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21 Productive Ideas for the Private Teacher
By Steve Anisman

Originally published in Modern Drummer Magazine
August, 1989

Page 68, "Teachers' Forum" Section

The following ideas are offered as suggestions to help make you a more effective teacher. By employing these ideas, you can maximize the benefits that your students receive from each lesson with you.

1. Plan Ahead: Have an overall plan as to how you're going to move the student along. It doesn't have to be set in concrete, but it does help you avoid wandering aimlessly from week to week.

2. Establish Groundrules: You need to establish a basic understanding between you and the student early in the game. Basic groundrules can include regular practice requirements, fees, payment methods, attitude, etc. It's a good idea to type your groundrules and give a copy to every new student at the first lesson.

3. Teach Practice Skills: Practice skills are very similar to study skills. Once you have them, everything comes more easily. A regular practice schedule needs to be set up with each student. Explain that you won't be around to enforce it, and it's his/her responsibility to carry it out. Parents can be helpful in keeping the student honest. Good practice skills, when learned and used, can make all the difference in the world.

4. Keep Your Studio Clean and Up-To-Date: A clean environment promotes better learning. It also helps your students feel as though they're in an organized, important place, and this is vital. Have enough of all the proper equipment and teaching aids readily available. It goes without saying that all studio equipment should always be properly maintained. It's an investment that can pay for itself many times over.

5. Don't Miss Lessons: If for some unavoidable reason you have to miss a lesson, give the student advance notice. (You obviously have the right to expect the same courtesy from your students.) Set up an alternate lesson date immediately, at the student's convenience, not yours.

6. Teach All Styles: It's important for today's drummer to be able to play in a variety of styles. Your students don't have to be masters of every style, but they should be able to hold their own in as many musical situations as possible.

7. Reinforce: Don't forget old material. Students have a tendency to forget the basics when they're not reinforced regularly. Don't allow that to happen. Regular reinforcement will keep both you and your students on your toes.

8. Tailor Exercises to Individual Interests: Although it's extremely important to teach a variety of styles, many students will lose interest if what they're learning is not applicable to their current musical interests. Whenever possible, try to use examples from familiar music to demonstrate an important point.

9. Teach with Conviction: It's important to believe in what you're teaching. If you only have a half-hearted belief in what you're doing, it will come across as half-hearted to your students.

10. Point Out Improvements: We all have a natural tendency to stress areas that need improvement, ignoring the improvement itself. You may be the only gauge your students have on their progress. A steady stream of "this needs work" can be disheartening. Of course, this doesn't mean praising when performance isn't worthy of it, but in most lessons, you should be able to point out some area(s) where the student is performing well. Conversely, be aware that approval used sparingly is more effective than constant praise.

11. Don't Fake It: If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it. Feeding a student false information to save face is never a good idea. Once you've admitted you don't know, do your best to find the answer. If you find you're constantly being asked questions you can't answer, take it as a hint. You either need to do more work on the subject, or refer the student to another teacher.

12. Use Surprise: Periodically, ask for something unexpected. This not only keeps your student's attention up, but it also helps to combat monotony. Having a routine is good, but going through the same material in the exact same manner week after week can get boring -- and who wants to go to a boring lesson?

13. Communicate with Parents: This is particularly important if the parents are paying for the lessons. It's common courtesy to keep them abreast of the student's progress. You can also recruit them to help enforce the practice schedule you've set up with the student.

14. Promote Competition: Try to get students involved in competitive situations -- things such as all-state tryouts or local band auditions. This is not to suggest entering students into competitions they're not ready for. Defeat doesn't always build character. But a well-timed competition can help keep a student motivated.

15. Promote Playing: Get your students into some type of musical situation outside of lessons whenever you feel they're ready. Remember, we are trying to create musicians. It's vital for every developing musician to interact with others. There is no substitute for real musical experience.

16. Help Students with Equipment Selection: As a teacher, you'll be expected to know more about the instrument than just how to play and teach it. Students will usually expect you to guide them in their choice of new or additional equipment.

17. Be Aware of Differences in Abilities and Goals: Not all students have equal abilities or expectations. This doesn't mean you shouldn't push a student to his/her full potential. But realize that not every student wants to be a professional. Some may be pursuing drumming for totally different reasons, and it's counterproductive to scare them away with obscure techniques. Also, everyone learns at a different pace. Some students will always be behind the point where you'd like them to be. If a student is not progressing at a satisfactory pace, try to determine the reason. If you can help, by all means do so. If not, accept the fact that things may not always go exactly as planned.

18. Be Willing to Bend: Keep in mind that every student is different, and different students may require different teaching approaches. You should be willing to change your approach if you want to be effective. The only alternative is to only accept a certain type of student -- a choice most of us cannot afford to make.

19. Have Reasons: Be able to explain why you want things done in certain ways. Students often can't see the total picture, or the reasoning behind it. "Because I said so" is not an acceptable answer.

20. Be Patient: This is the golden rule. A highly pressured student won't work as efficiently as one who is comfortable with you. A relaxed student is always more receptive to learning than one who is uptight as a result of an impatient teacher.

21. Stay in Fifth Gear: Teaching requires considerable energy. Be prepared to give 110% for the entire lesson -- every lesson. This includes going into the lesson in a good mood, with a clear head, and with a positive attitude. Always keep in mind that you might be helping to mold the talents of the world's next great drummer!

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