I have heard from so many amazing teacher trainers about the importance of a one point lesson. I have nodded, and enthusiastically written “Only one thing in the lesson!” in my notes. Then, I go home, look at my students, and think, “How? Let’s do a five point lesson instead.” When you have spent years studying an instrument, watching someone play with poor technique can be distracting. You know that if they just fixed x,y,z they would sound so much better! So that’s what you try to do. They may even improve by the end of the lesson, but the next week, they’re back to square one.
Particularly if the student and home practice partner are new to the instrument, focusing on more than one thing in their weekly practice can be too distracting, overwhelming, and even demotivating. As I have sought to improve my own teaching, I have come closer and closer to the one point lesson. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, the student is much more successful.
So, to answer my own reflective questioning; how do you just teach one thing?
- Don’t Fix. Build Skill. I recently attended a talk by master Suzuki teacher Debbie Moench. As she spoke about growth mindset, she mentioned that we should focus on building skill instead of fixing problems. This keeps the lesson positive and encouraging, rather than focusing on failures. It may just be a vocabulary shift, but I think it’s an important one. I switched from assigning a “Number One Fix-It” to assigning the “Skillbuilder of the week.”
- Decide in advance. One of my biggest problems used to be that I would pick my one point of the lesson at the beginning of the lesson. Because we always started with bow exercises, I would always choose to focus the whole lesson on their bow hold. Now, as I take notes on a lesson, I write what I just assigned as their one point, and if they follow through, what next week’s will likely be.
- Think big picture. Hopefully, you will be working with this student for a long time. You will be able to address every point you want to, just not today. As Dr. Suzuki said, ““Don’t hurry don’t rest. Without stopping, without haste, carefully taking one step at a time will surely get you there.”
Part of thinking big picture is identifying a point that will be broadly applicable. They may have 12 pieces and exercises to practice and they should be able to focus on their one point in most of them.
- Model other practice points. You don’t have to choose one thing to teach in an entire 30-45 minute lesson, you just choose one thing to teach verbally. When you are focusing on good posture, you can still model good intonation when you play. Repeatedly hearing something correct will eventually make a difference.
- Physical reminders of past practice points. Another nonverbal way to teach is to use an unobtrusive tap on a tight thumb or lazy pinky. This can remind them of past practice points, without distracting from the most important lesson task.
Hopefully I have been clear enough in the lesson that they can tell me what their skillbuilder of the week is by the end of the lesson. If not, we will take a few minutes before we go to discuss how they can think about their skillbuilder during all of their assignments. This focus has made a big difference in my students’ improvements week to week.
How do you use the one point lesson? Do you teach a one point lesson every time or less often? I would love to hear more ideas in the comments.