Teaching and Teacher Training

Overwhelmed with All These Streams

Francine V., Australia

How do you guys do this? I spend HOURS and HOURS learning these different streams, and planning them into lessons. I’m just about to start learning Foundation 5 (I have two students right on my tail) and I can now see how wrong I’ve been doing this. (I know it all comes with experience and time, though).

I’ve just spent hours learning half the TTM for Comp & Improv, then more hours trying to plan it into lessons.  I’ve also just spent hours learning half the TTM for reading rhythm, and more hours planning how to put them into lessons.  I’ve also spent time learning half the TTM for reading notes – I haven’t yet tried to plan them into lessons.

I still have to learn Arrangements 2 and 3, Blues Improv, the rest of Comp & Improv, the rest of Reading Rhythm, the rest of Reading Notes – and then plan them into lessons. All these variations and arrangements! I’m getting really exhausted, and I’m not getting paid for any of these hours of work!

Now that I can see how important it is to be giving variations, arrangements, comp and imp projects, and doing bits and pieces of everything, I feel like the lessons are now really rushed! I don’t laugh and play with them as much anymore because I’m trying to rush everyone through to the next thing on the list. There seems to be soooo much to fit in.

So how do you guys do this?

Elaine F., South Carolina

This will be an interesting conversation to follow. I struggle with it too. But whatever you do, remember that your relationship with the student is paramount. I think people often learn better “in relationship” with someone. So, talk with them about the vast content and your excitement (not overwhelmedness) to share it all. Especially talk with the coach about the pace of the lessons and ask them to give you feedback on the dose.

I think that when they hit the valleys, it’s the relationship that helps them stick it out– not the # of streams they are covering (or perhaps we should say swimming in.)

I’m sure others will chime in with specific teaching ideas.

Missy M., Nebraska

I know how it feels to be a bit overwhelmed and wonder how everything will fit together. I feel behind every week, but that doesn’t mean that I am doing a bad job. Anything new takes time and lots of work and sweat to reach breakthrough results. So maybe in a way, this experience you are going through will give you courage and strength as you realize this is a worthwhile endeavor, way up there with what doctors and lawyers do – right?

Oftentimes we esteem people like doctors and lawyers, scientist and presidents and we don’t even stop to think why. I think we esteem them because they have survived what we consider grueling study and disciplines to learn a field that contributes greatly to the well being of people in our world. So let this be a trophy to you that you are working on and presenting valuable information and opportunities which others need. Where there is little cost there is little value and little reward or honor.

So practically speaking, I think every teacher goes through this. I am working into Level 8, RN, RR, TFMM, advanced composition, Jazz I, ACC II and worship lead sheets with one student. I about panic every week wondering if I am ready. I move more slowly than other teachers who have started after me. I am constantly reminded that I am not as good a reader as traditionally trained musicians and so sometimes I feel like I am faking my way through. But, each week I find a new treasure and earn another part of my trophy as I am living out what I am teaching. So go through the valleys, climb the steep slopes and keep your eye on finishing, even when you can’t see the end. What a valuable life lesson.

All these streams take a long time to unfold and allowing about 2-3 minutes of each one in each class is sufficient most of the time. If you know that you just have to inch a long, than it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. When some student is on my tail in a Foundation level, I spend more time on something I know for a week or two. Maybe you can do weeks where you emphasize a stream of Acc. or Improv, so you can catch your breath on the things that are more difficult to you. Honestly, if you are blasting through your materials so fast that you can’t keep up, you are probably missing some of the richness of allowing your student and yourself to enjoy this process.

Hope this helps. You will make it if you just keep moving forward, and so will your students.

Carol P., Michigan

It’s a lot for sure!! This is where I am on the subject now. In a few years I may have better ideas.

I’ve started the whole concept of streams earlier, right in level one. I’m giving smaller assignments in each stream. I have a form that I use for each student with columns for foundation, arrangements, accompaniment, comp and improv. and rows for dates and specific assignments. I keep the forms in a binder with the rest of the paperwork I use for each students. It helps me to keep track of where everyone is.

I think it’s a matter of being REALLY organized. Introducing the concept of streams earlier helps to get the students and life coaches on board. I’ve had to rearrange my thinking a bit: it used to be all about the foundation levels and now it’s a much broader approach including all the streams.

