I encourage all of my guitar students to take notes during lessons. I provide frequent handouts and digital materials, but these are supplementary to the student’s own understanding.
Carry a Notebook
Whether you’re taking lessons or studying on your own, it’s likely that you get struck now and then with a new musical insight or idea. It could be a different way of thinking about a concept, some overheard advice, or a song you’d like to remember to learn. These little thoughts can hit your head any time of day, so keep something on hand to record them. I carry a little notebook dedicated to musical things. Smart phones work too.
The two most important times to have this notebook with you are during a lesson and while you practice. There’s no need to take constant notes; it’s not a lecture. But when your instructor recommends an album or suggests you work on a technique, it’s harder to forget if you write it down. Every time one of my own teachers mentioned an artist, album, or recording over the years, I made a little note and looked it up later. I’ve discovered incalculable amounts of new-to-my-ears music this way.
Jot notes while you practice too. Keep track of how you’re improving, where you’re getting stuck, and what questions you can ask in your next lesson.
In addition to written notes, you’ll also want to remember musical notes. Sometimes you hear a melody or lyric in your head that’s all your own, and you’d like to make music with it, but you’re nowhere near an instrument. Most cell phones have note-to-self recording capabilities, and you can hum or sing your idea into your phone. Or leave yourself a voicemail. My friend, Paul Nowell, has been doing this for years and now has a veritable database of musical ideas in his pocket.
The musician’s mind is an enigma wrapped in a cranium. Channeling its power into something useful can only happen in the physical world. Employ the tools around you. Purge and organize your thoughts, and you’ll retain all kinds of original ideas you might otherwise have lost.