The semester is about to begin but Fall weather has yet to arrive! Hopefully some cooler weather will come for the labor day weekend and…
How to practice a musical instrument effectively and efficiently
Later this year, in December 2020, I will have another larger online concert for all my students who would like to participate. Of course everyone will want to play or sing at their best, and of course this takes practice. However your performance will depend not on how much practice you do, but what kind of practice.
There are two ways that students can practice. The first way is when you practice on “auto-pilot”, just repeating your piece over and over until it eventually sounds right. You start playing and all goes well until something sounds not right, so you stop and play that part over and over until it gets better. This kind of practice is super inefficient and worse, you are practicing stopping to correct yourself once you have started to play your piece. Guess what? When you want to play for an audience you will automatically stop to correct errors! So in the end this kind of practice leads to lack of confidence and nervousness. It is also very boring to practice this way.
What you need to do is practice deliberately and mindfully. I am sure everyone knows this term “mindfully”. We get told all the time to be mindful and stay in the present, not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Deliberate practice involves identifying where you are hesitating or consistently playing erroneously, and looking closely at the section or note or phrase. (My experience is that it is almost always that the fingering needs to be adjusted, but I also experience a lack of identifying certain notes in relation to others around them, which means I need to pay extra attention to letting my muscle memory learn these relationships).
I have been reading the work of Noa Kageyama on his website: https://bulletproofmusician.com/. By “bulletproof” he means able to play your selected piece from beginning to end correctly and in a relaxed manner.
Here is his model for deliberate practice:
Deliberate practice “problem-solving” model
1. Define the goal (What do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
2. Go for it
3. Analyze the result (Did I achieve my goal? If not, what is the problem? What did you do that made the note/phrase sound like it did?) Try recording!
4. Identify potential solutions (What adjustments can I make to make the note/phrase sound more like I want?)
5. Test potential solutions (What adjustments seem to work best?)
6. Implement the best solution (Make those tweaks permanent – i.e. mindful repetition) Record again!
7. Monitor implementation (Are these adjustments continuing to get me the results I want? Or do they need to be refined? If they seem to work, write down your new insights in a notebook so you don’t forget and have to rediscover them tomorrow)
This is hard work! I know because I have done lots of inefficient practice in my many years of practicing; at the Conservatorium in Sydney Australia I was required to practice 6 hours a day minimum. I did not know about deliberate practice and as Noa says, I would have achieved the same or better results in half that time.
It takes practice (ha!) to practice deliberately – how about you try it out?
(I will attach a pdf with more details from Noa)
We find ourselves in a new world of online teaching and learning that we had no time to prepare for in March this year, but now it is time to reflect a little. I have been thinking about the pros and cons of online learning, on the grounds that this is how it is going to be at least until January next year. However I am giving serious consideration to much of my studio continuing to be online at least for 2021 and maybe beyond.
Some years ago maybe during the ice storm or a snow storm (can’t imagine that now!), I had to teach students on skype. A parent just loved not having to drive the student here and being able to go on with her work at home while I taught the student. At that point I was not interested in online teaching. But thinking about it now, I can imagine many parents would appreciate not having to schlep to my place (even though we now have that lovely waiting room).
I have also had many students say “I can play that piece perfectly at home but I come here and your piano is so different to mine that I can’t play it the same”. Now students can have a lesson on their own piano in their own comfortable space, and apart from me watching it would be just like practicing. They can perform their prepared piece as they describe!
Anyway, at the moment we have no choice about online teaching given the prevalence of the virus and my age – I am very healthy but I am 75. I cannot take the risk of getting the virus by having people come to the house. Conversely I do not want to give it to anyone.
Three of my students found it very difficult to listen to instructions emanating from a screen; two had to quit and one might soon. Being next to the teacher for them meant being able to understand and respond. Being able to see me play a certain piece in real time was necessary for them.
Learning music, piano, guitar, ukulele, is such a solitary activity and this is enhanced by it being taught online. Students long for the interaction with their friends.
Also the internet transmission has a delay which means I cannot effectively play and/or sing with the student. I have to play or sing, and then they have to repeat the same after me.
Singers who cannot accompany themselves are having a very hard time even though I record their accompaniments on the piano. It is not the same, singing to a recorded accompaniment compared to standing beside me so i can adjust my playing to their singing.
After consideration I think that some students actually benefit from online tuition, and some do not. Some benefit from being in their homes away from the stress of school, and the classroom schedules, but some need the in-person interaction with their peers and their teachers. However, right now, all I can offer is online music lessons.
