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Saturday, January 20, 2018

How to Follow Instructions

When colleagues ask me what theory books I use in my studio, my answer is the Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory as my theory course. I begin this book somewhere a little after the time that I begin a student with a reading program. For most students this will be somewhere after the student has shown comfort in the I Can Read Music book by Joanne Martin.

I could choose another theory book, and I have several that I have explored in past years, yet I return to the Alfred's book over and over. The reason is because this particular theory course provides me with the perfect program to teach students how to follow instructions -- an important life skill that lacks a useful and systematic program to learn it.

The beauty of this course is the way that instructions are given to complete the exercises. Many of the instructions include more than one task. Over the years I noticed that students did not understand how to thoroughly dissect and follow a compound list of instructions. The Alfred's instructions are anything but complicated. Even parents trip up on the compound instruction sets.

Let me share the trick that I teach my students (and parents) to learn how to follow instructions completely.
  • Circle the verbs. Most students understand what a verb is. After circling the verbs, I point out that the number of circled verbs equals the number of tasks that the student must complete.
  • Underline important things to note. For example, perhaps the instruction asks the student to draw quarter notes and another instruction asks the student to draw half notes. I ask the student to underline the words "quarter" or "half" so that the student remembers that there is something to distinguish in each task.
  • Check off each completed task as represented by each circled verb.
After following this program, my students now complete ALL of the instructions contained in each assignment and have learned how to follow instructions.

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2018 by Paula E. Bird


  1. This is great advice, thank you! I have a new studio in a new country and I am looking forward to implementing this in my program!

    1. Hi Karis!I cannot even imagine all the difficulties you must face when moving to a new country. Let us know how it goes!

  2. Hello Paula! Thank you for all your advice! We started Suzuki violin wth my 3-year old daughter. In the beginning she loved her violin and loved going to lessons but little by little her love started fading away and now she is to the point of hating it. This makes me so sad. I am not sure what went wrong. Maybe the teacher went too fast with her. Maybe she is just too energetic and it is hard for her to stand still. But what should I do now? Take a break from violin? How to bring love back for her violin? I am afraid that a big damage has been done. Please, help with some word of advice! Thank you!

    1. Hi, Helen! Thanks for writing! You inspired me to write an article about this issue (published 2/3/17), although your situation may not exactly apply. Still, the worksheet questions I included in the article may help you. Why don't you email me ( and we can talk in more depth? -- Paula