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Occasionally in this column I like to highlight information from a lesser-known book that may be helpful to independent teachers. Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Learning, and Performing is a handbook and home-study course by Lucinda Mackworth-Young. This is truly a workbook for teachers, written in straightforward style with room for penciling in reflections and answers applying to teaching situations. Most of the information is basic but practical and applicable to pre-college private lesson teaching. Tuning In provides a concrete starting place for teachers who may be looking for a refresher or new ideas for working with their students and on personal issues that may arise. The information below is attributed to this stimulating and valuable book.

The Student's Emotional Experience and the Role of the Teacher

Information in this first chapter is devoted to exploring and hearing the student's emotions. You may recall your feelings toward the first music teacher you had at primary-school age, then about a music teacher you worked with at high-school age and the feelings regarding the music teacher you worked with after high school. What were the positive feelings, and what caused them? How did they affect you in lessons and practice? What were your first impressions of each teacher and the teaching environment? If things were not going well, how did you express yourself? What did you expect in terms of encouragement from each teacher? Why? (1) We must remember that it is likely that we, as music teachers, experienced positive feelings as we grew as musicians. So now, answer similar questions in relation to a subject or activity that you disliked and wanted to give up. Certainly our answers are quite different! I find this exercise illuminating, one that perhaps can be helpful for teachers in relating to students who seem to be making less than satisfactory progress in their study.

The beginning of anything new brings heightened emotional intensity that may provide important information for the teacher, especially a teacher working one-on-one--an important point that the author strongly makes. First impressions are powerful and long-lasting. Warmth in initial meetings can last a lifetime. The potency of these feelings can sustain a student when things become more difficult. Likewise, feelings of an unwelcoming impression of a teacher later can make it difficult for a student to feel safe and secure in the teacher's presence.

Feelings of anxiety are common, even when a student undertakes an activity he wants to be part of. Since it is considered not "cool" for young students to show their emotions, they may have a tendency to hide them. They may suffer from many fears, including feelings of failure and fears of being asked to regularly play in front of a teacher. Distracting chatter or any other endless reasons for not practicing are among the many signs of anxiety a student may display. The student fears not being able to live up to what he believes is expected. The feelings of "not being able to do it" may remind him of early childhood emotions, thereby triggering the "inner child" from another time when the child felt helplessness. (2) The piano student experiencing the "inner child" transfers the role of "parent" to the teacher. The child needs to feel cared for and secure in the lesson situation.

Mackworth-Young states that while the parent's authentic role is twofold--both nurturing and authoritative--the teacher needs to be careful how he establishes roles with the student. If the student's anxiety is minimized and the student is made to feel safe and secure, the student can grow and thrive. If the student is secure with the teacher and feels safe, she can be prepared to open up and try new things and, very importantly, risk failing. In this role, the teacher also is assuming the "caregiver" role, as in the situation of the parent. In addition, there is another level where the student "believes the teacher is all powerful, knows everything and is right, especially where music and her ability are concerned." (3) From the student's viewpoint, the teacher has enormous power over her. The student may see the teacher as the ultimate authority or critic. It is especially important that care and interest from the teacher are forthcoming. The teacher must measure carefully any disapproval or neglect that could severely threaten musical survival.

Just as parents raise children to be independent individuals, a teacher strives to develop a musically independent student. Mackworth-Young states that a primary need for the student is for his "inner critic" to become his "inner carer," a source of his security and comfort. The "inner carer" can be developed through positive emotional experience in lessons. The student needs to feel and then internalize acceptance and appreciation from the teacher. (4) It is essential to develop a relationship with the student based on reality--what the student truly thinks and feels, rather than on transference--what the student hopes or thinks we feel about her.

Teaching Styles

A teacher may choose to teach in a teacher-directed style, in a student-directed style or in a combination of both, depending on what serves the student best, moment to moment. The traditional way of teaching in conventional education is a teacher telling the student what to do and how to do it--teacher-directed teaching. This can open a student's eyes to knowledge or skills yet unknown. It also can result in the student feeling forced to learn or ceasing to think on her own.

Student-directed teaching centers on encouraging a student to decide what and how to learn and by letting him set long- and short-term goals. This can be an effective way for the student to make connections and discoveries and also allow the teacher to see where any student confusion or lack of strategy may appear.

Most teachers employ a combination of both styles, depending on the students' needs at the time. The student needs a teacher to inspire her and successfully analyze problems, but the student also needs room to work things out on her own. The student should be able to identify exactly what and where the problem is and actively seek a teacher's help or further solve the issue herself. (5) Using role reversal in a lesson, by having the student teach the teacher, can be an effective teaching technique and can result in deeper understanding on the parts of the teacher and the student.

