02.20.18

Common Practice Mistakes – Part 3

Posted in good musicianship, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Practice Mistakes!

Welcome to Part 3 of our series about things NOT to do in your practice! Last time, we talked about two big practice pitfalls–lack of focus and ignoring our problems. Today, we finish out our series with two very common practice troubles: one-way practicing and always starting at the beginning.

6. One Way Practicing
One way practicing means what it says; we use only one approach in our practice, like playing a piece over and over. Sometimes the best practice we can do isn’t necessarily playing–it may be counting, fingering, or drilling ourselves on note names. If we’re having trouble with rhythm, counting may be the best solution. If we get lost in our music, going through and saying our note names may help us find our way. One Way practicing is a one-way ticket to frustration, but using different approaches in our practice gives us extra freedom and makes practice more productive.

7. Always Starting at the Beginning

This is a trap that is extremely easy to fall into. When we start at the beginning of a piece every time, we end up knowing the first few bars very well, but barely touching the rest of the piece. This approach also keeps us from fixing trouble spots, because always starting at the beginning keeps us from isolating problems in other parts of the piece. Fixing this problem is as easy as starting in a different place. We can start in a random place and see if we can play it, or start right on a troublesome spot. When we start in different places, we get to know the piece from different angles. And the more we know, the better we play!

Are these problems plaguing your practice? Try doing the exact opposite of these troubles this week, and see what happens! If you need help making your practice more effective, be sure to talk to Ms. T; she’s happy to help.

02.13.18

Common Practice Mistakes – Part 2

Posted in good musicianship, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Practice Mistakes!

Welcome to Part 2 of our series about things NOT to do in your practice! Last time, we talked about the dangers of practicing too little and not practicing consistently. Today, we tackle two big problems–lack of focus and ignoring our problems.

4. Unfocused Practice

One step above pseudo-practice is unfocused practice. This is like practicing on autopilot–we don’t think about what we’re doing or keep track of where we are in our music. As a result, we miss chances to fix trouble spots, and end up not knowing our instrument very well. When we focus on our notes, keep track of how our hands are moving, and make the effort to subdivide, it’s possible to practice half as long and accomplish twice as much. (And, we can use the time we save to do other things we enjoy!)

5. Ignoring Your Weak Spots
It’s no big deal to have weak spots as a musician–we all do! But when we ignore these weak areas, we can severely cripple our playing. If we have trouble with reading music, playing along with a CD won’t help us very much. If scales are tough, not practicing them will only make them harder. We become great players not just because we practice, but because we work on every aspect of our playing, even the stuff we’re not good at.

Are either of these blunders showing up in your practice room? If so, what are you going to do this week to practice in a more healthy way?

02.06.18

Common Practice Mistakes – Part 1

Posted in good musicianship, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Common Practice Mistakes!

In band class, we talk often about how to practice…but did you know that it can also be helpful to learn how NOT to practice? In this 3-part series, we’ll present several not-so-good practice habits that you’ll want to stay away from!

1. Practicing Too Little
The #1 mistake people make with practice is practicing too little. If you feel stuck in your playing and are frustrated that you’re not improving, you may want to ask yourself how much you’ve been practicing. Often, you’ll discover that you’re not improving simply because you’re not putting in enough time.

Learning to play music is like getting to know a new friend; if you don’t devote enough time to either pursuit, you’re not going to get very far. Practice creates results but it requires time and effort; there’s no shortcut to learning an instrument.

2. Inconsistent Practice
Practice produces the best results when we do a little bit every day. Practicing 5 hours one day and then taking a week off is about as helpful as feasting on Monday and eating nothing the rest of the week! Just as eating regularly keeps us well-nourished, practicing regularly helps us stay in shape and retain what we’ve learned.

3. Time-Wasting Pseudo-Practice
Practicing is work, and often, work is the last thing we want to do. When we feel lazy, it can be tempting to engage in timewasting pseudo-practice. In pseudo-practice, we try to look like we’re working hard when we’re really not. We might polish our horn for 15 minutes to get it “just right” before playing, practice with the television on, or organize our music instead of practicing. These activities may fool our parents into thinking we’ve practiced, but will they help our playing?

Have any of these poor habits showed up in YOUR practice? If so, try doing their opposite instead! You’ll end up with much less frustration in your life…and a lot more musical progress!

