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.

 

 

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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!

 

Potential

Last week I experienced one of those small moments which make it all worthwhile.

Once again it is exam season, and I had extra rehearsals with students who I see once a year, when I accompany them for their instrumental exams.

This particular girl is an able student, but one who has skipped through all her previous exams with the bare minimum of effort required to still pass the exam.

Imagine my delight, then, to discover that this year she is preparing diligently, and not only has mastered the notes, but is now able to spend time on interpretation and musical expression, since she isn’t still stumbling on notes.

And I made sure to tell her how impressed I was.

 

Unrealised potential is surely one of the low points of my job experience.

And I find that this comes in two main ways:

  1. The child who finds everything easy, and so never does more than the bare minimum, and
  2. The child who does too many activities, is good at all of them, but never manages to excel at any.

In fact, time and again, I have so much admiration for the slower student, the student who doesn’t appear to have an extraordinary talent, the student who has to work so much harder to achieve what the other students do so effortlessly.

And yet over time, it is often these students who eclipse the more able, due to their solid and sustained practise and their determination.

 

I commend any student on application, and only hope that all are able to apply themselves and achieve the highest possible level for themselves, and to experience the pride that only comes with working and achieving to the very best of their ability.

 

Whatever it takes!

This blog is to inspire and hopefully to share some clues about what works in motivating students to practise, and to work on the skills necessary to learn and play music.

This post is a quick one, but it worked for one family, so I’m sharing it!

 

5 minutes’ practice = 10 minutes of Minecraft.

That simple.

 

This child hasn’t played his trombone so much in months, if not in years.

 

If bribery works for you, then feel free to rework this model, substituting whatever has currency for your child.

 

 

Consistency in achievement

A student just missed out on an opportunity which she had desperately wanted, but was unsuccessful in her audition.

She is smart, talented, and plays with flair, so why in this case was she not successful?

She had put her head down for six weeks leading up to the audition, sometimes having 2 lessons a week, and practising madly in between lessons.

So why did she not succeed?

 

Unfortunately talent and last minute preparation did not make up for months of inactivity.

I have noted over the years that my most talented students are often eclipsed by the ones who have more gumption – that is, the ones who slog away for years, regularly practising and building ability and skill.

 

And increasingly, we see this myth (that last minute application is enough) perpetuated on TV. Many of the reality ‘talent’ shows seem to feed the myth that all you need is your 15 minutes of fame, which will then lead to a record deal.

Those who experience the most success on these shows tend to be the musicians who have been honing their craft for years, who may have already been gigging for decades, but at least, who have applied themselves to their studies and their instruments of choice.

Personality (and often a sob story) will get the audience voting, but once these untrained musicians are put into an arena setting, the technical inconsistencies and weaknesses become evident, as the talent is not supported with the training necessary.

 

So what is the way forward for my student?

I hope that I will be able to convince her to begin to commit to the “boring” exercises such as scales and studies.

I hope that we will be able to incorporate some apps, along with some old-fashioned reading notes off the page, to get her more consistently preparing her own work and learning music at home.

I hope that this may be a life lesson for her, and that she will make it a reason to develop her talent and thus be able to achieve at a much higher level in future.

 

Quantity vs Quality

An age-old question….

One of my students proclaimed yesterday in class that she is practising for an hour each day.

That’s fantastic! Exams are only four weeks away, so more practice is necessary.

However this particular student had completely ignored one important scale, which she was still unable to play.

Another student who apparently was practising an hour a day came to each lesson playing the same mistakes every week. Nothing had ever improved.

Further investigation revealed that her daily hour of practise began at 8pm (she’s 7 years old) as a way of delaying her bedtime.

I love it when my students are practising for good blocks of time.

But if they are practising mistakes, then the good parts of the pieces are becoming better, and the bad bits stay bad.

If they are completely ignoring the difficult sections, then obviously no improvement is ever made.

I love the following quote, by Daniel Goleman in his book “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence”.

I hope that it can help inspire my students to aim for quality in their daily practice, rather than quality in which nothing is ever improved.

The “10,000-hour rule” — that this level of practice holds the secret to great success in any field — has become sacrosanct gospel, echoed on websites and recited as litany in high-performance workshops. The problem: it’s only half true. If you are a duffer at golf, say, and make the same mistakes every time you try a certain swing or putt, 10,000 hours of practicing that error will not improve your game. You’ll still be a duffer, albeit an older one.

Welcome back!

After a wonderful break, we are back into our first week of music lessons, with much news to share of fabulous family holidays, teeth lost, and new instruments started.

All of us, both teachers and students, are fresh and excited to begin!

I met up with our teachers last week, and was excited to hear their own goals for the year: recording and releasing an album, starting another degree, collaborating on a new cabaret show, more gigs….

Who knows exactly where our musical journeys will go this year?

At the beginning of last year, I certainly had no idea that I would be playing the carillon by the end of the year!

And so to inspire and encourage you, I’ll leave you with some fairy music – me playing the University of Sydney carillon a few weeks ago.

Performance practice

It’s that time of the year, and our end of year concerts are weeks away.

What advice can I give to our students as they prepare?

  • Work on perfecting the concert song – make sure that all dynamics are observed (louds and softs) and that any different articulations are attended to (staccato/legato/accents/tenuto)
  • Make sure phrasing is thoughtful – watch how the melody flows, and try to have a rise and fall in each phrase (generally each four to eight bars)
  • PRACTISE THE BAD BITS – I cannot emphasise this enough – playing a piece through time and again tends to make the good bits better while the bad bits stay bad.  Please spend time and concerted energy on any sections which are challenging.  It may take awhile the first time, but with each successive playing, the trouble part should become stronger and more confident.
  • Practise performing – over the coming weeks, take any opportunity to practise in front of class members, family and friends, and neighbours, so that when the concert arrives, it is not such a big deal
  • Lastly, ENJOY!  Our concerts are very friendly and supportive and the audience is always delighted to share in your learning and encourage your performance.  Remember to smile and acknowledge their encouragement with a bow or curtsey.

All your family, friends and teachers at Stellar Music School look forward to cheering you on during our concerts on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th December.  Keep working and keep loving your music!