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.


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?


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!


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!


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!


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.


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!


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!


Just for Alston Ridge: I’ve Just Played an Awesome Concert…Now What?

Posted in concerts, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

I've just played an awesome concert...now what?

So, you’ve just done an excellent job at your first concert of the year–congratulations! Concerts are the perfect time to show off all your achievements in band, and enjoy the fruits of all the work that you’ve been doing. But, during the days after the concert, many band kids find it tricky to balance the satisfaction of the performance with the need to continue growing as musicians. Here are some tips to help you with the transition that happens after a great performance.

1. Bask in your glory. - If you’re happy with your performance at the concert, take some time to enjoy those feelings of success and accomplishment. After all, you deserve it! Take some time to reflect on the work you’ve done, and the results you achieved. You may even want to reward yourself by doing something you really enjoy!

2. But don’t bask too long. - One of the keys to being an excellent musician is constantly striving for improvement. Celebrating your success is very healthy, but only if you balance it by looking ahead toward the progress you can make in the future. Make sure to jump back into your practice habit as soon as you can after the concert, and challenge yourself to play even better than you did at the show.

3. Set some goals. – One of the most helpful things you can do to fire yourself up after a concert is to set some small goals to achieve in your practice. If there are some tunes you’d like to learn in the book, try setting a goal to learn their pitches or rhythms by a certain date. Or, beef up your technique by setting goals for smoother phrasing, more precise tonguing, and more accurate pitches. When you set goals, you give yourself a solid understanding of the results you want–and this understanding can help you figure out how to get where you want to be!

If you’re having trouble getting back into the swing of practice after the concert, please let Ms. Thompson know; she will be happy to help you!


Just for Alston Ridge: Four Easy Ways to Knock Out Stage Fright

Posted in beginners, concerts, great performances, healthy playing, practice at 5:00 am by Administrator

Stage fright

As our first concert of the year approaches, it can be very easy to start feeling nervous. If you’ve got the pre-concert jitters, don’t worry!–nerves are a natural part of performing, especially when you’re just starting out. Luckily, there are many actions we can take to calm our nerves before a concert. Try these four easy tips to help you feel relaxed as showtime approaches!

1. Practice! - Detailed, thoughtful practice is one of the best ways to take the bite out of stage fright. If you practice often and do your very best in the weeks leading up to the concert, you’ll feel much more confident and secure with your music on the big night.

2. Prepare for a smooth concert day. - Even if you’ve practiced well, the way you handle the day of the concert can make or break your performance. If you wait until the last minute to buy concert clothes, forget where your instrument is, or arrive late to the performance, you can be assured that you’ll be a nervous wreck–and you probably won’t perform as well as you could have. Make sure instead that you plan for a smooth, relaxed concert day. Check to see that your clothes fit, and lay them out where you can find them. Put your instrument and music together so that you won’t forget either. And arrive a little early, so that you can get a feel for the stage and have a few relaxing moments with your band friends before showtime.

3. Perform before the performance. - Play for your family and friends, and get all your stage fright out of the way before the concert!

4. Don’t feel like you can’t be nervous. - Many people think that if they’re nervous on stage, they’re doing something wrong. Actually, a little bit of nerves on stage can be a good thing! So, instead of focusing on trying NOT to be nervous, focus on getting out there and doing a great show. Even if you’re scared to death throughout this first concert, the experience will help you learn to manage your nerves and feel more confident at your next show!

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