01.28.18

Delivering a Polished Solo Performance

Posted in good musicianship at 5:00 am by Administrator

Greetings, band students, and welcome to our third post designed to help you give an outstanding solo performance on your instrument! Today, we share 6 things to do on the day of your performance to make everything run smoothly.

Before the Show:
1. Warm up at home. You never know if a venue will have places for you to warm up comfortably–there may not be as much privacy or space as you’d like. So, take a few minutes earlier in the day and warm up at home. This will be one less thing to worry about once you get to the show.

2. Arrive early. When you get to the venue a few minutes early, you give yourself the luxury of time–time to calm your nerves, check out the performance area, and get ready to play.

During your Performance:
1. Walk on stage confidently, and pause before you play. The way you take the stage can add a lot to your performance. Walk onto the stage with excellent posture, and smile at the audience. When you look at the audience, think of how wonderful it is that all these people came to hear you, and what a great musical treat you’re about to give them! Before you play, pause for a few seconds to make sure you feel comfortable and ready to go. There is no need to rush into your first note–relax and enjoy yourself!

2. Recover! If you mess up, keep playing, and act as if nothing happened. Remember, the only person who can see your music is you, so nobody will know if you’ve made a mistake. That is, unless you stop playing and make odd faces at your instrument.

After You Play:
1. Smile and take a bow. Applause is the audience’s way of saying “Thank you” for your performance, and a bow is your way of saying, “You’re welcome!” Smile at your audience and savor this moment. You did it!

2. Graciously accept compliments. After the show, people may come up to you and compliment you on your playing. If this happens, smile and say thank you! You can even add a kind comment like, “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” or “Thanks for coming today.” Compliments are like gifts–make sure you receive them with open arms.

Try using some of these simple actions at your next solo performance. You may find that they make the day much more fun, and help you look like a seasoned performer…even if this is your first time taking the stage on your own!

01.16.18

Preparing for a Successful Solo Performance – Part 2

Posted in good musicianship, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Playing Solo

In our last post, we discussed some ways to get a strong start on preparing pieces for a solo performance. Today, we’ll learn three things every soloist should do as the show gets closer.

1. Work on style. When you’re in the early stages of practicing a solo piece, your focus tends to be on playing correct rhythms and pitches. But audiences don’t come to concerts to hear pitches and rhythms–they come to hear MUSIC! As the gig approaches, spend more time in your practice working on articulations, dynamics, phrasing, and style. Experiment with different ways to play the notes and rhythms you’ve learned, or even try to communicate specific feelings or ideas through your playing. As you add style and feeling to your piece, you’ll discover a great deal about yourself as a musician; plus, you’ll create a performance that’s exciting and memorable!

2. Record yourself. – Often, what we hear when we play is very different from what the audience hears. When you record your playing, you allow yourself to hear your sound from the audience’s perspective. As you listen to a recording of your playing, you may uncover mistakes you didn’t know you were making, or realize that you’re doing some things better than you thought. Once you hear exactly what you’re doing, it’s much easier to take your playing to the next level. You don’t need an expensive studio setup to record yourself; a small digital voice recorder from Wal-Mart or Target can work very well.

3. Set up some performances. – Got pre-show jitters? One of the best ways to calm your nerves is to perform often, and get used to how it feels. Play your solo for your family or friends, or ask Ms. T if you can play in front of the class before your actual performance. Doing practice performances helps you know what to expect when you play solo in front of an audience, so that playing the actual show is much easier and more fun!

Next week, we learn how to get up on stage and deliver a great solo performance. See you then!

01.09.18

Breathe New Life into Your Practice!

Posted in good musicianship, practice, successful transitions at 5:00 am by Administrator

For many young musicians, January can be a tough time to practice. Since we just had a nice, long break, we may feel very lazy, and the cold, gray weather doesn’t help. But January is also a great time to evaluate our practice, and make sure it’s as fun and effective as possible! Try asking yourself these simple questions:

1. How’s your time? Back in August, one of our assignments was to find a good time of day to practice. But since our energy levels can change quite a bit from summer to winter, we may find it hard to practice at the same time we used to. If you find that you’re always tired when it’s time to practice, switch your practice to a time of day when you’re more alert. Your practice will be more fun AND you’ll get more done!

2. How’s your space? Just as we double-check our practice time to make sure it’s still working for us, it’s also wise to consider our practice space. The space that we found back in August may feel very different in January! So ask yourself, is your space still a comfortable, fun place to practice? Is it one of your favorite places to be? If not, you can make some pictures or decorations to liven it up; or, even try out a new space! When you enjoy your practice space, it can be much easier to spend time there each day.

