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...
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!)
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...
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...
Agility is practically the Holy Grail for any musician. To have a facile and nimble technique is why we spend hours playing scales and exercises.
What does agility look like?
Picture a gazelle bounding across the African savanna, dodging roots and rocks, changing direction with effortless grace and athleticism. Strength, grace, flexibility and speed in motion, the very definition of agility.
Then a predator threatens the gazelle. The gazelle takes off, running for its life, with the predator in fierce pursuit.
Suddenly, the gazelle makes a high, bounding leap, one that changes the direction of its flight and in so doing, confuses the predator.
This surprise leaping strategy is known as “pronking,” and it is one of the few lines of defense open to the gazelle. A gazelle’s first defense is to elude the predator, to evade the threat. It relies on its agility to rescue it from danger.
That’s the kind of agility we want for our fingers. We want them to fly across...
Fear. Uncertainty. What would happen if you stopped “what-if-ing” and just did it?
Fear and uncertainty are the dream-killers for most people. Most of us have a “safety switch” somewhere that keeps us from going too far. The trick is in recognizing when your switch is triggered unnecessarily.
Our inborn reactions to danger are both necessary and appropriate. We naturally shy away from fire, flinch at lightning and thunder and avoid precarious heights. But we learn over time which circumstances are truly threatening to us and which instinctive reactions we can safely ignore.
Music offers its share of fear-inducing situations, and not just those having to do with performing.
It might be fear of playing wrong notes or playing too fast. It might be fear of trying a new piece or technique, or even just the uncertainty of our ability to do what we want to do, to play the way we want to play.
In order to prevent fear and uncertainty from blocking our path forward,...
Online music lessons may sound like nirvana to many music students – being able to study music wherever you are and no matter where your teacher is. If you’re a music teacher, though, you likely instinctively sense the possible drawbacks and limitations of learning music at a distance.
Nevertheless, online music learning is increasingly how students young and old, experienced and newbies, pursue their passion. Students, and parents of younger students, need to be aware of the reality behind the rose-colored glasses. And teachers should explore how they might like to include online lessons as part of their studio instruction.
Of course, online music learning is much more than just lessons over Skype or the numerous other platforms like Facetime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. And learning isn’t just limited to lessons; students can learn through online classes, courses, webinars or group programs.
But most students – and teachers – still favor one-on-one...
Musical creativity isn’t a “yes or no” thing. It isn’t a “have it or don’t have it” kind of skill. It’s more of a “use it or lose it” proposition.
This isn’t a scientific argument. It’s based solely on my observations and experience. But let’s consider this scientifically…
Science would urge us to apply the scientific method: to experiment, analyze the results and make conclusions based on the evidence. That empirical evidence, though, belies what I have found experientially to be true: that all of us who are attracted enough by music to choose to study it are gifted with musical creativity.
I don’t mean that we all are gifted in the same fashion or that we are enabled to use these gifts to the same extent. But I have never come across a student who had no desire or ability to be musically creative.
Our regular practice habits are not designed to promote or develop creativity, however. In...
Imagine you received this phone call today:
" What would you say? Could you say yes?
Perhaps this is something you've been meaning to do, to get music ready to play for events like this. Perhaps this is even a group that you would really like to play for. But perhaps you haven't gotten your repertoire ready yet. So you're going to miss this opportunity. It’s a disappointment.
Let’s continue with our scenario.
After you make your excuses and turn this opportunity down, you start thinking that you really should put some music together to play. How hard could it be? So you pore through the music that you have but decide that you...
Who is your best “harp” friend? Is it your teacher, your harp circle buddy, a fellow student, a colleague? Maybe your best harp friend is your harp itself.
Your harp has a best friend too, and while you’re right at the top of the list, the next best friend your harp has is likely your harp technician.
Your harp technician is not just a “harp doctor.” He or she is a care-taker, a trouble-shooter, an adviser, sometimes even a harp “9-1-1” responder.
This is not a “how to repair your harp” article. Instead, in this post I would like to offer some suggestions for working with your harp technician to help them keep your harp (and you!) happy and playing well. And if you haven’t scheduled a visit with your favorite tech lately, perhaps you will feel inspired after reading this. You can be sure your harp will thank you!
One quick note before we dig in: I have worked with many wonderful and knowledgeable harp experts. I...
Playing the right notes at the right time may be enough.
J. S. Bach
“There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” – J. S. Bach
It’s quite a statement, whether Bach was indulging in some tongue-in-cheek modesty or absurdly reductionist thinking.
But what if it were – at least to some extent – true? What if “all” we had to do was to play the right notes at the right time? In other words, if we focused our efforts on simply playing the right notes at the right time, what would that free us from? What distractions, confusion and struggle would that eliminate?
Please understand that I am not going to set out a case for playing unmusically or without expression and subtlety. We’ve all heard players whose technically brilliant performance feels flat and uninspired, leaving us to say, “She really played all the notes, but…”