Your lesson is the core of your musical education. The key to making the swiftest progress is remembering everything your teacher teaches you and integrating it into your own musicianship as completely as possible. So, my second suggested New Year’s Intention is to commit yourself to finding effective strategies to help you remember every detail from your lesson.
First, I’ll clue you in to the important information your teacher is communicating during your lesson. Then, I’ll offer several strategies for retaining that information – you can choose which strategies to try, based on your own knowledge of how you learn best. If one strategy doesn't seem like the right fit, that's okay! Try a different one (or a combination) for the next lesson, until you find what works for you.
Information Your Teacher Is Giving You In Your Lesson
1. What is happening
The first type of information to remember from your lesson is each separate activity your teacher has you do, from warm-up exercises to etudes to repertoire. Carefully note what the activity is, which number or page in the book it is, and how much of it your teacher wants you to learn. I once had a student learn the wrong movement of a Bach partita because they didn’t remember the titles of the movements I had assigned. The first step is to have a clear, accurate "to-do" list for your practicing.
2. How it is taught
How your teacher introduces information to you is how you should practice. If your teacher explains something in a step-by-step way, learn all of the steps, and then go through them at home in the same order. For example, I have several steps that I ask beginning violinists to go through in order to get the violin in the proper playing position. I want them to go through those same steps in that same order at home – not skip to the part where the violin is on their shoulder.
3. How much to work on
Sometimes, a teacher will introduce a small amount of material, like a preview spot for a new piece, and only want you to learn that amount. Sometimes, they might only go over the first line of an etude in detail and then ask you to learn the entire study. Pay attention to what you are assigned, and if you are in doubt, ask for clarification!
4. What speed things should go
I think my number one frustration with myself and my students is that we tend to play way too fast before we are ready for it. As a teacher, I’m trying to do better at assigning metronome markings for everything, so there can be no confusion about speed. But, students and parents can notice in a lesson – what speed is the teacher demonstrating? What speed do they have the student play in the lesson? Chances are, this is not an exaggerated speed for the sake of the lesson. If I demonstrate something slowly in a lesson, I want my student to practice it that slowly at home – and play it that slowly at the next lesson. You should never play faster than your teacher has assigned! Choose a speed where you can be totally aware of every element of your musicianship and play with a high-quality sound. No teacher will ever assign you to play something fast and sloppy.
5. Posture adjustments
Posture is crucial, because how easily and efficiently we move our body directly affects our sound. We can’t sound beautiful with horrible posture. Your teacher may remind you about your posture in several different ways during your lesson. Pay attention to how they remind you and what they correct – and then make every effort to make those corrections at home. Some different ways I adjust posture in a lesson include:
- Asking a student to find their posture before they start playing.
- Verbally reminding a student to keep a tall violin (or a straight wrist, or balanced feet)
- Physically moving a student’s hands or arms to the correct place while they’re playing.
- Pointing to the part of the technique that needs to be corrected while they’re playing, or making a gesture to remind them to keep the violin in position
6. “We’ll do this next time.”
Sometimes, despite a teacher’s best intentions, you might not get to everything in a lesson. If a teacher says “We’ll do this next time,” remember it and make sure to practice it so you are prepared to play it in your next lesson.
7. Attitude/mindset adjustments
These can be some of the hardest changes to make, but some of the most impactful for long-lasting progress. For example, does your teacher ask you to take a deep breath when you’re feeling frustrated or stressed? Do they remind you that being a musician is more than what chair you sit in in orchestra? Maybe they give you an insight for a new way to approach group class or a studio recital. These are also things to process, remember, and integrate into how you approach music. What if you really tried to take a deep breath in and out every time you started to feel a little overwhelmed? What if you truly focused on the beauty of your playing and tried not to wonder where you would be sitting in orchestra? At your next lesson, notice if your teacher offers any attitude or mindset suggestions, and try to make those adjustments just like you would improve your intonation.
