Study Sheets

Every day when I teach my students, part of my “getting ready to teach ritual” includes the creation of a study sheet for each student.

These study sheets are created in Word and are taylored to each individual student. They are made with tables and have seven check boxes so that they can mark off their practice with a pencil.

I do this because I am forgetful and can’t remember what I have assigned unless it is printed out for me. It isn’t fair for the students practice something hard all week only to have me forget to ask them to show me their work.

I update the study sheets after the lessons with the new things I have assigned and the things we have worked on in the lesson. I keep all of their old study sheets so I can track their progress. This helps me make better diagnostic decisions because I have a history of what they were doing last year or six months ago. The study sheets are numbered so I know how many lessons they have had.

Study sheets begin with a listening assignment. Even though they buy the Suzuki CD’s, I burn specific listening CD’s with each song three times in a row and sometimes extra listening such as Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade. I decorate their CD’s and they are the colorful. They need to listen to their CD for more than twice as long as they practice so that their model will be strong.

Then the progression on the study sheet is tone study, reading, review, current piece and main point. We follow that order in the lesson. What you teach in the lesson is how they will practice at home, so we must follow that order in order to set them up for success.

Tone study is detailed. The basic things to focus on are a roundness of sound and a relaxed arm and hand with a strong Panda thumb. Each student is studying a different point with their tone, so I know where they are studying and we work for about 5 to 10 minutes on tone first.

I used to put reading at the end of the lesson, but then it would get ignored so I put it after tone study now. I teach reading from “I Can Read Music” and “Adventures in Music Reading“. Also some students play in orchestras at school, so I help them with their orchestra music at this time.

Unfortunately I have lowered my standards for review. I used to insist that students play every single song that they knew every day until they were in Book 4. Now as early as Book 2 I am dividing up their review so they play half of the songs one day and the other half the next. This makes a complicated table chart for their songs (I type each song and the main point for them to focus on while playing it). I guess I have just found it to be much more successful to have them playing each song well rather than mindlessly playing them all. But maybe we will have a review revival, who knows. Review develops ability. You raise your level of playing with a piece you already know. They play along with the CD’s for tempo, tone and musical sensitivity.

We spend the least amount of time on the current piece.

The main point is the one thing that would most help their overall progress. It is the thing they should focus on all week and usually we have the same main point for several weeks in a row until it is mastered.

I put a picture at the top of almost every study sheet. I don’t remember how this tradition got started. The students love to come in the studio and look at their study sheet on the music stand and see their new picture. I usually find a photo on flickr. One of my students really likes guinea pigs, so I find cute photos of guinea pigs to put at the top of her study sheet. Another one likes llamas. Sometimes I find excellent photos of violins. Around this time of year I just do a generic search for “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Turkey” in google images and find something appropriate there. I traded violin lessons for a good color printer so the images look nice. I also have a scanner for scanning music and I can print out things for my students very quickly. My computer is in the studio.

I also make lucky dip cards with images. They pick a card out of a bowl and play that song and when they pick the “big hit” they can choose whatever song they would like to play. I was shocked yesterday when one of my boy students (the one who liked the popcorn) said that for the big hit he would like to play Gossec Gavotte! (He’s on Musette in Book 2)

I have a music program and I have the preview spots all typed out (like the famous 16th notes of Gossec Gavotte – I call that the “hot spot”). While in my music program, with the music I want to copy showing on the screen, I push the “print screen” button (to the upper right on the keyboard) and then open a image editor like photoshop or fireworks, create new, then paste the music into a document. Then I insert the picture of the music right into their study sheet. It sounds complicated, but I only need to do it once for each preview spot since the previews are the same for everyone. This is very handy for everyone to have the previews right there on their Study Sheet.

The students have notebooks for their study sheets. I don’t know if they keep them all. But I do look at them to see if they practiced. Kurt Sassmannshaus said that if the students don’t mark their study sheet, they are definitely not practicing so I use that as a general rule for understanding how much time they actually spend on their instrument at home. I continue to make study sheets even for those who don’t practice. Maybe they will begin to practice one day…

If you would like to see a sample study sheet, please write email to me at suzanne{@}aros.net.

Also, here is a 100 days of practice chart.

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