3. Got goals? If we want our practice to make a difference, it’s important for every practice session to have a purpose. One of the easiest ways to do this is to set a musical goal each day, and work toward it in your practice. You may set a goal to fix some rhythms or pitches that you had trouble with in class, or even make a goal to learn something new. Try writing your goals down, so you can see them while you practice!

4. Got creativity? This question is possibly the most important one here. If you practice the same way every day, practicing will get VERY boring! If you’re feeling bored, try bringing some imagination into your practice. Play at different tempos, start at odd places in the music, try different articulations and dynamics, or make up your own songs. The more creativity you use, the more fun practice will be!

01.07.18

Preparing for a Successful Solo Performance – Part 1

Posted in good musicianship, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

playing solo

In band, we place most of our focus on learning to play well with a large group. However, performing alone on your instrument can be an exciting and rewarding challenge. Whether you want to prepare a solo to play at your church or temple, for a family gathering, or as part of a band concert, the best way to ensure a great solo performance is to practice effectively before the show. Today, we’ll talk about some ways to get a strong start on practicing your solo.

1. Start NOW. - One of the biggest mistakes that young soloists make is that they wait until the last minute to practice their pieces. At this level in your musical development, you want to choose your music and start practicing several weeks before the show. Starting early means you’ll have enough time not only to learn the rhythms and notes, but also to make the piece your own–by adding articulations, dynamics, and your unique personal style.

2. Choose music that fits. - Choosing music for your solo gig is a lot like trying on clothes. You definitely don’t want to choose music that’s way too easy (think “Hot Cross Buns”); that would be like buying a shirt that’s too small! On the other hand, don’t choose music that’s too difficult to work up in a few weeks’ time (like pieces that use rhythms we haven’t learned, or that are so long that it’s hard to get through them.) Instead, choose a piece that has a couple of challenging elements, but also includes passages that you can play easily.

3. Make a Progress Poster. - The progress poster that guides our preparation of concert pieces in class can also help you keep track of your progress as a soloist. Try making your own progress poster using a sheet of paper labeled: Sightreading, Rhythms, Pitches, Breath Control, Polishing, Runthrus, Ready. Then, look carefully at your piece and divide up the measures onto post-its as you see fit. Use your progress poster in your practice just like we do in class, and watch yourself grow at each practice session!

I hope these practice tips will help you grow as a soloist! Next week, we’ll present part 2 of this series, which includes helpful tips for what to practice as your performance date gets closer.

01.02.18

New Year’s Resolutions for Musicians…and How to Keep Them!

Posted in good musicianship, helping your child succeed, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Happy New Year!

January is a time when many people create resolutions to eat healthier, lose weight, or make more money. But as we know, by February, many of these resolutions are already abandoned! As a musician, it may be tempting to resolve to “play better” in 2011. But like the resolutions above, these general musical desires often fall by the wayside very quickly. So, how can you stick to your guns and really become a better musician this year? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Make your goals SMART
The problem with many resolutions is vagueness. If you resolve to be a great jazz trombonist, it’s difficult to know where to begin or what to do to achieve your goal. This is where SMART goals can help. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Making your resolution very specific, giving yourself a deadline, and making sure it’s possible will help you turn your dream into reality. “Be a great jazz trombonist” is a vague, general order. But “By February, I will be able to improvise over two choruses of the Bb blues without getting lost,” tells exactly what you want to happen, and when, and is something you can do in the time you’ve allowed. SMART goals give your desires direction. Once you’ve made the goal, just follow the directions!

Take weekly action
Now that you have your goals, look at them weekly and break them apart to find your Next Actions–specific things you can do to move closer to your goal. If my SMART goal is “By February, I will be able to improvise over two choruses of the Bb blues without getting lost,” my Next Action might be, “Make sure I have my Bb scale memorized,” or “Listen for patterns on a blues recording.” A Next Action like, “Play two choruses of blues every time I practice, no matter how bad I think it sounds!” can help you develop a habit of practicing. Getting yourself into the habit of working toward your goal will help you become a better musician every day.

