How a private music teacher can create a stimulating environment

If you are a private tutor and have a waiting-room or waiting area, that is great. If you have siblings learning, and sharing an hour, it’s particularly useful to have stimulating things for students to do while they wait.

I have a spare digital piano with headphones, and though it is feet away from my teaching space, it’s not intrusive. The spare child can also use the old computer I have there, which is stocked with multi-choice theory quizzes and CDRoms about music history, composers and ethnic instruments. They can teach themselves a lot (painlessly!) while waiting for lesson time, or waiting to be collected…

Collect up any picture-books with colourful illustrations, for stocking your waiting area. They don’t have to be about music in order to be mentally stimulating: I found they love the Magic Eye books, trying to figure out how to focus and see the hidden images. One mother used to spend the entire hour with Magic Eye while her children had their lessons.

Younger siblings are easily kept busy with coloured foam shapes or tiny cars, while they play and wish they were old enough to learn piano! — well that’s what the teacher hopes. Maybe you have a square mat/vinyl laid out as streets, which can take tiny cars or wooden trucks.

And the plastic animals I collect for newbies to place on the piano keys and learn letter-names A to G, their younger siblings love to play with in other ways. The bonus of that is, I get a prior glimpse into a potential pupil’s powers of imagination!

For the parent there are story magazines and recipe magazines, often purchased cheaply at garage sales or donated by friends.

I have those see-through cubes where you try to manoeuvre tiny balls through obstacles and get them all lined up. However they are noisy compared with a Rubic cube or those tiny puzzles with 8 out of 9 squares having to be pushed around to complete picture.

A visit to a shop with Educational Toys is well worthwhile — I found glass landscapes with coloured sand that you could upend and watch forever, and the same sort of thing with coloured oil in water triggering off multiple mini-turbines.

Now for the walls of your waiting area and studio. Collect posters of musical instruments and quotations and mottos with positive thoughts (eg. “Don’t decide what you CAN’T do without having first discovered what you CAN do”).

I got a joiner to make me moulded rails for one long studio wall, so those rails held in place removable posters top and bottom. I made posters to fit, illustrating types of Jazz, meanings of Performance Terms, what music notation looked like in medieval times, and what the precursors to the piano looked like (“Giraffe” Pianos? Whatever next!). Of course you can zone in on your own instrument here!

These posters are circulated periodically, so there is always something new to be learned.

It is also very helpful to have pictures showing life in various periods of history that match the music your students will be playing. Those pictures will show the sort of costume, transport and lifestyles of different periods. For example, a student can’t be expected to understand musical Ornaments without seeing how they reflect the ornate architecture and costume of the time.

An Art history book is handy. too. When teaching Impressionistic music it’s great to be able to turn to some Monet prints, and show them the hazy/watery/indistinct effect required also in the musical performance. Place sticky-tabs in the pages you think are most likely to be needed.

Private music teaching is an isolating activity, but whenever you get a chance do compare ideas with other teachers or visit their studios. Internet lessens that isolation, too. So keep your eyes open for ideas …

… and present an environment that enlarges the horizons of the children who are placed in your hands, and makes them glad to head your direction every week!

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