From Student to Master: Learning how to learn

For a good number of reasons, I think it’s important for adults to open themselves up to new learning experiences. Learning boosts both personal and professional growth. Even something that seems completely unrelated to your field can lead to interesting parallels and insights. In the past, I shared my thoughts when I returned to roller-skating (2011) and experimented with taekwondo (2013). I can even say that my regular yoga practice from 2015 to 2016 taught me the benefits of relaxation and focus, which I continue to apply.

More recently, I decided to find a piano teacher in my area. I used to play as a child, and I’ve played now and again as an adult, but I felt a desire to gain back lost skills and enjoy playing at a strong level again. I’ve only met with my teacher a couples times so far, but having scheduled lessons is encouraging daily practice. I also find myself better understanding advanced students of English who want to push their progress even further. It’s been both fun and frustrating to be in the role of a learner again!

Some thoughts I’d like to share:

  • Affective factors are significant. I was so nervous at my first lesson. I’ve never been fully comfortable performing for others, and on top of that I realize there are expectations when I tell someone that I played as a child and took lessons until the age of 18. I definitely did not play my best when I first sat down in my teacher’s studio, but at the second lesson I was better. It helped to have a teacher who balanced praise with correction and took the time to establish a connection with me. I felt his support rather than any judgement.
  • A realistic schedule makes me believe my objectives will be met. As a busy working mom, I’ve agreed to bimonthly lessons with daily practice. My teacher gave me the same advice that I’ve given to my adult language learners. Can you find at least 5 minutes to practice every day?” Yes, I can. And most days I manage to play a lot longer than that. But I appreciate having minimal pressure — just enough to know that I’ll be held accountable at my next lesson.
  • Both direct and indirect attention to the mechanics have a place in learning. I love when I’m playing a piece and a certain section is so comfortable that I don’t have to think much anymore; the music just pours out. Then I hit a wrong note or my fingering gets sloppy and I stumble. I try to push on and finish the piece, but later I go back to those parts and carefully review the notes and repeat them several times. This is how music and language learning are similar. The end goal is self-expression, but you have to master the mechanics for production to take place smoothly and naturally. There are times the learner has to slow down and give conscious attention to the pieces and then work to fit them together as they were meant to be.
  • Being open is more than an attitude; it’s a practice. I have a list of songs and compositions I’d like to master, but my teacher also gave me something entirely new to learn. It’s a song I’d never heard. At first, I was hesitant to deviate from my own list, but I took the music home and as I practiced it, I began to fall in love with the melody. Now it’s one of my favorite songs to practice. I like the combination of playing some new and old tunes. I’m glad my teacher pushed me just a bit out of my comfort zone in order to try something new.

Have you taken on any new learning experiences? What have you discovered or been reminded of?

 

Photo credit: Piano, Music Score, Music Sheet by Stevepb. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/piano-music-score-music-sheet-1655558/.

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