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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: How to Take Notes During a Lesson

One of the roles my parents adopt is that of the scribe. I ask the parents to take notes during lessons because  the process of memorializing the lesson aids the parent in understanding how to recreate the lesson at home. The added benefit is that we will also have an historical record of the child's music learning.

When a parent begins lessons with me, I give them a composition book. You can find these at really inexpensive prices at back-to-school sales in the fall, when I usually buy the books by the caseload. A parent may opt to use a different form of notebook, but I recommend that they have some sort of notebook depending on their personal preferences.

The left side of the notebook is to be left blank during lessons and used as a place to record information and questions to me, either during lessons or at home in between lessons. The right side of the notebook is where the parent is to record what transpires during the lesson.

I ask the parent to record exactly what occurred in the lesson, step-by-step. Focus on the activity and language used.

  • Did I ask a question? What was it? Write it down.
  • Did I fix something in the student's posture? What was it? Write it down.
  • Did we focus on part of a song? Which part was it? Write it down.
  • Did we practice or drill repetitions of a particular skill or problem area? How did we practice it? Write it down.
  • Did I use a word picture? What were the words I used? Write it down.
Here is how it might look:
  • Conversation about school band concert the student played in while tuning the violin
  • Took a bow, then got into playing position
  • Adjustment of the pinkie on the bow
  • Played Song of the Wind
    • Adjusted pinkie on the bow
    • Played 10 down bow circles on the E string
      • Real circles, not flat pancakes
      • Circle sizes: watermelon, cantaloup, strawberry
        • fun game!
      • Which size circle goes where in the song
        • cantaloup size except for strawberry size at end of measure 8
        • (parent, student, and I mark the strawberry circle place in the music)
      • Adjusted pinkie on the bow
    • Played 10 jumping finger sections
      • Adjusted pinkie on the bow
      • Pinkie pushups
  • Reviewed Variation A
    • Adjusted pinkie on the bow
    • Pinkie pushups
  • Reviewed Twinkle Theme
    • Adjusted pinkie on the bow
    • Pinkie pushups
  • Reviewed Aunt Rhody finger tangle preview
    • Repeated finger tangle drill 10 times
    • Adjusted pinkie on the bow
    • Pinkie pushups
Now, all a parent has to do is go home and repeat the lesson. If I was particularly creative in my word pictures, the parent might use those same descriptive words. I am greatly amused to look at the music of some of my high school students and see that they have also written my descriptions. Here are a few examples:
  • No stabbing in the eye
  • Heel your dog
  • Samurai warrior
  • No riding the brake
  • Shooting bow
  • No fishing
  • No swimming
Note also that a parent will easily discover what the focal point of the lesson was. In this case, the teacher focused on the student's keeping the pinkie on the bow. That should also be the main focal point of the home practice sessions. This should now become one of the weekly practice goals, along with good execution of the down bow circles, the jumping fingers, and the finger tangle preview.

At the end of the lesson, the parent might ask some questions for clarification, and the teacher might have specific practice tips or assignments or review songs to suggest for extra practice of the lesson's focus point.

My favorite reason for keeping a notebook is that we can look through it in a few years and remember all that we accomplished. I recall observing one student's master class lesson during a summer Suzuki institute, and the mother and I thumbed back through the lesson notebook to find something in particular. We were delighted to read back through some of the notes the parent had taken in the previous three years since the child had started lessons. We had a great stroll through memory lane! We also celebrated how far we had come since the beginning.


  1. Thanks for the tips. these days, I started going into the lesson with her, so the note taking tips are helpful.

  2. I'm so glad to hear that you are included in the lessons with her now. She has probably grown out of that silly jumping up and down phase. Has she turned four yet?