So how can you be a successful music student? To really get the most out of your music lessons it takes more than just showing up, practicing and learning your music. Use these tips to help you grow as a musician and an artist.
Record your lessons
With today’s technology, there is no excuse not to record your lessons. Use your smartphone or your digital notebook/pad or your computer and at least audio record your lessons although it might also be an excellent thing to video record them as well. Recording is a powerful tool that not only gives you a digital record of what your teacher is telling you to do, but it also gives you the chance to hear (and see, if you are using video) what you are doing that needs correction and how it changes when you follow your teacher’s instruction. That reinforcement will help you recreate those corrections in the future. With video, you can see things that maybe you never noticed before – raised shoulders, muscle tension, bad posture. But just as important as recording your lessons, you need to listen to your recordings between lessons!
Warm up before you get to your lesson
Do preliminary warmups before you get to your lessons so that you are “limbered up”. Get your voice moving, your breath moving, your fingers moving. You don’t need to spend an hour doing this – just 15 or 20 minutes – but if you get “warm” before you get to your lesson, then you and your teacher can really focus on the technique of your instrument because you will be mentally and physically ready for it. Ask your teacher what warmup exercises would be the best for your pre-lesson routine.
Ask your teacher questions
We know that you trust your teacher’s opinion, if you didn’t you wouldn’t continue studying with them. But you aren’t going to really learn everything you need to know if you simply let them do all the talking. Learning is a process of hearing the information, analyzing the information, and applying the information. If you don’t understand something that your teacher is telling you, ask them to explain it in a different way. Even if you do understand something, verbalize that concept out loud to your teacher. The point is that you need to engage your mind in the process of learning. Just absorbing the information that you hear is not enough. The more that you communicate with your teacher, the deeper you will understand the concepts and the more you grow as an artist.
Keep a practice journal
All the work takes place in those six days between your weekly lessons. You may feel like you aren’t making the progress you want or you need accountability to make sure you stay on track. Get a spiral bound notebook and every day that you practice, write down the date and time, what exercises you did, what repertoire you worked on, what your goals for the practice session are, how long you practiced and any questions you may have for your teacher to ask at your next lesson. Bring this journal to your lessons and discuss them with your teacher. He or she can guide you on better practice techniques, should you need them, and help you discover why you may not be making the progress you want.
Study more than just the notes
Learning how to play an instrument or sing is not just about learning pieces of music. Yes, there is the technique and the theory but making music is about so much more. Immerse yourself in every resource you can to learn about a piece of music. Watch numerous videos and listen to recordings of professional musicians playing your piece and listen for articulation, phrasing, diction, tempo, rubato, tone. Read up on the history of the piece and discover the story of why it was written. If it is a song or movement from a larger work, listen to the entire work and discover how your piece lives within the whole. If it is a song that has a borrowed text (from a literary work or poem), read the original text to discover more about the character. You will only grow as an artist if you understand everything there is to know about the music you are performing.
Remember to have fun!
Taking lessons and learning music should be fun! But you will always have moments when the practice will feel monotonous or you will feel like your progress has reached a plateau. Keep working hard on what your teacher is asking you to do but add a little fun to it. Find a piece that you love to play so when you are having a particularly difficult practice session, you can pull that piece out and play it and remind yourself of why you love music. Or take some breaks from your practicing and do something that you like to do. But make sure you go back! And most importantly, when you feel stuck or you feel that you are not making the progress that you want, talk to your teacher about it! He or she will be able to give you some ideas on how to bring the fun back into your work.
What other things to you do to get the most out of your lessons? Let me know in the comments below!