Thursday, December 1, 2016

Logical Cause and Effect

I love games of all sort.  Computer games, console games, board games... you name it.  I've talked about disc golf a lot on this blog.  Part of the appeal of that sport for me is that it feels game-like.  You have to strategize about your shot and you get to throw brightly colored plastic (just like dice).  I grew up playing games but it wasn't until I started teaching that I appreciated everything games can teach, specifically board games.

The best thing about games--and I've mentioned this in many blog posts--is that they create a neutral party.  Even if it is you versus another person, that competition is still within the confines of the game's rules.  So even if we don't realize it this redirects a lot of frustration.  In the practicing environment this is invaluable.  Telling a child to do twenty repetitions is demanding.  Rolling a twenty on a dice leads to a good-natured groan followed by the challenge of trying to actually do something twenty times.

But there are other hidden skills we learn as well from playing board games.  Good practicing often boils down to having a plan and strategizing about how best to break down a particular problem.  While board games don't necessarily teach you how to break down the mechanical skills required to play an instrument, they do teach you logical cause and effect.

To me, logic is not a skill that is emphasized in the school systems.  Test taking is usually about deduction.  There are four answers and you narrow down which is the most correct.  Math teaches you how to think sequentially but lacks the variables of every day life.  Students will be taught algebra and then are assigned homework that forced them to solve the same formula a bunch of times.

This is why board games are so useful when it comes to developing practice skills.  A board game presents you with a challenge, you must decide on a strategy for facing the challenge and then you get to see the result of that strategy choice in a comparatively short space of time.  You choose to spend all your money early in the game, which means you have none left during the later parts of the game.  Was that a good choice or a bad choice?

You can see why this is a useful skill for a young music student, especially as she begins to ride that line between intermediate and advanced repertoire.  She already knows how to read music.  She already knows how to listen to music.  She has already been shown how to play all the tricky sections.  So it is now up to her to ask herself how to put all these pieces together and figure out the easier parts she has not been shown exactly how to play.

To me, that willingness to form strategy and apply it to the instrument is big turning point for a student.  It is the difference between dependence and independence.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Private Teaching Business Model

Over my years of teaching I've come across a wide variety of interpretations about the private teaching business model.  I feel that this is a natural result of the type of society we live in.  Many services these days are either "subscriptions" or "appointments."  For example, a gym membership is a subscription.  You pay a monthly fee to use the facility at any time during their hours of operation.  A doctor's visit or a haircut is an "appointment."  You call ahead to set up a time, you show up and then pay after the services have concluded.

With most services falling into one of these two categories, most people try to rationalize music lessons as one or the other.  However, music lessons are neither subscriptions or appointments.  They are actually a combination of both if the business entity is going to be successful.

The reasons why this hybrid business model occurs are:

1)  The service itself is centered around personal attention (appointment model)

2)  In order for the service to be effective, longevity must be assumed (subscription model)

When a private teacher is taking on a student, he or she is not looking at the potential client as a hair dresser would.  A hair dresser's service is finite.  You may like your particular hair dresser and wish to return but the quality of a hair dresser's service is not affected whether you return or not.  A single appointment is a complete experience.  Music lessons are an ongoing experience that require years of work to yield results.

Since the service requires so much time, most music teachers have their students pay monthly or quarterly as a subscription service would.  They must assume that the appointments will continue.  But the fact that the student is paying for appointments is what makes subscription payments confusing.  Unlike a gym where people are free to walk in an out at any time, a teacher must schedule appointments.

It is important to understand this if you are interested in music lessons and are trying to figure out if you have the time in your schedule.  Due to this hybrid business model, most established private studio teachers do not have the same flexibility of schedule that one might expect from other appointment services due to the reoccurring nature of lessons.  Therefore, it is not uncommon to have to wait potentially several months before being able to schedule that first lesson.

Additionally, most music teachers are not able to refund or offer make ups for missed lessons.  Like an appointment, the item being sold is time.  A lesson time slot cannot be returned and resold.  Once it is gone, it is gone.  A hair dresser can have "walk-in" new clients.  A music teacher does not do walk -ins and must account for this when collecting payment.  So, in this sense, music lessons are more like a subscription service.  You do not pay less to Netflix just because you watched fewer movies one month.

The aim of this post is to help educate people interested in music lessons on why music teachers have the business policies that they do.  Like any good business owner, a teacher should always strive to provide a high quality of service.  But, in order to do this, a private teacher must be able to make a living off of providing this service, which means certain business policies must be in place.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland

Victor Wooten is an innovator, composer, arranger, producer, vocalist, and multiinstrumentalist. He has been called the greatest bass player in the world. He is a skilled naturalist and teacher, a published author, a magician, husband and father of four, and a five-time Grammy award winner.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Performance Anxiety Part 2

So the start to my tournament career as an amateur disc golfer was rough.  I enjoyed the physical challenge that the tournaments presented and I enjoyed the people I got to meet and befriend.  But for quite some time I didn't understand why it was that I performed so poorly in the tournaments compared to casual play.  Why couldn't I sink those putts?

