Lesson Plan Ideas

How To Be A Better Music Teacher Part 3

So in my last two posts, we’ve discussed some ideas for becoming a better music teacher.

In the first, we talked about focus and rejuvenation.
And last time, we talked about structure.

Today, we’ll talk about evaluating the structure and quality of a curriculum.

Remember, we defined the curriculum as your plan of teaching.

These days, if you can’t figure something out, you just go and “YouTube it.”   There’s so much free content out in the world that you can learn to do pretty much anything.

  • How to tie a necktie.
  • Create a new look with makeup.
  • Speak with a Bronx, Brooklyn or Jersey accent.
  • Change a fuse.

(I’ve used all of those, except the makeup one – that was interesting though!)

It’s incredible. It’s all free, and it’s right at your fingertips.

The same goes for learning music. You can learn how to play just about any song on any instrument, right now. For free.

But this freedom has its own cost.

There’s no guarantee that the content is going to be accurate, useful or relevant to your current level of awareness, technique, and musicianship.  There’s no path through this jungle of information. You have to click, poke, and pick your way through it all to get to some level of mastery.

In other words, there’s no structured learning.

There’s no organized path through the information. As we discussed in the previous post, there’s no curriculum.

You would have thought that the explosion of YouTube videos would have decimated the teaching profession. Still, however, there are colleges, conservatories, and workshops all charging for their information. Why?  It’s because we need that structure to truly learn anything well.  Sure, learning how to tie a bowline knot for your canoe is very simple and you can learn it in 5 minutes from this video.

But getting better and better at any skill requires a path of increasing complexity at just the right level each time.  Simple things like a one-off tricky knot are great with YouTube. Becoming a great guitarist? Not so easy.

And this is what a teacher can do with a great curriculum.  So, now that we know we need a curriculum, we can either design it ourselves or look to the internet to find one.  Regardless of which you choose, you should always have a structured plan for how to evaluate that curriculum based on your needs and the needs of your students.

A thorough tip to evaluating curriculum is to always ask these six questions:

6 Key Questions For Evaluating A Curriculum

Does this curriculum…
…have a clearly defined purpose and scope within a defined framework and philosophy?
…structure, organization, and an appropriate amount of flexibility?
…aligned with natural learning processes?
…target the appropriate age group? Does it value, understand, and empathize with the student population you are teaching?
…encourage clear expectations and measurable goals for students?
…provide comprehensive training for teachers?

A Clearly Defined Purpose and Scope

The curriculum you use to teach your students needs to have a defined purpose and scope. The scope is how much you are planning to accomplish, and the purpose needs to match the scope.

For example, the first part of the Musicolor Method™ curriculum has a purpose to teach young children to play single note, two hand unison piano with basic technical skills while learning about basic music concepts and having fun. The scope is 12 to 18 weeks. Concepts of rhythm, pitch, and intervals are introduced during this period.

Structure, Organization, and Flexibility

Organization is key to learning and the transfer of knowledge. Presenting material in a structured way allows students to put these to relevant use and store it in the right place for later recall.

Alignment with Natural Learning Processes

There is a natural way and order in which we learn. We need the basics before we can combine them to create complexity. You can’t teach grammar without first knowing the alphabet, then words, then sentences. The same is true in music. You can’t teach harmony when you haven’t learned single pitches.

Clear Expectations

There should be a clear expectation of what is required from the student, the teacher, and other stakeholders (parents, grandparents, etc.). If you teach children, your clients are usually the parents, and those parents need to have a clear understanding of your expectations.

Measurable Goals

If the scope and purpose of the curriculum is clear, then you will know how to measure its success and set achievable goals.

We use these questions:

Is material appropriate for their age and development?
Can students play the lessons on their own at home?
Are students improving week to week?
Are students motivated and having fun with the entire learning process?

Framework and Philosophy

What is the underlying philosophy and framework of the curriculum you are using? A solid curriculum’s framework and philosophy should speak to and inspire you.

The Musicolor Method’s philosophy is all about teaching life skills through music. The framework is the growth spiral. This spiral is seen throughout the universe in organic forms like seashells, flowers, and the galaxies in the stars above. It’s an organic natural part of life.

Matching the Audience’s Interests, Age, and Skill

Teaching music to a 4 vs 6 vs 8 year old is going to be vastly different. The stages of cognitive, physical and social emotional developmental are completely different from year to year. Thus, the materials, lesson plans and approach need to be tuned to the stage of the student.

Training For Teachers

Does your curriculum provide adequate training for educators? Do you have a way of clarifying questions or asking for advice?

