Today’s guest post comes from Matthew Raynor and his new percussion blog drumsimple. Matt is currently an instructor at Palmetto Percussion, a World Class indoor drumline and writes about his experiences and teaching on his blog. Although this post was written from a drum corp/indoor line perspective, I think these tips would be great for any ensemble. As always, we encourage your to leave you comments below. You can follow Matt on Twitter.

5 Simple Instructional Tips That Will Give You Immediate Results

By Matthew Raynor

I am always looking for results as an instructor. Whenever I finish with an individual lesson, a sub-sectional, or an ensemble I am always tracking progress of the student(s). Even in the middle of rehearsals, I am taking note of the immediate effect of my comments. Did the student improve? What contributed to the improvement? These questions are constantly floating around in my head.

Over time, patterns emerged and I began to see improvement in my students at a quicker pace. I also began to see their spirits rise and them enjoying drumming more. It’s hard to see or hear improvement in your playing from day to day. You could look at your first video/recording of the year and compare it with your final performance of the year and the difference would be drastic. You know that feeling when you see how far you’ve come as an individual or as part of a group?

It’s a great feeling! It makes you want to get out there and practice some more!!

Now, if you can lead your students to drastic improvement from day to day AND they are aware of it, you’ll be creating a self-perpetuating machine for improvement. Students will be motivated to get better when they show up to rehearsals and you’ll be more eager to see how far you can take your ensemble.

These tips are simple enough to include in your next rehearsal. Try just using one of them and make note of the results you get.

The Tips

  1. Give comments that students can act on. Do not give comments that have no actionable element to them. An example I hear all too often is, “Guys, that wasn’t good. Do it again.” Where’s the instruction? Don’t be a critic. Be a leader and a teacher. Something as simple as “Drive your feet.” or “Loosen up your right shoulder to create more sound.” Those are comments on which a student can act.
  2. Comment when you hear something played well, not always when phrases are played poorly. Just like your parents teach you right from wrong as a child, you are teaching the difference between playing well and playing poorly. Students are told all to often when they play something wrong. Give them some confidence. Stop them in the middle of something they’re playing really well. I do this and always ask, “Did you hear that?” Puzzled, they usually can’t answer. “That was really good!” I tell them what they played well, why it was good, and solidify what it feels and sounds like to play well. Try it.
  3. Use affirmative language more than negative. This is simply the word choice you use to give comments. Instead of don’t use do. It helps keep students positively engaged and rehearsal light, instead of students getting down on themselves. Instead of kids thinking about what they aren’t supposed to do, and becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, they can think about how the music should be played correctly. There are so many ways to play a piece of music poorly. Can you think of every way to play poorly and guard against doing such? I know I can’t!
  4. Be brave enough to change things up on a more regular basis. Let students be comfortable with change, even if sometimes it is drastic, to create the results you want. For example, when students are getting bogged down in a part of music we’re rehearsing I stop them, tell them 8-on-a-hand, and tap off in a new tempo. After finishing, we dive back into the part we were rehearsing and I find 99% of the time it is magically better. You interrupt the students’ pattern of thought and force them to play differently.
  5. Give comments but leave out the reason why. Otherwise, you can fill the students’ heads with meta knowledge they don’t need to play well. More often than not, the student wants clear, concise, effective advise that will help them play better. They do not need the details as to why it is making them better. Is this always the case? No. There will be times when going deeper into a topic will help, but as a rule of thumb I try to stick to actionable comments without explanation.

These are 5 of the best ways I’ve been able to get drastically improved results out of groups that I teach on a regular basis and that I have stepped in front of for the first time.

I think some involved discussion about this topic would be beneficial to both students and instructors. Getting the perspective of not only the instructor but the student will provide a deeper understanding of what students are looking for and notice the most nowadays.

Let me know what you think below. I removed the need to include your email to comment. I hope this might encourage some to contribute.

Thanks for reading and good luck to any WGI groups embarking on their first show this weekend!

Dave Gerhart

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