Get ready to practise!

Welcome back to 2017!

It’s a brand new year and Stellar Music School has a completely new approach!

We are continuing to focus on the relational aspect of our tuition, believing that having inspirational teachers who are musicians in their own right, is a key way to inspire passion for music in children.

However, we have said goodbye to our physical properties in Lindfield and North Sydney, and now our highly qualified and passionate teachers will be coming to you!

Lessons will be held in your homes from now on.

 

What can you do to prepare for our teachers’ arrival?

  • Get rid of distractions: turn off the TV, make sure siblings are in another room
  • Get ready by making sure the room is well lit and ventilated
  • Make sure you’re not hungry, by having a snack and a drink of water
  • Open your practice diary so your teacher can see where you got up to last week

I often say to my students that the most important practice of the week is the practice you do immediately after the lesson.

When your teacher leaves at the end of the lesson, DON’T IMMEDIATELY CLOSE THE PIANO OR PUT AWAY YOUR INSTRUMENT!!

If you stay and practise for about ten minutes more, it will help you to remember the new learning you just did, and it will make every other day’s practice that much easier.
We look forward to coming and teaching you at home. Keep practising and keep loving your music!

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Slow and careful practice

Welcome back to Term 3, which will be a busy term holding many exams and concerts!

Today’s blog and is another encouragement on how to practise more effectively.

Many of my students present me with work-in-progress which is extremely disjointed, as they play too fast for their current ability regarding this piece. They play one bar well, then stop, read and fiddle for notes, before playing another bar then pausing again.

The better to way to prepare, is to play so slowly that it is IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE MISTAKES! This takes discipline, but is an excellent way to play so that the student can observe all aspects of the piece at a slower speed, gradually increasing speed over consecutive practices, until they can succeed with no mistakes and no pauses.

Dynamics

Let’s talk about dynamics!

Dynamics is a funny word which basically refers to the intensity or volume of the music you are playing.

From almost the beginning of our lessons, when we have started to build our technique, and don’t have to think so hard about finger shape or embouchure or breath, we are then introduced to dynamics.

Usually the instructions are given in Italian, and look like this: or p.

Sometimes my students decide to learn a piece, reading the notes and practising them first, then at some later stage they will put in the dynamics.

This is a mistake, because then they are missing dozens or scores or hundreds (depending on how much they practice!) of times when they can play the dynamics. They will be committing a piece to memory and making muscle and audial memories that miss half the picture if they omit the dynamics.

I would encourage that dynamics are always observed from the very beginning of learning new repertoire, and slow, careful practice is the most effective way to do this.

Holiday homework

I’m sorry to disappoint my students, but I don’t see holidays as an opportunity to rest; I see it as an opportunity to practice without the problem of school taking up so many hours of each day.

My suggestion in making holiday practice more fun, is to mix things up a little. Try different repertoire, try different technical exercises or scales and arpeggios. If you’re an instrumentalist, take your instrument into a different practice room for a change.

Do your siblings learn music? Try forming a duo or a trio. See if you can make an arrangement of a song you all know and like.

See how creative you can be. Maybe write your own song.

And in the other extra time you have, try to see a live show, or a concert. It’s always inspiring to see professionals play.

Enjoy the time off school, and mix things up a little with your music during the break!

 

Let’s talk about endings

In our recent vlogs, we’ve been looking at beginning to learn a piece, and how to sensibly approach the early stages of practising a new piece.

However, today I would like to focus on endings.

 

Often my students will finish a piece quite abruptly, almost throwing their hands back into their lap and turning expectantly to look at me. Or when I am accompanying, the student will have put down their instrument while I am still playing the last phrase.

Both actions can ruin a piece.

Sometimes it will be appropriate to use a more dramatic movement at the end of a piece which is loud, fast and virtuosic.

But consider a piece where the sound has died away to almost nothing. It can be extremely jarring to suddenly put the instrument down, or move one’s hands away from the keyboard.

 

Watch this week’s video to see how I suggest this is approached, and think about your repertoire, and what ending is appropriate for the mood of each different piece.

 

 

Start small

Welcome to our first musical challenge of 2016!

We have just started back at school and music lessons for the year, and a lot of the problem can be regaining momentum.

I have often come back from a break and expected myself to do 3 hours’ practice on my first day back.

Sometimes I succeed.

But often it takes longer than one day to rebuild a habit.

 

So today, I encourage you to start slowly.

Sit down at the piano (or get out your instrument) and practise for 5 or 10 minutes. Or decide to practise during an ad break (if you’re allowed to watch TV during the week! I often have done this and become so absorbed that I never get back to the TV show.)

Don’t try to play the whole piece immediately, but break it into smaller portions – look at a page, or a line or one bar.

Start slowly, playing one hand at a time. Or if singing, don’t use words initially, but sing through on a vowel. If playing another instrument, perhaps play through all slurred, or all tongued.

Play slowly enough that you don’t need to pause to think or read the next note; always reading ahead as you go.

Repeat a few times, then move on to the next bar or line.

Each day add a little more, and keep working, and persevering, as you continue to learn more of each new piece and work towards mastering each one!

 

 

 

I’m not a psychologist, but…

I am not trained as a psychologist, but I often feel like I should have some training.

Today one lesson stalled when my student kept making mistakes then saying, “I’m an idiot. I’m stupid.”

