Improving Teaching Related Skills

Weekly Teaching Tip – Nov. 3, 2014
by John Henny – IVTOM Advisory Board Member

I remember a story about basketball great Larry Bird. Now Larry was not the fastest player or the most naturally gifted, but he was blessed with an amazing work ethic. Not just a hard worker, he also had a great way to choose what to work on.

At the end of each season, Larry would carefully analyze his play and skills. He would look to find what his greatest weaknesses were and that’s what he would focus on during his off-season training. Larry would come back each season stronger and better than the year before.

It is easy to work on what we are good at. If I pick up a guitar, I am happy to play songs I know and solos that easily fall under my fingers. Working on my weaknesses (of which there are many) suddenly becomes hard mental work and it requires a burst of discipline to stay with it.

We can use the Larry Bird approach to our teaching. Take a good hard look at your current skills and then honestly choose what you are weakest at.

Choose the top three and then break those down into order of importance. Take the first one and begin a goal setting program to increase your skills in that area.

For instance, one area where many of us (besides Dean) can improve is our piano playing skills. Perhaps you can play scales just fine, but have trouble accompanying your students.

The next step would be to break down essentials skills in this area. Do you need to be able to sight-read complicated right and left hand piano parts? Not really, but being able to sight-read vocal melody lines and using chord charts to create accompaniments is very useful and doable.

Now take sight-reading melody lines. For most people, rhythm is the most difficult part, so let’s tackle that first.

Get a book of just rhythms and spend 5 minutes, three times a day reading them and singing or clapping them out. Pretty soon you will be able to see reoccurring patterns as you can only split up a measure so many ways. Rhythm will no longer be an issue.

As your skill level gets better, you can tackle the next step, and so on.

By spending just a few minutes a day focused on your weaknesses, you can quickly become a much stronger teacher.

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