Ten Tips to a Perfect Lesson

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Excellent Nothing can ruin your week like a bad lesson, and you just had another one. You wouldn’t mind it so much if you hadn’t practiced, but you don’t deserve this. You practiced. Really.

But nothing worked right in your lesson, and you were embarrassed, convinced that your teacher was angry or ready to give up on you. Even worse – you were almost ready to give up on yourself.

You dream of the day you could walk into your lesson and have everything go perfectly, even better than it goes at home. You would like to have a perfect lesson.

Is there such a thing as a perfect lesson?

I believe there is, but not in the way you might be thinking. A perfect lesson doesn’t have to be note perfect. It’s a lesson that leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment. You come away knowing that you have learned something, made progress and been inspired to do more.

Your lesson is not a performance. It is a time for learning, correction, growing, stretching, pushing, connecting the dots, trying out new ideas, strengthening foundations, and discovering what it means to be a musician. That’s my idea of a perfect lesson.

What follows are ten tips to help you have that kind of a perfect lesson. And these tips aren’t just for students. Teachers can use these to reverse engineer great lessons for their students.

The first five tips are about your practice and how you prepare for your lesson.  The second five tips are about working with your teacher in your lesson and beyond.

Practicing for Lesson Success

1. Practice with focus. It’s not about how much or how long you practice; it’s about HOW you practice. Make sure that you are concentrating and doing the right kind of intentional practice.

2. Practice for progress. Set clear goals for yourself and make plans to meet them. But remember that you don’t have to achieve perfection, or even finish everything you were assigned; you only need to make progress.

3. Choose one piece to play beginning to end. It helps if you can present to your teacher one piece (or part of piece) that shows continuity and a musical flow. It will also help your sense of accomplishment and your confidence.

4. Choose one difficult spot to learn correctly. To be able to focus on one persistent difficulty and conquer it is a clear demonstration of your efforts, even if it doesn’t go exactly the way you want in your lesson.

5. Be able to describe and/or document your work process. Your teacher will want to know your work habits in order to help you plan and make progress. Keeping a journal is a great way to show your teacher exactly how you have been practicing. Your teacher will be able to use it as a diagnostic tool to help you make more progress.


Working with Your Teacher

6. Communicate. You are not there just to take instruction from your teacher. You need to help your teacher understand what your challenges are, what music you like, what your goals are, etc.

7. Listen to your teacher. Listening is just as important as talking. And it’s a good idea to keep a lesson book, so that you can remember the things your teacher wants you work on before your next lesson. And ask for clarification if your teacher assigns you something you don’t understand.

8. Set clear expectations. Both you and your teacher should be clear about what is expected from each of you. And if you are communicating and listening, you will be able to work together easily. Some examples might be agreeing on the amount of time you should be practicing, how specifically you should be following your teacher’s instructions, recital schedules and music choices.

9. Ask for a plan and tactics to implement it. You and your teacher should have a plan that is more than from one lesson to the next. It should move you toward your goals over the course of a number of weeks or months, and the plan should be accompanied by specific strategies and tactics to make the plan happen. It needs to be flexible, but it shouldn’t be so unstructured that you lose track of your progress.

10. Your teacher is your partner not your judge. When you play in your lesson, you are not performing. You are showing your teacher where your work has brought you so far, and your teacher will use that as a diagnostic tool to help you move to the next level. Both of you are working together for your success.

Now, go practice and have a great lesson!

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  • SuzanneH

    Great article and most importantly helpful in getting through my lessons without being to critical of myself. Remembering the goal is any progress – even if not perfect. It is what I have learned that counts. Thank you. Suzanne


    • Lorna Ota

      Reading through all of the 10 points for teachers and students, relieves me of critical thoughts I often have of myself, although I do appreciate the help and guidance I get from a wonderful and long-time teacher. Nevertheless, it’s always good to hear practical and wise thoughts and methods from another great teacher as yourself. Thank you very much for your thoughtful and kind explanations and responses.


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