How to Take Notes at Your Violin Lesson

August 28, 2020, 12:54 PM · Note: This story is part of our Guide to Online Learning," to help students and teachers make online music lessons and classes work as effectively as possible.

Switching to online lessons during the pandemic has forced a number of changes about how violin lessons work. One significant change has been to shift the responsibility for taking notes from the teacher to the students and/or their parents. Here are some thoughts on that change, followed by specific advice for students, teachers and parents, to help you to take effective notes from your lessons.

taking notes

I'm a teacher who has written a lot of notes for students. During Before Times, when teaching in-person lessons, I furiously scribbled notes and directions on a practice chart for students, trying to write down as much information as I could while simultaneously listening, teaching and demonstrating. Students and their parents were grateful - one parent even said, "I just realized, you do this for us every week - but you also do that for every single one of your students." It amounted to customized, handwritten, personal practice plan for each of my 25+ students, every week.

Sometimes this backfired, though. If I asked why something hadn’t improved, or why something wasn’t practiced a certain way, a parent or student might say, "You weren’t clear in how you wrote it on the practice chart," or even, "I guess I didn’t look at the chart when I practiced."

When we converted to online lessons, I decided to hand the task of taking notes over to my students and their parents. It was an enlightening decision. I asked my students to email me their notes before each lesson, so I could refer to them during the lesson. What an eye-opener! A number of different interpretations emerged: the lessons I thought I was teaching, the lessons my students were having, and the lessons the parents were observing.

Through all of this, I’ve learned a lot about note-taking, both from my own experience and from experience with my students. Here are some guidelines and strategies to help you or your students take effective notes during lessons that will help guide practice throughout the week:

For Students or Parents Taking Notes:

For Parents Coaching Children To Take Their Own Notes:

This is a labor-intensive process at the beginning, but it will ultimately save time during your week of practice and will result in greater progress as the students take more ownership and remember more details about their lessons!

For Teachers Transitioning to Parent Or Student Note-Taking

  1. Establish the expectation at the beginning of the lesson term, and provide the student/parent with resources - like this blog post! Make sure the student has a notebook designated for lessons.
  2. Give students time to write things down during the lesson. If you notice them stopping to write things down, wait for them to finish before moving on to a new topic.
  3. When the student is very new to note-taking, instruct them to write specific things down during the lesson. You’ll know they’re really taking ownership of the process when they reach for the pencil before you can tell them to!
  4. Ask them to share their notes on a weekly basis. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn about what they know. Part of the lesson can be coaching them on note-taking skills.

Here are two PDFs that I’ve created to help with note-taking, please feel free to print them out.

Lesson Notes Chart: This is a straightforward chart that a student or parent could use during a lesson.

Detailed Note-Taking Outline: This is a detailed template for taking outline notes. It can help you think through what kinds of things to look for and write down from your lessons. (Shoutout to my AP European History teacher, Mr. Kelly, for making me learn this in 10th grade. As you can see, it’s stayed with me all these years!)

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August 29, 2020 at 12:50 AM · I record all of my lessons, then type them the next day, using bold type for important points. A big advantage to having recordings is I can hear my teacher play the songs and exercises whenever I need them for reference. I timestamp the notes, save both the notes and the recordings, and index which lessons and exercises we worked on within the lessons. After every fifty lessons I have them bound for future reference.

August 29, 2020 at 03:07 PM · This is great! Thank you Claire!! Michael, I admire your system!! I feel like I have lost so many little golden nuggets of information from my years of just because I relied on memory. When I take a lesson now, I will often dictate all the things I learned in a voice memo on my phone.

August 30, 2020 at 12:59 AM · Great article, Claire! Perhaps something very positive to come from online teaching is putting more responsibility into the hands of students.

August 30, 2020 at 11:52 AM · I have to say, I admire the discipline in all these approaches. Personally I would not have the stamina to keep up such a note taking regime. My first teacher had a little notebook for me into which she wrote some key words ("Elbow below the violin!!!!!" or "bow straight!" by which she meant parallel to the bridge) plus at the end the assignment for the practice week, less than a quarter page per lesson. We used Doflein which has quite a bit of verbal instruction in the book, so maybe that made it easier to reduce note taking to a minimum.

The rest of my teachers did not take notes nor did I. Whatever was written down during the lesson was in the music: fingerings, bowings, arrows (to indicate notes that were consistently either sharp of flat). I do not think more notes would have made me progress faster. One thing about memory is that if one uses it one develops it. The other thing is this: There is a limit to the number of items one can focus on during practice anyway: Handle too many different issues in the same lesson and you overload the student, notes or no notes.

However, this is all individual. I feel I got on well with few notes, others will feel differently. I just ask for mercy for those like me who learn with no discipline.

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