Wait…wait… give me a minute to explain!
Now that I’ve been a harp teacher for 6 months and I’ve had lots of lessons that go really well and some that were “boring” or “too hard” or “too easy,” I’m starting to get creative with my lessons. I’ve spoken before about how much I enjoy teaching (The Easiest Way to Teach Kids) and why this is a real passion of mine. In that blog post I was only 3 months into teaching, getting to grips with ways of explaining how to play the harp, keeping people (including me!) interested and trying to teach kids that didn’t even want to sit in the chair. It is frustrating and you need so much patience. I’ve become a stronger person because of it and I’ve certainly found my back bone!
Today, I wanted to share with you some more recent discoveries that I hope you’ll find intriguing and will hopefully encourage you to get more creative. As aforementioned I’ve struggled with…”vibing” …with some of the kids I teach even though I’m only 20. Some will just sit down and do whatever you tell them to which makes them a super easy student to teach but what do THEY want to do? I was speaking to Eddie, whom we share our workshop building with, and asked him “how do you keep your lessons fun?” He replied with, “Simple, just play real music.” But was it really that simple? I did get students to play real music like Swan Lake and Frere Jacques but I knew this wasn’t what Mr Post-Punk Style Eddie meant. The day before this conversation, a parent had asked if I’d teach her daughter Shotgun by George Ezra. I shrugged and quickly googled some music for her to buy in preparation for that lesson.
Lesson 1: Colouring
After flicking through, I noticed that I could get the student to make a few changes to the music. Firstly, colour was needed. Colouring your sheet music is something that we really advocate at Hands on Harps as it’s easier to identify the notes, incorporates both sides of the brain and adds a little spice of fun to an otherwise monochrome lesson. Some children get so into it they have to hold more than one pencil at a time!
Lesson 2: Its All Fun and Games
Secondly, if a student is struggling with a bar then make it into a game. Practicing can be boring but what if it’s secretly a game of how quickly can you play this one note? Or how would a mouse play that section? Can you play it backwards? Let’s record you playing it as if you’re a pop-star. One of my students had a My Little Pony hair extension lying on her sofa which I subconsciously started to fiddle with. She giggled when I added it to my ponytail and thus the “Hair Band of No Mistakes” was born. The rules are simple, the student plays through their tune whilst I wear the hair band. If they make a mistake then the hair band loses it’s power so absolute concentration is essential. After their intense focus my student sometimes looks up to find that I’ve turned the hair band into a funky new fringe for myself or a mohawk.
I sometimes struggle with rhythm. It doesn’t come naturally to me unless I’ve had a bit too much to drink! So this was really a learning exercise for me as well. After seeing a post on Pinterest I rang my mother up and asked for my brothers LEGO. I turned up at her house and luckily had an hour before my lessons started! A bar in 4/4 can be split into 8 quaver (or half) beats which can be illustrated as 1 block LEGO pieces. Work through a bar at a time and you end up with a funky little LEGO construction which illustrates the rhythms for each bar perfectly for you.
In conclusion, I think Eddie’s statement can be shortened to: Simple, just play.
Play your harp. Make it fun. Make it interesting. Make it yours.
I’d like to share a quote from the mother of one of my students that really uplifted me this week: