1. PLAN + PRIORITIZE
At the end of each lesson, a clear list of assignments or goals should be established between you and your teacher. Write them down while you're discussing them to avoid forgetting anything, and be specific! If your teacher doesn't provide specific parameters (Ex: learn measures 1-50, or prepare minor scales, double tongued at MM=120), set them for yourself - you'll have an easier time focusing on tasks while practicing during the week.
Prioritize your task list and look ahead to your schedule to figure out what you'll practice when. Even if you don't stick with your plan, having a rough guide for what you can realistically accomplish each day is more motivating than having no guide at all.
2. Keep Your Notebook Ready
In addition to writing your assignments down at the end of each lesson, your notebook should be out and ready during your lesson to keep track of important information that you're going to want to access later. I'm always more than happy to wait while my students take notes during a lesson! (It also lets me know that you've processed an a-ha moment when you can put it into words!)
When your lesson ends, add any other information while it's still fresh in your mind. I would walk straight to my favorite bench after all my lessons in grad school and write down as many details and ideas as I could, or elaborate on the fast scribbles I had made.
3. Practice Well
Practice right after your lesson while new ideas or discoveries are still fresh. Many of my lessons involving changes to my embouchure or physical movements involved a lot of experimentation during the lesson. By the end, I may or may not have fully embodied what my teacher was explaining, so I would continue the process immediately following in a practice room in front of a mirror.
Practice thoroughly enough during the week to resolve or remedy the mistakes that were discussed at the last lesson. Bringing the same mistakes to your next lesson halts progress. Make new mistakes next time, and you'll be able to learn something new!
4. Ask Questions
Practice sessions based in awareness, observation, and experimentation involve asking yourself many questions! Throughout the week, write down any specific questions you'd like your teacher's help answering. (For example, you may want help deciding how to phrase or breathe in a certain passage, advice on making a more effective subito dynamic change, or ideas for approaching baroque articulation.) Tip: Always try answering them for yourself, and bring your ideas to your lesson.
During your lesson, ask as many questions as you need to understand new concepts from every angle. If your teacher is asking you "open your throat," but you're not sure how to do that, ask for clarification.
Important! You are not a failure if you don't understand immediately after hearing one direction. Ask your teacher to describe their experience in detail, try it for yourself, and explain what the experience feels like for you. Since we cannot see what is happening inside while playing, exchange as much specific detail as possible.
5. Communicate Your Goals
Your lessons are for you! Clearly and frequently discussing your goals allows your teacher to provide you with the right tools at each lesson. Discuss any opportunities (such as auditions, competitions, solo performances, new repertoire...) that interest you. Your teacher wants to prepare you for success, so don't be afraid to share your dream!
6. Communicate Your Concerns
Your teacher should be an individual you trust and feel at ease disclosing any concerns, overwhelmed feelings, or fears with. Establishing a safe environment to invite honest communication provides a space for effective learning. If you're unhappy with your progress or any aspect of your lessons, respectfully let your teacher know how you feel.
7. Bring An Open Mind + Open Ears
Remember that each lesson is an opportunity to learn something new! Bring a positive attitude and prepare to try new things. If you tend to feel anxious or self-judging during lessons, notice when you feel challenged and pushed out of your comfort zone, and give yourself permission to be curious and grateful for the chance to learn.
Your teacher's demonstrations are another important opportunity to learn. Listen and watch like a scientific researcher, because their years of experience and everything they're trying to teach you are on display all at once! Even more than hearing how nice their sound or vibrato is, or how fast they can play, listen carefully for how and why they are musically engaging - that is the most important concept that is best explained without words.
Preparation, attitude, and communication are the keys to highly productive and inspiring lessons!
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