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Making Progress: 3 Simple Ways to Sustain Momentum

practicing Nov 12, 2017
I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy. – Marie Curie

You’re a musician; you understand the struggle to make progress.

You practice every day and try hard to improve. But you’re not certain if things are actually getting better.  Perhaps the same issues crop up over and over. Or despite years of study, you don’t really have any music you feel you can play.

Are you making progress? Are you moving toward a higher musical plane, or are you spinning your wheels?

We all understand the loose nature of progress when it comes to music. There’s no simple metric to measure where you are or how far you’ve come. There’s no litmus test for each day’s practice session; if the trip turns blue, you made progress but if the strip turns red, you wasted your time. Thank goodness that litmus test hasn’t been invented!

I think that we feel progress primarily in that feeling of satisfaction that we get from seeing our...

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Adult Music Student? Enjoy the Privileges of Age

music miscellany Nov 05, 2017

Adult Music Student.

Perhaps this phrase conjures up an image of a nightmare recital where you, the quaking gray-haired student, stumble through a beginner piece while the 8 year olds play like virtuosi and take the pressure in their stride.

Banish that vision from your thoughts. Being an adult music student is about freedom and possibility, adventure and fulfillment. At least, it should be.

In the 1959 movie Gigi, a white-haired Maurice Chevalier watches his nephew Gaston suffer through a string of love affairs and sings his relief that, “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”

You, my adult music student friend, should be feeling the same way. You may have come to music lessons because you wanted to try something new, or maybe return to an instrument that you learned long ago. Maybe this is a bucket-list project or just a whim. Whatever brought you to music, you should be enjoying the pursuit.

And just in case you’re feeling uneasy following that 8 year old...

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10 Ways to Cut Your Practice Time in Half

practicing Oct 29, 2017

Practice time is probably the number factor in your music success.

Let me clarify – practice time spent efficiently and effectively is the number one factor in your music success.

Time is a precious commodity and trying to dedicate some of it to your practice can seem daunting. There are so many demands on our time, and practice can easily find itself falling to the bottom of our list.

So once you’ve found time to practice, you want to be sure that you’re spending that time in a way that will help you play your music confidently and enjoy your progress.

Here are 10 simple ways to add efficiency and power to your practice, so you can stop wasting time or practicing in circles, tips to cut your practice time in half or possibly get twice as much done.

  1. Don’t always start from the beginning. It’s likely that the first few bars of your piece are the ones you have done most often and know best. Try working from the middle or the end for a change.

  2. Use a...

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Eat Your Vegetables – Review Your Music!

musicianship Oct 22, 2017

Do you review your music as a regular part of your practice, or a “maybe if I get around to it” part?

Do you review your music as a regular part of your practice, or a “maybe if I get around to it” part?

My totally non-scientific guess is that 9 out of 10 music students don’t include regular and systematic review of their past repertoire in their practice.

It’s natural for review to get regulated to the time we have left over in our daily practice. We only have a limited amount of practice time and we need to use it to meet our musical deadlines and goals. Review seems like a luxury.

I have seen, however, that not including review in your daily practice is like not eating your vegetables. Your health and your growth will be affected, possibly not in immediate or obvious ways, but in ways that will keep you from reaching your full potential.

Our progress as musicians isn’t just a path forward into more challenging music. The path to growth...

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Control: Why It’s Out of Your Hands

performing Oct 15, 2017

Life, especially in these hectic days, has become a search for control.

We look for more control over our calendar and our working days. There is an explosion of books, blogs and courses about productivity, all aimed at helping us bring more order to order lives.

We meditate, exercise and diet to gain control over our minds and bodies.

All the while, we know that control, at least the way we imagine it, is an illusion. We are powerless over many of the circumstances which affect us.

Given that understanding, why do we persist in thinking that we can dominate or control our music-making? Or from another perspective, why are we so reluctant to accept the fact that, as in every other part of our lives, some of the circumstances around our playing and performance are beyond our power to control?

I’d like to suggest an alternative to the quest for control, or perhaps just an alternate definition.

What if true control were to be found in resilience instead of in perfection? If,...

