Friday, February 12, 2016

How YouTube Can Make You a Better Musician and Teacher

I think there's times when every musician or teacher feels a bit stuck. With me, it happened when several of my students were still struggling with their bow holds after months of lessons. I'd tried every trick I knew, told them what I thought was the best way, demonstrated bow holds again and again. But somehow nothing seemed to help. Finally, I decided to try something different. I found several YouTube videos of famous violinists demonstrating their bow holds, including one by Itzhak Perlman, and showed these to my students. I saw such dramatic improvement in their bow holds that I started showing the videos to all my students.

There are tons of videos of classical music available on YouTube for free. From instructional videos and masterclasses, to great performances. I've found that watching performances on YouTube can help me as much as it does my students--I can watch master musicians explain their technique or their musical interpretations, and hear incredible performances by top orchestras or musicians I'd never be able to watch otherwise. Many orchestras even have their own YouTube channels for performances.

So why does YouTube make a difference to students, when the videos often repeat the same things I've been demonstrating or explaining for so long? I think the key is variation. As I've mentioned before, regular variation helps learning. This is one reason why a teacher constantly repeating themselves gets diminishing returns--students start to tune out voices and words that sound repetitive. I've tried to combat this by having my students repeat instructions out loud to themselves, but YouTube is another novel new way to get across information. The subtle differences in instructional techniques, the different voices and appearances of the performers in the videos, and other unique factors grab students' attention in a way that their familiar teacher doesn't.

Another advantage to using instructional videos is authority. One of the more frustrating experiences I've had (one common to many teachers, I think) is students suggesting that what you've told them isn't accurate, or that they can do things differently (because of course middle school kids who've played for less than one year know better than you). The videos show them that the best musicians use the same techniques that you're teaching.

Finally, students can watch YouTube videos at home when they're practicing. I only see students for a short time each week, so having them watch a video to reinforce my lessons helps to keep them on track.

As a musician and a teacher, I think it's best to use all the resources you have at your disposal to improve your musicianship, and the musicianship of your students. YouTube can be a great resource for all musicians.

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