If you're a violin student, and you take notes, make recordings, and do what you can to remember your lessons, let me propose something else for you to consider. Recently I tried something that has given me a whole other dimension in seeing how I’m doing with my lessons. Let me share it with you.
Over the past 15 months I’ve had 52 lessons on the violin. [Note: While 52 lessons should cover a year, my teacher, Mirabai Peart, is an active, professional musician drawn away from the studio at various times through the year to play music in Europe, here in the United States, and Australia. Hence, I have a few breaks in lessons from time to time. Here is an example of her playing. ]
In any case, that’s 52 hours of lessons. 52 times I’ve stood there and played, listened, discussed, and on and on. It's been over 15 months of this. So, what have I learned and retained over the course of these lessons? Do I remember everything? Did my mind wander? Did I misunderstand things? Get things wrong? What happened?
Here is how I do it.
From the start, I made recordings of all the lessons. Each week I brought a small recording device, set it on a chair and recorded the lesson. Next, I uploaded the recording into my computer, then the following morning I would sit and make notes of the lessons. At first the notes were rather general because everything I was being taught was new, but over time I learned how to listen to the lessons, what to write that was important, and how to organize the notes. Finally, I’d print the notes and keep them on the music stand for my daily practice. I’d read the notes before starting, and refer to them when needed throughout the practice session.
About a month ago, I realized I was about to hit lesson 50, and I wondered what would happen if I went back and read all the lessons once again? Going one step further, I made the lessons into a book with a table of contents, a list of the songs we covered, what lessons we worked on those songs, and an index of all technical and theoretical work we’d accomplished. I took the book to a local Fed Ex office and had them make a second copy and bind the pages with durable covers.
(As much as I’d like to think I’m a cool, sophisticated, witty elderly gentleman – I have to admit I'm also something of a nerd who loves to do stuff others consider deathly dull. If you ever have trouble falling asleep, just call me and I'll talk to you about my enthusiasm for ethnographic patterns in the structure of middle schools, and their influence on students learning in American schools in the Upper Midwest. I think it's really nifty stuff, but I'm also sure you’ll be asleep in three minutes.)
Next, I gave my extra copy to my teacher so she could read it if she felt an uncontrollable urge to revisit 50 lessons from one of her students on some dark, rainy Portland, Oregon, winter night.
Then I sat down and read all 50 lessons marking them with a highlighter pen to see what emerged. I asked myself three questions – What gets repeated over and over? What is new? What tidbits of knowledge did I let slip away?
Also, I approached this with a little mantra I learned long ago when I worked as a stage manager one summer at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. When critiquing a play we always asked three questions:
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