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I'm Stuck! What to Do When Nothing Is Working

practicing Oct 08, 2017

I’m stuck!

We’ve all been there, when the piece you’re trying to practice and perfect just seems to go into neutral gear. No matter how much you practice or how focused you are, you can’t seem to get off the plateau.

Sure, you could keep practicing, hammering away at it, with the hope that eventually it will move ahead.

Or you could put it aside, give the piece (and your brain) a rest. Working so hard with no results to show for it is fatiguing and depressing.

Is there another option? You bet.

First let’s look at how you got stuck in the first place. Mentally rewind to the first time you opened the music…

The music was new. The page was clean, unblemished by markings and full of promise. You dove right in.

You worked out the fingering and all the other technical details. You drilled the tricky passages. You practiced hands separately and together. You worked slowly and carefully, using the metronome, checking the details of technique and...

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Etudes: The Case For and Against

news technique Oct 01, 2017

There are etudes, and then there are etudes.

In harp pedagogy, we have the basic fundamental studies like the Pozzoli etudes in the Grossi Metodo per Arpa and the flashy concert etudes of Zabel and Posse.

For those more familiar with the piano repertoire, these translate roughly as Czerny studies and Chopin etudes.

In fact, Chopin is likely the name we associate most with etudes, no matter what instrument we play. Chopin wrote 27 studies for the piano in the 1830’s and these works are legendary for their technical demands and musical depth.

But not all etudes are like that.

Some are written specifically to help us develop our technical skills. These are usually less musically rewarding, much shorter and less interesting to practice.

Still, etudes have been considered an important component in musical training for centuries. For instance, the keyboard studies written by 16th century Italian organist Girolamo Diruta (c. 1554-1610) are still considered significant today.


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Focus or Fixation: The Practice Rabbit Hole

practicing Sep 24, 2017

Focus. What things we could accomplish if we could only focus!

Yet there are times that too much focus is as useless as too little when it comes to music practice. I’m talking about the “Practice Rabbit Hole.”

If you remember Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you know that Alice’s adventures began when her curiosity led her to follow the White Rabbit down his hole. After that, things became “curiouser and curiouser,” and poor Alice was trapped in Wonderland. Trapped, that is, until she woke up and discovered it was all a dream. (Or was it? But that’s a different discussion…)

In our music practice, there are times when we can’t find the concentration we need to delve into the detail work we know we should be doing. But there are other times when we are so determined to fix or finish the musical task before us that lose sight of everything else.

Have you ever finished what felt like a really productive practice session, only...

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Cool Metronome Trick #17: Create Time

musicianship Sep 17, 2017

A metronome trick? Of course!

The metronome is a mystery for many musicians. We know we should use it and that it is “good for us.”  But that doesn’t mean we like it or even know how to use it well.

We know that those persistent ticks, clicks or beeps represent a steady beat and that they reveal how unsteady our own playing pulse can be. And the metronome is our primary resource for speeding things up when we need to get a piece up to a specific tempo. But beyond that, how can it really help?

In this post, I will help you discover a simple metronome trick to actually create time and how that can benefit almost every aspect of your playing. (I call this “Metronome Trick #17;” I haven’t defined the first 16 tricks yet. When I get them all listed, I’ll let you know!)

Metronome Trick #17: Create Time

This is a reversal of our usual perception of the metronome’s purpose. Instead of using the metronome to help us speed up our playing...

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Adult Music Students: Myths vs. Facts

music miscellany Sep 10, 2017

Adult music students are a special breed. They are enthusiastic and dedicated. They are eager and interested. Where young students might be more adventurous, adults are more likely to want to do things right the first time, bringing their life experience and maturity to their studies.

But adults are also more likely to be frustrated by what they perceive as insurmountable obstacles to playing their music the way they have always wanted. That frustration can lead to a shift in attitude. Their enthusiastic optimism is replaced by growing doubt that they can ever achieve their musical goals.

In my teaching, I see that doubt first surface in a student as an increase in the amount of practice time. Then comes a question like, “Do you think I should go back to basics, and just work on my technique?” or “Is this piece too hard for me?” or “Should I have made more progress by now?”

We can talk through all the issues, though, and still not break through...

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