Get inspired!

Ideally, a holiday will provide rest, relaxation, and for me, inspiration.

I was in Prague last week and experienced a few moments that certainly inspired and sparked excitement.

Firstly, I trekked up Letna Hill to view what is possibly the world’s largest metronome.  Generally the astronomical clock is a must-see in Prague, but this sight really piqued my interest!

We are always encouraging students to make use of their metronomes in an attempt to follow some kind of regular beat.  It was fascinating for me to see a metronome with an arm more than 75 feet long.  I’m not sure if it is because of the sheer size, but this metronome beats an extremely slow and steady beat.

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Secondly, I was fortunate to be able to play on an organ which resides in the Hall of Mirrors in Prague’s Clementinum.

It is not known for certain, but it is said that Mozart himself played this organ.

My fingertips tingle still as I type this – what a concept that I may have touched a keyboard also played by one of the greatest composers of all time.

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It is important that amidst the daily grind of work, school, life and practice, that we find moments which can inspire us on our journeys and keep our eyes lifted on what can be achieved, and what thrills are in store.

Many schools have wonderful programs and organisations such as Musica Viva help to bring music alive for our children.

Another of my goals as a music teacher is that I too may inspire and give ideas of what possibilities lie in front of us and what doors might open thanks to our music training.

I do not spend much time on YouTube, but there are some wonderful videos of musicians doing incredibly creative things, and while I am not sure I will encourage students to do this on our school’s grand piano, I show the video as a way of opening their eyes and stirring up creativity.

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And then there’s bribery….

Ideally of course a child will practise because they love it, but more often than not, it depends on the energy of the parent to enforce practice.

My mother made me practise, and there was never any thought of reward.  The only benefit that I ever experienced was that I could be excused from washing or wiping dishes after dinner if I did my practice.  That was a great motivator, and one which made me very unpopular with my siblings!

These days I have students who have been ‘encouraged’ to practise by means of gifts, trips, money and even a mini iPad.

At Stellar Music School we have just instigated a “PRACTICE STAR OF THE WEEK” poster in the waiting room which features a photo of each week’s most industrious student.

One parent promised their child an incentive if they got their picture on the board.  I have to admit that this child’s performance in her class the following week was extremely impressive!

As a music teacher, it is my hope that one day our students will sit down at the piano or get out their instrument because the enjoyment derived from practising and then playing is so great, but in the meantime, we continue to labour to inspire, and to show that the end result and enjoyment is worth the hard work.

More basics

It is the beginning of Term 2, and fortunately the two week holiday has not seemed to break our momentum too much.

However, a few reminders about effective practice are always timely.

  • While it is good to play songs through completely, this should not be the only way you practise.
  • If you make a mistake, make a note of it and come back to work on it.
  • Play the tricky bit 5 – 10 times until it is correct, then a few times to check that it stays correct.
  • In this repetitive practice time, speed is not at all important.  Slow down so that you can get it right.
  • Gradually increase the speed every few repetitions.
  • When you have played the section correctly a few times, try incorporating it smoothly back into the piece.
  • You may need to practise the transitions slowly to make sure they are smooth.

This kind of sensible and disciplined practice will always be more fruitful than playing once through your pieces and ignoring all the mistakes.

If there are consistently many mistakes, or places where you have to stop and correct yourself, you are probably trying to play too fast, or maybe you should even go back to playing hands separately.

Well done for aiming for excellence!  Disciplined application will always lead to success, and is the means by which a  more musical performance will be the result.

Back to the basics

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It is a new year and most of my students have not touched their instruments for six to eight weeks.  It usually takes up to a month to create momentum again and help encourage routine and regular practice.

I suggest that when tackling something new, it is best to be realistic and to set oneself reasonable goals.

  • Break tasks into achievable portions in starting something new.  When starting a new piece, learn hands separately first.
  • Try to master the piece in sections – either hands separately, or a page or phrase at a time.
  • When practising hands separately, remember to think about phrasing and dynamics.  (It is a much better use of your time to put these in from the beginning, rather than having to add them later.  It is also much more musical, even playing with only one hand, to play thoughtfully rather than just banging out the notes).
  • Start in small ways.  If you haven’t practised in months, then try not to expect 1 hours’ practice the first time back.  Be realistic and work on achieving small goals first.
  • Work incrementally.  Not much in life happens immediately, first attempt.  Concentrate on mastering a small portion, then gradually increase.  However, do not always start at the beginning and only work on the first 8 bars or so.  Sometimes start from the end or the middle.
  • Practise in rhythms.  Practise staccato/legato.  Practise in a different octave on the keyboard.
  • Enjoy, and reward yourself as each small goal is achieved!

As I’ve said before, most things in life take work and commitment.  Jobs, school, university, relationships.  These all require perseverance and studying a musical instrument is no different.

But what a joy to be able to start to succeed.  And when the job/school/Uni/relationship is difficult, we are able to express ourselves and process problems by playing music.  What fantastic therapy and what a blessing.

 

 

 

Find your passion!

I have just returned from a volunteering trip to Ghana.

I went to share my skills and passion by helping to teach in a music school in the city of Takoradi.

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What did I find there?

I found students who shared my passion for music, and who deeply valued the opportunity for music training.

I found students who might not have their own instruments, so who came into the school several times a week for lessons, and who then stayed for hours to continue practising.

I found single-minded purpose which kept them at their tasks and ensured success.

Most keyboard students were learning with the aim to be able to play organ for church services.  One student I taught had been learning for only two weeks when I arrived, and when I left two weeks later, was already playing simple hymn tunes hands separately.

To me this was amazing.  Hymn tunes are in four parts and can be a challenge to a beginner, but as this was his goal, the student was working towards it with no hesitation.

How can I translate this experience for our use in Sydney?

I guess what we can take from this is to have some purpose, some reason, and some goal, which will keep us motivated and working towards a particular achievement.  This could be an exam, a concert, or something as simple as being able to play our favourite film music successfully.

I encourage all of my students to appreciate what opportunity they have at their fingertips, and put to good use the times they spend in their lessons, and the private practice times that they need to carve out in order to excellently achieve their goals.

I hope that with my help they can find a goal, a genre, a piece that will excite them enough to focus on the end product and push through the work necessary to achieve this final result!