Mark M., New York

Your concerns are totally understandable. We all definitely have to confront how much work there is to this job outside of actual lesson time. After confronting the basic “factness” of that fact, the next important step is probably to revise your perspective about whether or not you’re getting paid for that time. You are. Lesson tuition doesn’t pay only for time spent teaching in lessons. It pays for every bit else you do, too. That’s the nature of the business model. There are other business models you could adopt, but it would likely turn off students to pay a much smaller amount for in-lesson teaching time and then have to also pay some additional fee for all the time you spend outside of lesson. This is just a matter of what you call things. In the end, you’d make the same amount of money and spend the same amount of time.

If you don’t feel you’re getting enough total money for your total time, you can consider raising your rates or increasing your efficiency. Beyond this perspective change is the work itself and, indeed, wanting it to be done as efficiently as possible. The best perspective to take is, I think, two-fold:

  1. All the prep work learning and planning new streams is a one-time investment, just like the monetary cost of the TTM. Yes, you may revise your planning and revisit your learning over time, so there may be smaller additional investments. But on the whole, it’s a one-time investment, and you never have to do it again. Every new lesson you teach that stream to, it’s less and less work, because that initial investment took place longer and longer ago and you’re gaining experience each time you teach it to a new lesson, so it’s easier and easier, taking less and less time to feel confident presenting each project to each new lesson. The investment is amortized over time. Like your TTM. Like your initial licensing training. Like the cost of a white board or a piano.
  2. The farther in advance you make these training/planning investments before the first time you need to teach a particular stream, the more prepared you’ll be for that very first instance of teaching it, and then it truly is all downhill from there. If you do each training and initial curriculum planning at the earliest moment you qualify to acquire each program, then all will be staggered over time as well as possible, instead of having too many new programs pile up to do that “extra” work on at once.

Finally, the issue of feeling rushed is a totally separate issue, one of time efficiency, for which the TWS recording on the topic is, I think, extremely valuable. Many projects at once, each with small doses each time, is a recipe for constant variety, constant interest, and making each project as easy as possible to do. And if you don’t pack certain things in for certain lessons on certain days, it’s just not a problem. As Neil says, it takes as long as it takes. There’s no reason for either you or your students to feel rushed at any point. None of this gets around the amount of work to be done. It just gives it a context for making it go well.

Carrie L., Michigan

Just keep in mind that it does get easier.. Although the learning never stops which I LOVE! I started teaching SM in 2003 and I still have yet to understand everything, cover everything and learn everything.. it’s ok!

The training can be very intense the first couple years but does get easier though.

Anne S., Nebraska

This is, I think, a common issue. It has come up in every single symposium, conference, and meeting that I have attended. Simply Music is so wonderfully broad and offers students an education in music that they won’t find in other methods, but there is no question that it is difficult to keep everything going.

So here’s how I do all the streams all the time: I don’t.

Let me hasten to add, before my license gets pulled, that I am trained in pretty much all the streams and I incorporate them as much as possible with my groups. But it is not possible, nor is it expected, that we cover every stream in every lesson. Maybe you’ve seen Neil’s visual of a box with a circle in it touching all sides of the box. The circle represents the playing-based component of the program, and in the spaces in the corners are the other streams such as C&I, Accompaniment, Jazz, etc. Maybe you only hit those streams every three or four or six weeks.

It has been brought out before and I have found this to be true, that once you start Reading Rhythm and Reading Notes, it’s important not to let them fall by the wayside. But I have found that the other streams do fine with intermittent attention.

As far as your own training, that’s only time-intensive one time. Maybe two. Once you start teaching a particular level or stream, you won’t need to spend all that time reviewing the TTM every week. You’ll develop your own rhythm and style in teaching them.

I have also chosen, at this time, not to offer PAS or Rhapsody, as wonderful as those programs seem. This is due to both cost (to me and the students) and time. As far as I know, these programs are not required components of Simply Music, so I am holding off for now.

So, take a deep breath and continue to have fun with your students, knowing that even if you don’t do everything in every lesson (who does?), you are still providing them with the best quality piano instruction out there anywhere.

Laurie Richards, Nebraska

I’m sure you are not alone in feeling a bit overwhelmed. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you continue your training.

• If you are feeling rushed in your lessons, you are probably trying to cram too much in. There are a lot of streams, but you don’t have to cover every stream in every lesson. I never get to every single stream in a lesson once they have more than 4 streams going. However, I do remind students to keep up with all streams in their practice. It is very doable.

