When I was in high school, I had a math teacher who's appearance was quite unkempt. A mop of curly black hair which never seemed to be combed and a long mustache hanging over his top lip. And his shirts were always clean but noticeably never ironed. I suppose this the main reason so many students used to complain when they found out he was to be teaching us .. for four consecutive years in my case.
Yet this teacher was clever and used to come up with the most interesting conversations in class. He'd prompt us to ask the 'what if.. ' questions on all sorts of topics, whether current affairs, morals, or something he'd read recently. He'd write up a 'thought of the day' on the board and ask us to think about it.
I did used to think about those things. To this day I can still envisage a quote he put up on the board one morning early in the school year:
At the time I had no idea that the quote was from Benjamin Franklin. I just knew it was a truth. It meant the big things and the little things. It meant knowing what I wanted to achieve, which can be a vast mass of possibilities, and all the landmarks along the way. It also meant the mundane, regular plodding through rather than just jumping to the first goalpost.
So, that night was when I first started planning out my time. I didn't think about the big end-goal because all I wanted then (I think I was only 14 years old) was to get good grades in school. So, with my regular school diary, I went to my timetable page and did the 'Catherine' thing of colour-coding in all of my subjects. Then I made up a homework timetable too. I figured that if I had just done that subject at school that day, I'd spend 15 minutes reviewing my notes and doing some of my assigned homework. If I didn't have a particular subject that day but was having it tomorrow, I'd allot a little time for that too and make sure any assignments due were completed. Of course, there was leniency in the timeframe as I started using this method, because there were many times when I'd managed to complete my homework and didn't need to have it scheduled more than a few days.
It all looked good on paper, and I showed my teacher what I'd done when I next saw him for my math lesson. He seemed suitably impressed. But I hadn't put the plan into action yet. That was the next step.
Since it was the start of a new school year, one of the first assignments we were given in Biology was to read a HUGE chapter on classification. I didn't want to do it. The book reading was dry. However, you know when you make a promise to yourself and you really want to see if you can do this 'thing' you've started? Well, that meant I had to commit, so I set myself up and started reading. I remember constantly looking at the clock (no such thing as a digital timer, just my regular alarm clock on my desk). One page, two pages, three pages ... are those 15 minutes up yet? No, four pages. Okay, done! Write a quick summary and leave it. Move on to a new subject; and so it went. I ended up finishing reading that chapter over 3 days and I remember feeling so glad I didn't leave it and try to struggle through it all in one sitting the day before my next class.
Once this habit started taking hold, the routine became quite enjoyable. School finished and I'd ride my bike home. Secondary school finished earlier for me than the Primary school, so I'd be home before my younger siblings. Then first thing, as soon as I'd come into the house, I'd sit to practice the piano. This was my 'down time' because it was something I enjoyed so much. It was also best done first thing, because it was quiet and after that everyone else wanted their turn to practice too. Time for a break, chat with the family or do something outside, then I'd start my homework routine from 4:30pm.
I'm so glad I started this habit as it got me through high school and into my adult life. To this day I still have a planner to map out my days and weeks.
But what does this have to do with music teaching? Well, students are trying to learn a new skill. New skills develop with patterns of behaviour. And as a teacher, I need to a roadmap of how a student should be building up their skills: introducing a concept, reinforcing it, using it to create something else. There is a sequence to learning (which I'll elaborate on in future posts), and we want to build achievements to motivate further learning.
I encourage my students to make AT LEAST a 10 minute block of time when they will do some concentrated practice on the piano. Make it part of a routine by pairing it with another already formed habit. For example, once you've had dinner, practice for 10 minutes before watching TV. Starting this routine will not be easy, but once you've been at it for a while, you should notice some significant successes, which is only motivation to keep going.
So I encourage you to remember Benjamin Franklin's words above and share this quote around a little. There may be a few ears ready to listen and think about it, and who knows where that may lead?
(Thank you Mr Charles for your inspiration).