Being Aware of Negative and Positive Energy

We can learn something about the effects of our own energy and emotions on a teaching situation by doing the following: imagine if a student whom we enjoy teaching draws an image or picture of the teaching situation and then uses words or phrases to express the feelings associated with the image drawn. This activity is followed by another, where we write down thoughts as we imagine teaching the student. Feelings expressed in the activity could be similar to such terms as "caring, spontaneous, exciting, energetic, light, fun, inspiring, sparkling and magic." Thoughts expressed in the activity could be similar to: "This is fun"; "Isn't he amazing?" (6)

If the same activity were undertaken with a student the teacher is not as happy with, you might imagine what one would find. Perhaps some of the feelings the teacher might have experienced during the lesson "drawing" with the less successful student could be: "like a dead weight," "stressed," "frustrated," "resentful" or "exhausted." Thoughts expressed could be: "It [repertoire] will never be ready in time for the contest," "We must move on in this lesson," "What will the parents think?" Why can't he practice the way I just showed him?"

In fact, it is both the teacher's and the student's feelings that determine the quality of the lesson's energy. If the teacher was feeling "stressed, frustrated, resentful ...," might the student also feel the same? However, our feelings, positive or negative, might not be the same as those of the student, and it is important to observe the student to determine causes of negative energy in lessons. The teacher's thoughts about the less successful student indicate she is internally pressured--internally pressured teachers tend to be directive teachers. This kind of teacher feels pressured by the time and need to produce results; consequently, she may subconsciously pressure the student. (7) A teacher whose thoughts might be "I wonder what he'll come up with this week!" or "I'll just observe and see how he tackles it," is much more relaxed. Mackworth-Young states "Relaxed teachers usually teach in a non-directive way." (8) As such, they allow the student to choose music, set goals and direct their learning. These teachers feel secure with themselves and their teaching philosophy, which helps maintain a positive teaching energy.

Sometimes a questionnaire can be used to query students. In general, short and simple questions are better. Sample questions could be:

* "What would you like to achieve this term?"

* "What are your ambitions for this year?

* "What do you like about your lessons?

* "What do you dislike or dread?"

* "What suggestions do you have for your lessons?" (9)

Often students may be more honest and candid with a questionnaire. A teacher can use her knowledge of and sensitivity toward the student to see the truth behind the student's answers. The questionnaire can provide a useful and positive starting place for discussion.

Working With Parents

Parents need to feel security, success and appreciation in their parental roles, just as teachers do in their roles. Certainly both want the same thing: the child's success and happiness. What can happen is that either parent or child can have a disproportionate need for approval and fear of disapproval of the other, thus setting up an unhealthy relationship. (10)

Another problem that could creep into the teacher-parent relationship centers on preconceived ideas that either party may have, usually based on previous experience with other authority figures. For example, a parent may think the teacher knows best and that the parent should not interfere, even if things are not going well. (11)

Regular contact with the parent is essential and can be initiated through a phone call or in person. This allows the parent, as well as the teacher, to discuss openly the situation and avoid future problems. Mackworth-Young suggests several phrases that can be useful to encourage discussion and diffuse anger from parents:

* "Your interest can help make such a difference. I was wondering if you might have any thoughts about what to do about ..."

* "I was wondering if it might be possible for me to ... Or for you to ... What do you think?"

* "Yes, I do see your point of view."

* "I hadn't realized ... that's helpful to know."

* "Thank you so much." (12)

This is preventative work, based on open communication, is imperative to maintain a healthy balance and relationship.

For more in-depth discussion and ideas on this topic, please consult Mackworth-Young's Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Learning, and Performing.


1. Mackworth-Young, Lucinda. Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Learning, and Performing. (Norfolk, England: MMM Publications, 2000): 1-4. ISBN 0-9539485-0-1. Available by e-mailing or by contacting the website

2. Ibid. p. 6. 3. Ibid. p. 6. 4. Ibid. p. 9. 5. Ibid. p. 27. 6. Ibid. p. 50. 7. Ibid. pp. 57-58. 8. Ibid. p. 58. 9. Ibid. p. 128. 10. Ibid., p. 89. 11. Ibid., pp. 89-90. 12. Ibid., p. 93.

Send Us Your Questions

Do you have a teaching question you would like to have answered? Perhaps you have a practice tip for students you would like to share or a studio idea you are trying differently this year. Questions and other items may be sent to: American Music Teacher, Attn: Polyphony; 441 Vine St., Ste. 505, Cincinnati, OH 45202-2811; fax (513) 421-2503; or e-mail to

Jane Magrath, NCTM, is internationally known as a pianists, author clinician and teacher. She is professor and director of piano pedagogy at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
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Title Annotation:Tuning In: Practical Psychology for Musicians who are Teaching, Learning, and Performing
Author:Magrath, Jane
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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