Strategies for Remembering What Happens in Your Lesson
1. Don’t rely on your teacher’s notes.
Your teacher has a lot of jobs to do during your lesson! They need to completely observe and listen to your playing. They need to notice what you have improved and what still needs improvement. They need to consider the best way to explain something for your personality and learning style. They need to decide what practice strategies to assign you. They have to think about what to assign you next, and how much of it. They need to notice cues you’re giving them about how you are feeling and if you’re learning what they’re teaching. They need to keep an eye on the clock to make sure they pace your lesson well. I give each of my students a practice chart in their lessons where I write down their basic assignments, but it’s by no means a detailed record of everything that has happened.
The student (and parent) need to have their own, detailed record of each lesson that they refer to regularly as part of practice in order to make the best progress.
2. The parent takes notes during the lesson (for younger students).
Using the means of their choosing, the parent should pay careful attention to everything that is happening during the lesson and take notes. If both parents are sharing music parent practice duties at home, these notes should be made easily accessible by both parents and referred to before each practice session. At the very least, the parent observing the lesson should be fully engaged, not distracted or on their phone (unless they're using the phone for note-taking), so that they can help remind their child about what happened in the lesson at home.
3. Take videos of crucial learning points.
Ask your teacher if you can take a video of them demonstrating the correct posture, or a new exercise. Having the video to refer to at home will save time and leave no doubt in your mind what the right thing to do is.
4. Take outline notes in your lesson, then add full details afterwards.
Students can get a notebook designated for lesson notes and keep it with a pencil on the stand. As the lesson progresses, they write down each topic being covered and a few key words to trigger their memories afterward. Leave space after each topic. Then, whether it’s in the hallway outside the studio, in the car, or as soon as they walk through the door at home, they sit and fill in every detail that they remember from the lesson.
5. Video the entire lesson, then watch back and take notes.
This is the most thorough and complete way to remember what happens in your lessons, and leaves the student and teacher free to fully engage in the lesson without worrying about writing anything down. Take responsibility for bringing your own device (or memory card for your teacher’s camera, if they have one available to you) to your lesson. You should view the lesson either immediately after your lesson or first thing the next day before you practice, taking detailed notes as you go. This is especially effective for aural learners, because they can actually hear what their teacher said a second time.
6. Have a reflective conversation in the car on the way home.
Talking through a lesson immediately afterward can both help a student remember what happened as well as process through any emotions they have about it. This is effective whether the parent sits in the lesson or not – the goal is to help lead the student through the lesson and to organize their memories.
Suggested questions for this conversation include:
- What was your favorite thing you learned today?
- What did you improve on the most from your last lesson?
- Can you list everything you did today in the lesson?
- Did your teacher remind you about your posture at all?
- How did they ask you to practice that?
- Did you learn any new ways to listen to your sound?
- Did your teacher suggest any new ways to think about music?
- What do you want to improve on for next lesson? What practice strategies will you use?
- What new material did your teacher give you to learn?
Please notice that none of my suggested questions include “Did you get a new piece?” So much of music is about the process, and we want students to have the goal of playing everything beautifully, at high level. If a student only defines a successful lesson as one in which they ‘checked off’ a piece and received a new one, then they are bound to be frustrated most of the time! Parents can help create a growth-centered, process-oriented mindset by guiding their child’s attention to the process after a lesson, rather than the ‘result’ of getting a new piece. The goal is the creation of a child who loves music and who lets music make their heart more beautiful. Making sure that all previous goals have been met and that growth is happening is essential before moving on to new repertoire. And, asking about new material broadens the mindset of both the student and the parent. New could mean a new exercise to develop finger flexibility, or a new way to practice a difficult passage. New could mean a new etude to build technical skills outside of the repertoire. New could be a new way to think about your sound. Try very hard to avoid narrowly defining a successful lesson as one in which you "finish" one piece and are assigned a new one.
7. Refer to your lesson notes at the beginning of each practice session.
Whichever strategy you’ve used to remember your lesson, it’s important to remind yourself of key points every time you practice. Read through your notes before you start practicing, so you know your practice aligns with what you learned in your lesson. Also, read through your notes and think about how your week of practice has gone before your next lesson so you can be prepared!
I would LOVE to hear if any of these strategies make a difference in your lesson experience and music learning - or if you have other strategies that you find helpful! Please leave a comment or send me a message through the contact form to let me know how it goes!