Mindful Teaching

7 Ways to Have an Inspiring Lesson Every Week [A Guide for Students]

7 Ways to Have an Inspiring Lesson Every Week [A Guide for Students]

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.

In Conclusion

Preparation, attitude, and communication are the keys to highly productive and inspiring lessons! 

 

Interested in Learning more about lessons?

3 Lessons In Teaching Awareness

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In a recent lesson with one of my students, we spent a great deal of time playing simple arpeggios followed by questioning: 

"Did you notice what your cheeks felt like that time?" 

 "Is one side more tense than the other?"

When I first ask students questions of this nature, they sometimes smile and say, "What are you talking about?!" 

Others feel discouraged that they aren't sure how to answer, since they've never been asked to consider such questions. 

With this question, the student is given the opportunity to say "I don't know," free of judgement, to which I respond, "Great! Let's try it now!" 

In our lesson, I asked the student to play her simple arpeggio as many times as needed to articulate a clear picture the shape and location of her tongue while slurring, and any tendencies to move during the arpeggio. Each time she played, she was able to add in more detail about the exact location and shape of the tongue in her mouth. 

I asked her if she'd ever thought about it before and she said she had not. 

This reminded me of several things.

 

Perception

First, not everyone has the same experience with self-perception. A similar exercise with another student, regardless of age or experience level, might look very different. The degree of detail and quickness to respond is not something available to everyone, but can improve with practice. 

 

A Clearer Basis For Teaching

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What else did I realize? As a teacher, I cannot see what is going on inside the mouth of another musician. We can see shifts visible on the outside and make assumptions about changes our student can make to improve, but asking the student what her current set-up is like before offering a suggestion for improvement can provide great clarity for both the student and teacher. We were both on the same page and speaking the same language. I could speak in very specific terms knowing the student would understand.

We Are Not Clones

I also tried to mimic her set-up myself to gain more insight into her experience, but the shape of our mouths are not the same. The size and width of our tongues and spacing of our teeth prevent us from creating the exact same experience. (Another important realization: our differences provide an even greater opportunity to express our individuality. No one else sounds or plays like you, and that is exciting to remember.)

The Takeaway

Everyone is different. Guiding students to explore and patiently observe can lead to greater understanding from both parties.

Perhaps the inside of the mouth is difficult to perceive at first, but the fingers or the feet are easier for the student. Gauging self-perception in the student is key.

The student is an important part of the lesson! It's my job to help them improve. I always aim to lead my students to improve the foundations of their playing by finding easy, natural movement, but the specifics of this do not translate exactly from student to student. Once awareness is accessible, more is possible, and more exacting and specific instructions can replace vague ones. The entire experience is more vivid for the student, and exploration and experimentation become a tool available to them at any time.