Lately I’ve been listening to some of my lessons from graduate school, specifically the two years spent working on my master’s degree with Doug Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I stayed at Wisconsin and eventually earned a doctoral degree in horn, but I’ll save that topic for a future post. I remember in our first lesson Doug strongly encouraged me to record at least some of my lessons, and I’m really glad I did.
Looking back on those two years I remember spending a lot of time in the practice room! I usually practiced at least three and half hours a day, sometimes less depending on ensemble rehearsals, and sometimes as much as five hours a day if I didn’t have any other playing commitments.
Listening to the lesson recordings I can tell that I made significant improvement over the two years, even though I remember at the time not knowing if I was improving very much from day to day. I tell students who are perhaps frustrated with their rate of progress that it’s much easier for teachers to notice improvement because they don’t hear you every single day.
Hearing those recordings now from a teacher’s perspective is also quite interesting, as I am much more interested in how Doug explains certain concepts rather than how I actually played from lesson to lesson. Most of the lessons were pretty good, some weeks better than others, but as I mentioned earlier I did make improvements over the long term.
Another thing I notice in these recordings is that I usually came into each lesson with a definite plan, and with plenty of repertoire ready to play. Nothing was ever perfect, but I had almost always worked out notes and rhythms – to the best of my abilities at the time – before setting foot in the studio. Overall I would describe Doug’s approach during those lessons as very encouraging, while still maintaining high standards. I knew I had a lot of work to do coming into graduate school, but I was motivated and ready to try new ideas.
If you are a college music student definitely try to record at least a handful of lessons and/or keep a journal of your thoughts and reactions to each week’s private lesson. You may or may not find these records useful now, but they will almost certainly be of interest to you further into your career.
By James Boldin