By Mary Tickner

The following is an excerpt from material prepared by Alice Enns and myself for a proposed Distance Education Program which ultimately, did not go forward. However, Alice and I learned a great deal from our research and have continued to use this material in our pedagogy classes. I thought it would be appropriate as we begin a new teaching year, to share with you, some of the ideas we conceived as an adjunct to the Maxim’s of Mrs. Curwen, who created one of the first “method books” around 1895 and was reprinted at least 25 times, well into the 20th century. How’s that for longevity!


  • Understand what you wish to teach and what you expect the student to learn.
  • Make all explanations clear and use language, analogies, etc appropriate to age and interest of the students.
  • Be prepared to explain a concept or problem in different ways.
  • Teach one thing at a time and check to be sure the student understands it.
  • Be sure the student has sufficient guidance in the lesson to be able to practice independently.
  • Always review and reinforce any new concept or material.  Don’t assume the student has retained it.
  • Set manageable goals (but try an occasional “challenge” goal!)
  • Small sections are better if student has difficulties.
  • Demonstration of a technical or musical problem may be more useful than “telling” the student what to do.
  • Go from the known to the unknown.
  • New ideas are more successful when placed in context of the student’s abilities and interests.
  • Use repertoire to enhance and support theory, technique, ear-training and sight-reading.
  • Always include the following in the lesson: (1) musical skills, (2) musical knowledge, (3) repertoire to be studied and (4) performance repertoire
  • Finally, always try to end a lesson, if possible, on a positive note.

I am certain many of you could add to the list so don’t be shy. Let’s hear them!