How to Organize Your Students' Lessons and Practice
by Daniel Roest
Creative minds found in music studios aren't the most organized, usually – it's just our nature to have several things going on and many sheets of paper to track. If you need tips for keeping things in order during and between lessons, this column is for you.
A Mountain of Paper
In the course of learning the guitar and during your first several years teaching guitar, you have probably acquired dozens of pages of chord charts, scale exercises, tabbed tunes, theory lessons, forms of all kinds, and if you're lucky, you know where to find them. Like me, you may have bought a file cabinet and folders to help organize your music, plus a photocopier to make it easier to get your forms and scale and chord sheets to your students.
A few years ago I got inspired to make up a binder to keep my most frequently used originals in one place. Then I thought this would be perfect to replicate and have all my students use. No more pieces of music and random pages falling out of guitar cases and off of music stands – it would be three-hole punched and in specific sections of the binder, with labeled, tabbed dividers to make finding things quick.
3 Holes, 8 Tabbed Dividers
Thinking about what to put in a binder that each student would bring to the lessons, I found I could work with eight, and Avery conveniently sells color-coded 8-packs of dividers. Here they are:
- Reading & Repertoire
- Supplements & Resources
If I was going to produce a studio binder and ask students to buy it and use it, it needed to look good. This is where learning your way around a graphics and text program pays off. Of course it is a lot of work up front, but once it's set, it's set, and all you have to do is keep your supplies up. When I have gone through the latest batch of binders, I go down to the office supply store and buy binders, tabbed dividers and photocopied sets of my original pages, then come home and assemble them. The dividers come with an index page, and I run them through my printer to print the section titles, and then set up to assembling the binders. You will put out some money up front for these binders, dividers and photocopies, but you'll make it back and a little more.
Every new student I get buys a binder and brings it to every lesson. We have a routine: when they come to the lesson, I take their binder, flip to the last lesson assignment in the Practice section, and go from there. I can see at a glance what they have been assigned and worked on for as long as they have been coming to lessons. And now, let's look at the binder in more detail. Each section has a “Top Page” introducing the section. Customize yours as you wish – here's mine.
In the first section I put an Introduction, Student Survey, Studio Policies, Credentials and some Testimonials. The Survey gives the student the opportunity to state their reasons for taking lessons and what they would like to accomplish, what they like, how to contact them and other useful information.
In the second section, after the Practice Top Page I put several pages of help in practicing productively, like Tips on Memorization and Working with the Metronome, plus Lesson Assignments and a Practice Log. The Lesson Assignments pages get reproduced as they get filled up, and I and the students can see their entire history of assignments here. They hold six sets of Date, Method Book, Repertoire, Scales, Chords, Theory/Technique and Notes. The Practice Log holds six months' worth of practice minutes for the student to log, so these are replaced infrequently needed, but I keep a ready supply of Lesson Assignments pages on my stand.
In the third section I put the Scales Top Page and some basic scales – E minor pentatonic first, then Natural Tones on the First Position, then E Blues, and about eight others. I give the different scales two diagrams each side-by-side – the fingerings, and the note names. With each one I give a little sell on what it's good for. Any random scales sheets the student already has are three-hole-punched and put here.
In the fourth section, after the Chords Top Page I have chord primers – First Chords for Kids (one finger, two finger and three finger open chords,) Beginning Chords by Key, using the guitar-friendly keys of C, G, D, A, and E along with some minor, power and major 7th chords, Intermediate Chords (barre chords– CAGED system), Advanced Chords (Moveable Jazz Forms, Alternate Voicings,) Success With Barre Chords (See October for details) and an introduction to Fingerstyle Arpeggios. Again, any random chord sheets the student already has are three-hole-punched and put here.
The three previous sections have been the fattest and most like a guitar method – but the binder system is meant to compliment method and repertoire books – not to replace them. The remaining sections are relatively light.
Reading & Repertoire
The fifth section includes a Reading Top Page and an introduction to the several ways guitar music is expressed on paper – standard notation, tablature and diagrams. It also includes a Repertoire Learned List, Repertoire Wish List and a Where the Notes Are in First Position – a set of diagrams for each of the Natural Tones in First Position.
The sixth section has a Theory Top Page and that's it – I don't have any other pages yet in this section.
The seventh section has a Technique Top Page and one other page – the Expressive Guitar Playing sheet that summarizes the whole series of my Teaching Guitar columns from May 2008 through February 2009. Links are available in my bio below this column.
Supplements and Resources
The eighth and last section has a Supplements and Resources Top Page, and this section is where you should keep all your favorite external resources – books, magazines, Internet resources – suppliers – anything you think your students could be helped by.
Keep a three-hole punch close at hand because you'll use it a lot. The three-ring format really helps keep your students organized – they get used to you flipping to the Lesson Assignments page and looking for progress, so they keep an eye on that page. The Practice Log fills up day by day, and they can look over the months of practice with a sense of accomplishment. I have students with several of these half-year sheets filled with practice minutes entered.
I hope this column on getting organized inspires you to do just that. If there is another teaching issue that has you stumped – let me know, since there are probably others in the same boat. Until next month, happy teaching!
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Roest
www.danielguitar.com - All Rights Reserved
Daniel Roest (pronounced “roost”) started playing guitar at the age of seven and never stopped. Today he has performed in countless solo and ensemble events in nearly every kind of venue, and his concerts are praised for being entertaining and informative. For ten years he served as President and Artistic Director of the South Bay Guitar Society based in San Jose, CA, preparing many successful grant applications, and is now Director Emeritus. He is recognized for presenting gifted guitarists such as Laurence Juber, Peppino D'Agostino, Muriel Anderson, Jeff Linsky, Franco Morone, Michael Chapdelaine, Richard Gilewitz, Chris Proctor, Mark Hanson, Duck Baker, Sharon Isbin, Lily Afshar, Carlos Barbosa-Lima and many others. His Great Guitars! 2004 CD received 5-star reviews.
Roest majored in guitar in college and earned three degrees in music performance. He participated in dozens of masterclasses, including many he produced. He taught guitar and music fundamentals at California State University Stanislaus and De Anza, Foothill and San Jose City Colleges and now maintains a full-time teaching studio in Folsom, CA. He has adjudicated several multi-instrument competitions, presented music clinics and introduced many new audiences to the art of the classical guitar. His original solo composition, February 4th, was selected from hundreds of submissions by the ERMMedia “Masterworks of the New Era” CD series. Last year he was selected to be a teaching artist in the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission's Artist Residency Institute. Previous columns for Guitar Sessions include So You Want to Make a Living with the Guitar, Parts 1, 2 and 3, and a ten part series, Expressive Guitar Playing – Tapping Your Student's Inner Artist
The Big Picture, Rhythm,
Balance, Rubato, Pitch effects, Tone,
Stage Presence and Heart, and Teachers Who Can – Performing Your Own Community, Parts 1 and 2.