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Learning happens at the tip of a pencil
Learning happens at the tip of a pencil

Learning happens at the tip of a pencil

Recently I was digging through some old flute music, looking for pieces for students. Two things struck me as I pawed through my filing cabinets. The first was that I couldn’t believe some of the things I had played (omg so many notes), but the main smack-me-upside-the-head was just how much I marked up my music.

All musicians learn how to mark up music, it’s how we study. We learn that a pencil is second only to your instrument in importance, and that if you use pen you’d better pray you’re playing on a photocopy and not an original. For me, the most important part of the music is the markings I put in them, or the ones former teachers scrawled in there. One of my most painful regrets is that I borrowed music from the college music library for my first recital. All the markings from my college professor…poof. Bought all my music from then on.

That said, you can overdo it. I’m looking at you here, high schoolers writing notes on your band music. I don’t need to know who you think has a hot butt, or your dirty-minded translations of music terms (I have my own, tyvm). Erase that crap…except the nonsensical quotes from your band director. Keep those, because I’m friends with those directors and those are hysterical, as well as great blackmail material.

I teach my students the how and why of marking up music, and how to do it in enough detail that future you understands what past you was talking about. Just circling something doesn’t do it. Sometimes just picking up the pencil, unintelligibly screaming at the music, and returning to the instrument works wonders; the trick is having the pencil in hand.

Because learning happens at the tip of a pencil.

I know studies have proven that (and I’m not searching for them, I’m on spring break and simultaneously lazy and totally stressed beyond comprehension), yet I never really thought it applied to me. I’d moved so much of my life to a digital format that the mere thought of returning to paper made me dizzy. Journaling, calendar, to-do lists, reminders, you name it, they were all (vague waving) out there in the cloud. But the more I pushed pick up the blasted pencil because you’ll learn better the more hypocritical I felt…and I despise hypocrisy.

Last summer I gave up my 15 year dependence on digital planning and started using a paper planner again. Not a calendar, no way no how. There’s no way I could stay on top of four people’s schedules without Google calendar, so that’s not changing. But I dropped the to-do apps and dove into bullet journaling. Now, there’s a whole crazy community out there of passionate bullet journalers, and it’s far too easy to get sucked into the artsiness of it. I just needed to have my life and deadlines more consistently in front of my eyes. It’s still a work in progress, but I have a better sense of what I try to do every day and what actually gets done (important for me to see this). I have more of a sense of accomplishment when I get stuff done (though it’s still not nearly enough every day, but I blame that on my inability to estimate how long something might take). And I have been known to pick up the pencil, scream unintelligibly at my lists of things to do, and return to life. Does it help? I dunno, but it sure feels good.

Do my sons do this too? Pfft. I wish. I’d be happy if they’d remember to check the family calendar before getting all bent out of joint about having to do something that has been scheduled for weeks. If they had and used a task manager I’d know I was dead and hope I was wearing nice clothes and clean underwear; if that’s my eternal outfit I wanna look nice.

Learning happened at the tip of a pencil.

Whaddya think?

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