Teaching Tempo

One fundamental question that lurks in the mind of students is:  “How am I ever going to play this music up to tempo?”

Many teachers have standard methods for speeding up a student’s playing, but there are several interesting ideas to consider on this subject, and they reflect different priorities about how to play music.

Perhaps the most common method for learning to play at tempo is to first learn the notes solidly at a comfortable tempo.  Then practice the music at slowly increasing metronome settings so as to arrive eventually at the correct tempo.

While I think this approach is valid, its weakness is that it sets the highest priority on getting all the notes right.

Tempo is not about the notes but about the beat.  One way to learn to play up to tempo might be to understand the beat first, and then fill in the beats with the correct notes.

Placing a high priority on understanding the beat means physically moving to the beat, which could involve the knee, the foot, swaying, breathing, and for string players requires a strong focus on good and consistent bowing.
Instead of reading the music as if every note was as important as every other, the student who focuses on beat notes would single out those beat notes for awareness and emphasis.

A good exercise for the student to try is to learn the beat notes for a passage of music, and then to invent ways of arriving at those beat notes on time.  If the student has heard the piece a number of times, the chances are good that their ears will guide them to actually play the correct notes.  But even if they are unsure, they can learn a great deal from finding their own pathways from one beat note to the next.

At heart, this is improvising, but it doesn’t really matter what we call it.  The learning process is that after inventing their own ways to get from one beat note to the other, they will appreciate better the choices the composer made, and will remember the music better because they will understand it from the inside, instead of merely memorizing what the music tells them to play.

Of course, the problem of playing the correct notes up to tempo still requires learning the notes.  But learning them in the context of arriving at the next beat note, and within the structure of a phrase, makes it far easier to learn the notes.

A good comparison can be made with speech.  It is far easier, quicker and longer-lasting to learn to say the phrase, “I like this music up to tempo,” than to learn the sequence, “i-l-i-k-e-t-h-i-s-m-u-s-i-c-u-p-t-o-t-e-m-p-o.”  Placing the notes within the beats, right from the start and engages the ears and the muscle memory of the fingers.

Special note:  A corollary to this discussion is that as much as we may want to get every note right, some notes are more important than others.  The beat notes are clearly the top priority for hearing music correctly.  This means we can relax a little about non-beat notes and trust students and ourselves to nail them down during the learning process, rather than panic about mistakes.  This too has a correlation to speech.  Our brains understand sentences that are misspelled if the first and last letters, and length of the word, are correct.  For example, we can understand, “I lkie tihs misuc up to tmepo” much more easily than if the initial letters were wrong:  “I klie to aply umsci up to etmpo.”

Cognitive studies have shown that drilling the same thing over and over fatigues the brain and yields diminishing returns.  Practicing something in different ways, trying new ideas, and playing games with learning, have been shown to allow for endless attention from the brain.

Learning notes as written and then drilling a passage at increasing speeds can be quite tiring and may have to be repeated many times to get lasting results.

But thinking a little bigger, placing the priority on learning the beat notes, improvising pathways between beats, then finding out the composer’s choices and learning them, noticing patterns within beats such as scales and arpeggios that lead to the next beat note, or even learning manageable bits of the music, such as phrases or half-phrases, up to tempo immediately rather than gradually — these are all intriguing games that allow a student to play up to tempo while gaining a greater understanding and appreciation for the construction of the music.  They’ll build in more musicality while arriving more quickly at their goal of playing up to tempo.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Lang Lang

Musicians are divided it seems – There are those who would be lost without their sheet music and there are those that play beautifully “by ear.”

Which is the correct method for playing music? What a question! I’m sure both camps will have good arguments to justify their preferred method. Personally, I sit in the middle seeing the pros and cons of both methods!

When teaching beginners, I like to start by teaching them basic music reading skills. At a point when they are successfully reading to a sufficient standard and maintaining those skills on a regular basis, I like to introduce the world of memory to them. Why? Here are some of my reasons:

• Learning to play by memory is practical – you can play for others at the drop of a hat when you don’t have your music.

• Playing from memory encourages the student to focus more on a musical performance.

• Encouraging memory skills allows for a more holistic approach to learning and music making.

