New Year is so Full of Promises


Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Us slaying our learning demons!
Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Us slaying our learning demons!

Here we go again, another year and another period of making promises that we will find hard to keep. Stated in some drunken stupor or made in all earnestness, we know that most, if not all, will be broken or forgotten pretty quickly. But what should we be getting ourselves in gear for as far as the course goes? Well there is a lot that can be promised and continued with throughout the academic year that will help us very easily to learn in a more orderly and more fruitful way. There are little tips that I pass on to all students who are willing to listen. They are gleaned from experience as well as from my own past tutors. Simple things that can make all the difference and go a long way.

One of the most important things that we need to learn is how to learn, and one of the most underrated things is to organise yourself in very simple ways that will enable you to do just that, learn! Not in any specific order:

  1. A simple but very effective way of expanding your listening and repertoire choices is to listen to a new piece every day. They don’t have to be full Symphonies but a movement at a time if you prefer. A short piece or a long piece. Build up a list of works you really want to try out and work methodically through them. Sometimes you will come across a work that you want to listen to again and again. Do so, this will become part of your own listening library. By the end of a year you will probably have listened to more than 365 new pieces, some of which will be life changing.
  2. Make notes on all the pieces as soon as you can otherwise you will forget their initial impact on you. Reflect on what the composer was trying to get to. How it made you feel and what you really thought of the work, not what you think people want you to think or feel.
  3. Keep a note pad and pen available by the radio or stereo so that if you hear something that makes you sit up and listen write it down and keep a log of it all.
  4. Listen to all genres. By all, I mean all genres, and not just the period or style of music you enjoy most. If you are into just the Romantic Period listen to contemporary pieces or medieval works, rock music, rap or Trance or folk or jazz or metal. You get the idea. Expand your musical horizons. You don’t necessarily have to like it all.
  5. When you feel bogged down with the academic work you are doing it is sometimes very useful to put your keyboard and files to one side and go and do something totally different. I personally like to write or get my camera out. I go and feed my Koi fish or watch the local buzzards being harassed by the crows. Whatever turns you on or floats your boat. It frees the mind and allows your brain time to re-organise your ideas and thoughts. When you finally go back to your studies things will not seem as heavy or as complex.
  6. Take regular breaks at every hour or hour and a half and have a tea or coffee, even if you are in full flow just stop. Take a break and you will find you can keep going a lot, lot longer than before, and the ideas and direction will become more succinct and clear too.
  7. When reading and researching keep a note pad by the side of your work and note the book or article, page, paragraph if you are not allowed to highlight and write on the original. This helps reference and find passages quickly.
  8. If composing, sketch out graphically the shape of the work, the form, the rough basic instrumentation or ideas in words at the relevant point. You don’t have to stick with that but it will help you to not forget what you wanted to say next, how you wanted to and by what means.
  9. Write down the salient points that your tutor has made about your assignments and keep them in your feedback file so that you can make sure you have addressed them in your next assignment. Always remember that your tutor has gone through the academic treadmill and knows what is required so use this as a valuable source of knowledge and as a guide to your success. Don’t see the tutor’s comments as being negative or anti your work, they are most certainly not. They want what is best for you and your work in the end. Use their experience.
  10. Your log and listening books are YOUR log and listening books. They do not have to follow any set form or strict dogma. They are for your thoughts, feelings, items that you want to keep. They are your mind map for brainstorming ideas and thoughts. Put anything you want to into them. Pictures, no matter how obtuse, articles, poems, scraps of scores, ideas, thoughts, found items. Anything really does go and if it won’t fit in, photograph it and put that in instead. I see many very well laid out listening and log books full of critical analysis and objective comments but these are always so dry and tedious. This is all well and done but where are your thoughts and comments. What do you think and feel, and why above all, and how is this going to impact on you as an individual. Dare to be different, dare to be yourself. The more you these logs are the more we as tutors get to see your processes of thought and ways of thinking and can very often suggest things that would otherwise be missed.
  11. Organise your files and you will be surprised how your learning experience also alters for the better and how everything becomes more ordered and makes sense as time goes on.

This list of thoughts is not endless, as you can tell, and each of us find our own way through the learning maze like Theseus to the Minotaur. We in our own way slay our learning demons too and re-appear stronger for doing so. So now is the time to blow away the old confusing cobwebs and get into the real learning mode for yourself and you will surely be surprised how this will change how, and the way, you learn for the better. Make 2014 an exceptional year.




  1. annemacleod2013 8 January 2014 at 10:26 pm

    This is excellent advice. I am on a Fine Arts pathway, however the advice given can be applied to any kind of learning and creativity; ie instead of the listening to something new, look at something new, listen to all genres of music- look at all genres and periods of art; you get the idea. Thanks, this is a really helpful post.

  2. Vicki Downey 15 January 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you for the top tips, they are really inspiring! I love the idea of making the learning log more personal, and suspect that the ‘little and often’ idea of listening to a piece a day will transform my learning – currently I keep waiting for that elusive chance to have some time on my hands to get started with listening. As that is unlikely to ever happen thank you for the challenge to take it one piece at a time!


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