Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Help your students prepare in between lessons

Lessons are supposed to be a collaborative effort between student and teacher. However, if your student doesn’t prepare well in between lessons, it can quickly become a one sided effort. Here are some ideas I found while looking for ways to help my students come to lessons more prepared.

Help your student remember what they had trouble with in between lessons.

Every lesson you ask your students what they had trouble with in between lessons. Every lesson, you get the same response. Nothing… This is really frustrating for you because you don’t know how to fix what they won’t tell you about. It is also frustrating for your students because they probably remember things that they could have asked about later when they can’t ask you.

This is a problem that needs to be resolved at home. Here are some ideas that your students can use to prepare in advance to get the most out of their lessons.

#1. Encourage your students to create an agenda of their own for lessons.

This can be the page after last weeks lesson in their notebook. Have them write the date of the next lesson on it and write any questions that they have for the next lesson on that page. Another idea is to stick a sticky note in the music and write the question on that (so you don’t have to describe the area where the problem occurs.) If they have lots of questions have them prioritize the questions to keep the lesson time from being over run with too many questions.

Give your students ideas of good things to ask about in lessons.

Create a list of things they might have questions on and tape it to the inside of their notebook (or put it in their binder.) These suggestions will help them to know what to ask about in lessons.

Here are some typical issues students may have in between lessons.

  • Bowings/fingerings that don’t make sense.
  • Difficult rhythms, counting problems
  • Tension, pain, vocal fatigue or discomfort when practicing or performing.
  • Performance ideas that are different than the score.
  • Ideas for ways to act out a piece (with the voice) or add in more expression.
  • Passages that seem uninteresting despite your work on them.
  • Sections that you can’t play at tempo
  • Notes that you just can’t hit
  • Difficult notes
  • Phrases that just sound wrong
  • Markings and symbols that you don’t understand

#2 Encourage your student to run a pre-lesson check

Has this happened to you? All week long you practiced and practiced on what you thought was important. Only to get to the day of the lesson and panic because suddenly you realized that you forgot to practice something that was on the list from last week, or neglected to memorize a piece or something else. Worse yet, you didn’t realize it till you got to your lesson and your teacher asked for the item you forgot. A pre-lesson check would have helped to avoid all of this. Here is how to run a pre-lesson check.

Here is how your students can perform a pre-lesson check. Two days before their next lesson, they play through all of the required pieces and exercises exactly as they will be asked to play them in lessons. This should be a one shot deal (no do overs). For example: If there is a piece that should be memorized for the lesson, they should play it from memory, or if scales are supposed to be played at quarter note equals 100 then they should play them at 100. This will give them a good picture of what is ready for their lesson and what needs work over the next couple of days. It will also tell them where to focus their practice efforts.

The pre-lesson check is a good time to make a list of everything they need to have with them at their lesson so that on lesson day they can just grab everything that they have on their list and put it in their bag for lessons.

#3 Encourage your students to check to make sure that they have everything for lessons the night before.

At least once a week, one of my students forgets something for lessons. It is very frustrating for both the teacher and the student, because it makes the lesson less effective if important items like their notebook or music are missing. There is an easy solution to this problem. Have the student dedicate a bag for lessons. This will allow them to keep all of their items for lessons in one place (except maybe their instrument.) Have them check the bag for everything that they need the night before their lesson. If they practice the day of their lesson, they should check the bag again before they leave for their lesson.

Here are things I usually recommend students check for:

  • Music
  • Lesson notebook
  • Water bottle
  • Pencil
  • Recordings or anything else you wanted to bring to lessons.
  • Reeds, valve oil, or other supplies needed to play their instrument.
  • Tuner
  • Pre lesson snack if they are coming right from school, sports practice or anywhere else.

Encourage your students to follow these ideas, and you should see your students coming to lessons more prepared for their lessons. They’ll arrive ready to hit the ground running instead of starting their lesson by admitting which item they’ve forgotten to practice or bring this week.

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  1. Craig Tompkins

    Brilliant ideas Amy! Thank you so much. I’m going to “steal” many of them and add them to my between lesson hand-out for my own students.


  2. Ann Clem

    I, especially, liked the Pre-Lesson check a couple of days before the lesson. I have suggested to my students to put checks beside each item listed on their assignment page, for everytime they practice it. Hopefully, the ones that require the most work get the most checks;-)

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