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Music Lessons and Red Flag Learning Challenges

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

From a phone call inquiry of a teacher's dilemma of how to approach the challenges of music studio students...

To a smart student who is musically inclined, an academic achiever but has missed childhood play opportunities that involve eye and hand coordination. Fast forward, the learning challenge has started to emerge.

Just like how doctors should treat patients, a good music teacher should be able to identify the learning challenges of students not only in the context of musicianship, but their overall developmental progress (learning in specific). While directly addressing what the problem is essential, learning how to dig deeper can help us trace the root cause of the problem. Interesting as it is, most of these challenges can be "treated" indirectly through relevant activities beyond learning how to play the instrument. It's no surprise that quite a number of people never really learn how to read music or play music independently even after years of training with one or several specialists.

My journey as a piano teacher has never been interesting and exciting when I seek to learn more about how we learn. I have witnessed the realities of these theories, researches when working with early years to adult students. Different age groups learn differently. Most will have challenges that can be considered as "red flags" to how they are receiving and processing any information that we share with them. Ever wonder why some repetitive drills never really work?

Some of these observed typical "red flag" challenges during music lessons are:

  • Reading Notes

  • Rhythmic Fluency

  • Working memory

  • Coordination

Behavioral manifestations look something like:

  • Can play in parallel motion but had a hard time playing contrary motion whether independently or together

  • Can read notes in isolation but can never play smoothly in series

  • Has mastered reading and playing each clef but cannot play them together

  • Can memorize the existing information or piece but gets confused, disoriented when presented with new information

  • Skips notes or measures when the teacher does not point and track

  • Plays each hand or part smoothly but cannot coordinate with both hands or when two different patterns are simultaneously happening

  • Hears the rhythm but has a hard time transferring and executing these sounds into the instrument

  • And so a whole lot more…

The scenarios above are only some of the challenges that our students experience when learning music with us and in their daily classroom learning. Music can be a powerful intervention tool to support these learning challenges if we teach our students holistically. At this time when we have more access to information, we can develop other non-musical skills that can significantly support one's learning through holistic and creative lesson planning.

The Early Years students should never be deprived of active activities away from the instrument even when parents enrolled them to learn an instrument. It is a big mistake to have them sit for 60 minutes or even 30 minutes without considering their natural way of learning - moving and lots of sensory activities.

There is more to just telling our kids to practice and enriching them with techniques. Let us not forget that we can use music as a tool to spot red flag learning challenges early on, as well as how to minimize these challenges, if not resolved. Say "hello" to the millions of neurons in our brains waiting to be fired. There will only be connections when we provide our students with opportunities that will enable and nurture these learning pathways.

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