For hundreds of years, music method publishers have relied on music method books that try to do it all. The pages address three separate audiences: teacher, parent and then student. Not ideal.
Our program uses an online platform to deliver training on demand.

No matter what curriculum you use for your students, these questions can help clarify your objectives.

I hope this has been helpful.

P.S. We’re preparing for a new cohort to take our training in the next few weeks.  Get an invite here.

Lesson Plan Ideas

How To Be A Better Music Teacher Part 2

Ever tried to interview and hire a music teacher?

Recently, I combed through hundreds of resumes responding to a simple offer for a part-time job.   It shocked me to see so many Masters and PhDs graduates responding to an offer for a $20/hour, part time position.  

It was puzzling.

To me, learning to be an effective music teacher is like building the perfect home-based business.  You can literally do it from your living room, a rented closet, or at the customer’s home.  And yet, here were hundreds of resumes from obviously talented musicians, seeking a job for which, some might argue, they are overqualified.  So what’s going on?

A Pattern Emerges

As I interviewed candidates, a pattern began to emerge. It wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t that these teachers were not able to play or teach well.  It was far simpler than that.

These music teachers were lacking one basic thing.  

What was it?

It relates to an experience I had recently.

My teenage son loves to explore the city.  One day he returned home and told me about how he checked out this amazing new shopping mall at Ground Zero in Manhattan.

My Sharpen The Saw Day

“It’s called the Oculus.  The architecture is really cool and it looks like a gigantic eye on the ceiling.  It’s filled with amazing stores like the Apple store and Gucci and other high end shops.”  So on my “sharpen the saw” day (learn about this phrase in last week’s post), I decided to have a nice lunch, write in my journal and check out this interesting spot.

He was right. It was amazing.  Here’s a photo.

The Oculus Mall near Ground Zero Manhattan
The Oculus Mall near Ground Zero Manhattan

Everything Begins With An Idea

What really struck me about The Oculus was the fact that everything I was seeing, enjoying, and experiencing had started as an idea.  Somebody imagined this and organized people, resources, and money to create it.  Everything in this building was impeccable.  The shops were beautiful, and in their designs, it was obvious that someone developed a specific plan to sell men’s shirts or high end bags for wealthy women. Even the restaurants lining the marina were structured and organized. No detail was overlooked.

My Epiphany

It must have been something in the air and the light that day.  It was unseasonably warm.  For whatever reason, I was bowled over by this epiphany.

I felt so small. Here I am, organizing content for my students, my teachers, and for you, the readers of this post.  How amazing is it that someone organized an entire mall for so many people to enjoy? Where does one even begin?


The answer to that question, and to my question about what so many of the applicants I met with were missing is: structure. It’s all about structure.

As I sat in the late afternoon sun recording these feelings in my journal, I realized that from chaos, order emerges.  We humans long for order and organization.  We seek it here on earth, in the cosmos, and when we recognize it, we rejoice. 

Fractals & Fibonacci

The fractals and the waves and the fibonacci patterns all give us a sense of order. We can believe that all is well in the universe.  From science and biology to technology and economics, we crave structure.  Even in the most trivial and mundane tasks, we search for patterns.  As I completed the seemingly arbitrary task of interviewing candidates, I realized that these candidates all lacked structure.  They lacked a coherent way of organizing their offerings to the world.

Something Lacking In These Music Teachers

For some, it was a lack of training in the ways of marketing and business.  For many others, it was a lack of understanding how to structure a lesson for a cohesive body of students.  Many of these teachers had one or two students who were five year old beginners, a couple of teenagers, and a few seniors, but had no idea how to appropriately communicate these lessons to a large body of diverse students.  Everything from their presentation of themselves to their proposed teachings methods lacked structure.  Many admitted to making up lesson plans on the spot.

Course of A Race

An educational plan is called a curriculum.   It comes from Latin and literally translates as the “course of a race.”   Over time it was used to describe the “course of study” and now is generally understood to describe the content, organization, and structure of a learning experience.

A Curriculum For Music Teachers

A curriculum can be rigid or loosely pulled together.  Though most of these teachers said they followed a curriculum, theirs were haphazard at best.   Most had no thoughtful process, and some just relied on what the next page of the current method book called for.

However, this isn’t necessarily always the fault of music teachers. Many of the teachers I interviewed were working as teaching artists in after-school programs, where they were given little or no guidance as to what to teach.   And yet, parents were paying to send their children to music and arts programs which advertise a “robust and student-centered curriculum.”  

It’s stressful.  The anxiety of always trying to figure out what to do next — especially for younger, less experienced teachers — was palpable.

