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!


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!


Music Reading Challenges…And How Parents Can Help

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

Music reading

This week at Lead Mine, our band students are beginning the process of learning to read music! Reading music can be quite tricky for young musicians; fortunately, there are many ways that parents can help make it easier. One great way to help your children is to understand the difficulties they’re facing as they learn to read, and respond to them with encouragement and support. Here are several common troubles that young musicians may have during the early stages of music reading, and ways you can help:

1. “This is too hard! I quit!” For many students, learning to read music is a very difficult and frustrating endeavor. After all, learning to read music is a lot like learning an entirely new language! If your child becomes frustrated during practice at this stage, encourage her to take a 5-minute break and return to practice when she feels more relaxed.

2. Trouble getting through an entire song. One major reason that kids get frustrated with music reading is that they try to “bite off more than they can chew”–they attempt to play an entire song without stopping, but their technique isn’t strong enough to accomplish this quite yet. If your child is annoyed because he can’t play a whole song in the band book, encourage him to concentrate instead on one or two measures. Small steps lead to big improvements!

3. The pieces at beginning of the book are boring, but the ones in the back of the book are too hard. When students begin reading music, the pieces they’re able to play aren’t exactly exciting. However, these simple pieces of music help students gain important musical understanding, skills that enable them to build a strong foundation for future musical success. Even if your child doesn’t enjoy these early pieces, encourage her to practice them carefully anyway. By mastering easy tunes today, your child creates the possibility to succeed at tougher music down the road.


Four Steps to Excellent Music Reading

Posted in helping your child succeed, practice, reading music at 5:00 am by Administrator

Music reading

At this point in the year, all our band students are reading musical notation. The beginners are just getting started, learning to decipher the written notes and translate them into correct fingerings and lip positions on their instruments. On the other hand, the already-fluent readers in the Continuing Band are now exploring deeper challenges: new notes, complex rhythms, and accidentals. Even through our two bands are in different places on the music reading spectrum, there is an easy strategy that can help all students strengthen their reading abilities–The Four Steps!

The Four Steps help students make connections among the written notes, their names, and how they’re played. Instead of guessing whether they’re playing the right notes, students who use these steps truly know “the whole story” about the music they play! When your child has trouble with his music, encourage him to isolate the problem spot, and:

Step 1. Count the rhythm.

Step 2. Say the names of the notes.

Step 3. Say the names of the notes, fingering them on the instrument.

Step 4. Play the piece.

Doing the Four Steps can be more time-consuming than just playing through a measure several times; however, it’s also a much more powerful way of practicing! Encourage your child to count for you, or say her pitches for you, in addition to playing her music. The more students practice making meaningful connections with written music, the better their reading–and playing–abilities will be!


Concert Coming Up – What Should I Do?

Posted in alston ridge events, concerts, helping your child succeed, what do I do?!? at 5:00 am by Administrator

How do I get ready for the concert?

It’s hard to believe, but our first concert of the year is coming up next month! For those of us who have never experienced a band concert before, it may be tough to know how to help our children get prepared. Even Continuing Band families may feel a little rusty on concert prep, since we haven’t had a concert in some time! So, here are some easy tips to help ensure that all our band students and families have a great Fall Concert experience.

1. Put it on your calendar! – Right now, please grab your calendar and make a note of your child’s show. Band performances are not optional events; rather, they are vital to your child’s musical education. When you make a commitment to attend your child’s performances, you not only model responsibility for your child, but you also show them that you care!

2. Get your concert clothes ready. – Remember, our students wear a standard outfit when performing. Our young ladies wear a white blouse, black pants or long skirt, and black shoes, and our young gentlemen wear a white button-down shirt, black slacks, and black shoes. To reduce the amount of pre-concert stress, purchase your child’s concert clothes NOW! If your child is in Continuing Band, remember that he or she may have grown since our last concert. Have your child try on her outfit early, so that you know long before the concert if your child needs any replacement clothes.

3. Encourage daily practice. – Nothing blasts away stage fright like preparedness. If your child practices 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week, he or she will be completely prepared to succeed on the concert, and will be more likely to have a fun and memorable experience.


Top Beginner Troubles – And How You Can Help!

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

Beginning Band Challenges

The early weeks of Beginning Band are some of the toughest of a child’s musical career. Although students’ musical abilities tend to grow by leaps and bounds during during these early days, there are still some stubborn challenges that can frustrate even the most patient young musicians. Here are some challenges that your child might be facing right now in band…and practical ways you can help!

1. “I don’t want to practice!” - Getting into the routine of practice is a very real challenge for young musicians at this stage of their development. Parents, help your children get into a good practice habit by making practice time a non-negotiable part of your nightly routine–just like homework!

2. Brass players’ notes are too high, too low, or hard to play. - Brass players at this stage may be frustrated with the quality of the sounds coming out of their instruments. This is NORMAL, and will improve with consistent practice! Unlike other instruments whose sound comes from striking a surface or vibrating a reed with air, brass instruments’ sound comes solely from the vibrating of the player’s lips. Many young brass players’ facial muscles simply aren’t strong enough to create a beautiful tone just yet. Help your child by encouraging them to practice daily, and asking to hear some “rude mouthpiece noises.”

3. Clarinet squeaks! - One of the biggest challenges for clarinet players is getting the embouchure (mouth position) and the fingers “just right”, so that the notes come out full, not airy or squeaky. Encourage daily practice, and remind your child about “tight corners”, “fat fingers”, and “teeth on top”.

4. Air Head - Air Head is a common affliction that affects young flute players. Playing the flute requires more air than any other instrument, even the tuba! When a child is just starting to play the flute, he must inhale and exhale a great deal more air than he’s used to, and this can cause him to become dizzy or lightheaded. In the Wiley Band, we jokingly describe this dizzy feeling as “Air Head”! If your child gets air head during practice, encourage her to simply take a few moments to allow the Air Head to subside, and then resume playing. Over time, her body will become more accustomed to the demands of playing, and the bouts of Air Head will become fewer and farther between.


3 Easy Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Band

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


Our first week of band is complete! Our Beginner students know their way around their instruments, understand how to play at least 5 notes, and can play their first song, Hot Cross Buns. In Continuing Band, our students have done a great deal of precision work, polishing up their understanding of fingerings, technique, and music reading in preparation for a year full of challenging music. These are great successes for all our students! Now, our job as parents and teachers is to keep that success going. Here are 3 things you can do this week to support your child’s musical growth:

1. Find a place and time for your child to practice. When kids have a distraction-free place and a consistent time to play their instruments each day, practice becomes much easier and turns into a habit!

2. Ask your child to play for you. Even though your child won’t be able to play beautiful songs at this point in her musical development, it’s still important for her to have an appreciative audience. If you don’t understand what your child is doing, ask him to “teach” you–you may learn something about music you never knew, and you’ll give your child a big confidence boost!

3. Help your child with organization. To succeed in band, our children need to bring their music, stands, and instruments to rehearsal. With your child, create a plan to make being prepared for band rehearsal easier!

As always, if you have any questions, please e-mail Ms. Thompson. Have a fun and musical week!


Helping Your Child with Practice

Posted in helping your child succeed, parent connections, practice, videos at 5:00 am by Administrator

Want to learn some simple ways to help your child get started with a healthy practice habit? Check out this helpful video from Ms. Thompson’s Better Band Parent Series!