Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Use Evernote to Track Student Progress and Send Lesson Notes

Many of us have heard a litany of complaints regarding forgotten practice assignments:
  • “What do you mean I was supposed to learn this study?” 
  • “I didn't know you wanted me to play the second half of the Minuet hands together.” 
  • “My notebook? I lost it somewhere under a pile of stuff near my piano.”
The traditional notebook has been a mainstay of piano lessons for decades. A teacher's scrawled instructions form the basis for a student's daily practice habits through the week - if they even bother to look at it. Compounding the problem is the hands-off approach of many parents these days, all too eager to leave Junior to his own musical devices. If he would be organized to actually find his lesson notebook, that is.

To make matters worse, a teacher's lesson planning using paper notebooks requires writing a second set of notes compiled away from the lesson in order to be prepared for the next week. In my early years of teaching I found this duplication of student's and teacher's notes inefficient and difficult to manage with a large studio.

Given the portability of laptops and tablets in the last few years as well as the ubiquity of internet connections in studio spaces, I've seized upon a quick and easy solution to this problem: emailing lesson notes every week.

If you're looking to make the big switch to emailed lesson notes, there are several things you need to have in place in order that your use of technology can be as smooth and transparent as possible:

  • a fast and reliable wired or wireless internet connection 
  • an up-to-date laptop or tablet 
  • a thorough enough knowledge of the program you're using that you don't need to spend any time figuring it out during lesson time 

Over the years, I've developed a quick and streamlined approach to providing lesson notes that is inseparable from my teaching process, my weekly preparation, and the experience of my students in the studio and in the practice room.

I use a program called Evernote to collect, organize, and send my lesson notes. Evernote works on nearly every type of desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device whether it's on the Windows, OSX, iOS, or Android platforms. Within Evernote, I create a notebook exclusively for lesson notes, which I call “Progress Reports”. Each student gets an individual note. Within each note is the following:

  1. At the top of the note, a list of email addresses that I send the individual note to each week. With younger students, the email goes out to as many people as possible that need to be kept in the loop regarding a student's progress: both parents, the students themselves if they have an account, as well as older siblings or grandparents if they have practice monitor responsibilities.
  2. A listing of major goals or milestones for the student to achieve within a certain timeframe. These can be general, (“this month we'll be working on rhythmic accuracy”) or more specific (“memorize all repertoire by June 1”), as well as housekeeping items (“register for the Grade 5 exam by next Friday”). 
  3. A weekly listing of lesson notes with the most recent lesson coming at the top. This is the beauty of the system. It's easy to track development through the year because notes from multiple lessons are listed vertically on the same document. Since parent, student, and teachers are all referring to the same document, they can be on the same page regarding how things have been going and what to work towards next. When I'm planning lessons, the information is right at hand so it's much more efficient to plot the next step in a student's direction. 

With Evernote, multimedia files can be attached based on a student's requirements. For example, young students whose parents don't play an instrument may need audio recordings of their pieces for the week. Evernote has the functionality to make an audio recording within the note. If we're working with a magnet board to review a theoretical concept, I can take a picture of the student's work and attach it to the note.

When I'm teaching, I have either my laptop or iPad close at hand so that I can type items as they arise in the lesson. At the conclusion of every lesson, it only takes a few minutes to send the note to all the emails listed at the top of the note.

Once the student and parent receive the emailed note, they can utilize it in several different ways, some of which were unintended but fortuitous:

  • print out the email and refer to it in practice sessions 
  • refer to the lesson notes on a smartphone while practicing (teenaged students find this particularly useful) 
  • some parents copy and paste the current lesson's notes onto a separate document, formatting it for emphasis in order to make my weekly expectations as clear as possible. 

I've found that using this system has helped me to retain students for longer time frames and is a major marketing point when I interview new families. The personal guidance that students receive from emailed weekly lesson notes can make your studio considerably more attractive from a value and customer service point of view, and the commitment to pedagogical process evident from your work will help to increase the professionalism of your studio.


Note: this article will also be appearing in the winter issues of the CFMTA's Canadian Music Teacher Magazine and the BCRMTA's Progressions magazine. 

If you have any specific questions about how I use Evernote, leave a comment below and I would be glad to respond. I'll also do some follow-up posts with examples of lesson notes and more details of my Evernote setup for teaching. 


  1. Alice8:53 PM

    I've felt stymied about using this sort of technology, because I teach in a church without wifi (and I don't have a smartphone/data plan)...would it make sense to make notes on my tablet, then email them from home later?

    1. Evernote can do that. You would probably need to get the Premium version so that you can store notes offline. Otherwise a safe bet would be to use the Apple Notes application.

  2. Hi There,

    I was wondering if you use the free OR premium version?


    1. I use Premium for three reasons.

      1. Being able to use lots more data is helpful for adding audio, photos, and video to student lesson reports
      2. Being able to share notebooks with students
      3. Being able to attach any kind of file type to a lesson note.

      However, if all you need is text notes, free should be fine.

  3. This sounds great. Can you send me a copy of a "progress report" so I can better understand what this looks like. I have a smart phone with evernote, but don't have a laptop or tablet. This sounds doable, but haven't used evernote with a laptop.

  4. Do some parents find it a hassle to have to print off lesson notes each week? I could see some of them forgetting to do it and then the student is left to practice without them for a few days...