What tools or methods have you used successfully to help establish habits in other areas of your life? Have you used a paper calendar or log to write down successes? Enlisted the help of a friend as an accountability buddy? Put your intention out on social media to hold yourself accountable? The same tools that work to help establish other habits such as healthy eating or exercise can also be effective with music practice.
We live in an age of an app for everything, and most kids (and adults!) love to use technology as a tool when working toward a goal. There are all kinds of apps that can serve to help with practicing, including reminder timers, scheduling practice as a recurring calendar event, recording apps, apps that include the option to share your successes on social media, and apps specifically designed to establish habits and routines.
My studio will be doing a practice challenge this winter to help establish or reestablish those regular practice habits that make for steady progress. Stay tuned for details!
This post is going to be more personal than most, but I decided to share anyway because farewells are part of teaching. This week I bid a bittersweet farewell to a top student. No, she is not quitting, but rather going on to study with a master teacher who teaches in the music department of one of the local universities.
She studied with me for two years, during which time she made truly amazing progress. She worked very hard and consistently, asked great questions, and really took my advice to heart when I let her know what she needed to work on. As a result she was able to participate in one of the top ensembles in the state as a middle schooler, and audition into BYSO where she has excelled musically as well as thoroughly enjoying the experience. I really feel as if she has grown wings.
For my students, I encourage studying with other teachers, whether for short periods of time supplementing our lessons or transferring when the time seems right. I have good relationships with many of the other teachers in the area and reach out when a student is transferring to let them know what we have been working on. I have studied with many different instructors on both piano and flute throughout my life and each has taught me unique tools and different ways of looking at music, practice, and performance.
Our job as teachers is to help students to be independent. Essentially, we know we have done a good job when, well...we work ourselves out of a job! It is rewarding to see students move on with a love of music and skills to keep them going for a lifetime of music. I run into many of them at local events and online (as they follow my studio page on Facebook or create their own LinkedIn accounts), and I look forward to seeing the amazing adults they become!
To quote author and TV personality William Sears, "If there were no goodbyes, there could be no hellos."
I am on vacation with my family. We've been on the road trip I've been wanting to go on for years. I hope all of you reading this have taken some time to relax this summer, whether at home or traveling. A break is good for coming back refreshed and renewed.
Next week, fall schedule begins! Scheduling is NOT an easy task. But I look at it like a puzzle. And so far, I have been able to fit all students continuing on with lessons into the puzzle. I'm very thankful for everyone's patience and flexibility.
As far as openings go, I was surprised to see I have a couple of decent openings (prime times of the afternoon/evening) since some of my older students are now able to transport themselves and have switched to earlier after school times. It's fun to see them grow up!
Should I take the summer off? Continue with weekly lessons? Or step it up a notch and come twice a week since my schedule is more open?
There is no right answer for everyone. I don't recommend taking the entire summer off from playing your instrument, though. It just makes it harder to get back into it when you pick it back up again in the fall, and that can be discouraging.
Summer is a good time to get in some extra practice time and jump up your playing a notch. I have several students coming twice a week during the summer months, and I expect they will be happy with their progress over the next two months.
Many students are preparing for fall auditions so that is a goal to work toward. If you don't have any upcoming auditions, you can pick one aspect of your playing that you would like to improve. Perhaps it's sight-reading, rhythmic accuracy, technical facility, or getting familiar with a new style of music. Be sure to let your teacher know your goal!
Summer is also a great time to take a break. Take a couple of weeks off and don't play your instrument at all. If you can get away with, don't do any work and go offline. Ahh.. There is magic and rejuvenation to be found in nature and spending relaxed time with family and friends. If you really have hard time taking a break, consider that research backs up the value of learning in cycles in everything from athletics to music. (This means intense times of learning, interspersed with time for the knowledge to soak in and your body and mind to grow and recover.) I am looking forward to a couple of weeks off at the end of August, where I plan to take a road trip with my family and enjoy National Parks, and swim and wander as much as possible.
