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Why You Should Go Back to School

It’s back to school time. You may not be headed into a classroom yourself this autumn, but you might find this is a great time to re-organize your harp studies. I’d like to suggest that you create an actual curriculum.

You might remember from your school days the first days of every semester when each teacher handed out a curriculum or syllabus, a detailed plan for the semester’s study. You knew what books you would use, what you would be learning at various points during the semester and what were the teacher’s expectations.

Simply, you were given a plan for your learning with specific goals, benchmarks, standards for measurement of your progress and a time frame. Moreover, while it may not have been obvious to you the student, this plan was likely part of a larger course of study, for instance Biology I which led to Biology II.

The best curriculum is designed like that, as a combination of short term plans leading to long range goals. There’s no reason why music study should be any different.

Of course, music teachers learn to plan a curriculum and to guide students through it. But if you’re not working with a teacher, you may find yourself often at a loss as to what to do next, how to fix a particular problem, or how to get to the next level in your playing.

While working with a teacher is ideal, you can plan a curriculum for yourself. I’d like to first explain the benefits of planning a curriculum and then help you select the right elements for yours.

In order to plan a curriculum you need a big picture view. A curriculum reaches beyond one piece or one skill. It encompasses your “end” goal and your core motivation. I have heard it described as “turning your passions into proficiencies.” It’s about bringing order and purposeful intention to your musical growth.

This points out the major failure of many well-intentioned self-study plans. You don’t know what you don’t know. What IS necessary to get to your next level? What is the step-by-step path to your goal? Think about it like learning math basics before you get to algebra or reading simple poetry before you tackle Shakespeare. What preliminary skills must you acquire, what do you need to be good at before you can do what you want to do?

A curriculum is designed to create mastery of the specific set of proficiencies that will allow you to advance toward your goal.

Here is a quick example of the value of a well-planned curriculum:

Harpists A and B are both adult students and have been playing the harp for a number of years. They started around the same time and began with the same teacher. Harpist A relocated about a year ago, and she doesn’t have access to a harp teacher in her present home area. Harpist B has continued fairly regular lessons with her teacher.

While Harpist B has continued on a steady path to progress, Harpist A has stalled somewhat. She still practices regularly but finds it hard to stay motivated and sometimes she begins a piece but bogs down before she can really get it finished. She misses the infusion of energy and direction that she got from her regular harp lessons. She gets out her old exercises and etudes, buys some new music and devises a daily practice plan. But the progress isn’t visible and sometimes she wonders if she just wasn’t cut out for this harp thing.

Obviously, having the advice and mentoring of a teacher makes the learning process easier. But does this mean you can’t plan a good curriculum on your own? Of course not, but you do need some guidelines.

First, decide on your ultimate goal. Next, determine the proficiencies you will need to achieve it. Devise a plan and a timeline for developing each proficiency. Decide on benchmarks that will allow you to measure your progress and due dates for each accomplished stage.

Developing your curriculum can be a fairly intimidating task, particularly the first time you attempt it, but it can be done. I want to walk you through the steps with more detail, and I will do that in next week’s blog post.

In the meantime, spend a few moments thinking about your ultimate goal. What do you want to accomplish with your music and why is it important to you? Start with your “why”, and you’ll be ready for the “what” next week.

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