Connecting the mind to your practice

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”

-Benjamin Franklin

In a recent lesson, a student plays a section of a piece and it doesn’t go so well. “What do you think?” I ask. “IT WAS TERRIBLE.” “So what would you do differently—how would you improve it?” Shrug of the shoulders, a smirk. “I don’t know. It was terrible. I would play it again.”

Play it again, Sam. And again and again. Does it get any better? If you were reading a speech in English class and it didn’t go that well, would your teacher gasp with horror and tell you it was TERRIBLE, without any explanation? Of course not. This blanket criticism—without specifics-- does nothing to improve your speech, much less you confidence, and you gain nothing but a fear of public speaking. So what good does that do when you say that to Your Self after a performance?

Yet we all do it, whether we are looking in the mirror on a bad hair day, or executing wrong notes in the practice room—we shake our heads as being a failure—or ignore it and keep going, without trying to make it better. No teacher of any worth would ever do that to a student, so why do we do it to ourselves?

It does you no good to tear yourself apart, just makes you sit on the sidelines of your practice room. Want to become a better violin player (or English student?) Then you’ve got to become your own best teacher-- take an active role in your own studies and improvement. You might not know as much as your class teacher does about the subject at hand, but you know Stuff—and it’s using the Stuff You Know that makes you, your own best teacher.

Here’s an example:

You play the D scale, and the reaction is, okay that was bad. Take it apart. Maybe start with Sound. What was wrong with the sound? (Maybe it was too soft.) Did I use a full bow? (Probably not!) Did I put weight into the string? Let’s try that.

How about Intonation? Not good. How were 2nd fingers? I have a habit of them being too low. Not sure? Try it again and PAY ATTENTION. Were fingers in the right places? Are there notes I can check with open strings? That out of tune note I just played—was it too high or was it too low? Play it again, this time making the adjustment. Play it again—correctly. Two times is Luck; three times a charm. (Really more like 6 or 10,but three is a good start.)

Now—How was the Rhythm? Did I keep time, or did I rush through the notes? Can’t tell? Take out your Phone. Don’t detour with FB--turn on the Metronome, or the Voice Memo, and record.

Suddenly, the passive “Play the scale and hope for the best” routine becomes “Giving Yourself a 15 minute lesson”. This is what it means to really Practice, a step to become an Active Learner. This is the way to improve, not only from the weekly lessons, but in your daily practice, and in your daily studies with other subjects.

Think about other ways you can (and maybe already do) take an active role in learning a subject, especially if it is one you are interested in. Passive Learning is reading the material, re-reading a few times; listening to the lectures, copying some notes. Taking the test and hoping for the best—then most likely, forgetting the material in a few days. Active learning--- you might make flashcards. Quiz with a friend. Make up questions and write out answers. Read other material related to the subject. Become Involved with the learning process, and become your own best teacher.

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