Private Lessons: Your First Few Sessions

100_2801Whether you’re new to private lessons or changing teachers, you can take certain steps to ensure that your initial lessons be a rewarding experience. The following tips represent the choices that I always hope my students will make when they play for someone unfamiliar:

    • Show up with your instrument, mouthpiece, and valve oil. It always amazes me when a student arrives at a lesson and the trumpet is somewhere else. If your instrument comes home with you every day, this shouldn’t even be a possibility. Also, it is rude to assume that you can borrow your teacher’s valve oil if your valves start sticking, and impractical to assume that you’ll just “make do.” Valves are a crucial part of your life as a trumpet player; get into the habit of maintaining them.
    • Bring the music you want to work on (unless you are a first-time beginner). Until your teacher has heard you play, s/he has no idea what exercises you need. If you are lucky, this person will have made an educated guess before your lesson and will bring a book that is likely to contain appropriate materials. But I have also guessed wrong and ended up with music that is either too hard (impossible to tell what the student is good at) or too easy (impossible to pinpoint the areas that need improvement). In these cases, it is very difficult to fill an hour of lesson time, and even harder to assign practice materials for the rest of the week. (If you are just learning to play, this isn’t as critical.)
    • Bring a pencil and use it. Pencils are a great way to demonstrate that you value what your teacher has to say. One of my students brings a notepad to every lesson and writes down all of the major concepts we talk about. I never have to worry that he isn’t paying attention! You can also ask if it is permissible to record your lessons. Never share a lesson recording with anyone else unless your teacher allows it.
    • Answer questions honestly, and ask questions to make sure you understand. Just as you wouldn’t lie to your doctor, full disclosure of anything related to the trumpet is very important in your lessons (even if the answer is, “No, I didn’t practice this week…”). If you don’t understand what your teacher is telling you, you should ask for clarification. BUT…
    • Make an active choice to trust your teacher. Asking for clarification is different than questioning someone’s judgment (“Could you explain it again?” vs. “What is the point of this?”). Teachers know that their students trust them when they (a) practice in (b) exactly the manner assigned, (c) without objection. Above all, never respond to a teacher’s advice by telling him or her that someone else (your band director, former teacher, etc.) said you should do it differently.
    • If you have a regular teacher and are taking only a few lessons from someone else, always report back to your primary insructor. Give him or her a chance to respond to the advice you received from others. If this person flatly disagrees with advice you received from someone else, take the objection seriously. A good teacher will almost always be supportive of another instructor’s opinion, unless that opinion poses a threat to the long-term progress of your playing.

If you make these types of choices, you can develop a fruitful and lasting relationship with your instructor. Teachers always look forward to lessons with students who follow directions and show up prepared, and they will bring their own best energy to your lessons if you turn out to be one of these students. Good luck and happy studying!

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