Reward Yourself!
Setting detailed goals and working towards them each day takes discipline and hard work. So, when you’ve accomplished a goal or completed several Next Actions, celebrate! Treat yourself to something you enjoy, like a favorite TV show, snack, or time with friends. Most of all, take the time to feel great about your accomplishments. And then, repeat the process until you’re the musician of your dreams!

12.03.17

Use It, Don’t Lose It! How to Maintain Your Practice Over the Holidays

Posted in good musicianship, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Winter Holidays

The winter holidays can be a great time to kick back and enjoy relaxing with friends and family. However, if we forget to include practice in our holiday plans, it can be all too easy to lose all the musical skills we’ve worked to develop this year in band! Here are four things you can do to keep your playing polished over the holidays.

1. Perform often. – Many of us spend a lot of time with friends and relatives over the holidays. Why not share your musical talents with them? Pick a couple of your favorite band tunes and perform them for your relatives; they’ll definitely appreciate it!

2. Try your hand at teaching. – If you have cousins or out-of-town friends who are close to your age, see if they’d like to take a music lesson from you. When you teach others what you know about counting rhythms, reading music, or making a sound on your instrument, your musical skills grow stronger as well.

3. Count, Finger, and Say Pitches. - If you’re traveling over the holidays and aren’t able to bring your instrument along, make sure to bring your book! Even if you can’t play, you can use your book to count rhythms, quiz yourself on pitches, or even practice sizzling and fingering through new songs.

4. Work toward goals at home. – If you’re staying home, the holidays can be a great time to get ahead as a musician. Try setting some goals for pieces you’d like to be able to play by January, and practice your pieces each day. With a few minutes of daily practice, you still have plenty of time to enjoy your vacation, but you’ll also sound awesome when you return to school!

11.19.17

An Attitude of Gratitude! – How to Be a Thankful Musician

Posted in good musicianship, helping your child succeed at 5:00 am by Administrator

Be grateful!

As growing musicians, we spend much of our time trying to get better at what we do. We’re always striving to break our bad playing habits, learn new things, and become better at our instruments. Although it’s important to focus on making progress, it can be equally important to sit back and truly appreciate where we are on our musical journeys. With Thanksgiving coming up, try taking some time to think of some things you’re grateful for as a musician. You might just play better as a result!

Being grateful doesn’t just help your playing; it can bring you less stress and better health as well. According to psychology professor Robert Emmons, “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.” In addition to being less stressed, grateful people also tend to be more optimistic, a trait that has been shown to boost the immune system. For musicians, less stress and better health can lead to stronger, more confident performances, less worry about bad playing days, and more productive practice. So how can you reap all these wonderful benefits? Bringing more gratitude into your life is as simple as shifting your perspective. Here are five easy ways that you can be thankful for the way you play.

1. Be thankful for your progress.
Look back in your book and play a song that you did several months ago. Remember when it was hard to play? Now it’s easy, because you kept on practicing and working hard! Take a minute to smile and enjoy the things you’ve accomplished during your musical career.

2. Be on the lookout for little things to celebrate.
Major progress isn’t the only thing you can be grateful for. If you nail that tricky spot in measure 5, that’s something to celebrate and be thankful for. If you play a gorgeous note, take a second and express your appreciation.

3. Give thanks for your body and mind.
As musicians, we ask the tiniest muscles in our body to do very complex, precise things, and we train our brains to be able to juggle a number of processes at once. Think for a minute about how wonderful it is that your body and mind can do these things, like buzzing your lips to create exact pitches, playing different rhythms with each of your arms and legs, and reading music with ease. Reflect on how cool it is that we can train our bodies and minds to make beautiful music.

4. Turn a bad day around–appreciate your losses.
Nobody likes having a rotten playing day, but even bad days offer things to be grateful for. If you get some feedback in band that you don’t like, you can turn it around and be thankful that you can use that feedback to grow. If you’re having a bad playing day, be thankful that this isn’t how you sound on a good day! Often, when we find something to be thankful for, we can see humor in a bad situation, and even learn from it so we can do better next time.

5. Be grateful you’re a musician!
Musicians are unlike any other kind of people. We have the ability to tell stories and express the deepest, most powerful emotions in a way that words cannot. As a musician, you share a common bond with great artists throughout history, from the ancient drummers of Africa to Mozart to Alicia Keys. Few people have the discipline and dedication to be musicians–and you DO!

When you practice appreciating your musical abilities, you may find that progress comes more quickly and playing becomes more fun. Think of something you appreciate today–it’ll help you enjoy the way you play!

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