edited)
I have parted company with my exam teacher - not because I didn't want to take any more exams, however. I did.

After taking my first music exam ever - grade 3 - I was busy playing pieces from a repertoire book which were teaching me about positions and bow strokes. This seemed a good idea, except that I felt that I was being rushed along & had hardly learned one technique before being pushed on to the next. It is neither pleasant nor useful to struggle through a piece each week, sounding dire - be told that it was satisfactory but that I could work on it - and then never get to play it again even when it was improved.

I tried to raise this with my teacher, and suggest that I'd like to spend more time on some pieces; but he took this as a questioning of his authority. He became more demanding, which made me even more nervous, and the gap between the practice room and the lesson room became ever greater. He also began cancelling lessons at short notice, making me feel that my progress didn't much matter to him.

In the end, fed up of my doubts, he finished the (half-hour) lesson ten minutes early; he made no apology & blamed it on my 'negativity'. He appeared to think that the lessons would go on as normal the next week, but suddenly I saw that he was not the right person to teach me. Not only am I an adult, but I am an older woman and an ex-teacher. I can't just have orders handed down from on high. I have to understand and be allowed to discuss my progress and give feedback on how I'm finding the learning process. So I rang him afterwards to terminate our lesson arrangement.

So in this thread about teaching styles, I have moved positions, based on my experience.

I began by requiring more method and discipline than I was getting from my baroque-performer teacher, 'The Inspired One'; I have now realised how lucky I am to have a teacher who is so charismatic. In addition, after a forthright discussion in May, the I. O. has been flexible enough to change his teaching process and accommodate my need for explanations.

This in my view is the sine qua non of being a good teacher - assessing the learning needs of your student and adopting the best strategy to meet them.

The rupture with my exam teacher was very upsetting at the time, but I am not sorry that I had lessons with him for ten months. Taking the exam and getting a distinction in it helped my confidence tremendously, and I've improved in certain techniques - bowing, vibrato, using my fourth finger, and sight-reading.
It also clarified my ideas as to what I want to do - which is to concentrate on early music/baroque & folk fiddle. These are the types of music that I love, and these - serendipitously - are the specialities of The Inspired One. :)
Also, as a by-product of the exam, I met up with Ruth, a lovely local accompanist who will now become Taggart's piano teacher for a while, as his regular teacher Jane is seriously ill and has to take six months off. Jane is a lovely person and we wish her the best & speediest recovery.
 

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I voted for the first one. Highly structured. Kids in assigned seats from day one. They quickly found out who the boss was.
Anyone doing anything deemed inappropriate-I immediately pointed my pen at the offender, twirled the pen in the air, caught it and then wrote a mark on his seating card. That drove them nuts and delighted the amused onlookers. Psychological warfare with a flourish. They never, ever saw me sweat.

Yet many of them wanted to be in my class, based on "recommendations" of former students. They loved the comedy monologues. But those came after at least a month, when they and I felt comfortable and I could "relax" a bit. The urchins called me "cool".

I do miss it.

Getting back to music-when I was taking clarinet lessons, my teacher spoke about politics for about 20 minutes and then I played some practiced etudes and duets with him. He was a fine player and relaxed me with his political discussions. Not strict at all.
 

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Wish I could have sat in on your classes! Especially the comedy monologues. :)
I would have put you in front with the other smart kids.

The important thing was assigning them seats on day one. They quickly realized that if you immediately knew their names, they couldn't make trouble.
 

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Strictness stresses me out, it works but it makes the experience very unpleasant to me which encourages me to quit. Strict doesn't necessarily mean demanding. The textbook has the advantage that (I assume) it makes easier the organization of classes and it helps as long as one doesn't remain constrained by it. Experienced teachers generally have their classes already perfected so there the book is of lesser importance. I like the idea of constant exploration. I think it is very necessary (specially today) to have equal opportunities, that the student doesn't require any previous musical knowledge in order to start taking serious classes.
 
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