During the pandemic I have accepted new students who began their tuition online, and it seems to have worked well for them. Several live in cities too far to travel to my house for lessons, so they will always continue online, although I have ideas of hosting small group “campus visits” here on one or two occasions in the Spring semester.
Result of my reflection:
I need to build some sort of community among the students and I am going to seriously think on that. In the meantime as Fall commences soon, I am going to ask students to respond to a question – I will send a sheet on which they can respond and hopefully then send or email to me.
I am going to plan some December virtual holiday soirees, so watch this space! The first Virtual Summer Soiree was wonderful. My neighbor David Dodson, a singer and pianist himself, participated in the concert and said it was the highlight of his week. So sweet to see my students play so well, and also sweet to work with my daughter Rose.
In the months up to December I am going to give students a project to give their family a concert and I will send instructions for this! It will involve getting dressed up and serving refreshments made by them!
I need everyone to update their information sheet. It’s surprising how quickly they get out of date. Please fill out the attached sheet and email back to me or send in the mail.
I am going to remain positive and encourage students to be positive.
I have also upgraded all my equipment and now have a blue yeti microphone and wifi boosters everywhere. I know from testing that my setup works well. I teach now on my mac laptop and I have the new microphone and good speakers. However, much depends on the device a student is using, and their internet connection. I am fortunate to have fibre optic cable and very fast speeds here as well as up -to-date devices. I know this is a tremendous burden for families who I am sure have had to buy more phones, ipads, and laptops and spend money on internet connections. I can highly recommend stands for phones and ipads and laptops; propping up phones can lead to interruptions and broken devices. I will send a separate email with advice about online music lessons’ setup conditions.
August (we are still here ): There are two more weeks of teaching and a few people owe fees. I would really appreciate it if I could have all August fees owing in to me before I leave on Saturday 8/22, if possible. You can pay with Zelle or through the mail or in my letterbox. I will try to email each person over this week. I will be on vacation from 8/22 – 9/8.
I really need to try and see where I am with the schedule. If you are not coming back to online lessons please let me know as soon as possible. That is the most important piece of information. If you need a different time, that is not quite so critical at this point, but if you are continuing and you want your same time I need to know that asap. Thanks to the people who have already responded.
Website: Have done some tweaking of the website, changing the order of the pages and revising the text. The schedule is as good as the information I have received so far, and I will continue to update it even while on vacation. Remember to look at the student performances – I hope to have more up there soon.
Advice about set up at home for online music lessons
I know that some of this will not be possible with financial restraints, however this would be the ideal:
- An up-to-date device with a good built in camera. Phone is OK – ipad if it is up-to-date is probably better, laptop is ideal but not necessary.
- A stand to support the device – I need to see the instrument and the student’s hands on it. For ukulele and guitar, I am going to adjust my devices so i can stand to teach these instruments and I would prefer students to stand too if possible mainly because of posture and because of future performances – much better standing.
- Few distractions. Most students’ home situations are fine and have few distractions but it is hard if there is a lot of noise – we both need to hear and concentrate for me and for the student to have a good lesson.
- Most students have been amazingly well on time. It is important to be ready when I call (and for me to finish lessons on time ready for a student to call me).
- Internet – we are at its mercy! Even with a great connection there are interruptions and freezes. The better your wifi connection of course the better the lesson. Some students get upset if the lesson is constantly interrupted.
- Please charge your device before the lesson. I have to remind myself also because I have had the laptop run out of juice and had to switch to phone!
Thanks everyone – I know you all do your best under these trying circumstances
Here is the link to the Virtual Summer Soiree 8/1/2020 which was conducted on Zoom. Please watch the unedited concert if you have time! It was the first on-line concert for my studio but hopefully not the last!
The password is: FMSoir3#
Today eight of my piano students and two of Chelsea Daniel’s students performed in a virtual Soirée using Zoom. It was very successful thanks to the wonderful performances and the hosting and management of my daughter Rose and her assistant Debbie. The students and their pieces are lasted below. There were 44 people registered as audience and because more than one person was often on the call, Rose estimates between 60-70 people were watching the concert.
It was the first time I have attempted to do a virtual concert and I am very excited about it. I wish more students had been able to perform but this time was a bit of an experiment to see what is possible. I do have quite a few student performances on this website under the tab Student Performances as an attempt to let students share the pieces they are working on at the time. However, I think having a special event when everyone performs for each other at a given time has a special feeling to it.
It was very special to share the event with Chelsea who was once my student, and who is now teaching after completing her degree at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas in Austin. Chelsea also played in the Soiree and you can listen to three of her performances under my student recital page, including Florence Price’s “Fantasie Negre”.
