Thursday, April 21, 2016

8 Attitude Approaches Toward Young Musicians

Learning to play a musical instrument well can very likely be the biggest challenge someone ever faces. Many skills require coordination or focus but very few demand the same level of commitment and time. Learning how to play an instrument takes years, arguably even decades in order to master.

During this passage of time people will naturally change as life teaches new lessons. These changes can create friction as a student progresses and the difficulty of the musical material also increases. Therefore it is important to be able to take a step back in order to approach the instrument with an open-minded healthy attitude.

Until the child is old enough to responsibly handle productive practice sessions on his own, much of his success will depend on the parent’s persistence. The purpose of this booklet is to present eight attitude approaches that would be useful for both new parents whose child is just starting music lessons and veteran parents that have to readdress how practicing is being approached now that child has become older.

Since so much depends on the parents in the early stages of music lessons, it is important that their needs are addressed along with the student’s. Learning to recognize the true source of practice session conflicts is just as critical as learning how to tune.

This booklet is available for purchase on Amazon and most other major ebook retailers.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pre-Twinkle Demonstration: Preparation for the Monkey Song

Charles Krigbaum, SAA teacher trainer, demonstrates with his student the first steps in mastering the Monkey Song. 

In order to play it with the piano accompaniment she needs still to work on the rhythm and the rests, on secure finger placement and on sound. This will take still several weeks or months.

But during this time she can review ALL pieces and exercises she learnt already and prepare the next songs.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Inside Out

I recently saw the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out.  It wasn't as good as some of their others but still pretty darn adorable.  They did a nice job mixing in some "adult" humor to keep me chuckling in between the more emotionally heavy scenes.

The movie is about a little twelve-year-old girl who's family decides to move.  Most of the movie follows the characters inside her head, each one representing a major emotion like "Joy" or "Sadness."  The movie centers around teaching kids why they are feeling what they are feeling when upsetting life things take place.  The movie even ends with a surprisingly mature message that memories don't have to always be "happy" or "sad."  As we get older they are sometimes a mixture of the two.

What actually impressed me the most about this movie was how much they explore the concept of memory formation.  Obviously, it's dumbed down for the sake of the movie.  But there were a surprising number of general concepts addressed.  The best part (even though it's a bit sad in the movie) is when the character Joy ends up getting lost in the land of unused memories.  The movie delves into why they are unused and why they must be dumped in order to make room for new memories.  "Cleaning house" as it were.

Since seeing the movie I've brought up this scene with several of my students.  Each time they instantly understood what I meant by memories (using the movie as an example) and then it was easy to segue into how practicing helps to keep certain memories vs. having them become unused.  The movie allowed them to visually see the effects of practicing.

So, if you're a teacher, the movie is definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Silly Little Mistakes

Something I talk about a lot with my students are the "silly little mistakes."  It's an interesting point that everyone reaches when learning a piece, no matter how complicated.  Lots of time will be spent learning the tricky sections.  Once the tricky sections feel smooth, more time will be spent figuring out the easier sections.  And then, finally, a piece must be played through from beginning to end.

And this is when the silly little mistakes arise.

It takes an enormous amount of concentration to play a piece through from beginning to end.  In the process of trying to do so errors will pop up.  Finger patterns that were fine during practice but, for whatever reason, become garbled and confused while playing the entire piece of music.  The worst part about this is that 95% of the other notes will sound fine!  95% success in anything else is a totally acceptable number.  Unfortunately in music, that last 5% is the difference between communicating fluently and sounding unsure of yourself.

It's actually a very humbling lesson.  Hours/days/weeks of work can be put into challenging section that pushes your abilities to the next level and the thing that takes down the whole piece are silly little "noob" mistakes.  It's difficult facing these sections because we go into denial.  We should know how to do those sections so no need to practice them, right?  The next  play through will be better.

Unfortunately, that can be the thread that unravels the whole blanket.

To really fix these sections we must first step back and look at the piece with fresh eyes.  The enemy being faced here is not the mistake but rather the assumption that it shouldn't be a mistake.  This means that until we accept the mistake and decide to make a change, the piece will never be 100%.

This is a pretty powerful life lesson if you think about it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What do I enjoy about music?

One goes through phases when first starting out a teaching career.  The first big phase is trying really hard to please everyone.  This causes a great deal of worry and stress in those early days because the slightest mistake on your part means that all your students will hate you!

And then you realize that everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes and then you can get on with your life.

But a more subtle layer to this is trying to find ways to inspire students.  While I, as the teacher, may not appeal to every student, it's important to try and get the most out of those I can work with.  This is a tricker subject than stressing over people liking my class.  It requires a little more soul searching because it boils down to figuring out what I find interesting about music.  Of course my students may find other aspects about music to interest them.  But it's important that I give them that base from my perspective.

I'll admit that it has taken quite of musical maturing on my part to really figure out what it is that keeps me playing.  It took me a long time to sort out what I liked and what my growing up education told me what I should like.

So after sorting through all this emotional baggage from my teenage years, I've discovered that the thing I enjoy the most about playing is the challenge.  I'm a geek at heart so I've always enjoyed figuring out every detail behind board games or computer games.  I enjoy being presented with a concept and then progressively learning about and appreciating all the smaller details as time goes on.

I enjoy the fact that music is an endless quest for more details.  You can obsess all you want over any aspect of playing for any number of years and still be coming up with new observations or techniques.  A lifetime simply is not enough time to learn everything there is to know about music.  This is why I enjoy teaching so much.  It allows me that opportunity to explore more details as I work with each student.  Details that I may never have noticed had it just been me learning a piece.

Once I realized this about myself it made everything about both my playing and my teaching come into sharper focus.  As a musician it has made personal progress far more enjoyable.  As a teacher, I feel more grounded.  In having something that truly motivates me, it gives me a base to work from as I try to push students forward.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pre-Twinkle Demonstration

Charles Krigbaum, SAA teacher trainer, demonstrates with his student:

a) a basic bow hold exercise
b) preparation for the E String Song (Rhthym on E from STEP by STEP)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Working with the Suzuki Parent

Shinichi Suzuki is famous for his "Every Child Can" saying.  I remember, though, during a teacher training I attended the instructor said the lesser known second half to that phrase was, "...but not every parent."  The gist of the discussion was not meant to be a discouraging one.  It was merely meant to underscore the importance of parental involvement.

The Suzuki triangle is a common image shown at training courses:

If you flip the image upside down, the teacher and parent sides are the ones supporting the student.  Every part needs to be functioning or the triangle is broken.  The parent and teacher are at an equal level in the Suzuki triangle.

While the child is there to learn a musical instrument, the success of that early musical career is entirely based on the motivation and persistence of the parent.  Therefore, praise the parent at every lesson. Affirm them.  Be open to comments from the parents. Be willing to listen and change.  Ask the parent "how are things going at home."

Most importantly, develop the parent's musicality from listening.  Give the parent the tools to appreciate the larger musical world outside of the immediate private lesson.