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A Music Teacher's Guide To Relating To Today's Students

As You gain years of experience in teaching, you may find yourself relating less and less with your students.

With the exponential advancements in technology and changes in society that we couldn’t have imagined when we were children, the question is: How do we relate to today’s students in the music classroom?

Know Their Role Models

One of the best ways to relate to students in the music classroom is to know who already influences them and using that to help them connect to new ideas. For instance, not too long ago, many of my students were obsessed with basketball stars, including Steph Curry.

How is this helpful to know?

When we would do vocal warm-ups I would have students that were “too-cool-for-school” and didn’t want to do the warm-ups. I then began explaining to the students: “like a gymnast has to warm-up before she does her flips, or Steph Curry has to warm up his 3-point shot, we have to warm-up our voices so we can do our best.”

My sports oriented students lit up and created an association between warming up to be a great athlete and warming up to be a great singer. Success!

Knowing who students look up to can give you great ways to make connections in the music classroom.

Know Their Story

Everything people do, they do for a reason to meet a need. Understanding a student’s story can give you insight and help quell resentment that may form if the student is defiant or has other behavioral issues.

While the student’s story can’t excuse the issues that they have, it can help you become more creative in finding solutions. For instance some students are very oppositional against authority. A possible solution is to give that student responsibilities that make them feel empowered and make them take pride in the process of learning music.

Now you may be thinking I have X-hundreded (or thousand) students. How am I supposed to learn all of those stories? The Answer: Learn about your students organically one day at a time. You won’t know everything about all of them, but you can learn important things about certain students that will help you in class.

Taking a little time to understand the students that you are teaching can pay off big-time in the long run.

Know What is Important to Them

Different things drive different students. Some students are driven by approval, some by food-based rewards, and some by victory in a competitive setting. By understanding what is important to your students and what drives them, you can leverage it to boost the engagement in you classroom.

For instance, warming up vocally can be enhanced by having the students play a game such as So-La-Mi, also known as Poison Melody, or Forbidden Melody.

By using things like class rewards, competitive games, and praise (positive narration), you can activate a wide variety of motivations in your students and increase their drive to learn and achieve in your class.

Know What Kind of Music They Like

Knowing what kind of music your students are interested in can give insights into what your students consider quality music and can be used as a starting point to enter their culture and expose them to quality works of music.

Of course the word “quality” is subjective here because many people consider modern music to be “too simple” or “terrible” and many of today’s youth consider “classical” music to be “boring”.

So how do you bridge this gap?

By understanding the elements of some of your students’ favorite music you can help them notice those musical elements in other works of music. Perhaps there is a theme of bravery or not backing down in a song that your student’s like. That can be related to what French horns might represent in an overture or the trumpets in a triumphant march.

When students understand the meaning behind the music they connect in a much deeper way.

Know Their Aspirations

Many times if I have a student who is having behavioral problems to the point where they can no longer participate, I will have them fill out a sheet that ask them about their behavior, and then asks them about their aspirations. Why? Because I know that not all of my students want to grow up to become musicians.

By knowing about what some of my students want to be, (especially those who have behavioral difficulties) You can (you guessed it) use that knowledge and relate it to music to help them increase their connection to music as a subject.

I had one student who was having behavioral difficulties that told me she wanted to be a marine. I was surprised by this and asked her. “So if you don’t want to listen in music class, how are you going to make if a Drill-Sargent is yelling in your face and giving you orders? She had never considered that and got the point.

By getting to know what your students want to be you can know how learning about music fits into that story and how it can bring them joy on their way to becoming what they are aspiring to be.

Let Them Know About You

The final way to relate to your students is to let them know certain (limited) details about yourself.

Knowing things like what your primary instrument was, knowing how old you were when you started playing music or what types of music you like can peak your students interest and humanize you to them.

Also because some of your students likely look up to you, they may be inspired to try to be like you and try harder in class to do so.

Ultimately relating to the students of today can be a daunting task if approached all at once, but by taking it a little at a time, and using what you learn in your classroom, you can help your students connect to music as a subject and as an art form.

These Ideas are just a starting point in relating to your students.

What things have you done that have helped you relate better to your students?

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