How to Assess Your Student’s Playing

The other day a colleague was asking me the best way to assess a student’s playing. What a heavy question that is! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and while I think the real answer to this could be covered more effectively in several books than in a blog post, I’ll share a few ideas here anyway.

I think the first question really has to be “why” we assessing our students. I know that seems like a rhetorical question, but I think it warrants asking and I think the answer is that we assess our students so we can offer a balance constructive criticism and positive reinforcement to help them progress as students. What the balance is between criticism and positive reinforcement totally depends on the student. (Maybe I’ll cover this in a later post.)  I try to put elements of a performance under a couple of umbrellas so I can keep track of student’s progress. These umbrellas are: Technique, Musicianship/Musicality, and Theoretical Understanding. Of course, there are many aspects of music that can be organized in subcategories under these umbrellas, but I find that organizing my assessment with these concepts in mind helps me organize my thoughts and help plan strategies for each students’ progress and success.  Sometimes I will hear a student that clearly focuses more on the technique and theory side of things. They have great chops and a deep understanding of theory, but their musicality/soul or concept of time is really not very strong. Other students may have great passion in their playing but are lacking the proper techniques to execute their passion in an articulate way. It’s been my experience that students are usually strong in one or the other categories. So, while this is a very light writing on the subject, I assess every lesson/performance with a macro viewpoint to help me organize more micro solutions in a more effective way. While this may seem very obvious, I know many teachers sometimes forget about assessing the big picture when it comes to strengths and weaknesses of a student. Hope these ideas help.

Author: Corey Christiansen, Executive Director of Music at EA School of Music

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