Solution-Oriented Teaching

In the current (Fall 2011) issue of Listen music magazine, I was greatly inspired by an instructional approach advocated by David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. In his interview with Ben Finane he has this to say:

“One thing that I have found is very helpful – and I wish that we could do it more in real life – is to focus on the solution rather than trying to define the problem. So very simply, you don’t say, ‘Basses, you’re late,’ you say, ‘Basses, we need more forward motion on that triplet.’ And so, all of a sudden, that’s not looking at the problem as ‘Those people are rushing’ or ‘Well, I thought I was in time,’ or ‘Well, these two notes take more time on the bass than they do on the cello’ – by missing the thousands of ways you could talk about the problem you focus on the one which in the end everyone has to do. There will need to be forward motion on those three notes even in the performance, even when it’s played right. So let’s start working on what’s right, from the start, and not worry about what might be the definition of what was wrong.”

What a fascinating approach. I usually spend a good deal of time with students helping them learn to identify problems and then devise appropriate solutions, but I’m intrigued by this concept. Granted, I know he is dealing with professional musicians who aren’t struggling to recognize notes moving in skips vs. steps, but I still wonder what it would look like to try this idea in my teaching… Any thoughts?

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