So, what to do with music this summer? Depending on your goals, I recommend some combination of playing your instrument and taking time off.
Speaking of goals...have you set a summer music goal yet? I have!
A quick congratulations to all my students who performed in the Lake Washington School District middle school Solo/Ensemble last weekend. All had successful performances and came away from the event with a positive feeling, including two 6th graders performing for the first time. Thanks to the adjudicators for being encouraging and supportive! I was happy to be able to attend all the performances, and to play the piano accompaniments for all my flute students performing solos.
This week in lessons we reviewed the performances, which included going over what went well as well as what could be improved upon for future performances. And they can all put this into practice soon, as our studio recital is coming up!
Planning a recital is a big exercise in project management. I want to share some of the basics of the process here to help parents understand some of the preparation that goes into pulling of a successful recital. It's a lot of work, but all worth it!
First, book a venue, taking into consideration school calendars, holidays, and open dates at the venue. Let students and parents know about the performance.
Plan the music. This takes the most work! I like to give students a say in what they will perform, so I guide them through some options and generally let them make the final decision. When selecting music for a student, it's important to consider the difficulty of the music and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that student. I try to avoid two students performing the same piece in the same recital and aim for variety of music in a recital to keep it interesting for the audience.
Get students working on the music. Make sure they are on track to "peak" at performance date. It's a tricky balance between allowing enough time to prepare but not so much that the piece becomes stale from over-practice. More advanced students have complex music that can take months to learn while young beginners rarely need more than a month on a particular song.
Plan the theme, if a themed recital. Design and print programs. Plan and purchase refreshments. Make sure students know exactly what to expect and practice their entrance, stage presence and bows as well as their music.
Recital day! Make sure to pack the car with everything needed and save room for any passengers. Arrive early and count on wonderful parents to help set up the room. Sit back and enjoy the show!
After the recital, more wonderful parents help put away chairs and pack up refreshments. Enjoy having some time to talk with students and their families. The next week in lessons, debrief about what went well and what can be improved upon for the next performance.
I've heard it over and over as a teacher, and know it to be true as a parent: What REALLY motivates my child to practice is a performance.
So does that mean we should have studio recitals every month? While I feel these events are important, there are many other opportunities for performance you can find or create.
Planning your own performances offers several advantages: you can schedule them where and when it's convenient for your family, performers don't have to be restricted by time limitations, and they have the freedom to choose the music they want to share.
Parents frequently let me know about performances outside of the studio, and with enough lead time I can incorporate preparation for these performances into our regular lessons. Recently I've had a student perform several pieces for a large wedding in India, another perform for an event at her church, another play for his school arts night, and yet another student record songs for a CD of family music for the purpose of raising money for charity. This is in addition to the many smaller events and family gatherings students play at regularly.
It's true that children (and adults!) step up the preparation and practice when they know they will be playing their music in front of others. Performing regularly is the best cure for stage fright, and helps young musicians view performance as a regular part of life instead of a big scary thing. Help ensure a positive experience by allowing enough time for preparation, and starting small.
Don't be dissuaded by the thought of having to plan a big event to feature your child. A "performance" can be as simple as setting a weekly or monthly time for your children to play the pieces they're working on for the family. (Remember that faraway relatives can be included via Skype or FaceTime.) And of course, whenever you have family or friends visiting, be sure and ask your children to share their music!
Over the years I’ve had a number of students audition for the local youth symphony and other ensembles (mostly successfully). Before each audition, in addition to thorough preparation of the music, going through in detail what to expect at the audition, and several mock auditions, I always pass along some advice from previous students who have auditioned. Kids listen to others their own age, and they value input from someone who has been in the same audition situation recently.
After the audition, while it’s still fresh in their mind, I ask students to describe the audition experience, evaluate their own performance, and lastly offer any advice to other students taking the same audition. Here is a partial list of the words of wisdom they have offered:
So, take it from the kids- and have a great audition!
