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Gerald Klickstein

Making the most of music lessons

September 7, 2010 at 10:19 PM

The school year is getting underway here in the Northern Hemisphere, and multitudes of music students are resuming lessons.

Are young musicians prepared to make the most of their lessons?

Some are. But I've found that others are not, because, through no fault of their own, they’re unclear about their roles as students and lack confidence in their communication skills.

To help students excel in their lessons, in this article, I highlight the attributes of successful learners and suggest ways in which aspiring musicians can enhance their student-teacher communication.

Attributes of adept learners
What’s the central issue in lessons? Learning. What, then, is the primary role of students? To be adept learners. (Teachers facilitate learning.)

So let’s look at what it means to be good at learning.

In a nutshell, adept learners are:

Communicating in lessons
To embody that last trait – communicativeness – we not only need a desire to connect but also the skills and self-assurance to do so. And, let’s be honest, communicating can get tricky, more so with some teachers than others.

For instance, check out this excerpt from a May 2010 post on a forum hosted by The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music:

In my last lesson my teacher suddenly said, “That’s it!” over a passage I’d been struggling with.
“That’s what?” I thought. “That’s it, I’m fired??”
Turns out he thought it was good, but I still now can’t hear what he heard. I thought it was awful.

It seems that neither the student nor the teacher in that example could grasp the other’s point of view. In the end, though, no communication equals no learning.

Given that learning in lessons hinges on communication, here are strategies that students can use to heighten their communication with teachers:

What if you can’t establish a communicative rapport with a private teacher? For starters, you could solicit advice from a counselor or another educator. Then, if your attempts to communicate still fall short, it might be time to find a new instructor.


© 2010 Gerald Klickstein



From Benjamin Eby
Posted on September 8, 2010 at 12:37 PM

 I sure hope multitudes of students aren't merely resuming music lessons.  Do most music students take the summer off?  I never did.  I would think that would be disastrous for one's technical development.

From Jack Shepard
Posted on September 8, 2010 at 2:14 PM

It would be informative to describe what it means to be a great instructor as well.  (Maybe this has already been discussed?)

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 8, 2010 at 2:35 PM

I am surprised at many of your positive sugestions are what my teacher & I do!  also, many good suggestions that I doubt that I would have ever thought of.  I'll look into your book also. It may be something others here at my University may want to examine.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 9, 2010 at 7:29 AM

I like your advice.  I'll pass it on to my students.

From Gerald Klickstein
Posted on September 10, 2010 at 9:33 PM

Thanks for your comments.

Jack: I'll eventually write a post along the lines of what you describe. In the meantime, here's a link to the website of the Center for Music Learning at the Univ. of Texas at Austin, which contains interesting info about the characteristics of effective music teachers:

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