• Older adult students love to work on memory techniques as they are often keen to try to keep their brains working!

Right from the beginning we can lay the foundation as we teach our students a simple scale by memory. We might build on that with more complex figures like arpeggios or broken chords. The main thing for the student to start recognizing are the patterns in music. Simple tunes are often littered with sequences (melodic figures that are repeated slightly higher or lower). As we help our students to decipher the building blocks of the song in question, it gives us, the teacher, the opportunity to incorporate theory and composition techniques.

For some, learning to play by memory may feel very daunting. They will need constant encouragement but the rewards can be phenomenal! I’ve seen many a metamorphosis – a timid performer turn into an expressive and confident musician because they have discovered the empowering magic of playing by memory.

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

piano-926851_640

It seems there is a secret that is right in front of our noses. It is the secret of effective practice.

How I Learned The Secret of Effective Practice

When I was a young college student at NYU in a double major program of music education and jazz performance on guitar, I spent many hours on the 9th floor of the old SEHNAP building. It was called SEHNAP at the time because of the crazy acronym for a school that just seemed to be thrown together: the School of Health, Nursing, and Arts Professions. Today it’s called the Steinhardt building after a patron.

The 9th Floor

Anyway, the 9th floor was where the practice rooms were. These were small rooms with upright pianos and a small double pane glass window to peek in or out. There was just barely enough room for one person to sit and practice at the piano or stand and play sax or violin or any other instrument with a single music stand. The rooms were soundproof which also meant they were pretty air tight. After spending an hour or more in a room, you would start to feel the stuffiness of low oxygen and the heat of your own breath filling the room and you had to take a break for risk of fainting! And yet, these rooms were packed most of the week. Weekends, you could possibly find a room when lunch rolled around. But these rooms were coveted. It was where all the work happened.

Woodshedding

Jazz players call this woodshedding and it involved a story of Charlie Parker (or maybe some other jazz legend) hiding out in a woodshed to practice for hours and hours a day. In fact practice became known as “woodshedding” or “shedding” for short. I figure I spent my first two years of college “shedding” anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day. This was less than in high school when there was really nothing else to do and I could spend up to 9 hours a day practicing. But it wasn’t all that productive. A lot of it was just repeatedly playing the same songs and licks and exercises over and over again with marginal improvement.

Victor’s Epiphany

It was on one of these long shedding days on the 9th floor when Victor, a guitar player of amazing abilities in his 3rd year, came stumbling out of a practice room with a euphoric look on his face. A bunch of us were taking a break from practice sitting on the floor near the elevators and we looked up expectantly.

“I just realized the most amazing thing!” Victor looked like he was high or something.

“What’s up Vic?” Ben called out.

“You don’t practice what you ALREADY know! You practice WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW!”

Victor stumbled back to his practice room and shut the door. The group of us on the floor just sat there like a bomb had gone off. In fact it was a bomb…in our minds. It blew away all the old conceptions of what practice was. It’s a moment I will never forget because it was like a complete shift in my thinking.

Practice What You Don’t Know

This is something that is hard for young students to realize on their own. Many of my lessons are spent actually in practice mode with them. I think of it like a soccer coach practicing goal kicks with my players. In fact, most kids playing soccer are not going to be practicing on their own, they are getting the practice with the coach.

Practicing in the Lesson

As a music teacher, it can be similar. Many students have poor practice skills or do not practice at home at all! The lessons then become about practicing and teaching them how to practice.

Smoothing Over

The biggest tip at improving is having the student work on the part that is giving them the most trouble, and repeating it several times. Then, running the whole song becomes a much better experience. At home, the student is now able to enjoy creating these sounds because that trouble spot has been “smoothed over.”

The game of practice is a book about encouraging and motivating children to practice their music instrument

You can teach kids the vital life skill of practice

The Game of Practice

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Game of Practice, with 53 tips to make practice fun! 

It’s a book for music teachers and parents of music students.  It has essays, like this one, about mindset and then 53 individual tips and tricks to make practice much less overwhelming and more game-like along with stories from my studio and my own personal parenting experiences.  You can get it for free for a limited time at Amazon.  If you find it helpful, I would greatly appreciate a kind review.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Ed Pearlman

Music for Healing

June 12th, 2016 by

flute-1427649_640

Music heals.  It is widely used in therapy, it soothes the moods of people round the world, and the act of playing music generates endorphins that make a player feel better.

