Sunday, September 18, 2011

Asking Good Questions

 I am exploring and improving my ability to ask questions during my piano lessons. A passive role is safer for a student but I want my students to be able to think for themselves while they are practicing. Asking good questions is an art form. I find I often ask close ended questions where yes or no is the simple answer. These questions give some assessment but they reveal very little to the student. The best question invites revelation. The open ended question might ask the student to make an opinion or an evaluation. An example might be; how could you make this line sound more mysterious? What would the song sound like if we added a sharp here?

       Questions can be asked before a student plays and after she finishes. Before the student starts to play 
the questions can point to specific places in the music. These questions can give confidence that the task is understood and comprehended. The more difficult questions come after the piece has been played. Here the traditional role of the teacher is to assess the performance. But how can a student learn to evaluate his practice when he is alone if he is never asked to do so at the lesson. The best questions I asked last week were; if you were the teacher what would you say to help yourself play this song? She answered; you need to practice more. Which part needs the most practice? The middle section. Why is that difficult? My fingers get all confused. What fingering should you use in this section? 
  I find that I cannot ask questions in the same way to every student. Some seem to be on the same "wavelength" and others struggle with every question I ask. Those that struggle are often students who are "followers". They like to have the right answer and get wary if they are asked to have an opinion. I am seeing good results with a few of these students. They are trusting me more now and I see more observations skills developing. Does asking all these questions take up too much time? It can, especially if I still do too much explaining. I am trying to cut down on too much "teacher talk". They don't listen. If, however, I engage them with questions they are doing at least half of the talking. What do you think?
 I mindmapped my ideas to help me see the principles quickly. You can see them here. Enlarge the PDF to 75% and scroll down.
 "That's a Good Question" by Marienne Uszler is a great read.


  1. We found and blogged about these books at the same time! Hilarious! I have wanted to pick up this one for a while, but our music store just happened to have "Play It Again Sam" in stock last week. Seems to me we did parallel blogging about first piano lessons too. I love it.

  2. I can't speak for myself, but in your case great minds work alike.

  3. I really enjoyed this book too. Asking more open-ended questions really helps to get the students engaged in the learning process. I'm glad I found your blog. I'm adding it to my list:)