As a budding musician, your private lessons are perhaps the most vital part of your personal growth during your high school and college years. Private lessons can help you hone in on and fix individual issues you have in your playing, your posture, your musicality, and virtually anything else you are struggling with in the realm of music (some of my early private teachers have even served as life coaches and mentors). They can help you not only form relationships with professional, renowned musicians, but they also help you in developing your own sound and your career. As an amateur high school musician, I used to take lessons for granted. I developed the mindset that if I didn't come to lessons fully prepared, it didn't matter because "I would get there eventually". As I am beginning to start working with younger students, I often see that same mindset in some of them, and I feel that it is very important to let students know from a very young age that it is crucial to take private lessons very seriously. After years of "trial and error", here is a list of tips I have developed for not only others, but myself as well about taking private lessons.
1) Do Not Be Late! It is not only extremely rude to your teacher, but you are wasting precious instruction time and money! Whether you or your parents are paying for your lessons, you are often paying by the minute. Coming in late is a clear message to your teacher that you either don't care about their instruction or that you do not have your life under control. Regardless of the reason, it is unprofessional. If you know that you are going to be late for a very good reason, it is crucial that you let your teacher know ahead of time so that they may do something else they need to do while they are waiting. Many professional teachers have a multi-faceted career balanced between freelancing, performing in a symphony orchestra or large ensemble, teaching privately, and managing themselves as an artist. The ten minutes they may wait for you to show up for your lesson are ten minutes that could be spent accomplishing another task they need to do. Many teachers I know have very strict rules about their students being late or not showing up; if you are late, you pay for the full lesson. If you do not show up, you still pay for the full lesson. If you are driving to your teacher's house, be sure to leave yourself enough cushion time in case you run into traffic. If you are studying at a college level, be sure to be waiting outside of their office with your instrument and music ready about 5 minutes prior to your set lesson time. This will not only help them keep lessons moving and on time, but it will also allow you a few moments of time to focus and calm your mind to enter your lesson in the right mindset. You will get more out of the lesson if you are calm and eager to learn than if you are frantic and exhausted by rushing to try and get there on time.
2) Be Open-Minded. This is one that I find especially important because I have experienced many different kinds of teachers in the years I have spent taking lessons. Remind yourself that everyone you study with will have their own individual opinions on how pieces, excerpts and etudes should be played and RESPECT that. These professionals have spent years and years and years perfecting the art of playing and are all extremely successful in doing so, and chances are each person you study with has had a very different life and career path that has driven them to think, act, perform and teach in a certain way. For example, I remember as a senior in high school taking the exposition of the first movement of the Mozart Concerto in G to two different teachers simultaneously. One felt very strongly that the opening phrase should be played heavily, forcefully and regally because it is a concerto, and another felt very strongly that the opening phrase should be played delicately and sweetly because it is Mozart and it is a classical piece. Receiving opposing opinions, especially in the same time frame, can be overwhelming. The best thing for the student to do is never to refute their teacher's instruction, saying that "so-and-so told me to play it this way", but to take both teachers' advice and formulate their own opinions on the performance of the piece. Always treat them with the utmost respect, and take their advice to heart. Try the things they are telling you to do, and if it is not working for you, try something different. Personal experimentation in the practice room is one of the key components of developing your own sound as a musician.
3) Bring Down the Ego. We have all been guilty of having a big ego at one point in our careers. I certainly did in high school, where I was at the top of my school musically because I lived in a small neighborhood that didn't have a very large music program. Egos are extremely dangerous things, especially when receiving lessons from a private teacher. What I have seen over and over again, especially with young students, is that they feel that they already know all there is to know about their instruments and it causes them to lose respect for their mentors and teachers. Remember that no matter what level you are at, there is always room to grow. I had to learn this the hard way during my transition from high school to college, and it was a miserable experience for me. No matter how talented you are, there will always be someone out there that is better than you. That is not something that should intimidate you, rather, it should motivate you to want to learn as much as you possibly can about your instrument and about performing and playing. I am not saying that one should lose all their confidence in order to be an effective student. I strongly believe that having confidence is an absolutely crucial part in building one's individual sound over time. However, there is a very fine line between being confident and being arrogant. Enter all of your lessons humble and hungry to learn and improve yourself both as a person and a musician. Private lessons are a period of time in which you have your teacher or professor's undivided attention in which they can address very personal, specific issues in your playing that you would not receive anywhere else. It is a time where you can ask questions about your instrument's pedagogy and your own personal playing, and it is a time where you can improve so much in the span of one hour. Do not go in thinking you have nothing else to learn about your instrument, because you will not. You will learn only as much as you allow yourself to.
4) Write it Down! This is something that will vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers encourage their students to write down their advice during their lessons, others do not like that and get irritated that their students are taking instruction time away by writing things down. It is polite to ask your teacher or professor during your first few lessons what their policy is on this. Some may encourage it, some may prefer you wait until after your lesson ends to write down everything you have learned. I would highly recommend taking 15-20 minutes if you have it to write down everything you can remember of what your teacher told you in your lesson. Write down what worked, and write down what didn't. Write down what they want you to have prepared for the next lesson, and write down any general tips they had for your playing. Writing things down WILL help you remember it better, and if you forget, you now have something to refer back to when you practice. Another method you can use is to record your lessons, either with audio or video, and then review them later to write down notes. Again, I highly recommend asking your teacher upfront about their policies on recording, because some teachers are very opposed to recording lessons and others strongly encourage it. It is impossible to know until you ask.
5) Put Your Flute Down! This is something I learned from Jeanne Baxtresser's website. It is very impolite to have your flute up in playing position while your teacher is giving you instruction. It will drastically reduce the amount of information that you hear and retain, and it gives your teacher the message that you do not really care about what they are trying to tell you, all you want to do is play the passage again. While your teacher is giving you instruction, I recommend standing with your flute down and your body facing towards them, maintaining full eye contact. Do not shift your eyes around the room. Do not fiddle with your flute or anything around you. Your body language is so important and can send your teacher the wrong message if you do not give them your full attention. Focus intently on the advice they are giving you, and when they are finished and ask you to try it, pause and quickly reflect on what they told you to do, lift your flute up in playing position, and then try it. Chances are, you will learn a lot quicker and open up much more time in your lessons for other tips they can give you. If you pick things up quickly, your teacher will provide you with more and more information, and this is a surefire way to getting the most out of your lessons. I even received a compliment in one of my lessons from my college professor about how polite I was during lessons because I was taught ahead of time to be extremely attentive and not hold your flute in playing position when your teacher is giving you instruction.