Four Ways To Teach Visually

My latest homemade visual tool - a Suzuki Book One graduation puzzle

My latest homemade visual tool - a Suzuki Book One graduation puzzle

I am constantly looking for new ways to teach visually.

The other day I sat down to see if I could figure out how many different visual tools I use in teaching. I listed over two dozen, and I wasn't counting them all. My latest creation is a puzzle that helps students visualize where they are in Suzuki Book One.

The Four Types

In trying to categorize the teaching tools, I found out that there are basically four ways I teach visually:

  1. Reading

  2. Showing 

  3. Imagining

  4. Mapping

In reading, we are looking at marks on a page. This includes traditional note reading, as well as any other method (such as finger charts) that involve symbols written out as prompts for what to play. See an example here.

In showing, we are demonstrating (usually with our body, but could be with a picture or video) how to do a motion or position. For example, when we show how our left hand looks when we shift to third position. See an example here.

In imagining, we are helping conjure up a visual image in the student's mind. This could take the form of a character (what does a happy farmer look like?), a story line (now what is happening to the French soldiers?), or picturing the actual process of practicing a fast passage or note pattern. See an example here.

In mapping, we are using some sort of visual chart, map, or other system to help the student track progress and goals (such as with a practice sheet or the graduation puzzle above), assist with understanding an aspect of music theory (such as the musical alphabet wheel) or learn any other complex information related to their learning (such as the form of a piece, or where to stand at a concert.) See an example here.

I've discovered that the greatest teaching power comes when we are actively using all four of the visual teaching types, combining them in a way that amplifies the student's learning, while simultaneously increasing motivation and engagement in practicing.

I'm excited to announce a new webinar, The Visual Suzuki Teacher, where I will be going into each area in more detail.

In the class I will present how I use visual tools in lessons and group class, and discuss practical applications for teaching. I will show how I use the tools to help beginners and young children get to Twinkle, as well as how they work for older children, intermediate students and adults.

The entire recorded webinar will be made available afterward for all registrants who can't attend the live session.

How to Beat Performance Anxiety

We have all felt it.

The dry mouth, the shaking hands, the sudden loss of words. Performance anxiety is no fun. And when it comes to music, performance anxiety can kill good musical expression.

Here are five ways I've found that lessen performance anxiety:

  1. Adequate practice.  A "polished piece" is one that has been mastered to a level that can be played with ease. Sometimes this takes weeks, and sometimes months! Depending on the level of difficulty, you may need more practice to get to a level of polish than you first think. Remember, learning the notes is only half way.
  2. Plenty of rehearsal. A rule of thumb I have started to follow is to formally rehearse the piece twice as much as I initially think necessary. That includes scheduling extra time if needed with an accompanist (I say "no" to the performance if this is not possible), and playing through it at least twice in the space I am going to perform in.
  3. Memorization. Reading notes that are not well internalized is a distraction when performing. Over-reliance on note reading is a sure way to destroy good musical playing, because the brain is engaged in reading rather than expressing. Sheet music can be used as a safety net for a performance, after memorization has taken place, but only as a prompt for the real purpose, music-making.
  4. Routine. Do everything the same way as you set up, each time you play and rehearse. This applies to everything from checking your tuning to the initial placement of your bow.
  5. Take your time. When getting set, take time to play the beginning mentally, get back in touch with what you are trying to do musically. Breathe, allow your body to settle as much as possible.

Dealing with fear is another aspect of the process that I'll cover in future posts. But if you'll do these five things consistently, your performances will go better and you'll feel less nervous.

You can conquer the fear of performing. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and if you take the right intentional steps, you will get there.

Violin Angst