Getting the Most Out of Lessons
By Deniece Schow
Flute Talk—March 1996
At a recent masterclass Jeanne Baxtresser gave a lecture on how to get the most out of college flute lessons. This topic is rarely discussed, but her advice is pertinent for students at high school as well as during their college years. The following summarizes Miss Baxtresser’s comments.
Your first flute teacher probably instilled in you a love of music. You may have developed a special relationship and even a degree of dependency on this person. in the early stages it is important to develop the student’s self-confidence and his enthusiasm for learning, so the teacher often guides a student through the first steps of learning responsibility and discipline in practicing the flute.
For most students there is a great transition in moving from high school to college. No longer is it possible for a student to depend on the teacher for help and encouragement at every turn. The college teacher should be looked upon as a master teacher, one with whom a student forms an equal partnership in exploring the world of music. This entails a new level of maturity and for many students there is a difficult period of adjustment.
In college both teacher and student are responsible for the success of the lesson, but it is up to the student to make the lesson be the most important part of the week, the magic hour that will transform his playing.
A college student should show enthusiasm for learning; this will often inspire the teacher to rise to the occasion. When I come from long hours of rehearsal and find a student who gets me excited, I rise to the occasion despite the fatigue. Strive to make the teacher better because of your enthusiasm.
Limit your expectations of the relationship with a college teacher. This person is not a parent or a counselor, so don’t dilute the quality of your relationship with extraneous matters even if this is your first time away from home. Keep the lesson time on musical matters, and make an extra appointment if other matters should be discussed.
Be organized and prepared for each lesson. Have the music and any questions ready, and don’t waste valuable time fumbling for these in your bookbag. No teacher should be forced to wait while you pull out clothes, books, and a toothbrush to find the metronome. I encourage students to keep a notebook with them for making quick notes of suggestions or assignments. The act of writing something down often helps them to better remember the suggestion. I also ask students to record on index cards what they have accomplished each week as well as their goals for the next week. A card might include a reminder to use a metronome during practice because scales were uneven or to work on breathing for better phrasing on the second movement of the Poulenc Sonata. At the beginning of each lesson students refer to these cards and relate what they accomplished during the past week. This in turn helps me to listen for these accomplishments and to point out the weaknesses I discern. It also enables me to measure whether a particular teaching method is working or whether a change is in order. Much the same can be achieved by taping each lesson, but the cards are referred to more quickly and some teachers are uncomfortable with having a lesson recorded.
Another aspect of lessons in college is for a student to realize that there should be two distinct personality traits. One is the attitude of showmanship and exuding confidence in all the wonderful things achieved so far, but this should be coupled with being a good listener. A good lesson entails a flow of information between teacher and student, with the student spending more time listening and learning from the teacher’s wisdom. Some students seem not to want to hear what I have to say. It is important to be an active, not a passive, listener. Don’t look elsewhere or finger the flute while the teacher talks; it shows both a lack of focus and respect. Instead of rejecting something new or seemingly disagreeable or rejecting the suggestion immediately, consider the suggestion and keep an open mind. If an idea seems strange or awkward, instead of putting the teacher on the defensive it is far better to ask why the idea works so well for the teacher. This often leads to a welcome discussion of a broader point and certainly preserves the working relationship.
Some students have ghost teachers, often another teacher or student on the side and without the principal teacher’s knowledge. This usually leads to a feeling of dishonesty, and it may get back to the teacher through other students or colleagues. Good lessons arise from honesty and trust.
Above all it is important to show respect and courtesy to your teacher. I appreciate it when students maintain a formal relationship, including how they address me. It is important to remember that in the long run discipline and motivation will outdistance talent, but for the best students these go hand in hand.
Deniece Schow holds a bachelor of flute performance from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio and a master of music degree in flute performance from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She studied with Britton Johnson, Warren Little, Judith Bentley, and Bruce Erskine, and has participated at masterclasses conducted by Julius Baker, Jeanne Baxtresser, Jeffrey Khaner, and Marzio Conti.