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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Take Notes at Every Master Class and after Every Lesson (3 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

In April of 1995 I took the El to downtown Chicago and had the privilege of having a lesson with the incomparable Arnold Jacobs. It was the only lesson that I had the honor of taking with Mr. Jacobs and it was as good as advertised. I am thankful to this day that I had the presence of mind to write down every single thing that I remembered him saying in that lesson the second I got on the train to head back to Evanston. I still have and cherish that piece of paper today. In a testament to the teaching abilities of Mr. Jacobs (or a sign that I have made absolutely ZERO progress in 15 years!) he touched on all of the headlines that I am still working on to this day.

I wish that I had also taken notes at all of the weekly studio classes at Northwestern. I remember an awful lot of the material that Rex Martin covered in those classes. However, there is no question that I would remember a lot more if I had been able to revisit the material throughout the years. If you archive a full four years worth of master classes from your undergraduate degree there will not be a single major musical topic that is not covered in detail. What a resource!

Like with recording yourself, technology nowadays makes not only taking notes but also organizing and archiving them incredibly easy. An important part of my continued development as a musician is attending master classes as often as possible. In the last couple of years I have the pleasure of attending classes by Joe Alessi, Marty Hackleman, Carol Jantsch, Sam Pilafian, Pat Sheridan, Jim Self and Michael Davis. I have taken notes at every one of these classes.

For some of these I simply used pen and paper which can be the fastest way for me to jot down notes. Other times I have used my iPhone to input directly into a notes program. And some I have “live tweeted” ( meaning sharing quotes in real time with my twitter followers.

A huge benefit for you as both a player and a performer is saving your notes for future reference. Google Docs is an example of a program which is free and very easy to use. Also, I am fairly certain that Google isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so any data that you save on their servers should be around for a very long time. They also make it very easy to export anything from your account if you choose to move it in the future. This program allows you to make lists, spreadsheets, and a lot more.

Another tool I use is Evernote. Evernote is free program which also offers a premium level for about $50/year offering more storage and added functionality. Anytime I get a handout at a conference or a master class I take a photo of it and email it to Evernote. It then turns the handout into a searchable PDF and archives it. I didn’t even know that you can search photographs for words in a program like this. It is pretty amazing!

Anything stored electronically in a program like Google Docs or Evernote is completely searchable which is just as powerful as it sounds. Imagine being able to search four years worth of undergraduate master classes for the word ‘breathing’ to see every reference that your teacher made to the subject during your entire degree! Any notes that I have taken the past couple of years I have stored online so that I have them forever and I can access them anywhere in the world there is an internet connection. In fact, I just accessed some music last week on the road in Japan using Evernote. Have an interview for a teaching position somewhere? You can easily review any notes you’ve taken from anywhere in the world.

Imagine how prepared you would be for your junior year if before the start of the school year you took half an hour and read the notes from all of your lessons and master classes from your sophomore year. College goes by faster than anyone can believe. Maximize your time there!

Tomorrow: Play More Chamber Music