by JD

Often times instructors find it difficult to teach a new concept/maneuver to young students.  If you have ever found yourself in this position, here is a step by step process to help you the next time:

  1.  Introduce – Tell your students exactly what you want to accomplish and why.  Explain how this specific skill/concept will be useful to them.  Do not begin teaching the students without this step, they can become distracted or disinterested.  (Example:  You want to teach your kids to play a 5 stroke roll.  Explain that you are going to teach them a 5 stroke, it is a basic rudiment that appears in their music, and that it is sometimes asked of percussionists that may be auditioning.  Show them what it looks like on paper).
  2. Give an example – Allow the students to visualize/observe the skill/concept you are teaching at work.  Show them what the goal is.  Many people learn well visually.  Demonstrate yourself or show them a video of someone else.  You do not have to master the skill to teach it.  (Example:  Play a clean 5 stroke roll or pull up a YouTube video of another instructor playing a 5 stroke exercise).
  3. Break it down – This is the hardest part and it takes the most time.  Get your hands dirty and show the kids what to do in small steps.  Take things down to their molecular level.  Use checkpoints, metaphors, and mathematics to get your point across.  Be exact.  If the students aren’t getting it, break it into smaller parts.  (Example:  Explain that you begin a 5 stroke by diddling on each hand and finish off with a tap.  Ask them to play exactly at a 6cm stick height.  Explain that 6cm is about the size of a pink eraser).
  4. Execute in context – Now that your students know all the steps.  Take it slowly within the context of the material.  Practice the transitions in and out of the specific skill as well.  Show them what it feels like to actually execute from beginning to end.  (Example:  Now play the 5 stroke within the passage of the show music along with the students.  Start slow and allow them to rest their brains between takes).
  5. Repetition – Do it over and over again until muscle memory or the brain’s “auto pilot” takes over.  (Example:  Have the students play the passage containing the 5 stroke over and over again with a metronome.  No extended breaks in between).
  6. Perfection – Ask the students to execute on their own, without your help.  Step back and take a look.  Analyze what their difficulties may be.  When you properly diagnose the issues, you can prescribe a fix.  Sometimes this means returning to one of the previous steps on this list.  That is ok.  Figure out what it will take to remedy any problems and then do it.  (Example:  Watching the kids play the passage, you notice they are having trouble with the left hand diddle.  Go back and talk about what they can do to strengthen their left hand.  Explain that it should sound the same as the right hand.  Return to step #4 and continue down the list again).

This list is neither right or wrong for any specific group of students.  This a simply a helpful tool in the event that you do not know where to start.  Each kid learns differently.  You may need to modify or combine some steps as needed with your specific group.  Do what is necessary and do not be lazy.  Set the students up for success by giving them all the tools they need to achieve.