Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Three Parts of Practicing

Think about practicing in three parts: warm up, technique and new pieces. The practicing should always have these three parts in some way, regardless of how long the session is.

Warm up should be done in the beginning for at least a few minutes. The goal of this time is to get your body moving and your brain focused, not trying to fix anything. Warm up can include actual physical stretching. This is also a good time to just play through a few review pieces.

Technique should take up most of your practicing session. The goal of this time is to try and fix something such as even tone or intonation. The main difference between technique and warm up is what the brain is focusing on. You are intentionally trying to fix a particular aspect of your playing rather than trying to get from beginning to end on a piece. Good technique work could literally involve playing open strings the entire time. In fact, this is one of the best things to do when working on tone because the sound is pure.

When the technique is starting to feel comfortable that's when you could start trying to apply it to review pieces. The review piece should not require any focus for the notes but will be more challenging than open strings because more is involved.

New pieces should happen at the end and only if you have time. During this time the goal is to learn basic things like notes, rhythms and bowings. This is also when you would work on adding things like dynamics and phrasing to a piece. Since the focus is on the piece itself and not your playing technique you should not try to actively add your new technique to the piece.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Which step have you reached today?




I came across the above photo while attending a session at the biannual Suzuki Association of the Americas conference.  I really liked it because it illustrates that the true challenge of learning is overcoming mental barriers more so than physical ones.  The physical challenges are almost a moot point if a student is stubbornly stuck on that bottom stair.

Nicole Brady, who was presenting the session that had this picture, said that, for her, the picture displayed exactly why she wanted to have her children learn music.  Being able to play a musical instrument was almost an additional perk.  What she really wanted was for them to go through those mental challenges starting at a very young age.

Her session struck a chord with me because I completely agree with her.  Imagine the limitless potential of each human being if we were each instilled with the tools to reach the top of that staircase.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baroque Dances

An often overlooked tidbit about Baroque dances is that they all came from humble roots.  When we hear the words "Minuet" or "Gavotte," something like this probably comes to mind:



In other words, the formalized rich person's version came to mind.  The rich systemized the moves and applied "order" but that is not where all these dances came from!  Most of the Baroque style dances were peasant dances done around a fire.  So the original dances would have looked something more like this: 





Yes, I realize that that is a clip from a Hollywood-ized movie.  I also realize that the music in the back is more Celtic rather than French, which is where most of the Baroque dances originated from.

But the vibe of that scene is not too far off.  There's a fire.  People are drinking.  None of them are rich.  There's a distinct earthiness, especially with the slow dance.  Nothing about it feels like this:



I think this is a cool thing to explain to students when they are feeling detached from their music.  Baroque dances did not just suddenly appear.  There's a rich history behind them.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pre-Twinkle Demonstration: Rhythm with Three Fingers



Charles Krigbaum, SAA teacher trainer, demonstrates with his student the "Rhythm with Three Fingers"  He has already worked on the rhythm and the rests, on secure finger placement and on sound. This took several weeks or months.

During this time he reviewed ALL pre-Twinkle songs and exercises he learnt already and prepared the next songs (see STEP by STEP, vol. 1A).

One other important step to learn for the child is:  

"Wait until you’re ready!" (preparation before playing) 

This means:  

Prepare yourself before playing. Check your feet, your violin hold, your bow hold, and your left hand. When everything is prepared, can you say to yourself: “I’m ready!”

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.