Music therapy has been used for many years for its multi-sensory expression.  Studies about neurological development support its use to draw out feelings and concerns of patients.  It was found to be particularly effective with traumatized children after World War II.  Therapists use many methods to work with people, including moving to music, listening, playing on instruments, body percussion, singing, and songwriting.

In the 1930s, my mother studied piano from a man named Moissaye Boguslawski, who had grand notions of what music could do to heal people.  He believed, ahead of his times, that music could cure antisocial behavior and treat memory loss.  A prominent concert pianist with various symphonies, he insisted on playing regular piano concerts at the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, a place in Chicago commonly called Dunning, which doubled as an insane asylum and a poorhouse.  Boguslawski was convinced that music had healing effects on people suffering in that institution.  He is respected for his work, including articles in leading publications on the psychological and therapeutic effects of music, but Time magazine wrote a 1936 profile of him which took a decidedly cynical and bemused view of his opinions and projects.

Times have certainly changed since then.  The healing effects of music are well accepted, and music therapy is a common health care career.

But music also heals the musician.  A study done by Oxford researchers found that active performers had an increased pain threshold after performing than before.  This included three groups of participants: churchgoers who actively sang and clapped versus those who sang politely in their pews; dancers who performed as compared to musicians who were frequently interrupted during rehearsal; and musicians in a drumming circle, versus those who sat and listened to music.

The increase of the pain threshold was used as an indication that endorphins were being generated by the performance activities.

The key researcher pointed out that “It is probably the uninhibited flow or continuity of action that is important: if the music is frequently interrupted (as in rehearsals), any effect is markedly reduced (if not obliterated).”

Practice and rehearsal might be very careful and nonflowing — but hopefully only to prepare for a performance that flows effortlessly.

There might be a lesson here for teachers, however — too much interruption, criticism, fear of mistakes, lack of continuity, can prevent a sense of flow and a sense of joy in playing music.  While some of that careful thought and practice can be necessary for developing skills, it is also essential to practice allowing continuity, rehearsing the feeling of flow, permitting enjoyment, and striving for effortlessness, even if in small segments.  You are what you practice, and if your practice is grim, halting, and fearful, the performance is unlikely to rise above the practice.

Making sure there is a goodly percentage of flow in practice sets the stage for a flowing performance, and unless the listeners are dancing along, the musicians in such a performance are likely to feel healthier and happier than their audience by the time the show is over!

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fitness for musicians

By Robin Steinweg

It’s obvious. Physical fitness helps us be better vocalists, pianists, guitarists, whateverists. We grow more fit as we practice our instruments. This is probably especially true for voice or wind instruments. And it probably goes without saying. But teachers can also encourage students to great physical fitness during lessons.

Fitness by-products of playing or singing

  • Better posture
  • Breathing more deeply and breath control
  • Endurance/stamina
  • Better eating habits—especially stressed in vocal lessons, I suspect
  • Better hydration—I offer water to all students, not only vocalists
  • Greater body awareness
  • Emotional health

I recall one of my voice instructors telling me that if I were to sing correctly I’d probably never need to do crunches! It’s true that vigorous practice or performances can be taxing. But over time, they also build us up and energize us.

12 fun ways to encourage fitness during lessons or practice

(use some of these as practice challenges—get parents, siblings or grandparents to join in!)

  • Sit on an exercise ball during lessons or practice http://ow.ly/rRdc300JTeK
  • Stand to play, even at the piano
  • Walk around the room while playing or singing
  • March in place while playing
  • Practice vocal scales as you trot up and down the stairs
  • Dance the rhythm of your piece
  • If syncopated, add handclaps
  • Bounce a ball in rhythm while walking and playing (try it with a partner)
  • Jump on the rests
  • Listen to a recording of your piece—choreograph with steps and arm swings—like aerobic dance
  • If you have a trampoline, young students could practice bouncing in time to you or a recording
  • Set up a gentle obstacle course (chairs, cones, folders, stairs) and walk it while playing or singing

Note: check with parents before engaging students in activities (wouldn’t want to bring on an asthma attack or anything!).