Wonderful work all performers! Thank you to parents and supporters and to Rose and Debbie and also Sara who did the striking graphics for the invitation and program:
“March” Jeremiah Clarke 1673-1707; “Clowns” op 39 n0 20 Dmitri Kabalevsky
“Morning” from the Peer Gynt Suite music by Edvard Grieg arranged by Faber
“My Dog Spike” and her own composition!
“Gavotte” Telemann 1681-1767
“Gypsy Camp” Faber
“Pirates of the Caribbean” Klaus Badelt arranged Jarrod Radnich
Lydia Pollak Coy
“Impertinence” Handel 1685-1759 HWV494: “Crazy Comics” Christine Donkin b1976
“Solfeggietto” CPE Bach 1770; “Für Elise” Beethoven 1770 – 1827
“Atacama Desert” Wynn-Anne Rossi b 1956
“Fantasie Negre” Florence Price 1887 – 1953
Here are a few screen shots from the Zoom call:
Some of the attendees
On Saturday August 1 Flourishing Muse is holding its first Zoom concert, the Virtual Summer Soiree. I hope many of you can be part of the audience. I hold Soirees to let students see and hear their colleagues play and I always find this inspires students to practice more, share more and often find pieces they would like to learn. I also know that family and friends love to hear not only their student but others playing pieces they have learned and practiced.
I would not be doing this without my daughter Rosemary Ham. Rose is an event manager based in the UK and she has offered to host my concert and in fact has an intern who will assist on the call and a graphic designer who has designed the program and other communications. The program is visually a step up from my usual effort! Rose has had to move her lectures online and even some of her events she manages are now virtual. I have to say she is amazing! Here she is:
Rose will be sending out audience invitations to my students and parents and also instructions to the performers. She would like to do a tech check with performers next Tuesday either 10-11 am or 2-3 pm; there’s 5 hours time difference between here at the UK so I hope performers can accommodate those times. Let her know if not.
My ex-student and now good friend and colleague, Chelsea Daniel, will be playing in the concert and two of her students will also play. The pandemic cut short her studies at Butler School of Music and she had to finish online so she started teaching and now has a small studio! She will play the Florence Price Fantasie Negre which is really beautiful but it is longer than other pieces in the concert so be prepared. I really want my students to see her play and watch her hand movements and hear how she put passion into the music.
Thanks to everyone who has continued learning music with me. Sorry this concert is for just piano but I will organize further concerts for other performers, string players and singers.
Be cool and stay healthy!
The Spring semester has ended without sadly, a soiree to show everyone, families, colleagues and Croasdaile residents, what you have spent the Spring learning in online music classes. It has been a trying time for everyone and I am especially sorry for young students who have missed their friends; kind of shows what is important doesn’t it?
I have tried to let my students and families know what everyone has been practicing by the Student Performances page on my website and I am very grateful to my partner, Carol, who has enabled me to be able to do this. I can mostly manage the videos and uploading myself with just occasional cries for help. If you have not scrolled down the page and looked at the performances, please do and let young students look as well. Comments and feedback always welcome.
I have contemplated a Zoom concert but the technical side was a bit scary so my youngest daughter, the event manager, has offered to host a zoom concert for some of my piano students on July 10. Her teaching facility is willing to allow her to use their corporate account to do this, and one of her interns will also help. This is what you can do with remote learning – my daughter Rose lives and works in the UK! She has been teaching on Zoom most of this past semester. If this one works well I will be able to do more concerts in Fall, given that I think remote learning will still be necessary until 2021. I guess I will have to learn to do Zoom concerts myself – another steep learning curve! You will be receiving invitations to the concert!
The date for the Zoom concert will be July 10 at 10 am – a morning tea concert. I will send invitations to about 8 of my piano players – I wish it could be everyone but Rose says 8 would work well for a first time. Everyone will be able to watch however including relatives who might live a long way away! You can have your morning tea (snack, morning coffee…) as you watch! And this time just piano until we can solve sound issues for singers and string players.
Some students have finished music lessons until September 8 but a good number are continuing at least for part of the summer and I am glad otherwise I would miss them all too much! Many of my adults are also continuing. Which brings me to fees – a few are still owing for June and I would be most grateful if you could catch up what you owe in June; I will send individual emails. Venmo and Zelle work well and checks now seem to be making it in the mail to my house. If you mail a check please tell me you have done so, and then I can look out for it.
I will be teaching most of the summer except for the week June 26 – July 6 and the two weeks August 24-September 7. Fall semester begins September 8.
Be safe and well over the summer and have lost of relaxing outdoor time (when it decides to stop raining).