LivingArts: Speaking Up and Finding Your Musical Voice (Figuratively and Literally)

I was recently admitted to the hospital, and as someone who is usually independent and healthy, I found it a real challenge to put my care in others' hands. As I was transferred between wards, seeing a dozen different nurses and doctors, I realized I needed to express myself clearly to each medical professional and not leave my feelings and symptoms to guesswork. When I realized how much I needed to self-advocate, my results were much better.

Music lessons are much the same thing - if you don’t speak up, you simply won’t see the results you are hoping for. A good teacher, like a doctor, will ask questions. They want to get to know who you are in your regular life outside the room, in addition to your musical goals. Getting a feel for your personality and motivations will help them gear your lesson path and musical growth. Keeping that in mind, here are some important tips for the music student at any age and level:

1. Be honest about your practicing, and your continued practicing expectations. Teachers know not everyone expects to be a concert violinist (and that some do!) and they will plan your lessons and homework assignments accordingly.

2. Ask your own questions. Don't understand something? Ask for another explanation! Having trouble performing a specific skill? Ask for an idea for a new practice drill. Until you feel confident that you understand an exercise, ask your instructor not to move on until you get the hang of it.

3. Share your motivations. Is there a favourite song you wish to learn? A talent show or competition you wish to participate in? Dreaming of playing at an upcoming family wedding? Preparation is the key to success, and your teacher can help you get to where you want to be... but only if you tell them!

4. Let them know the positives. Did that last exercise really help you make sense of a difficult passage? Did you enjoy learning your last song? Was your last performance a confidence booster? Sharing this will help your teacher know you and how to individually tailor your program.

Be proactive and you’ll see the results you’re hoping for, and have much more fun along the way. Happy practicing!