Making the most of music lessons
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:
- Growth-minded. Rising musicians recognize that skillfulness results from steady effort. Their growth mindset then inspires them to set meaningful goals and practice with enthusiasm.
- Mastery oriented. Unlike helpless students, intrepid ones take responsibility for their learning. They adhere to high standards, tackle appropriate material, stick to their practice schedules, stay within healthy limits, and seek help when needed.
- Independent and collaborative. They’re resourceful when practicing alone and team-minded when working with others.
- Persistent. Their mindset and goals give them the strength to persevere in the face of challenges.
- Professional. Such students exhibit professionalism in all of their musical activities – they’re punctual, prepared for lessons, courteous, and honest.
- Open to new ideas. Wise students thrive on fresh perspectives.
- Communicative. They listen keenly, speak authentically, and ask questions frequently.
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:
- Record your lessons. By listening back and taking notes, you can be certain you retain all of the advice you receive (I've posted information about recorders on the Practice page at MusiciansWay.com).
- Query your teacher when something is unclear. Students sometimes shy away from asking for clarifications because they don’t want to seem clueless or imply that their teacher’s explanations are flawed. Believe me: educators want students to understand. Ask.
- Agree on lesson goals. Before you depart from a lesson, ensure that you and your teacher spell out the goals for your next meeting. Verbalize your aims so that they’re captured on your recorder. Also, periodically discuss your long-range plans with your teacher so that lesson goals support your individual objectives.
- Document questions during practice. Keep a notebook handy as you practice, and then bring your questions to lessons. Inform your teacher at the outset of a lesson that you have topics you’d like to address.
- Ask for feedback. During and at the close of lessons, inquire how well you’re attaining lesson goals and whether there’s anything more you should be doing to improve your musical abilities or your practice habits.
- Listen actively. Communication involves both articulating one’s thoughts and genuinely hearing the thoughts of others.
- Be positive. Bring a positive attitude to lessons so that you contribute to creating a productive learning environment. Even at an intensely focused lesson, have fun. If miscommunications occur, resolve them promptly, and then let them go.
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
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