I’m sure we have all wondered what our students see when they are watching us. Certainly, our viewing video recordings of our rehearsals can help provide insights into what they see, but I would like to suggest an additional step that will help us actually see what they see, as well as feel what they feel. How? By us putting ourselves in their position. First, after getting permission from the school (if needed!), video yourself from the front doing one full rehearsal. After school or whenever there’s no one around, project that recording on a big screen in your rehearsal room, with the sound turned off. Then, grab your primary instrument and the sheet music (not the score!), sit where that instrument would sit in the room, and play watching the conductor on the screen that just so happens to be you. Next, repeat that exercise playing a few secondary instruments. For those of us who are not percussionists, make certain to include a percussion instrument or two.

Trust me, it will be illuminating. As you do this, thoughts will be flooding your mind: “Why am I conducting so big when it’s pianissimo? Why do I look angry? No wonder the 3rd trumpets didn’t come in: I wasn’t even looking at them let alone cueing them. I didn’t offer any help to the cymbal playing during a very challenging passage. Now I understand why the trombones were fidgeting during that piece: they play three notes after counting 62 measures of rests. Why do I keep looking at the first clarinets seemingly ignoring the seconds and thirds? This 40-minute rehearsal feels like it’s three days long because the pace is so slow.” Now, if you’re like me, your list of thoughts will seem endless, and you will gloss over the good things you observe. Don’t! Notice those positive moments so we can reinforce our doing them in rehearsals. Notice what works well so we remember to do those things. Can this exercise be a bit depressing, daunting, and frustrating? Surely! But it can also offer information and rewards difficult to find any other way. If we put ourselves in the place of our students, each of us can often be our own best teacher.

Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
KHS America

About the Author

Dr. Boonshaft, Director of Education for KHS America, is the author of the critically acclaimed best-selling books Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music with Promise. He was honored by the National Association for Music Education and Music For All as the first recipient of the “George M. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education.” Dr. Boonshaft was selected for the Center for Scholarly Research and Academic Excellence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he is Professor Emeritus of Music.