teaching

music lessons in today's busy attention economy

The Information Economy?

People sometimes say that we are living in the “information economy.”  I think that is only partially true.  Instead, I believe we are living in the attention economy.  Think about it.  There is nothing more precious than our attention — not time, money, or material possessions –and everyone wants a piece of it!

Mindfulness

There has recently been a lot of talk about mindfulness in the media,and I believe it’s exactly because of information overload.  We as a society need to stop and learn to filter out the signal from all the noise.

Fully Present

I specialize in teaching music to children.  One thing that I have done from the beginning is made it a point to be truly present while teaching or interacting with my students and their families.  At recitals, I give my unwavering focus to each child on the stage, to the point where I feel both emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the performance.  It is as if I am willing their success through my 100% attention.  

I didn’t realize that I was doing this until my wife mentioned it to me.  She said,

“I love to watch you at your recitals because you are completely there for your students.”

I believe that this total focus on each student in front of me is a big part of why I have such a strong rapport with them.  

It is unfortunately so rare for a child to have that complete and total attention from any adult these days. Many parents are so distracted.  Not only is there the normal work/life balance, but now there is also the ubiquitous smartphone constantly beeping in the background.  Many children seem to never have full attention, and “act out,”  because negative attention is better than no attention at all.

An Audience of One

Each lesson is also a performance.  You have an audience of one, and you are fully engaged in listening, responding, and leading the student to new heights of understanding and ability.  

What happens when you give a child your complete presence is remarkable.  You have complete trust;  you have a safe space where you can encourage, coax, or even cajole your student to move far beyond their previous internally-constructed obstacles.  When the student says, “I can’t do it”  you can say, “…yet!”  and they believe you.

I was so humbled to receive this comment from a parent:

“You have a unique capability to communicate, share and nurture enthusiasm for music…  you teach to the individual child.  You find a way to access each student where he/she is, and to find the music that touches him/her.  I have noticed with Mary* that (while she never wants to disappoint you) she does not fear judgment from you…you have created a safe place for the journey of learning.  While you gently push your kids, you are an incredibly patient and kind teacher. 

Be Present

So the lesson is this: Stop trying to multi-task.  Be completely present, and it will enable you to move mountains and maybe even change the world.

*Student’s name has been changed

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music teaching resources

The art of silence often has sad beginnings. I point to a spot in the music and say, “What about that?”

My student, blank-faced, says, “That lightning-shaped thing (or “squiggly-shaped” or “the seven with a bump” or “that hat-looking thing”)?”

“Yes. Did you do that?”

“Um, what am I supposed to do with it?”

And there we have our problem. Our students are in Go! mode in a world that’s in Go Faster! mode. Telling them to pause is akin to telling toddlers to walk at the pool. They don’t have that gear yet! It’s time to…

Teach them the Art of Silence

Make it Memorable
 [···]

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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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