Why Are You Taking Lessons?

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Woman teaches the child to play the piano. Music lessons aren’t cheap. Preparing for the lessons isn’t easy. And sometimes the lessons themselves are challenging.

So do you know WHY you are taking lessons?

If your only answer is “because I want to improve,” you probably need to get a little more focused in order to get the most out of your lessons.

Obviously, the essential point of music lessons is to help you learn to play an instrument (even if that instrument is your voice) better. But if your study doesn’t include more specifically stated goals and objectives, you might find yourself simply working on tasks instead of developing in the ways you need to grow as a musician.

Music lessons are most effective when the student and teacher work in partnership to achieve particular aims. This requires communication and understanding on both parts. And the main direction needs to come from you, the student. Your teacher can help you get where you’re going, but you need to have a destination in your sights.

All of this leads back to the initial question: why are you taking lessons? What do you want to achieve?

I believe music lessons serve five main objectives. You are likely to want help with all of these at one time or another in your studies. Some of these may be ongoing issues; others may come up from time to time. And you may be working on more than one of these at a time. Just be sure to know what your focus is, so you can work with your teacher to direct your efforts and accomplish your goals.

Lesson Goal #1: Develop and/or strengthen foundational skills.

All of us need continuing work on our core skills. These include all the aspects of technique specific to our instrument as well as more general musicianship skills like note reading and basic elements of theory.

Lesson Goal #2: Learn repertoire.

Whether you want to learn the standard core repertoire for your instrument or a more personalized collection of music suited to your own taste, you will probably want guidance through the musical nuances and technical challenges of new-to-you music.

Lesson Goal #3: Performance preparation

Lessons are essential for performance preparation. The guidance of an expert will help you present your best effort at a concert, music exam, audition or competition.

Lesson Goal #4: Problem solving

Your teacher can help you diagnose and solve all kinds of difficulties you might experience in your practice and performance. You might have a technical weakness or a musical question, or you might need to know some specialized practice methods to get you past a tough spot.

Lesson Goal #5: Motivation and accountability

Regular lessons provide the best basis for creating and sustaining momentum, and your teacher will hold you accountable for your progress and keep you on track.

So where are you now, and where do you want to go? What will you ask your teacher to help you with this week?

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  • Kevin Roddy

    Harp teachers are pretty non-existent in Hawaii, because it’s an unusual instrument here. After a childhood with forgettable music teachers and as I see it now, a very outdated learning philosophy, as an adult, I have taken matters into my own hands and control my own musical development. It used to be in the old days that if you were interested in a particular instrument, you were pretty much stuck with those more fluent on the instrument than you in your geographic region, whether they were good teachers or not.

    So, I determine what I feel I need, and take music courses online that achieve those techniques, styles, and repertoire (I have taken several from Deborah Henson-Conant, and some from you, Anne!) I attend one Harp conference a year – I think Southeastern Harp Weekend is the best – nice and intimate. I look forward to attending Edinburgh Harp Festival and the Nordic Harp Meeting (it alternates between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark). It is at events like these where I can select workshops appropriate to what I want to know…and I might even be able to get a couple of private lessons from some of the workshop presenters during off-hours.

    On my Web site I have compiled a list of musicians I have studied with, and have singled out one or more attributes that I have gotten or learned from each.

    http://kevinroddy.info/~kevinr10/krmusic/music/music_mentors.php

    Relying on a sole instructor/teacher is risky, and limiting. I also discovered, to my surprise, that seeking other avenues to play music can have unexpected benefits. I just started ringing with a handbell group, and the director asked me to accompany Borodin’s Polovetsian Dance No. 1 on Harp. She wrote out an arrangement for it with a lot of chords I never play in longhand as Dm7, Bm7B5, etc. and I finally buckled down and created a score in Sibelius – I’d never worked with the program before – I thought it was the hardest program ever to learn before I sart myself down and just did it – it took one complete afternoon, and a few hours after to tweak. The director also wanted three very fast arpeggios as triplets at about 100bpm! I’ve never practiced arpeggios a lot, and certainly not at that speed! It took about 6 weeks to get close to 100bpm and deliver a smooth arpeggio – and it took my involvement with a handbell group to give me this challenge. Now, arpeggios in all keys including 7ths and associated inversions are on my practice schedule.

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