Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to Get More Out of Your Private Lessons (or... "A New Perspective on Repetition")

Have you ever been in a private lesson with your teacher and thought,

"I already knew that!"

Have you ever thought, "Why do they say the same things every week?" or "My teacher must think that I don't understand that concept because I didn't play it right this one random time... usually I get it!"

This happens to everyone! It is not an indication that your teacher is too repetitive or that your teacher thinks you are at a lower level than you actually are. The following three tools will help you to not only have less repetitive lessons, but to actually enjoy it when your teacher is repetitive!

1 - Repetition is a Goldmine

If you are a smart person (and most people taking music lessons are!) you probably think very quickly and have a good memory. When your teacher begins a statement that sounds like an explanation of a concept you've "heard a million times," chances are that your brain turns off after the first few words and you make an assumption that you know the rest of the statement, and another assumption that you understand the concept.

Consider for a moment all the experiences your teacher has had. Think of all the lessons they have taught, all the performances they have performed, all the music they have listened to and all of the education that helps your teacher to be a great teacher. Wouldn't you like to have a window into that world? Wouldn't you like to know, not just the basic concepts, but the way they think about music? Wouldn't you like to know how they play their instrument so well?

Guess what! You have that window. Next time your teacher begins to repeat themselves (or so you assume), listen for different vocabulary, different examples, and different shades of meaning, that you might not have been able to pick up the other times they explained the concept. Because every life experience changes us, your teacher is a different teacher (and you are a different student) than the last time you discussed the concept. There is a treasure box of understanding to be found in the very repetition you originally found annoying! Try this in your next lesson - you will love it!

2 - Perspective on Your Teacher's Perception

Do you ever notice that your teacher is explaining something based on the "bad" version of the piece you just played? Have you thought "if only they knew how I played it at home, they would realize that I already understand that!"

Consider the fact that your teacher has taught many students, and understands the idea that it is easier to play at home than in a lesson. They have probably heard you at your best, your worst and everywhere in between! Realize that it is their job to make sure you understand musical concepts not just on an intellectual level, but on a practical level that allows you to apply the concept in performance. Good musicians are consistent. If you are not able to consistently demonstrate your knowledge of a concept, then it is a good thing your teacher is pointing it out! Listen for those different shades of meaning - it will help you to become a better musician.

3 - Your Teacher on the OTHER 6 Days

Even if you understand the subtle art of appreciating repetition AND you are humble and patient enough to accept that your teacher DOES need to point out things that you already know, you may still feel that you are on a higher level as a musician than you are able to demonstrate in lessons. The way to take your lessons to the next level is to examine yourself and your practice habits.

Most of us have better ears, higher standards and more intellectual understanding about music than we are able to demonstrate on our instruments. If you can tap into your "inner teacher" during your practice sessions at home, you can show up to your private lesson playing much closer to your potential, so that your teacher is then inspired to teach you at a higher level.

Be three different people when you practice: the player, the listener and the teacher. Feel what it's like to be you playing the piece, but also listen as if you were in the audience AND listen critically as if you were teaching a lesson to the person playing. If you are honest with yourself, you will find that you have a lot of solutions to technical problems and musical challenges. Then, follow through with those observations. If the "listener" part of you notices that a section of a piece is boring, then amp up the dynamic contrast and search for ways of playing with more creativity and sensitivity. If the "teacher" part of you notices that a certain passage is not clean, then bust out the practice games! If you are your own teacher the other 6 days of the week, you will be a better player on the day of your lesson, allowing your teacher to be a better teacher.

by Terri Sanchez