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Showing posts from 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 th…

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 (appointmen…

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.

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 futu…

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 had…

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.

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 fo…

Limitless Brain

I don't believe the brain has a limit to the amount of new information it can process.  Even if science eventually proves me wrong, I don't care.  I love the idea of a limitless brain.

Perhaps I should explain what I mean by "limitless brain."  I think that most people--myself included--have an image of themselves.  I'm not talking about body image.  I'm talking more about what we see as our place in the world.  For most people the type of work that we do shapes a large part of this image.

For example, you might see yourself as an "office worker" type rather than a "manual labor" type.  It's not that either profession is bad, it's just how you see yourself.  Most of the time an "office worker" would look for other office job positions should the need to change companies arise.  It's not that you are incapable of doing a manual labor job, it's just not how you think of yourself.

"Of course I wouldn't look…

Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event "Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus".

Rethinking Teaching....In a Good Way

An opportunity has presented itself.  And, like most opportunities, it came unexpectedly.  
I was given the opportunity to become an institute director.  I find this simultaneously daunting and exciting.  I'm excited for the potential.  I'm excited for what types of changes a Suzuki institute could bring about to the area I live.
But saying you're excited about this type of a job is kind of like looking at Mt. Everest from the base and saying you're looking forward to reaching the top.  There's a LOT of...well... stuff between you and that peak.  A lot can go wrong.
As I begin the initial planning steps I realized that this is going to be a totally different kind of teaching environment that me and the other directors are going to have to learn how to provide for kids.  An institute is a break from the daily music routine.  It's intense, exhausting but--most importantly--fun.  The very nature of an institute has the power to respark a child's musical enthus…

Pre-Twinkle Demonstration: Pre-Twinkle bow hold

Steven is a student of Suzuki teacher Charles Krigbaum, SAA teachercher trainer and founder of the North Texas School of Talent Education, a Suzuki violin and viola program located in Plano, Texas.

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 pur…

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.

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…

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!”

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…

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.

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 …

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 u…

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 o…

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)

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 …

Defining a Student’s Repertoire

The Suzuki Method gets a lot of bad rap at times.  One issue that I've seen come up is the method's emphasis on the same core material.  If the Suzuki Method is separate from the books then why this devotion to those pieces?  Why not branch out?

Well the simple answer is that a Suzuki teacher could branch out.  A big reason why most of us adhere to the core repertoire is that the Suzuki Method is a worldwide entity.  It allows our students to be unified with others around the globe by giving them that same common ground.  But this doesn't mean that additional pieces cannot be added.

According to the dictionary, repertoire is: a stock of plays, dances, or pieces that a company or a performer knows or is prepared to perform.  This is exactly why reviewing old pieces is a cornerstone for Suzuki philosophy.  A piece cannot be mastered after just having learned the notes.  Just as a stage play is not ready for an audience after only one run-through.  The core pieces teach a stu…