One of the greatest pleasures of teaching music is seeing a student’s eyes light up when they suddenly turn a corner in their studies—suddenly understanding something that was confusing them. Being able to play something that they didn’t believe they’d ever be able to pull off.
Then using that success as a limb to stand on while reaching for the next one.
Hopefully if you ever get stuck in a rut, one of these questions will help you to see the way forward, and to be your own teacher. It may also help you answer the tricky question of what to do with your practice time.
Without further ado…
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1. Have I reached this year’s major musical goal?
2. Have I been practicing as much as possible? With better time management, could I be practicing more?
3. Am I focused and actively learning new things during practice times, or do I drift a lot? (noodling is fine and beneficial, but conscious study time is important too.)
4. Do I know enough chords?
5. Have I been open-minded and willing to learn from all types of music?
6. What questions do I have about my instrument, performance, or music in general? Where can I find the answers to those questions?
7. What have I been wasting time on? Can that time be used to practice, learn songs, etc.?
8. Is there anything I feel intimidated by? How can I begin to tackle it?
9. Do I know enough scales?
10. Who are my favorite artists? What do I like about their work? What would I change about their music, if it were my own?
11. About repertoire: how many tunes do I know well enough to put inside of my gig book?
12. Do I understand how chords are constructed?
13. Am I enjoying the style of music that I’ve been playing? What other styles would I like to explore?
14. How’s my technique? How could I play with greater control and precision?
15. Do I know enough different inversions and arpeggios of chords on my instrument?
16. Am I happy with my most recent public performance? How can I build on the successful parts and strengthen any weak parts?
17. Can I easily transpose melodies from one key to another?
18. How confident do I feel when reading music?
19. Do I understand musical intervals?
20. Given a chord progression, am I able to improvise a decent solo over it?
21. How’s my rhythm? Can I read rhythms from music notation? Do I know how to rhythmically vary a melody or accompanying chord progression?
22. Am I growing, or have I become stagnant?
23. How can I perceive and comprehend more of what I’m hearing when I listen to music?
24. Do I understand all of my favorite scales, and how they relate to chords?
25. Is my musical ear as sharp as it could be? In improv situations, or when trying to figure out a new tune, do I intuitively know how to follow a chord change or a twist in the melody when I hear it? Can I identify musical intervals by ear? What about chord progressions?
26. Am I familiar with the many different noises and sounds my instrument can make?
27. Do I have an interest in other instruments? Do I know how to compose for them? Should I consider learning to play any of them myself?
28. Do I understand how to use the chords that I already know?
29. How good am I at mixing up the notes in a scale? Can I make large skips and leaps, play them entirely out of order, play them inside out and in any order I please, without losing my place?
30. Do I play dynamically (loudly when appropriate, softly when appropriate)?
31. What methods do I have for capturing and recording my ideas so that I won’t forget them? Can I write notation? Can I easily record, label, and store ideas so they don’t get lost?
32. Who can I play music with? Who’ll inspire me to play interesting new things?
33. Do I understand common musical forms and structures?
34. What are the conventional roles of my instrument in various group settings? What other purposes might it serve? What kind of group would I like to be part of? Or would I rather fly solo?
35. Do I know how to harmonize scales and melodies?
36. Am I able to modulate into new keys during the course of a song? Do I know and understand the circle of fifths?
37. How am I going to ensure that I continue progressing until the next time I check myself against this list?
Nicholas Tozier is an independent singer, songwriter, private music instructor, blogger, and instructor at Ampersand Academy of Dance & the Performing arts centered in Gardiner, Maine. His first album, A Game with Shifting Mirrors, is slated for self-release in Fall 2010.