When I meet a new student one of the first things I do is carry out a brief assessment of musical ability. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t test or assess musical abilities to judge which students I will teach. Quite the contrary. Assessing musical ability helps me get to know my students and their capabilities, and this helps me plan lessons for them and choose suitable materials.

So what am I looking for?

Rhythm. Pitch. Musical memory. A propensity for artistic creativity.

Students that show a particularly strong sense of rhythm, pitch, musical memory or a creative imagination might need pushed, while we may take a more gentle approach to those with less distinct capabilities.

How do I assess these?

Using really simple methods.

If I’m assessing pitch I would ask the student to sing back a short, clear melody. Assessing for rhythm I would take the same melody and add a rhythmic pattern to it, asking the student to clap the rhythm back to assess for an awareness of rhythm.

For my little students (who can be really bouncy!) I look at rhythm and movement. Get them to march to a 2/2 or 4/4 rhythm, sway to something in 3/4 or jump to something lively or energetic. Using the same music I get them to describe how it makes them feel or to tell me a story about the music to get a sense of their creativity or imagination.

Then comes the hard work.

Once we have a sense of the students musical capabilities, strong or weak, it is our responsibility to stimulate and develop them.