So how do you know whether your music curriculum is doing the job?  

Next:  6 Questions To Ask If You’re Curriculum Is Effective.

Lesson Plan Ideas

How to Encourage Focus in Yourself and Your Students

How To Be A Better Music Teacher, (Part 1 of 3)

“Focus!  Focus!  Focus!”

Have you ever heard that?  Perhaps from a teacher?   Maybe you’ve said it yourself. Maybe you’ve even said it this week.

We music teachers are all about focus.  It takes focus to teach, to practice, and to play an instrument.  We direct our student’s focus.  

And it’s all good — until it’s not.

The McDonalds Effect

When we are depleted and feeling like we have no more to give, we slump into our easy chairs and zone out to some mindless television, novels, or magazines.  The comedian Jim Gaffigan calls it “the McDonald’s effect” — it’s consuming stuff that we know is not really good for us because it’s mindless, distracting, and tastes good…for a while, at least.  

We need that sometimes.  My “McDonald’s” (aka, my guilty pleasure) is reading technology magazines about super geeky, cutting edge tech.  Most of these gadgets solve ridiculous problems that only the top 1% of the 1% even have, but it’s mindless. It’s a good way to blow off steam.

However, there is danger in taking our guilty pleasures too far. If we fall too far into our “McDonald’s,” we risk tumbling into a downward spiral, unable to accomplish anything we originally aspired to do.

Major & The Minor In Life

So, how do we know if we are moving ahead on the major — and not the minor — things in life?   

I wrote an article about it here.

Cool, right?

A Walk In The Woods

I recently took a little trip to do some hiking in the woods.  There’s nothing like nature to break the pattern, to rejuvenate and inspire.  No matter how healthy, strong, motivated or ambitious you are, you need to take time off.  Burnout is a very real thing.  The human brain is a muscle, and because of this, you can only make so many decisions in a day before you are just plumb worn out.  

The Woodsman

There’s an old story which goes something like this:

A hiker comes upon a guy cutting down a tree in the forest.  He’s sweating bullets and cursing under his breath.  The hiker waves hello, but the guy just keeps going harder and faster.  After a few more minutes he stops to catch his breath.

The hiker, sensing an opportunity to be helpful, says, “You know, you would cut that tree faster if you just took some time to sharpen your saw.”

At this, the guy turns beet red with anger. “Who asked you?  Can’t you see I don’t have time for that?  I’m trying to cut down this tree!”

The 7 Habits

In his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , author Stephen Covey talks about this story and states that “sharpening the saw” is one of the seven titular habits.  

“Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have — you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.“

Managing Focus

This idea has resonated with me for decades.  Over the years, I’ve tried so many tools for managing my ability to focus.  I’ve read hundreds of books in the areas of psychology, self-development, spirituality, time management, productivity, and growth hacking.  I’ve used and discarded so many tips, tricks and tools.  But, over time,  I’ve figured out which ones work best for me and for managing the focus of others — namely, my students.

My Deep Focus Tool

In fact, at this moment in my life, I am feeling more productive and aligned-with-my-goals than I ever have before.  
What are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw?

What are some of the biggest obstacles you face when trying to focus on your longterm goals?

Would you be interested in learning more about my focus planning tool?  Let me know in the comments below.

Ready for the next part?

Read How To Be A Better Music Teacher Part 2

Professional Development

What’s the best way to motivate my child to practice?

Well it has been quite a week.

My cat, Felix, has been wondering what’s going on with me…more on him in a minute.  It all had to do with a certain little red book.

Last week, I asked you guys if it would be worth my time and energy to try to get a paperback version of my ebook on practice.  And, wow.  I got 40+ emails and they still are coming in.

So there is a LOT of interest in a physical book.  And I get it.  I too like to flip through certain books – especially reference material -that I will turn to again and again.

And that’s just what this is!

The Game of Practice is a book all about tips to make practicing an instrument fun!

So then I discovered a new little button.  It was at the Amazon author dashboard. It said, “Convert your ebook to a paperback!”  Magic!  Well, I thought so.

Turns out, it wasn’t just a one click deal.  I had to resize, reformat, strip out all the links and lots of extra work.

So my week was a bit hectic to say the least.  But it worked!

And here’s proof:

How do I get my music student to practice?
How do I get my music student to practice?

Felix is learning so much! And you will too!

You can get the paperback at Amazon.

Talk soon.

Andrew Ingkavet

P.S. I’ll be setting up a PDF version for those of you who asked about that.

P.P.S. I appreciate the reviews you guys have given me. If you wouldn’t mind taking a moment to leave a kind word – it would be super helpful!