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Paul Wood

How do you communicate with your pupils through the week?

May 6, 2013 at 11:13 PM

I’ve just had the pleasure of taking over a very good violin pupil the other day. She is 13 years old, very bright and in to tech.

I try to get pupils to record their practice and email it to me once a week so I can have a look at what they are up to. It’s not really a check-up but a way of helping them to keep a “playing journal”.

Using their phones they will have to send me a small clip of a scale, a bowing exercise, a phrase or a complete performance. Having spoken to my pupils, (most of them) like the fact that I’m interested to see that they are working during the week and that I've taken the time to reply – just a short sentence with a pointer or two. It’s not too time-consuming.

I ask all my pupils to open up sound cloud accounts and use their phones to record and upload. They normally email me a link to their recording. That way they have all their sound bites and get to see how they have progressed over time.

We keep good written notes which both the pupil and I add to each lesson.

I've kind of been missing the glue that holds it all together though.

For my day job - I manage East Ayrshire Music Service in Scotland – 22 instrumental teachers working in 50 schools. We run lots of projects and I use workflowy for my todo organiser. It now has the ability to share part of your list with people to view or view and edit.

Here is a copy (you can’t edit it ?) of my new pupil’s workflow list. She is my test case…

This was done during lesson 1 while we were chatting, playing and working on our game plan.

So, before the next lesson she will have updated her list and checked off her completed tasks. I can monitor that at any time. During our next lesson we will both be able to add to and take away from the list. When you complete a task it is hidden from the list but it never goes away. All completed lists can be seen when needed so it does keep an historical record. You can also tag tasks.

Both pupil and parent get to see what needs to be done. No more last practice diaries or half dog eaten ones!

Will it work..?

How do you make sure that your aims and objectives are understood and known by all parties?

How do you prove to your pupils that that have made progress (or not)?

Technology in the instrumental lesson, what place does it have and how do we make the most of it?

Would love to know your thoughts.

From Sue Bechler
Posted on May 8, 2013 at 1:33 PM
One side of me thinks you are doing a wonderful thing by monitoring and recording so thoroughly. But another part feels this is micro-managing. A big part of the value of music lessons to students, imo, is that commonly they are given instruction and an assignment. Then they go home and try to figure it out. Depending on their parents' style, they may also have to figure out mostly on their own, how to make enough practice time and focus to complete the assignment.Compare that to a sport, where for many, ALL practice is ordained and monitored, or school classwork, where homework is turned in daily, checked and turned back the next. Music-practice of the kind I described is way more useful as a life-lesson. In these techy days, I make myself available to students via e-mail or text for questions. I send recordings for them to listen to. Some have wanted help with exams/auditions for their orchestras; I have asked them to scan me their test material so I can pre-plan fingering ideas.
From Paul Wood
Posted on May 8, 2013 at 11:08 PM
Many thanks Sue for taking the time to reply.

I do hope I’m not micro managing, that is the last thing that I would want to do.

I agree completely with you regarding that pupils need to be able to sort things out for themselves, as long as they have been given the right tools to analyse what they are doing wrong and how to make it better.

The lesson notes we jointly write throughout the lesson are nothing out of the ordinary. The workflow example is just our aims (basic because it is lesson 1). We then have two bowing exercises, two pieces set with a couple of YouTube examples and a few “find some more info tasks”. There are probably more challenge questions than normal because this is lesson 1. I wanted them to think about their playing and help me work out what they wanted to achieve from their lessons.

Regarding pupils emailing me a recording -the last lesson a pupil has on each piece we record, an historical reference point for them to enjoy later on in life.

As they are used to recording in lessons they do tend to do it at home too. In a lesson we may record a scale for example, I’ll get then to talk to me about it, they then listen to the recording and see what other things they have not picked up on. It’s a great ear training task. They tend to be more critical listeners when listening to their recordings at first.

I do encourage them to make short recordings at home and if they like send me one, not to check up on them but to show that I am interested in what they are doing. I have found over time that pupils do like to share their success recordings with you. Having a small email back saying “It’s great to hear that position change in tune” backs up the problem solving skills they have hopefully been working on.

Kindest regards,


From William Rhoden
Posted on May 10, 2013 at 1:51 PM
I think that is a fantastic way to keep in touch with students! I wonder though if you ever run into students who's phone "doesn't work" and happened not to practice that week either.
From Paul Wood
Posted on May 11, 2013 at 8:43 AM
Hi William,

It's rare that a student's phone does not work as it tends to be an important bit of kit in their lives.

Yep, I've had the odd pupil who does not practice ;)

I'm lucky at the moment. I just have a few pupils and they all work very hard.

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