Don't waste your precious lesson time and money leaving a lesson feeling confused, unfulfilled, or hopeless!
Do you feel like your lessons are not helping as much as you want?
Perhaps you feel like not getting the depth of instruction you need…
Do you feel frustrated that you can’t do what your teacher is asking of you even though you know what they are getting at?
Here are 8 effective questions you can ask your teacher to draw out valuable insight from your teachers.
#1 - How should I Practice this?
We’re often told what to fix and how the final product should sound but it’s frustrating not to know the process on how to get there!
So if you’re finding yourself at a loss of what to do, hopeless, or frustrated, ask your teacher how they would approach the problem!
A good teacher will be able to pinpoint the exact issue, when and why it appears, and suggest a step by step repeatable plan that works.
Sometimes there is just so much to go through in a lesson that teachers can’t fit everything in all at once or other things take priority.
Sometimes teachers simply don’t know that you don’t know!
So always ask for a method! It’ll save everyone’s time and you’ll be motivated to practiced!
#2 - I am having trouble with ___ can we explore a solution together?
Teachers don’t know everything nor can they address everything in a lesson. There's simply not enough time!
So don't be afraid to ask for specific help. That's what your teacher is there for anyways - to help you!
Be specific by
giving bar numbers
Describe what you have trouble with: phrasing, technique, tension, awkward, etc.
By being specific with both the issue and asking for help, it not only shows your eagerness to improve but also helps your teacher hone in on what you need to best serve you during the lesson.
#3 - What fingering would you suggest?
For a pianist, fingerings are our holy grail.
It can get you out of sticky situations, help you play more comfortably, make things easier to execute technically or musically. Anything.
Sometimes the solution to an issue is really just having better fingering.
So never be afraid to ask for a fingering, or to ask your teacher to find one that works better for your hands!
I can’t remember how many endless hours I’ve spent trying to figure out and make a fingering work only to have it solved in the lesson when I asked my teacher and they nonchalantly look into their old scores for a beautiful fingering they figured out 20 years ago. HAHA!
#4 - What/How are you listening to get that sound?
If you’re feeling lost and hopeless because :
you can hear the sound and see how your teacher is producing it..
for whatever you are not be able to (Annoying I know!)
Then it might not have anything to do with the above but rather... It might be what your teacher is listening to in order to create the sound!
It’s not always in the physical approach to sound, sometimes it’s about knowing what to listen so for, so that you know how to listen.
Ask your teacher how they are listening or what they are listening to specifically to get the sound they are producing.
Sometimes, when creating a short note, it’s not about the speed of the release but hearing how the note ends and the effect that is created afterwards.
Sometimes, in order to get a certain sound, the teacher might actually be listening to how the pedal engages with the top note.
Sometimes, to get the right balance between the voices, they aren’t achieving it by thinking of one line being soft and the other forte. Instead, they might be listening to how the texture changes when the balance is created.
Again, get curious, seek clarity, and ask for How and Why they do what they do!
#5 - How could I be thinking about this phrase?
Like an actor reciting and becoming a character, HOW we say something is important. More importantly, WHERE it comes from is even more informative.
It’s one thing for someone to tell you where and when to play loudly or short..
But It’s another thing to know that the phrase comes from a place of anger because gives reason and context to the dynamics and articulations.
It also opens you up to express anger more organically instead of a micromanaged, robotic way.
Knowing how your teacher is thinking of a phrase allows you to better understand their interpretations and why they make their suggestions.
From here, you can use their advice as a spring board to reinforce or come up with your own interpretation.
#6 - What makes you suggest this?
At the end of the day, a good teacher will help prepare you to be independent and basically teach themselves out of their own job! Especially since part of growing as an artist and musician is to come to your own conclusions.
But before that, it can be valuable to tap into someone else's perspective as to why they suggest what they say.
Getting different perspective will widen your knowledge and give you further information to create an informed decision on why and what to do.
Perhaps your teacher tells you to do a crescendo in a certain phrase.
Get Curious, Get Clarity, Get Reasons by asking them Why!
Why? Why would they suggest that? Is it because you simply missed the notation in the score? Because that crescendo represents a rising in excitement? Because it provides more constraint? Because it sets up the next Phrase better?
Whatever the reason, you can see that once you understand the logic, you’ll make adjustments that have more meaning and purpose. Your playing will have more conviction and effectiveness because you have a reason.
Not because you’re a robot who just does what you’re told.
Be curious and always dig for the “why”.
#7 -What are my strengths?
Students often go into lessons to be critiqued and to have a list of faults that need to be improved for the following week.
It's also valuable to know and be confident in your strengths.
You need to know where your skills are at and what you excel at so that you have a platform to stand on and grow. Then, you can use the skills you have confidence in to improve your weaknesses.
Let’s say you’re amazing at ending phrases in a satisfying way. This gives you confidence that there is one aspect of your artistry you will always have.
Then get curious from there.
To be good at ending phrases suggests you have a good sense of how to use dynamics and time to pace the ending of phrase.
Perhaps then you can use your sense of pacing to build your climaxes better.
Perhaps you good sense of time can be applied to your use of rubato in the middle of phrase.
Or perhaps you can extend how you pace end the phrases into the start of the next.
The possibilities are endless!
Knowing what you’re good at develops the reassuring and confident platform you need to work on building your other skills.
#8 - What can I improve on right now that would have the biggest impact on my growth?
Again, students are typically bombarded with tiny details here and there to be fixed for the next lesson. And since you already spend so much time practicing, you want to make efficient use of your time.
One way would be to tackle the smallest, easiest thing that will have the biggest change in your playing.
We want a good ROI after all. You're not working hard during practice for nothing!
Your teacher can help you identity the small steps that make the biggest changes.
Not only will this make the largest change in your growth, it might also just be a small and easy fix that will take hardly any effort at all!
A lot of these questions encourage you and your teacher to get down to the “why” and the “how” and then create an actionable plan. I believe that understanding the reasons behind what we do and think creates THE most effective, profound, and lasting changes.
Always be curious and search for the “why”. Then get curious again and find the “how”. From there, you will access the music you’ve had locked up just waiting to be created!
If you feel motivated and encouraged to try out these questions, please share this post and spread the Happy Practicing Vibes around!
What questions have you asked your teacher that give you more insight? Spread the knowledge in the comments below!
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