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How to Build Your Curriculum

In last week’s post, I showed you why I think that creating a curriculum for your harp studies – as opposed to simply practicing – is an essential key to progress. If you didn’t read the post, you can read it here, but basically the idea is this: begin with a goal, then create a plan and a timeline. Add in benchmarks to measure your progress and you have the fundamental structure for your curriculum.

But that’s only the structure. The structure of a curriculum is pretty much the same whether you’re studying English, astronomy or ukulele. In order to actually build your curriculum, you will need some time and careful consideration.

Today, I want to show you how to create your study curriculum. We’ll look at the three stages of curriculum building and I’ll give you some ideas for implementation too.

(I’m going to assume that you have already identified your goal, the result that you want from your curriculum. Remember that a curriculum is only a map; the roads are on the map, but until you know where you want to go, the map itself is pretty useless.)

Picture your goal as the bottom of a funnel. You will be channeling all your energy and efforts toward that one goal. At the beginning of the process, your efforts will be spread over a wide area, like the big opening at the top of the funnel. The further along you go in the process, your efforts will be more directly applicable to your goal and your progress will speed up as you move closer to your goal. It’s a cyclone worthy of Dorothy and Toto!

STEP ONE: BIG STEPS

What are the big pieces that need to be in place for you to achieve your goal? Identify the two or three main steps in getting from where you are now to where you want to be.

Usually the big steps are fairly clear. The first and most obvious components are the ones to take note of at this point.

For example, if you have a specific piece you want to learn, your big steps might be learning the notes, getting it up to tempo and memorizing it. If you want to improve a skill like sightreading, your big steps might be practicing note reading and rhythms and practicing playing at a steady tempo.

STEP TWO: SKILLS

This step is a little more tricky. It takes some careful consideration to try to identify what skills you will need to accomplish each step. For instance, if one of your steps is to learn the notes to a piece, what exactly will that entail?

This is what I call the “Little Red Hen” process. In case that book wasn’t part of your childhood, I’ll give you a quick summary. The Little Red Hen decides to bake bread and she asks her animal friends for help at each stage of the process: picking the wheat, grinding the flour, mixing the dough, kneading the dough, etc. Spoiler alert – none of the animals help her, so she gets to eat all the bread herself.

The principle is the same here. What are the ingredients, the specific skills you need or steps you must achieve to accomplish your goal? List them, making your list as complete as you can.

Don’t spend too much time on this, though; no matter how thorough you try to be, you will discover steps or skills you missed and others that you thought were essential that you can eliminate entirely. Be prepared to adapt as you work through your curriculum.

STEP THREE: DO, MEASURE, RE-DO

This is the most critical of the steps. Your plan will only be effective if you take action on it. And your action will only lead to your goal if you measure your progress and re-evaluate your plan along the way. There are two key components in this step.

First, write out your plan for your work. How much time will you devote to your work and when? What will you be working on in this time? And when will you plan to have that particular step of skill complete?

Once again, don’t get bogged down by being ultra-specific. Figure out how much time each one of your steps will take and slot it into your schedule or practice time. Commit to this in writing; if you keep it in your head, it will likely remain an intention instead of becoming an action.

Second, create a timeline, a set of benchmarks and “done by” dates to help you track your progress and stay on course. Setting these dates at the beginning of your curriculum is crucial. Think about it like a school curriculum; set the “final exam” date and then dates for the exams and quizzes for each step along the way. These intermediate dates are invaluable for making sure you accomplish your goal. Without the pressure, even self-imposed, of a deadline, it’s too easy to get distracted or side-tracked.

That’s my curriculum building system. It’s a simple enough idea, but it can create powerful results. Most of all, it will help you turn that huge goal into a series of achievable, positive actions.

If you’re reading this at the time of writing, watch the Harp Mastery Facebook page. This Wednesday, September 12, I will be posting a short video showing you my personal curriculum for the next few months. Perhaps it will help inspire you to create yours!

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