Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making the Most of Music Lessons

With fall just around the corner, our phones are ringing and our email box is full of messages from parents and students looking to get back into music lessons after a summer full of vacations and relaxation. As we all get back into the swing of things, are returning music students prepared to make the most of their lessons?
Some are, but some may not be because they are unclear about their roles as students and lack confidence in their communication skills. To help students excel in their lessons and beyond, this post highlights the attributes of successful students and suggest ways in which everyone can enhance their communication with their teachers.

Attributes of Adept Learners
What’s the primary goal of music lessons? Learning, of course! What, then, is the primary responsibility of a music student? To be an adept learner. (Teachers facilitate learning.) So let’s look at what it means to be good at learning. In a nutshell, adept learners are:
  • Growth-minded. They recognize that skillfulness arises from steady effort; their growth mindset inspires them to set meaningful goals and practice with enthusiasm.
  •  Mastery oriented. Unlike helpless students, intrepid ones take responsibility for their learning. They adhere to high standards, tackle appropriate material, stay within healthy limits, and seek help when needed.
  • Independent and collaborative. They’re resourceful when practicing alone and team-minded when working with others.
  • Persistent. Their mindset and goals give them the strength to persevere in the face of challenges.
  • Professional. Adept learners exhibit professionalism in all of their musical activities – they’re punctual, prepared for lessons, courteous, and honest.
  • Open to new ideas. They thrive on fresh perspectives.
  • Communicative. In lessons, they listen keenly, speak authentically, and question frequently.

Communicating in Lessons
In order to embody that last trait – being communicative – a student needs both a desire to connect and the skills to do so. Nonetheless, communicating can get tricky, more so with some teachers than others. Words and tone of voice can easily, albeit usually unintentionally, be misconstrued. In the end, though, poor communication equals little or no learning.

Given that learning in lessons hinges on communication, here are 7 ways that students can heighten their communication with teachers:
1.    Record your lessons. By listening back and taking notes, you can retain all of the advice you receive.
2.    Query your teacher when something is unclear. Students sometimes shy away from asking for clarifications because they don’t want to seem clueless or imply that their teacher’s explanations are flawed. Believe us: educators want students to understand and ask questions. Always ask if you’re unsure.
3.    Agree on lesson goals. Before you depart from a lesson, ensure that you and your teacher spell out goals for your next meeting – verbalize your aims so that they’re captured on your recorder. Also, periodically discuss your long-range objectives with your teacher so that lesson goals support your interests.
4.    Document questions during practice. Keep a notebook handy as you practice and then bring your questions to lessons.
5.    Ask for feedback. During and at the close of lessons, inquire how well you’re attaining lesson goals and whether there’s anything more you could do to improve your musical or practice skills.
6.    Listen actively. Communication involves articulating one’s thoughts and hearing the thoughts of others. So listen attentively during lessons and paraphrase complex concepts to help your teacher know that you’ve absorbed them.
7.    Be positive. Bring a positive attitude to lessons so that you contribute to creating a productive learning environment. When miscommunication does happen, and from time to time it will, resolve them promptly, and then let go of any negativity.

What if you can’t establish a communicative rapport with a private teacher? For starters, you could solicit advice  from a mentor. Then, if your attempts to communicate still fall short, it might be time to find a new instructor.

Adapted from this article on musiciansway.com.
Photo: McKenna Chaput and her instructor, Jason Latham, at the North Main Music spring 2015 student concert. Photo by Robyn Neville.

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