Mentoring Monday: Lessons 101

Mentoring Monday (well, we were closed on Monday…)
Lessons 101
Alyssa Resh, School of Music Mentor

Hello, new freshmen! If you’re anything like I was at the beginning of my first year, you’re probably freaking out about lessons. As someone who didn’t take lessons in high school, getting private instruction on my instrument was a completely new experience for me – and I was nervous. Lessons can even be scary for those who have taken them before college – especially for those who are attached to a specific teacher. As a junior who takes three lessons a week, I’ve had my own experiences with different professors, and with juggling lessons and schoolwork at the same time. I promise, YOU WILL SURVIVE, just like I did! Here are some tips to make the most out of your private lessons:

1.) Be excited!
College is probably the only place where you’ll have the opportunity to study under such amazing musicians like the professors we have at Swope. The list includes orchestra professionals, Julliard grads, famous composers, opera stars, and jazz greats – ALL at your disposal! Our professors have spent their lives working on their instruments – they are professionals for a reason. Make the most of your years at Swope and go into each lesson eager to learn. Soak up every wise word like a sponge, and you’ll grow leaps and bounds in your musicianship.

The best way to make the most out of your lessons is to make sure you spend enough time practicing. The amount of practice time needed is different for everyone, but don’t expect to have a good lesson after only one hour of practice beforehand (and especially don’t count on finding an empty practice room). Try and set aside at least a half an hour a day to run through things, or isolate one thing you need to work on. It won’t take long, and you’ll be retaining what you learned in your lessons. There’s nothing worse than professors having to repeat themselves over and over because you didn’t practice in between lessons.

3.) Keep a practice log.
One thing that really helps me is to keep a practice log/lessons notebook. For each practice session I try and write down 1.) what I worked on, 2.) what I improved upon, 3.) what needs work (and how I can improve it), and 4.) any questions I had. This last step is VITAL for lessons – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with something just to come back in a lesson and not remember the question I wanted to ask about it. This also helps if you take multiple lessons – it helps you keep track of and devote enough practice time to each one.

Professors give a lot of advice in lessons, and it’s hard to remember all of it without writing it down. Make sure to always have a pencil and take notes in your music – if your professor says to add a crescendo, write it in; don’t just “remember” it. Something I also like to do is have a lessons notebook, where I take ten minutes or so after my lesson to write what my professor and I talked about. This helps me remember any advice they gave me (especially advice about technique). PRO TIP: some professors are even cool with you recording your lessons. Don’t be afraid to ask…you’ll be thankful when you can’t remember exactly what they said and you have a recording to refer to.

5.) Be open minded.
This is especially important for those who have taken lessons before. Your Swope professor says something that contradicts with your old teacher? He or she tells you to try something different with your technique? Resist the urge to stubbornly fight them and JUST TRY IT. Yes it may be confusing and you may not like it at first, but it might actually be a better way to do things in the long run. If it doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work for you (and tell your professor that), but don’t immediately discredit it from the beginning.

6.) ­Don’t be afraid to talk to someone if you have an issue with a professor.
Sometimes students and professors don’t mesh very well. If you have a problem with a professor’s attitude or quality of teaching, make sure you talk to someone about it. If you choose to talk to the professors themselves, make sure you do so in a respectful manner. If you’re not comfortable with that, you can always talk to Nicole, Dr. Villella, or Dr. Hanning. However, make sure your complaint is actually valid – don’t tattle on a professor because you showed up to a lesson unprepared and he or she was harsh to you. Now, if they’re cancelling lessons left and right (without making them up), or being unnecessarily rude in a lesson – that’s a time to talk to a department head. Make sure to take responsibility for your own mistakes, but don’t be afraid to talk to someone if your professor isn’t doing their job.

7.) Remember, not every lesson is going to go well.
You’re guaranteed to have a bad lesson at some point. Whether it’s schoolwork, sickness, or a job, life just gets in the way sometimes. Don’t beat yourself after a bad lesson, understand that you’re in college and you’re busy. Professors understand that as well. Rather than getting discouraged, use that bad lesson to motivate yourself to do better next time.

Well, there you have it! Hopefully these tips were helpful – good luck in your lessons and have a great semester!


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