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How to Get the Most From Your Music Lessons

Updated on January 13, 2020
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I have a Master of Music degree and a 30+ year performing career. I watched many other musicians fail, and I figured out the difference.

What You Should Do to Get the Most From Your Music Lessons

So, you've found a music teacher and bought all the books, the instrument, and you're ready to start lessons. You don't want to waste time and money, so make sure you are getting the most out of your lessons! By following the suggestions in this list, you'll be sure that you are not wasting time, and making as much progress as you are capable of.

  1. Set a schedule and make sure that everyone in the family is committed to helping you stick to it. That means no phone calls, texting, family members interrupting you, or other distractions during your practice time. Take a minute or two before your scheduled time for a bathroom break, snack, or water. A few short sessions per day is better than one long session. If you find you have a few minutes, sneak in a little extra practicing.
  2. Make at least one extra copy of your music, put it in a notebook, and keep it in the car. That way if you can't go home for your music, at least you'll have a copy with you. Have an extra of all your accessories (metronome, rosin, etc.) in the car, too. Make sure you have at least one clean copy of your music because you'll need to mark on it and eventually you won't be able to read it unless you start with a clean copy.
  3. During the lesson, tape-record or video the lesson, or take notes in your notebook. Ask questions if you even think you might not remember what your teacher said later, and make sure you understand everything before you leave. Make sure you understand which music to practice, and which techniques you have to practice. Mark fingerings, bowings, breath marks, everything in your music in pencil.
  4. Take some time after your lesson to transfer all the information to your duplicate set. Review the tape-recording, video, or notes before you begin practicing.
  5. Before you begin practicing your music, warm up with some scales and technical exercises.
  6. Use your metronome at every practice session. Set it at a very slow tempo and play with the metronome at the lowest speed until you can play your assigned music perfectly (including dynamics, expression, phrasing, etc.). Then gradually work up to the desired tempo, advancing only a few beats per minute each time, until you are at the desired tempo.
  7. If, as you are practicing, you discover questions, take out your notebook and write them down immediately. Also note down any problems you have mastering the assigned music and whether it's a problem of understanding what you have to play, or a technical difficulty such as not being able to reach the note or a fingering problem, or a problem with your instrument (you can't bow slowly enough, your clarinet squeaks).
  8. In between lessons, use the copy of music in the car to study fingerings, bowings, breath marks, articulation, expression, and phrasing.
  9. At the beginning of your next lesson, before you play for your teacher, discuss the problems you had in Step 7. Ask questions and get the answers before doing anything else. Then play for your teacher, and start the whole process over again from Step 3!

What Should I Practice?

If your teacher does not assign specific sections of your musical piece to work on, it's actually best to begin from the very end of the piece and work forwards. This draws on a learning technique called "chaining" which is one of the most efficient ways to learn a new task. Start with the end, work it up perfectly to tempo, then add the next few measures back and play the whole thing slowly, and work up to tempo, and so on. This means that not only do you learn the piece more efficiently, but when you perform it, you start out with what you know the least well, and as you play the piece will get easier and your confidence will increase during the performance. Audiences will forgive a slip-up at the beginning, as long as you finish the performance with style and confidence!

© 2011 classicalgeek


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