Teaching a Psychomotor Skill

Yes, playing a woodwind instrument is a psychomotor skill

Here are a few facts that you might find interesting:

  • People learn only 20% of what they hear.
  • When people hear and see something, they learn 40% of it.
  • However people learn 80% of what they do, or what they discover for themselves.
saxophone, clip art, psychomotor skill, teaching saxophone

Artwork by: Phillip Martin Reproduced with permission under Creative Common License.

When we’re teaching an instrument and music to students in our studios, we need to be creative and find ways to allow students to try out different things, and work with us to find solutions to the hurdles they’re facing. We can’t just be telling them stuff for 30 or 60 minutes. It doesn’t work; even for beginning students.

I’m sure we can all think of examples of teachers that we’ve had, who have droned on for the entire class, whatever the subject matter. Did that work for you? Sure didn’t for me. The teachers that stand out in my mind were the ones that gave me the information in chunks, and where I got to do something with that information immediately. That’s the information I remember…Whatever the subject was.

Here is where what we call the “3 Ds: Demonstrate, Describe, Do” come into play.

Playing the saxophone, clarinet, flute, taragato, or any other instrument, is part psychomotor skills and part cognition. (There is another part too, but I’ll cover that in more detail in another article later.) The concept of the 3 Ds, is to combine the cognitive and psychomotor skills—regardless of what the student is learning—together into an effective learning process.

  1. Demonstrate means that the instructor shows the correct way of doing something without any verbal comments.
  2. Describe means that the instructor shows the correct way of doing something, but this time explains each step in the process while doing it.
  3. Do means that the student now practices what the instructor demonstrated. The instructor watches, comments, and corrects as necessary.

Using this approach with students I’ve found is a really effective way to engage them in the learning process, no matter what level they’re at.


Helen holds a Master of Adult Education degree from St. Francis Xavier University, and has been an adult educator since the mid 1980s. She has taught saxophone and music since high school, and has been an adult educator in numerous health-related fields for both the not-for profit sector, and post secondary institutions.


Teaching a Psychomotor Skill — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Affective Aspect of Learning - The Woodwind Forum Blog

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