Michael Capone on Getting Organized

Hi everyone – my name is Michael Capone, and throughout the year, I’ll be sharing some of my reflections on a couple different topics. First, as the Teaching Fellow for our viola studios this school year, I’ll be teaching about ten students each semester who are either working on music degrees with a concentration in viola as their primary instrument, or who are working on non-music degrees but still wanting to take lessons during their college career. Second, my passion for new music has informed many of my activities at UNT, and I’ll be sharing some of the viola-related new music events that are happening at the University.

        I’ve found that there’s always a bit of a frenzy at the beginning of each new school year. Whether you’re moving to a new location as you start off your first college experience, or if you’ve been in college for years and are just ready to kick off your last first day of class, there’s usually some shuffling that has to go on. You’re busy deciding when your lesson and coachings should fall each week, figuring out what repertoire to tackle next, trying to remember where to shift in your F#-minor scale, getting to know a new chamber group… the list goes on and on!

        Although the semester has already begun for us at UNT, and we have started to settle into a groove, I’m finding that I’m still getting all my materials set and organized so I can have a successful year. This is the first semester in which I’m not just thinking about my own schedule and my own needs – I am teaching students this semester too! Fortunately, some of these students were (and are) also my classmates, so at least I already knew their names and personalities, and had some ideas as to what everyone would need from me as a teacher. Right away, it has become apparent that one of the many things that will be essential for my success is to stay as organized as possible.

        I come from a background in Viola Performance and Music Education, so thankfully, this is not my first semester teaching. It is, however, my first experience teaching at the collegiate level, and right away, I realized that I had never before taught so many students with different needs in terms of musicality, technical prowess, and career goals. I had to come up with a way to keep track of each of my students – although, realistically, ten is not that enormous a number – and their goals, dreams, and experiences. Additionally, I have to know what my own goals and expectations are for each of my students as well!

        Before I began teaching lessons, I started by gathering information from each of my students. This information ranged from “housekeeping” questions (What’s your major? What does your schedule include this semester? Do you have a preferred weekly lesson time?) to more inspired, personal questions. (What are your goals for this semester? For the year? For your career? Are there pieces that are on your wish list? What pieces have you enjoyed playing recently?)

        Getting this kind of information from everyone allowed me to feel extremely comfortable as I began teaching. Not only could I keep track of everyone’s schedule and begin fitting lessons into my own schedule, but I could also already start to form plans for what our first lessons together would look like. A student wants to start the Arpeggione Sonata? I had better start listening to more recordings and make sure I have my own ideas about fingerings, bowings, and style – I need to give myself a refresher on what I already know of that piece. Another student really enjoys playing duets and wants to get into a university orchestra? Great! I can find some level-appropriate duets to start working on ensemble playing fundamentals, no problem.

        Everyone has his or her own method of keeping all of this information organized. I have found it immensely helpful to get a huge binder with dividers for each student. At the front, I include all of the general studio documents – contact lists, attendance records, handouts, etc. Each student has his or her own section with a folder for their current repertoire, class schedules, and goals. I also include about twenty or so sheets of loose-leaf paper to write down weekly lesson progress, notes, and assignments. This allows me to easily look back over the course of the month and see what we’ve worked on, what the week’s assignments were, and therefore, what my expectations will be for the next lessons. Reviewing these sheets before each lesson and throughout the week also allows me to assess my own teaching. Am I addressing the topics for each week thoroughly and clearly? Am I consistent from student to student with my expectations of preparedness? Have I addressed something with one student that might also apply or be helpful to another?

        Though this is only week 5 of my teaching, I am finding that staying organized like this has already been a foundation for my success. Keeping close contact with students, communicating effectively about their wishes and needs, being clear about expectations, and tracking one’s own teaching are the basic tools of any teacher, regardless of subject matter. Surely I will continue to learn more about how to be an even more effective teacher as the year develops. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you soon!


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