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!

09.29.17

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!

09.24.17

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!

09.17.17

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!

09.03.17

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.

08.27.17

3 Easy Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Band

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

Drums

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!

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