How do you become a more confident performer? Thorough preparation, of course. And by performing as much as possible.
Beyond that, there are a number of things you can do on your audition or performance day itself (and the day before) to help ensure things go smoothly.
The day before:
- Make sure you know where you need to go, and what time you need to leave. Calculate what time you should warm up and get ready. Add in plenty of extra time for traffic and any other unexpected delays.
- Lay out your entire outfit, including an extra sweater in case of cold air conditioning or inadequate heating. Make sure everything is clean and that you feel comfortable playing your instrument in your chosen outfit, including shoes. (If it's been a while since you wore the clothes, it's a good idea to try them on the week before to make sure they still fit!)
- Set out your music, instrument, and anything else you will need for the performance.
- If your performance is scheduled for early in the day, pack any water or food you'll need so you don't have to rush to do this on performance day.
- Eat as healthy as possible, avoiding too much sugar, salt, and caffeine.
- Visualize your performance from arrival at the venue to completion, imagining yourself playing confidently and at the top of your ability.
- Play your instrument, but not too much! I often will take a nice slow warm-up, and then run through my music once, but no more. Give your muscles and brain a break and take it easy.
- After you have prepared, forget about the performance! Do something else, and get to bed at an early hour so you get plenty of sleep.
On performance day:
- Wake up in plenty of time to eat a healthy, sustaining breakfast (eat some protein and fats, and avoid sugars and caffeine).
- Consider doing some stretches to remove any tension in your body.
- If there is time, do some light exercise to get rid of any excess energy that can interfere with your performance. If you are short on time, a short walk in the fresh air can make a big difference.
- Dress in your performance clothes, and again visualize a confident, focused, and excellent performance.
- Play your instrument just enough to warm up. Focus on playing in a relaxed and natural manner, with full and beautiful tone.
- Gather up everything you need, which may include your instrument, sheet music, music stand, tuner, metronome, recording device, phone, water, food, toothbrush, extra sweater, directions, and entry forms. Be sure to leave home in plenty of time for the performance.
- At the performance, check in and make sure you know exactly where to go, and when. If you have extra time, take a walk around the block, or talk about unrelated things with family or friends. When it's time, find the warm-up room and warm up as much as you need to in order to feel ready to perform. Stand or sit tall and breathe deeply. Don't play your music over and over, and keep your focus on your own playing- not the other people in the room! Make sure any thoughts going through your head about the performance are positive ones. If a negative thought appears, quickly replace it in your mind with a positive one.
- When it's your turn to play, breathe deeply and walk confidently into the performance space. Speak loudly and clearly when you introduce yourself. If possible, play a few notes to get a feel for the room and/or the piano. If playing with other instruments, make sure to tune before playing.
- Make sure you are "in the zone" before you begin the performance. Think through the first few bars of your piece to ensure correct tempo and feeling. Maintain your focus throughout the performance by focusing entirely on the music. This does wonders to reduce nervousness.
- You're done! Smile and take a bow.
- Later in the day, re-visit the experience to evaluate what went well and what can be improved for next time. This is not the time to berate yourself! Try to be impartial. You can also seek the input of others who observed your performance. Now go do something relaxing.
These ideas stem from my own many years of performing and auditions, from words of wisdom from various teachers over the years, and from many years of competing in sports- there is a lot that transfers, as both athletics and music involve both physical and mental preparation and performance.
Try these out before your next performance or audition, and add your own suggestions and experiences in the comments!
Check out KING FM's blog post on the "Top 10 Reasons to Play Piano". I hope that making music for the love of it- and the challenge- is enough, but in case you need an extra dose of motivation, here goes:
I think I love all the piano artwork even more than the blog post itself. What's YOUR favorite reason to play?
(Mine is I enjoy making music and the full and complete focus it requires to play well.)
Hi! My name is Mariya, and I teach flute and piano lessons in Redmond, WA and am a performing musician. Here I share thoughts about learning music and helping others learn how to play an instrument.