Self-Assessment In Private Music Education
As a private music teacher, one of my goals is to help my students develop into independent musicians who can continue learning, playing, and experiencing music long after we’ve discontinued our lessons together.
Though each lesson focuses on multiple skills, I also emphasize self-assessment. I see three main benefits of regularly practicing self-assessment skills:
- The student develops their listening skills — in particular, their ability to hear mistakes and identify successes. This requires an understanding of the music they’re currently studying. After all, how can you correctly self-assess your playing if you don’t know what you should be hearing?
- The student develops their musical vocabulary. My students go from saying “it just didn’t sound right” to saying “I didn’t think there was enough of a difference between the dynamic level I started at and the dynamic level I finished at.”
- The student is better able to think critically about their musical self in a way that is positive and constructive. This often makes it easier for them to practice in a way that is more focused and purposeful.
Guiding students towards positive, specific self-assessment
Self-assessment can be difficult at first for students who are especially critical about their own playing. I keep my ears open for subjective, emotion-based comments such as “I sucked,” “I was horrible,” or “It was really bad.” In addition to being judgmental, comments like this are often non-specific and indicate a still-maturing grasp of musical vocabulary.
In order to combat these kinds of comments, I make sure to give room for students to celebrate their improvements and accomplishments.
My self-assessment skill development process
Here’s how I help my students hear their music-making in an objective way — and to discuss it with me using clear, specific language.
- I ask the student to play a musical phrase, section, or piece from beginning to end. If a mistake is made, the student should continue onwards with minimal pauses.
- After this initial play-through, I ask the student to identify one to three sections that were a) performed well and b) need work. The student must provide reasoning (e.g., “I did a better job on my staccato articulation this week compared to last week” or “I’m having trouble with the shifting in measures 28–31”) for their choices.
- I guide my student through the weak spots that they identified as well as those that I identified. I use questions that help them think critically about how they play the section, what needs to improve, and what they can change in their technique or preparation to realize the improvement.
- At the end of the lesson, the student plays through the section one last time. Again, there should be minimal pauses.
- I ask my student to compare and contrast the first play-through to the last and identify one to three sections that a) improved throughout the course of the lesson and b) will need work prior to our next lesson.
How do you develop self-assessment skills in your classroom?
I’d love to hear what you do to promote and develop self-assessment skills! Leave a comment to share your successes and ideas with the Leading Notes community!
Want to learn more about some of the topics mentioned in this article?
- Deliberate practicing — “Developing A Practice Routine: Focused Learning and Deliberate Practice”
- Countering perfectionism — “Moving Away From Perfectionism In Music Education”
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