Learn to learn

Category: On teaching

 In my teaching of violin and viola private lessons, I keep returning to the theme of “how to practice” verses how long to practice.  It is a most commonly asked questions by parents of music students.  During private lessons, I spend a good amount of time on teaching young musicians how to approach studying a piece of music, how to learn it in a most efficient manner while still enjoying it, so practicing does not become an exercise in boredom and frustration; how to focus the energy not on the amount of time spent with an instrument, but on the quality of time spent while playing it. 

In particular, I stress a concept of analyzing a piece of music even prior to playing it for the first time.  Time that should be spend away from the instrument and devoted to studying that piece with a pencil in hand; identifying challenging music passages, notes and places in music that might be difficult to tackle based on the knowledge of your own music skills.  It is just as important to do the above process as it is actually playing the instrument.  By analyzing music prior to playing it a student will learn it in a much shorter time, since he/she has already identified and marked difficult places in music that would need more focus.  A piece of music is like a puzzle: some pieces fit easily together, the ones that are obvious, the others – are much harder to fit.  No piece of music is ALL hard – which makes it useless to practice the entire piece from start to finish at once. Identify/isolate problem spots and focus on those for a few days. Later, “piece” them together with the rest of the music and you will have a final product well learned. 

Whether it is a music piece, a math problem or any other challenge – mental analysis of the problem prior to execution of the solution is a key.  This approach will make learning easier, more efficient, hence faster and will provide a confidence booster when a student realizes that he/she is capable of surmounting any challenge. The inner knowledge “I can learn anything” will motivate a child’s desire to learn more on many different subjects, expanding his/her horizon and enjoying life in the process of learning. 

I have had many parents commenting that their children have taken analytical approach from music lessons and applied to school studies.  It worked wonders to many of them, students as young as six and seven year old.  Bottom line – children need to be taught  how  to learn, learning is not a natural skill but has to be obtain via others.

Below are photos of music that show how some of my students go about studying their pieces by marking challenging notes, measures, etc… That time DOES count as practicing, in case if you were wondering…

More for the brain

Category: On teaching

At times it is fun even for older music students to put aside their instruments and, in this case, brainstorm over a seemingly easy nine piece music-themed puzzle.  These two viola players tried as a team for three weeks to solve it…