A dedicated notebook for your music practice can be an incredibly useful tool for aiding your musical learning and keeping you on track. In this post I’ve listed some of the benefits of keeping a music notebook, and suggested some ways you can use your notebook to your advantage.
What are the benefits of keeping a notebook?
It functions as a memory aid so you don’t forget useful bits of information from your lessons.
It helps you to practise efficiently and with clear aims.
It helps you to communicate with your teacher so that they can tailor lessons around you better.
It helps keep you focused on long-term goals, as well as week-to-week tasks.
It serves as a great record of your progress. Whenever you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or not progressing as quickly as you’d like, you can flick back through your notebook and see how far you’ve come since you started. This can be encouraging and interesting to look back on.
What should I write in my notebook?
Make notes during or directly after all of your lessons so that you can remember what you covered, any helpful tips from your teacher or general points of interest. Your teacher may make lesson notes in your book for you during the lesson (or email them to you afterwards), or you may prefer to do this yourself. When I make notes in my students’ lessons I always write down:
What pieces we played, and which specific bars we focused on (and for what specific reason)
The warm-ups or scales we did (these may be related to the pieces you’re learning, or your teacher may have assigned them to remedy a particular technical issue)
Any new information learned (with diagrams or visual representations if that’s helpful)
Two or three specific homework tasks for the week (avoid being broad here – having small, clear and achievable goals is best)
The date of the lesson clearly at the top of the page.
Keep a practice log, writing a few notes each practice session. You don’t need to write much here (the majority of your practice time should usually be spent playing, after all), but outlining your aims for the session and then evaluating your progress at the end can really help to focus your mind and make the most out of the time you have. Use the notes from your previous lesson to inform your practice goals – in turn, your teacher can then glance through the notes you made at home and use them to inform the direction of the lesson (I find it so useful when students keep notes).
If you have any questions or technical issues between lessons, write them down in your notebook. This will ensure that you don’t forget to ask them during your lesson, and helps you to make the most of the time you have with your teacher. Again, be as specific as possible – if you were unsure of how the rhythm of bar 15 was meant to sound, write that down.
Keep a list of pieces or songs that you would like to learn in your notebook. You can also write about music you’ve been listening to that you’d like to ask questions about or analyse with your teacher. This is really helpful for those times when your teacher asks you what you’d like to learn next and your mind goes blank, leaving you struggling to name any piece of music in existence! It also helps your teacher to get a better idea of your tastes so that they can tailor lessons to fit you.
You can use your notebook as a place to write down transcriptions of melodies when practising aural skills, or even your own compositions. If you are noodling around and discover a sequence of notes or chords that you like, write them down so that you can remember and develop them later. Similarly, if you manage to work out the notes to a song by yourself, put them in your notebook for future use.
Here is a template I made for a practice log entry that you can use as the basis for your notes between lessons.