May 25, 2016

The notebook is a tool, not a book bag weight

If you are taking lessons, you likely have a notebook of some kind at the request of your teacher.  Many music teachers ask their students to have a notebook, but many students are not able to use these to best effect.  How do you use yours?

First, you should know that this notebook is not a diabolical plot on the part of your teacher, designed to make you crazy.  Nor is it a thinly veiled means of making you buy more books you won’t use.  

I like to structure these notebooks to act as a communication device.  The notes are not only a place to give instructions but also to start a conversation.  I ask my students to write a note each day that they practice – to indicate what has gone well and what has not gone well. 

I find that the teacher’s bench is much like the doctor’s office stool – simply sitting there results in forgetting everything you meant to say!  Writing in the notebook helps you to remember what you meant to bring up at your lesson so that it does not evade you when it’s time to bring it up.

Think of the notebook as shared with your teacher. But mostly you keep it for yourself.  This is where you capture your thoughts about your practice and the music as you work through it – the good, the bad, the indifferent, the incredulous, the awe and the awful!  Capture it all – not only to go through the exercise of the capture but also for later review and reflection. 

Really your notebook is a journal.  As with any journal, the point is to capture your progress, to find what you notice seems to be bubbling up, and to reinforce the discipline of both practicing and journaling. It will help you get more from your practice.  The added benefit is that it will help you get more from your lesson. If you don’t have a notebook now (or if you always seem to “forget” yours at your lesson) get one you like and start using it now – when you try to remember what you did this week, you’ll be glad you did!

May 18, 2016

Don’t check out when you’re practicing

Do you practice every day? Or nearly every day? If so, you might think you are a really good practicer.  But are you really?

It is a good start to sit on your bench for practice time, but what do you do once you’re there? To get anything from your practice time you need to be there to work.  What sort of work do you need to do?  Well it isn’t just playing through all your tunes halfheartedly! Here are six things to include as you think about your practice:

  • Problem solve – unless you have something down perfectly, there is work to be done – the trick is to determine what needs to be done and to suss out the best way to get that work done
  • Define the work – do you partition your practice time to spend time on the aspects of playing that are important? Warming up, technique and exercises, detail on tunes you are learning, development of music you have in work, polishing and tweaking music that is learned are phases to include in your practice times.
  • Check your attitude – if you think practicing is a waste of time, it likely will be…so make sure you set your attitude to get something from the time. 
  • Pay attention – be engaged with your practice and expect good performance from yourself.
  • Have a plan – know what you want to do with your practice session.
  • Work the plan – don’t just make a plan, use the plan to achieve your goals. 
Don’t practice longer than you are able.  You need to build the strength and stamina to practice for longer practice sessions – and if you don’t work your way up to it, you will be too fatigued to get anything from a longer practice session.

Be sure to stay engaged with your practice - don't check out when you're on your bench!

May 11, 2016

Why are you practicing?

Sometimes, especially if our playing is primarily for our own amusement or edification, we tell ourselves that we don’t have to work as hard or accomplish as much when we practice as others do.  Nothing could be farther from the truth!

It is essential, regardless of our level of play, that we become skilled and build effective technique.  We need to have the technical skills to elicit music from our instruments and to breathe life into that music.  Pasion without technique will give you inconstant playing.  Of course, technique without passion gives you lifeless noise (but that can be left for a different post).  And our selected audiences, be they full concert halls or the curtains and the cat, deserve the best we can deliver.

You might have heard the chestnut that only perfect practice makes perfect – and it is true! Don’t settle for nearly good enough. Make each practice session worth your time!
You can use tools (such as the free printable log) to guide your practice so that you get more from the time.  Include repetition in practicing.  Repeat not only the individual items but also the structure so practice is also practiced.  Practicing your practicing, just like practicing a tune or practicing tuning, will make you better and stronger in less time at each practice session.   Are you practicing your practicing?