• Also, once you have multiple streams going, you need to dial the dosage way down. I always make it a point to have a conversation with students about this in Level 4. It starts to feel different to them, because they will rarely learn an entire song in one week any longer. We talk about how it may feel slower because the foundation songs take longer to get through; however, we are moving forward in many different areas, which all complement and enhance one another. But we move forward more slowly in multiple areas as opposed to moving forward quickly in one or two areas like when they first started. We look ahead on the Curriculum Overview and talk about the kinds of things they will be able to play as a result of learning all these streams.

• As far as your training, you don’t necessarily have to train in every one of those programs at the same time, and you can dial down your own dosage as well. In the auxiliary streams like C&I, Blues, RR, RN, any one step may take several weeks with classes. Just take your time with each step and don’t rush your own training…that will help you not to rush your students, which will backfire. I speak from experience! Having said that, if you have time it can be valuable to watch through a longer section of the training materials to have an idea of where you are heading. But try to maintain your focus on the next step you will be teaching.

• If you are just now training in RR, you don’t need to even start RN training yet. It takes a while to take a class through the Reading Rhythm program. You don’t have to train in all of it at once.

• Back to fitting it all in a lesson, sometimes you can take 1 or 2 minutes in class on a stream (and again, not every stream every lesson). For example:

• (RR) – Look at everyone’s writing assignment; write one on the white board and process as a class. Address any issues and assign more writing for the following week.  I would spend more class time on RR the following week for sure, though.
• (Acc. project) – Assign the next 4 meas./ next section/ whatever if no issues
• (C&I) – “I’d like to hear one person’s composition this week.”
• (C&I) – “For next week, play Dreams #2 arr. LH chords and improv the RH (hand position = 1 on D, 5/5); maybe take 30 seconds to demonstrate what you mean
• (Any stream) – “Next week I will hear your: (blues riff) / (acc. project) / (insert whatever).”

One of the most unusual things about Simply Music is the opportunity to start earning a good income after only a few months of training. We get to earn money in our career while we continue our training, instead of taking classes for 4 or 5 years first. That’s a good thing to keep visible in the lens you look through.

My top piece of advice would be to take a deep breath, slow down a bit and for now just be ready in your training for the upcoming few weeks. Don’t rush yourself OR your students. Take ample time with each successive project in the auxiliary streams. Give yourself and your students plenty of time to not only learn the concepts but really absorb them and reach a good comfort level before moving on. It will all come, and as Mark mentioned, once you get through the training materials the first time, it will much less and less of a time commitment going forward. It’s all such GREAT content, so look forward to it!!

Melani M., Australia

Well said, Mark! I would just like to add that, at the risk of sounding selfish, I view much of my training time in the light of advancing my own education and musicianship. This is MY repertoire, and MY accompaniment technique, as well as my students’!

Linda T., Nebraska

I’ve recently returned to lessons (part way through Lvl 4, RR and RN) with a more advanced SM teacher in this area, as well as teaching some Lvl 1 and beginning Lvl 2 students myself.

So let me respond as a student: we have done several most enjoyable lessons spending time on Improv in class, as well as reviewing ARR for Lvl 1-3 pieces and ACC. A great way at this Lvl is to have students pick randomly (e.g., “draw a popsicle stick” with song title on it). I find that these reviews are rarely boring – I usually need them! This helps break the otherwise breakneck pace through the new Lvl materials and keeps the playlist fresh while we continue to work slowly through the newer projects.

Taking time to improv and duet together in class is part of what creates the sociability of the class for me.

Sue C., Australia

Every student or group is different. You don’t have to fit everything in. Remember if you ever had a baby, at first it is basics, feeding, changing, settling and most important surviving and enjoying it yourself.

Use foundation songs as basics and then variations and easy arrangements. Add other streams when you are ready. You and parents will feel and know when it is time to add an extra stream like Songs for Children. Mention this at the FIS so that parents are expecting it half way through level one. With some students getting to that point and playing the first five songs well can take months so they are ready for something new and it is less than half price of levels.

You are going great and just think of what you are achieving already instead of what you are unhappy about. We have to cheer ourselves on as we are not in a workplace where others can say … Well done. We must constantly encourage ourselves.