Thursday, January 16, 2014

Focus! Making the Most out of Lessons

By Morgann Davis

Morgann Davis
Every year I find myself facing this time of year with an added sense of pressure to make lessons challenging, exciting, and fun. This year I tackled part of the issue head on by scheduling a recital at the end of February and assigning everyone new solos and duets to prepare. So, now we have a timestamp in place, a concert goal to focus toward. For many of my students this year, however, this is their first real recital. Expectations and preparation is different for these students as they don’t quite know what to expect.

Another way I try to build momentum and focus following the holidays is by creating structure and routine. I tackle lessons each week in the same order, meaning students know what to expect. Tuning, warm-ups and scales, etudes/technique, solos, duets. This is a serious time-saver in 30 minute lessons. Without having to discuss or decide what happens next there is less wasted time.

Ok, so we have two great steps to follow that will provide a great foundation for focus. Problem solved, right? Not quite. The real “meat” of the solution comes next. Now that there is structure and a performance date to aim for, I do my best to use the room made by lack of other projects to focus on each students’ weaknesses. I am very careful not to point out flaws from the start. Rather, I ask questions before each exercise to help the students open their ears, and provide very specific small goals for each as well. By working on a minuscule scale we are capitalizing on the lack of colossal goals like school concerts.

An example of this would be asking a student to listen to note lengths. What do they notice about the half notes in an exercise? (Perhaps they are too short, or they are inconsistent lengths). Let the student answer, even if it takes them some time - they might not be used to listening to themselves in this way! Acknowledge their answer, especially if it was difficult for them to discern, as noticing what they hear when they play can serve as an excellent diagnostic tool for the teacher. Then, ask them how they might remedy the issue, and have them play the same excerpt again.

I also provide small over-arching goals for each student. If a student struggles with keeping their headjoint rolled out, I will address this as our main goal at the beginning of the lesson, finding fun ways to provide gentle reminders throughout the lesson. I make sure this goal is written somewhere prominent in their lesson notebook or on a post-it before they leave their lesson.

By structuring lessons in this way, with one large goal (the recital), and more smaller, minute points of focus, I find it easier to build momentum for growth in the winter months. The added benefit is that with a disciplined approach to lessons and practice coming out of the beginning of the new year, it often feels like less work to students when they have to prepare for auditions and concerts in the spring!

*For more posts by Morgann Davis, visit her personal blog at

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