Should Private Music Teachers Play Along with Students?

Some parents have complained that I shouldn’t play my instrument during lessons while other parents express their appreciation for my participation.

Actually there are three approaches regarding private music teachers playing in lessons and I have used all of them at the appropriate time.

How can students learn how a piece of music is supposed to sound? As beginners, kids learn to play notes and fingerings. When they practice at home, coordination of their fingers with the written note is the primary concern. There is no real need to play along in the lesson “technique one”. Add an external beat and they are off and running. Bottom line is: THEY ARE JUST PLAYING NOTES!

Now comes tonguing which requires “technique two.” First, I would verbally describe how to tongue, then I would demonstrate tonguing followed by my student echoing. “Repeat as needed”

After a year or so, a student will know a few songs but not how they can sound the best on his instrument. This is when I present one of my words of wisdom: “You know how to play notes, now let’s learn to play music!”

If you are a quality performer, you can set a good example for tone, vibrato, dynamics, style, inflections etc. But that requires playing simultaneously with your student.

A friend shared with me his experience taking private lessons from a mutual teacher when we were kids. What he observed was when our teacher played along with him he played better, (not a milli-second later) but right with him.

He got me thinking as a teacher at the other end of the spectrum. I would have my student play part of his assignment that he hopefully practiced all week.

After playing it poorly two or three times, I would pick up my saxophone and we would play the same section together. I was astonished when I realized my student performed a hundred percent better, but here is the kicker, when I put my horn down and had him play alone again, he reverted back to playing it poorly.

I tried this experiment many times with different students and had the same results. I believe this is a form of a “sixth sense!” We give off an in-perceivable energy through music, and students similarly receive that energy and respond positively.

Finally, with my most advanced students, I use all three techniques, mostly play and echo which forces my students to listen to my style, then listen to what they sound like. They could do worse than copying me.

Whatever you do, TRUST YOURSELF!