Most of us are back in the full swing of the school year. Whether you are a student (or teacher!) who has decided to stay online or you are back in the classroom, by now you have likely gotten a taste of the post summer shock that comes with suddenly having a lot of work to do and tasks to keep track of.
Students will likely be balancing a tremendously demanding course load on top of the expectations that they will practice a lot, making sure to grow their musicianship, increase their technique and play in ensembles, all while making plans for their future careers.
No big deal. (Yeah, right!)
What follows are some suggestions for how we can get the most out of our lessons and efforts while in school through tracking and reflection. There are lots of ways to do this. At the very least, I hope that this gets your wheels turning!
Everyone learns differently - it makes sense that we are all unique and so our learning styles and methods benefit from being tailored to our preferences.
I highly recommend taking a learning style quiz (Google "learning style quiz" for lots of options) and understanding if you are an aural, kinesthetic or visual learner. Perhaps you are some combination of those. Learning how you best process information allows you to identify efficient ways to retain the new information coming at you from all directions.
So, do you take notes after your lesson?
Spoiler: I think we all should.
Whether you draw something to remind you of what you learned, make a voice memo of a few important points, simply write down your tasks for the next lesson, or rewrite some of the major concepts of the lesson, you reinforce what you learned by reviewing the lesson in your mind.
Summarizing what was covered in your lesson helps you to retain the information, making it easier to apply in rehearsals and the practice room.
Some examples of things you might record after your lesson:
- What you need to do for the next lesson
- What is new? What are you working on that is a continuation of a larger project or goal?
- Objectives: What are you trying to accomplish with each assigned task?
- Sensations: What did it feel like when you did something well in the lesson? (ex: a great interval) What did you do physically that made it work?
I want to emphasize how important it is to synthesize our logical, analytical experience of what we learn with the sensations of physically doing the task (playing your instrument, singing, throwing the ball, etc).
It's not often you see an athlete taking notes and then setting them aside, assuming that the academic learning will be enough to help them make the big play in their next game. They are always connecting what they've learned studying plays or watching tapes with the action it connects to.
The better we get at articulating what it feels like to get something right, the better we will get at replicating it and teaching it.
Playing an instrument is a mental and physical activity. Our goal as musicians is always to connect what we know about the music with the correct physical action to produce the desired result we imagine every time.
How you keep track is entirely up to you. Here are some suggestions of places to keep notes for yourself:
- A voice memo (you could also record your lessons, but you should still summarize the experience for yourself)
- A special notebook that is meant just for your reflections
- A voice memo
- A document on your computer
- A notes app on a tablet (I would suggest using Do Not Disturb mode while you reflect on what you learned if you use a digital tool)
Personally, I love keeping a special notebook where I can reflect. (I still keep some of my lesson notes on hand at all times in my practice space, and sometimes even in my gig bag!) This makes sense for me as a kinesthetic and visual learner. Do what works for you!
Some other useful tools and tactics might be to keep a practice journal (separate from your lesson notes) and to make reminders that you can put within sight while you are practicing.
If you are in college and using different practice spaces often, a small sign (for example, an 8x11 sheet of paper or post-its you can trade out on an 8x11 sheet) that you can keep in your bag is a great way to carry your practice reminders with you.
A practice journal can be as detailed as you'd like (think Excel spreadsheet!) or a loose list of what you did each time you practiced. I tend to think more detail is better so that when you reflect on it later, or need to submit what you did during your semester, you have all the information you need.
Examples of what you might track in a practice journal (not an exhaustive list!):
- What you practiced
- Practice techniques used (changing rhythms, etc)
- What scales you did, what ones you need to more of, etc.
- What warmups or exercises you are using
When we are very busy in our day to day life, we can sometimes lose track of where we are headed. Your practice journal can be an excellent spot to check in each week and make sure that you are progressing toward your larger goals and deadlines. In addition, when you have finished school and need some guidance on exercises to use, or you need ideas of what to teach your students, your practice journal can help spark inspiration as you review what was assigned to you at different stages of learning.
Although I'm writing this with college students in mind, I believe that these concepts apply to any student (even adult learners!). I have never regretted taking the time to write some notes to myself as a student or an adult.
When you track your tasks, goals and experiences you are actively creating progress.
Whether you are a detailed note taker or record more generalities, the bottom line is that you are allowing yourself the important reflection time that research has shown solidifies what you learn. You are giving yourself space so that your mind and body can connect all the right dots.
In our busy-ness we often forget that it is in stillness and calm that we actually make progress.
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.