Musical experiences

Welcome back to Term 2!

I hope our students have enjoyed some extra musical experiences over the school holidays.

In the rush of farm stays, soccer camps, holiday programs and fun parks, musical experiences can often be forgotten.

 

I was fortunate enough to attend 3 world class concerts over the holidays. Two were classical and one was jazz/funk/rock.

For me several things were delightful:

  • watching the differences between genres and how each perform
  • seeing passion and joy come through all performances
  • knowing that there are so many musical options all over Sydney, every night
  • bumping in to friends who were also attending

There are wonderful ways to get children involved in music. Certainly, children could not be taken to the jazz concert I attended, as it was held in a licensed venue. However the two classical concerts were both possible events to be enjoyed by the slightly older child.

Another fantastic and ongoing event is the Sydney Flash Mob choir, under the baton of Richard Gill. I signed up for this as I love singing in groups, and am always keen to hear from Mr Gill, who is so passionate about music and music education. https://www.cityrecitalhall.com/events/flash-mob-choir

Musica Viva’s Festival was held during the holidays, and they have a magnificent kids program. Unfortunately it will be another year until this comes round again, but most of our children have fortunately experienced the professionalism and joy of Musica Viva performances in their schools.

Here is one of the artistic activities on offer at the Conservatorium last week. 

So even as we return to the busyness of school and other extra curricular activities, please do remember that it’s great to supplement your children’s music lessons with experiences of music out there in the real world!

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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!

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!

 

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!

 

 

 

Welcome back

Welcome back to our first full week of lessons at Stellar Music School!

I am trialling an exciting new programme this year, in which I will offer a free private lesson each fortnight to one lucky student!

How can you win this private lesson?

 

I will upload a video on YouTube every fortnight, on Monday, and in it I will be approaching a musical concept or practice challenge on one of my instruments – the piano, pipe organ or carillon.

I will explain the challenge, and give practical tips for how to approach this concept, and then I encourage my students to upload their own video in response, in which they demonstrate some slow and careful practise in the manner I have suggested.
I will watch all videos and announce a winner each fortnight.

Easy!

 

On Monday 15th February I will send through the first challenge, and I hope to be inundated with responses!

 

I hope to prove that passion for music, combined with practice and perseverance, can lead to excellent performances.

Happy practising!

 

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.