I was reading an interview with the number one disc golfer in the world (he's like the Tiger Woods of disc golf) and he made an offhand comment about how he's really not playing to win.  He tries to play the best game he can and if that happens to be good enough to win then so be it.

When I read that I realized that guy was really on to something.  By just playing your game you remove all of the pressure of having to be better or best.  You can just enjoy trying to play well.  And, in turn, having a better head game improves your performance.

As you can guess, this obviously had a positive effect on how I performed at future tournaments.  No, I didn't suddenly become the number one ranked female in the world.  But the whole experience just turned out better.  I played consistently.

The best surprise for me, however, was how this shift in mentality affected my music performance.  Because music is not a scored game I was blissfully unaware as to how much this idea of being "better" had seeped into my performance mindset.

I'm not sure how much the technical execution of my performance changed but mentally the experience had significantly changed.  I was in the moment, concerned only with playing my part well.  In other words, I actually enjoyed performing.  It wasn't just a task that I learned how to cope with after years of conditioning.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Performance Anxiety Part 1

My husband and I both love disc golf.  It's something that we both started together as beginners together so it became "our" thing to do as a couple.  We eventually got to the point after playing for a few years that I wanted to attempt playing in a disc golf tournament.  He was a bit more hesitant than me but I insisted, arguing that it would be a fun way to really test our skills.

I've written a few posts before about how playing disc golf taught me the value of muscle memory.  But during our first few tournaments we both quickly discovered a whole new category of unexplored skills: performing under pressure.  To be blunt, we both stunk.

As a musician, I was no stranger to performing.  I've lost count of how many solo/orchestra/chamber performances I've done.  Before that first tournament I had assumed that performance anxiety wouldn't affect me because of said experience.  I was just going out there to have fun, right?

Well, I was.  But the thing I hadn't counted on was the tournament environment.  Having fun was important but suddenly I also wanted to win!  I couldn't just play anymore, I had to be better than the other people in my division.  In trying to be better I became very focused not only on my game but also in watching how the others were doing.

"Well she just missed that putt so if I can make this crazy long putt right now, I'll gain a stroke on her."

I feel that it's very natural for this kind of mentality to surface in a competitive environment.  After all, the point of competition is to win, right?  But you can see how the thought process becomes toxic.  I was not only putting pressure on myself to perform beyond my abilities but I was also judging my abilities against other people rather than what I had actually accomplished during my own casual play.  If I only make 20 foot putts 1 out of every 15 shots during casual play, odds are good that I am going to miss the shot during a tournament.

But because I wanted to win missing the shot caused frustration.  This frustration led to more missed shots.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

TED Talk

Benjamin Zander has two infectious passions: classical music, and helping us all realize our untapped love for it -- and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Music Library

The conductor of my high school youth symphony loved to talk.  One could say his long-winded lectures made him infamous among those students who worked with him.  Being a teenager at the time most of the stuff he said went in one ear and out the other for me.  It was a Saturday morning and a three hour rehearsal.  My caring was... not there.

But there was one lecture that he gave that actually did have something of an impact on me.  I remember the brass section had just completely fudged the section we were trying to play and basically my conductor was like, "This is a really important section for the brass.  You guys need to know how it impacts the rest of the orchestra."

This segued into the long-winded lecture about the importance of having a music library if you were a musician.  Now this was before YouTube (I'm dating myself here).  So collecting classical music was actually kind of a big deal.  Most stores only wanted to sell the popular stuff.  Finding three or four different versions of one particular symphony took some searching.

What actually made this particular lecture stick in my memory was that the gist of what he was saying was not only about knowing your part but also because having a collection makes you have a sense of ownership over the piece.  You've gone out of your way to collect the music and that establishes a connection to it.

Now, years later, I'm realizing how important that is for a young musician.  Ironically, the lesson still applies even with the dawn of YouTube.  YouTube and other online sites have made music gloriously accessible.  I love how easy it is to find music these days.  I love it when a student comes into his lesson and tells me about something he found online.

But listening to a recording once online does not establish that same sense of ownership.  Music has to become "your music."  This is a much, much deeper level of listening than casually streaming the "best of" list on Spotify.

All musicians should work on building up their music library.  And with this means having the ability to listen.  Crummy speakers on a laptop work in a pinch but they don't replace the fuller sound of a nice sound system.

Now I'm not saying go out and drop thousands of dollars on new albums and a surround sound system.  I'm merely pointing out the importance of this aspect to musical training.  We are studying sound art.  As with any art, exploring other artists and paying attention to the details others have added matters.  Just as how a painter should eventually care about paint and canvass quality, a musician should care about the quality of a listening experience.