We both know that this is not true.

He is an intelligent and talented boy, who perhaps has a bit too much on his plate.

But today’s lesson was not a good one, due to his attitude.

 

I have discovered over years of teaching, that the student’s attitude in the lesson may have nothing to do with me, but more to do with what else has happened during their day.

So today I asked my student if his day was bad prior to our lesson.

No. In this case things had gone downhill since I appeared in the playground.

Next step then is to work on the attitude.

Our minds are incredibly powerful. We have much more power than we realise, with our thoughts shaping our lives. Of course a child whose internal monologue is “I’m stupid, I’m hopeless” is not going to perform at the best of their ability.

Our beliefs and words are enormously powerful in shaping our destinies.

If we say “Bad things always happen to me, I’m such a mess,” then life tends to agree with us.

If we say the opposite, life can look very different.

 

I often say that I feel like a mind-reader.

If a student makes a mistake, I can generally tell that it has been preceded by them thinking to themselves “Oh no, here’s the bad bit,” or “I bet I’ll mess this up again.”

Which then happens.

 

I’m not sure if today’s student skipped back to class because he was delighted to be leaving me, or because he listened when I assured him that he is an able student and the only things stopping him achieving better results are his attitude and of course his commitment to practising regularly.

 

 

Take a moment

A few times recently, I have been taking a moment with students.

Sometimes they get embarrassed and try to go on to something else.

But I make sure that we stop for a minute to seriously take a moment.

 

What exactly do I mean by taking a moment?

 

In the day to day/week to week routine of music lessons, it is easy to grind on and never appreciate the progress which is being made.

One of my students recently competed in a competition.

When we were debriefing, he said how much he had disliked the experience. Although he had played well, he found the nerves involved made him extremely uncomfortable, and had made the whole day very stressful.

I validated his experience. (I suffered bad nerves for many years, losing my place in the music and panicking, all while my fingers continued to play. An eyelash was stuck in my eye once during a Beethoven sonata performed in London during my Masters; and I continued to play. And to this day I have to take control over my mind during HSC examinations when my mind starts to worry about how important this exam is for the student and how I’d better not mess anything up.)

However, I encouraged my student to take a moment.

Two years ago he wouldn’t have even entered the competition.

Two years ago he was having such anxiety during lessons that tears frequently resulted and he couldn’t continue.

So during his lesson, we stopped to celebrate the progress that he has made. And to appreciate how far he has come.

 

I did it again with an adult student this week.

Being an adult (and perfectionist), she is extremely tough on herself and knows how far she has to go.

But it is important to appreciate each milestone, no matter how small.

 

And with another child yesterday, I pointed out how well she was sight-reading now, when a year ago she would have been immobilised.

I do need to enforce the moment, because often the progress has been so gradual, that the child doesn’t know what I’m talking about and cannot remember the time when this skill was a struggle.

And so we stop, think, and appreciate.

 

In this high-achieving world of instant success, it is so important to track and be grateful for incremental change and progress.

 

 

 

 

 

Practice: Stay focussed

In truth, I often can find it difficult to inspire my students to practice, as I cannot remember a time when I had trouble being motivated to practice. Now that practice is such a part of my life, and I have so many gigs, it’s almost a matter of needing to stop myself, rather than find ways to get started and push past procrastination.

However, with my writing, I can (and do) find anything to distract me from getting started.

“To work on my novel” is such a vast goal that it is easy to put off, due to the size of the task.

“To write for half an hour” is a much more achievable goal and easier to face and tackle.

It is keeping this fact in mind that I share my new favourite app!

“Forest app: Stay focussed” was free for my Android but is $1.29 for iPhone. I would consider it a very well spent $1.29.

The idea is that you grow a forest, one tree at a time. You commit 30 minutes to grow each individual tree, but the tree dies if you close the window (to check FaceBook, fiddle on other sites etc). Each time you touch the phone there is another message –

Leave me alone

Stop phubbing!

Go back to your work

Hang in there!

What you plant now you will harvest later

Leave me alone!

Stay focussed!

 

I have it on now.

The child in me loves this concept; even if it is a glorified timer. I will be suggesting this for all my students, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we are competing to see whose forest is the largest.

 

What apps or other tricks have helped with keeping you focussed on practice or work?

 

Never lose the wonder!

Another busy term is drawing to a close.

At Stellar Music School we are gearing up for our Semester 1 concerts, and an opportunity to share our pieces with an appreciative audience.

It has been a great term of new classes, continuing lessons and examination goals.

 

And for those classes who are moving along, making slow but continuous progress, how do we maintain the magic?

 

Fun, humour and passion are hallmarks of our tuition. We love to learn and we learn together.

We mix it up in our classes, doing aural exercises, playing bingo, drawing music notes on the whiteboard, and also doing scale drills.

We also have a collection of other instruments – a cajon, an accordion, rain sticks, ukuleles, and more percussion instruments.

We sing, we dance, and we play other instruments.

I am delighted to hear of any musical adventures my students have elsewhere in life, even when it means they feel the need to bring their recorders to show off in their lesson!

 

I hope that I will also always be learning and finding new musical things to wonder at and to inspire my students with.

Surely life will be more rich if we all greet each day as an opportunity to make new discoveries and find new adventures!