Observe and Take Note!

Self-evaluation can be an invaluable learning tool. As I was reflecting on this tool and how helpful it is for me in my own practice (and life, really), I realized it’s something we should all incorporate into our practice sessions and overall music learning.

I ask my voice students to make observations and then try and articulate them all the time in their lessons. A lot of time this helps them come to a self-realization and/or confirms what I heard is, in fact, what they heard and are feeling. Then we can adjust and go from there.

This process of observing and note-taking during lessons and practice seems much more natural for voice students. Because the voice is an instrument we can’t see or touch, observation or sound and feeling are all we have to go on. However, the practice of observation and note-taking can be just as helpful for other instruments.

Benefits of observing, note-taking, and responding:

1) Observations can remind you of habits and direct your practice session. Observational questions such as “Was my inhale low and through the mouth with a raised soft palate before I sang that phrase?” “Were my wrists even (not hugging the finger-board) and my fingers curved when I just played that scale or passage?” should reveal any habits that need correcting and drive what you do next in your practice session.

2) Purposeful observations can show progress. When you take the time to really observe what you’re doing, you can celebrate how far you’ve come. Maybe you don’t have to remind yourself how to breathe or about curving your fingers anymore. Now your questions have become a bit more specific and technical in nature. Such as, “my inhale was low and through the mouth, but am I still constricting the exhale or “holding” in some way?” “My fingers and wrists look good, but was it the right fingering for that passage or did I use the right articulation (staccato, legato, etc.)?”

3) Observations can direct lesson time. When you come to your lesson with specific things you’ve observed that you need to work on and/or had trouble with, your teacher can help you! The teacher is there to help you develop into the best musician you can be. So, bring your challenges and get some help with them! If you don’t observe what they are and write them down, they may go undiagnosed for a long time causing progress to be slower than necessary. Teachers can usually figure out short-comings, but if you notice them too, all the better!

Observations should always be used as a constructive tool to progress not a judgmental commentary on your ability. So, observe wisely and with caution, but make notes and take action! This is a call to not be a passive, victim of your lessons, but, rather an active, participant in the process. Make the most of your practice sessions and your lessons!