8 ways to make music lessons interesting

Violinist Sid G Hedges gives advice to teachers on how to inspire enthusiasm in The Strad’s June 1923 issue


Recently a lady remarked to me: ‘My children are very naughty about their practice. Only this morning I found them together, for they have but one instrument, and one was saying to the other: “I have had three minutes, now you must have three.” They hate their lessons and would never go unless I made them.’
Now these are, unfortunately, very commonly the attitudes of music pupils towards their studies. Every music teacher should be concerned that his pupils do not feel similarly. It is the teacher who makes the pupil bored or keen – that is, of course, assuming that the pupil is of average intelligence. Here are some guidelines to inspire interest and enthusiasm:

1. The child should learn to like the teacher
It will not do so if it looks on him as a grim personage who only talks of minims and crotchets. But let him be interested in dolls or marbles, and he at once becomes more likable. In fact an occasional five minutes discussing such fascinating matters is nearly always well spent.

2. The teacher should be interested in what his pupils read
It is a very good plan to have a stock of books which he can lend to them. To lend a Sherlock Holmes tale, illustrated with a picture of that genius playing his beloved violin, will capture the heart of most pupils. Additional throbbing interest may be given by playing what Holmes declared to be the most beautiful air in the world: the ‘Barcarolle’ from ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’.

3. Become really friendly with your pupils
One should be interested in the elder children’s ambitions and sports. No time should be considered as wasted which results in closer sympathy and understanding between pupil and master.

4. Lessons should not always be of the same pattern
The teacher who never varies his routine of fifteen minutes for the scales and arpeggios, fifteen for the study, fifteen for the piece, deserves the failure he will most certainly get. Yet crowds of teachers are thus lacking in imagination, and put the blame for apathy and lack of progress on pupils’ shoulders when it should fall entirely on their own.

5. It is not always essential to hear everything
Points of technique must be thoroughly explained, illustrated and tried, of course; but this need not take up all the lesson. If scales have been practised during the week, and are a customary part of the curriculum – it is often not even necessary to hear them through. A trustworthy, keen pupil will say if he has any special difficulty. This advice must not be misconstrued. The thing is to fill up each minute of the lesson with useful, interesting work.

6. Do sight-reading often with all pupils
Every teacher should have a good stock of violin duets, and all sorts of other stuff for this purpose. Have it classified and use it on a definite plan, so that pupils do not get familiar with any of it. Then periodically, give a pupil an entire week’s sight-reading; warning him not to touch a single piece or study that he knows. The lesson of this week should, of course, be given entirely to practical sight-reading, too.

7. Memorising is also important
Periodically, a pupil should have a week of memorising; just one study and one piece, with no other work to be done.

8. Play chamber music with your students
Every violin teacher should have some knowledge of the cello, it is a very simple matter for a violinist to gain such little ability as will enable him to play the bass part of hymns, and the double-bass part of an orchestral number. With this little attainment he can form trios among his pupils: with much enjoyment and benefit to them. This sort of thing gives self-reliance and practical ability to pupils; and will add tremendously to their zest and enjoyment.

This article was published in The Strad’s June 1923 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial. To purchase single issues click here.