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Teachers' Corner: How to Teach Your Most Gifted Students

Perhaps you've noticed that one of your students is remarkably able to grasp new concepts. Maybe you’ve recognized an amazing aptitude while instructing a beginner. Discovering that you have a natural talent on your hands can be exciting. However, many music educators wonder how to deliver the best instruction without overwhelming a young musician. You want to encourage their gift and inspire them to learn, but aren’t sure how to go about it.

Teaching a gifted student might seem challenging. Nurturing a student’s ability is important, but you don’t want to burden them or quench their excitement with extremes. The key to supporting young prodigies is balance. Essentially, you need to incorporate a comprehensive music education as soon as possible, but you should also protect them from too much too fast.

Dorothy DeLay’s approach was very successful. She would ensure that her pupils’ range of other activities was bigger than just their instrument. These tips can help music educators spur their student’s talent without overwhelming them or diminishing their enthusiasm to learn.

Support Creativity

Since your gifted student already shows an aptitude for execution, support their creativity early on to sidestep any boredom they might feel going over the same exercises. Almost all beginner instruction demonstrates to students how to play what someone else has written. That’s how you learn.

However, with gifted students, music educators should encourage them to explore and create their own compositions. Sites like Noteflight make it easy to compose, but even if they aren’t at the level where they can write their ideas, suggest that they play their own pieces.

For example, ask your young protégé to explore different rhythms using the same, repeated melodic measure. Have them create their own small arpeggios or practice exercises. The more you support their natural desire to create music, the better they’ll learn new concepts.

Encourage Listening

It’s never too early to introduce different music styles to gifted students. All children should learn to appreciate various genres, but exposing exceptional learners to other styles can truly inspire them. Perhaps they’ll hear something that will motivate them to go even further with their talents.

Give them a range of styles to try to play, and ask them to attend as many different kinds of concerts as possible. Small quartets, bands, and performers offer a wide experience for young musicians. Music educators who want to support their gifted students’ learning progress should encourage them to explore live and recorded music performances.

Arrange for Performances

This is another key learning area that helps gifted students grow their talents. The performance doesn’t have to be a big production (in fact, it shouldn’t be). Students can play for their family, in front of small classes, or just for you. Teachers can also arrange to perform duets with students.

A duet provides a great opportunity to explore new skills and techniques. It also gives talented musicians extra practice adjusting to other performers, perfecting their timing, and enhancing their musical expression. However, the worst thing you can do is overexpose them to the pressures of a solo performance. Children need time to develop a healthy self-image. Too much pressure to perform can have an adverse effect on their entire lives.

Add Other Elements

Although many students find that music history, music theory, and improvisation studies are not their favorite activities, these are important elements in a comprehensive education. Music educators can introduce these concepts gradually, making them more palatable. The following ideas can get you started:

  • Combine timbre with music theory concepts, and have your student perform various folk music genres.
  • Enhance rhythm training by using music history materials and composition practice.
  • Teach harmony together with music style content, and have students practice conducting while studying classical and spiritual music.
  • Improve ear training content with analytical listening of pop music.

Get Parents Involved

You'll need to help parents strike a balance between being supportive and becoming fanatical. Just because someone is musically gifted doesn’t mean that's all they ever want to do.

Helping parents reassure their talented children while also making it easy for them to participate in other activities is important. Work with parents, keep the lines of communication open, and strive to develop a healthy environment that will provide the backing your gifted student needs.

Also, watch for signs of comparison. Parents and music educators should provide consistent verbal affirmation. There's no need for anyone to compare your student's progress with others.

Music educators who discover a gifted student want to provide support and encouragement to the young learner. So, always praise their efforts and tell them how much you enjoyed listening to them play. Whether they end up playing professionally or not, you’ll know that you’re providing tools that will inspire and motivate the talents they’ve been given.

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