Michigan Music Conference 2011—Day Two

Cormac Cannon—Strategies for Student-Centered Rehearsals

Professor Cannon began his presentation by posing a simple question—can what we say influence how our students listen? Short answer, yes. We as teachers sometimes have a tendency to bring negative language into our music classrooms, often without even realizing it. This can be something as simple as saying, “Don’t rush” or “Don’t play so loud.” What the students are hearing is what not to do, but they aren’t being given any tools to fix it. This can eventually lead to them shutting down in an effort to avoid these mistakes.

Instead, a better option would be saying something like, “Saxes, you’re rushing a little bit there. Could you listen back to the low brass for the tempo?” It’s our job to help the students improve, and it’s unfair to expect them to do so without some feedback and guidance from us.

Prof. Cannon also tackled the use of “I” statements in the classroom. “I want this…”, “I need…”, “I feel…” and so on. Is the goal of the music to please the conductor, or should our goal be to engage all students in a rehearsal? “I” statements take the focus off the students, where it should be. Instead, we could say things like, “We need…”, “The music demands…”, “Can you play/do/give…” etc. Put the focus on the students where it belongs, and you will start making more meaningful connections with students during a rehearsal.

The last big concept covered by professor Cannon was the need to offer context in a rehearsal. It’s not enough to simply ask, “Can you play louder/softer/faster/slower there?” Give the students a reason for making that adjustment. They need to know to what and to whom they are listening. Isolating sections in the music is a great way to have students build these connections. If the flutes and trombones have a unison line, but aren’t able to hear each other in the context of the full ensemble, have them play by themselves.

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