How do you promote physical fitness as a music teacher?

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image

Let me tell you about a little secret I’ve been keeping!

All my pupils love it! It’s been handy for helping them learn new songs, especially tricky bits! It’s helped them improve their music reading skills! It’s encouraged a deeper understanding of theory! And best of all it’s free!

So what’s the big secret? Drum roll please…. Noteflight!?!

What does Noteflight do?

Noteflight is easy to use software with which you can create, listen and print out high-quality sheet music notation. And it’s brilliant!!!

Is there a catch?

Not really. Most of my students use the basic version which is free. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription for extra features but the free version is Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music News, Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

It’s a common problem among parents and music teachers; sometimes kids just don’t want to practice! So when your old methods aren’t working, it’s time to try some new tactics to encourage a child student to practice. TakeLessons.com put together an infographic that includes tips from bloggers, music teachers, and experts.

Use some of these tips to assist parents with home practice. What are your proven tips for practice motivation? Let us know in the comments!

Source: http://takelessons.com/blog/motivate-your-child-to-practice-music-z15

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Groove website-3

“Here’s my top tip for musicians interested in becoming better improvisers: Forget the metronome. Practice with backing tracks, those auto-accompaniment loops that inspire, keep you on the beat, and mesmerize you into practice loops.” -Bradley Sowash, jazz improv specialist.

If you aren’t sure how to find or create backing tracks, I’d like to personally invite you to a webinar called “Groove Your Theory. The idea stems from Bradley’s regular use of backing tracks in his lessons and his own practice. We also use them at our 88 Creative Keys keyboard improvisation workshops that Bradley and I co-founded four years ago.

The webinar will be packed full of ideas that will help you save practice (or lesson) time as you compress theory, timing and technique and creativity into one activity. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Microphone

So you are heading off to your first recording session. What tips can help you achieve a great recording? Even if you are just having fun recording yourself in your bedroom, hopefully, the following tips will help.

Before the recording session
•  If this is your first time being recorded, if you can, visit the studio so as to get familiar with the vocal booth setup to help you relax. Even just looking at the photos on the studio website will help.

•  If you are recording a vocal, get familiar with the words, ideally, memorise them and bring a copy to help the producer follow for accuracy as you record.

•  When you rehearse, check that you only take breaths at the end of sentences to avoid spoiling the flow of the phrases.

•  Focus on your performance. What does the song mean to you? Can you “feel” the emotion as you perform?

•  Head to the session wearing Read more…

photo by:

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Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

LangPiano

I remember a parent once asking me: “Can you ask Jonny to brush his teeth regularly? He will listen to you!”

Sometimes a lesson is learnt better from someone less familiar.

For a couple of months I’ve been trying an idea with my students which has been very successful, maybe it might work for you and your pupils. Enter the masterclass video!

One of my adult students found an app called “Mastering the Piano with Lang Lang.” The app has three levels at the moment (more coming) each containing eight units of high-quality videos and music designed to help piano students improve their technique and musicality.

At the start of each lesson, I show my pupils one of these videos, working our way systematically through the app one video per week. The videos are only short, most less than a couple of minutes but Lang Lang, as well as being a fabulous musician and teacher, is friendly and entertaining. After the video has finished, I look for application in their pieces they are currently learning which helps to reinforce the specific concept under consideration.

Lang

Some of the practical topics are: playing faster, legato playing, staccato playing, dynamics, playing chords, posture, hand position, making mistakes, etc. What I love about the videos is that they can be understood by a beginner but also have value to the advanced student alike.

The results have been overwhelming! My students have loved his teaching, have listened and applied his advice and as a result, their technique and musicality has been greatly improved. I’m now looking at other apps and videos from masters of other genres that might be effective. Do you know of any good videos I could try? Please feel free to add a comment to the blog.

Isn’t it strange how “Jonny” listens to Lang Lang even though I’ve often been telling them similar things in the past! Maybe Lang Lang can bring out an app about brushing your teeth!

 

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips