Every day on our Facebook and Twitter pages, we post a tip of the day to help you get the most out of your musical education.

Practicing Tips

 

Don't always start at the beginning every time.
Start with the last phrase and work backwards, phrase by phrase, or tackle the most difficult phrases first, and easier ones last. Your piece will be learned most evenly this way.

 

Improvise!

Improvisation is good for you on many levels. It enhances creativity, increases your ability to think on your feet, helps you manage memory lapses during performances, and it's really fun! Start simple, with 1 theme or scale and change the rhythms, or try moving that pattern around to start on different notes.

 

Every note means something.

Make every note the most beautiful you possibly can. Part of our job is to convey the composer's intentions, and that means acknowledging that every note and marking the composer wrote is valid and important and deserves to be played beautifully!

 

Sit up straight.

Proper posture while playing any instrument is of the utmost long-term importance. Don't wait for your teacher to tell you to sit up straight at your lesson. At all times, make sure you have adequate room to practice, a proper chair or bench, that your stand is at a good height to avoid bending down or craning up, refrain from twisting, slouching, always warm up and stay relaxed when your play. Save extreme dynamics and intensity for the concert or recital hall.

 

Practice away from your instrument.

Mentally running through passages, practicing fingerings on your desktop at school, playing cello on your right arm, marking up your music with helpful reminders, fingerings, bowings, etc. - all of these things can help reinforce our practice when we're away from the instrument!

 

Always have a goal.

Mindless practicing can actually make the music worse. Every repetition you do of a passage must have a goal, or some technique or musical aspect you are going to pay attention to.

 

2%.

30 minutes of practice is only 2% of your day!

 

When in doubt, name the notes.

If you’re having trouble with a passage of music, naming the notes often fixes it.

 

Your brain is smart, your hands are stupid.

Half our battle is getting our hands to do what we can do in our minds. Take things slowly, only give your hands a little bit to master at once. They have to master small tasks before they master large ones.

 

Perfect makes practice.

You have to play a passage perfectly first; then practice keeping it perfect!

 

Kids don’t like to practice.

Most kids won’t practice unless they’re told to do so. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that practice happens and that the time is spent wisely. If your child won’t take on the responsibility of practicing, ask yourself, ‘would I have practiced when I was 8 without being told to do so?’ Most of us would say no.

 

Until you can’t get it wrong.

The goal isn’t to practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.

 

One phrase at a time.

When first learning a piece, learn one phrase at a time. Master that phrase, then move on to the next. It takes patience and discipline to practice this way, but you will learn the piece faster and better (and probably memorize it without trying) if you first learn only one phrase at a time, rather than running the entire piece over and over!

 

Reinforce correct playing.

When mastering a difficult passage, getting it right just once isn't enough. Play it 3 times in a row perfectly, then plug it back into the music. If it still doesn’t work, repeat the process the next day. Make sure you have your thinking cap on when you repeat! Repeating just to "get it over with" isn't effective.

 

Be patient.

There are many musical skills that take years to master, but for musicians, patience is the most difficult! In our instant-gratification based society, we often give up if we don’t get something right immediately. But be patient, and keep trying and you can achieve anything with time and persistence.

 

Practice the day after your lesson.

The most important practice day is the day after your lesson. If you wait longer, you will forget the essential details you and your teacher discussed in your lesson.

 

Reward yourself.

Set achievable goals with the help of your teacher, such as mastering certain technical skills and learning particular favorite pieces. When you’ve reached your goal, reward yourself with something.

 

Mark up your music.

There is nothing wrong with marking your music! While I don’t advocate writing in the fingering or note name on every note, if marking the music helps you play something better, that’s a good thing. Always best to mark in pencil in case you need to change something.

 

A steady tempo is best.

Playing too fast and slowing down for the “hard parts” does not help you keep a steady tempo. When you are at the play-through stage (after you've practiced in small sections), set your tempo at the pace of the most difficult part. As you become more familiar with the piece, gradually speed it up in small increments, and your tempo will stay steady.

 

Test Your Focus.

It’s very difficult to stay utterly focused on your music, especially when performing. Make testing your focus part of your practice routine. Have someone attempt to distract you while you play your song, especially memorized songs.

 

Play different styles.

Playing styles of music that are out of your comfort zone enhances your versatility and benefits the performance of your preferred style of music.

 

Kids don’t like to practice.

Most kids won’t practice unless they’re told to do so. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that practice happens and that the time is spent wisely. If your child won’t take on the responsibility of practicing, ask yourself, ‘would I have practiced when I was 8 without being told to do so?’ Most of us would say no.

 

But I don’t like this song!

Quite often kids don’t like a song at first because they don’t know it yet. Once they learn the song and can play it well, they often like it.

 

Always warm up.

Warming up your body not only prevents injury, but it “sets you up” to play more accurately and in a relaxed manner. After stretching your body, doing basic technical skills such as open strings and ringing spot reinforcement (on stringed instruments) and scales (on all instruments) can set you up to play in tune and with a better sound.

 

Practice a little every day.

Every night, when you go to bed, your eyes, your muscles and your ears forget just a little bit about how to play your instrument. If you go several days without practicing at all, they forget a LOT! It is better to practice a little bit each day than to practice a lot just once. If you only have 5 minutes, use it wisely and know that practicing 5 minutes is 5 times better than practicing 0 minutes.

 

Breathe.

Many pianists and string players hold their breath when they play. Take a breath at the beginning of each phrase, as if you are singing the music. It will not only make the music easier to play, and keep your muscles loose, but it keeps you from passing out!

 

Keep your eyes on your music.

A particular problem for beginning students, trust your muscle memory and your ear to tell your hands where to go and keep your eyes on the music.

 

Don’t give up.

Every student goes through periods when they want to quit. These phases are usually temporary for anyone who really cares to learn music. Give yourself a little break from practicing and explore some other musical activities when you’re going through one of these phases, with the intention of resuming your regular routine. When you resume, you will appreciate it all the more.

 

Take a day off.

Students should take one day off per week of practice (unless you're doing a 30-day challenge!) This allows for a break, or a busy day when there isn’t enough time to work practice into the schedule.

 

Practice as if you are the worst. Perform as if you are the best.

 

Mistakes are a good thing.

If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t fix them. A good teacher will not be upset with you for making mistakes, but rather will help you learn from them. Do your best to be well-prepared for your lesson and the mistakes you make will be an asset!

 

Check your hand position.

On piano, always check your hand position at the beginning of each song, each time you play it. Don’t assume the song is in C 5-finger position, because often it isn’t.

On violin and viola, make sure your 3rd finger is ringing.

On cello, make sure your 4th finger is ringing.

 

A musical practice area.

In your home, set aside an area free of traffic, noise, television and other distractions. Your child will be able to concentrate better and your music teacher will appreciate it if they travel to you. If you’re not able to have a “music room”, ensure that family members and other distractions are kept away from your practice area during practice or lesson time.

 

One task at a time.

Encourage your kids to focus on one task at a time. It’s hard to work on notes, rhythm, tempo, and dynamics all at once. Remind them to start slowly and be patient.

 

Easy=perfect.

I often hear students tell me “this song was too easy” or “this song is too boring” and then proceed to butcher the song. If you can’t play it perfectly and with expression, you’re not allowed to call it easy or boring!

 

Take breaks.

If you are practicing for long periods of time, i.e. an hour or more, do take a 10-minute break each hour. If you are experiencing animosity toward your instrument, take a week off and see how much you miss it.

 

 

 

 

Instrument Tips

 

Extreme temperatures are your instrument's enemy! Never leave an instrument in a parked car on a hot day. Avoid leaving it in a sunny room, particularly where direct sunlight might fall on it in your absence. Humidity is an issue as well, and air conditioners and heaters make the air particularly dry, so keep the instrument away from them. Sudden drops in humidity can cause the seams to separate and the instrument to crack. Also, if you are insured through an instrument insurer, damage due to leaving an instrument in a parked car is often deemed negligent and not covered by insurance!

 

Be prepared for the expense.

Obtaining an instrument for your child to play on requires an investment. Be prepared for the cost! It's a good idea to rent for a few years while you are deciding if your child will continue playing and be worthy of purchasing an instrument. Most luthiers and piano stores have some rent to own or rent towards purchase policy. Entry level costs for beginning students are as follows: violin-viola $600-1,000 per outfit; cello $1500-2200 per outfit; piano (acoustic) $1500-2000. You may start with a keyboard, but most teachers will require the student to be regularly playing on an acoustic piano after the first few years of study. Even the best keyboards cannot match the touch sensitivity and range of tonal quality as an acoustic piano can and to insist on an electric instrument will limit your student's potential.

 

Obtain a good quality instrument.

A sub-standard instrument can be a deterrent to progress. Playing on an instrument that is well set up increases enjoyment for both the player and the listener. A poor quality instrument can lead to repetitive motion injuries, inability to perform certain skills and lack of motivation to practice. And most importantly, never buy an instrument on the Internet. These instruments are always substandard and overpriced. For pianists, this means an actual acoustic piano that is tuned on a regular basis. For string players, this means renting or purchasing at an actual violin dealer, not a general music store, and definitely not on the internet!

 

Insure your instrument.

Even professionals have accidents. Repair costs to stringed instruments can often total an instrument. Musical instrument insurance is inexpensive and worth having. You can often have instruments listed as a rider on a homeowner's or renter's policy. If not, there are several companies that insure instruments alone.

 

 

Don’t buy a stringed instrument on the internet.

Even if your child is a beginner and you don’t want to make a huge investment, if you buy an instrument on the internet, you will get ripped off. These instruments are discounted because they are not set up properly and use highly substandard materials. They are offered by retailers who know nothing about how instruments should be prepared in order to play well. And they will always cost more to set up properly than the value of the instrument. Many local violin makers are overburdened with maintenance on instruments they have sold. They will often not work on your instrument if you did not buy it from a reputable shop, and will always refuse if you bought it on the internet or from a general music store.

 

Rosin.

How often to rosin is a tricky question. Obviously, the more you play, the more often you need to rosin your bow. For beginning students, I recommend 10 swipes total, every 3 days. There is a prevalent myth that dark and light rosin are different within the same brand, even amongst professionals. This is not true, especially amongst the less expensive rosins. As they become more expensive, the darker rosins will be stickier and lighter rosins more powdery, and which you use can depend a great deal on the climate where you live. Always wipe the rosin off the body of your instrument and your strings every time you play. For those with allergies to Pine sap, like me, Super Sensitive Clarity is a nice cake of rosin made from artificial materials for around $12-15. Also, natural rosin doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals to dogs, who seem to really like to eat rosin.

 

Treat your instrument well.

Piano keys can be cleaned with handi-wipes, or a little soap and a wrung-out cloth. Stringed instruments should be wiped free of rosin and other dust each time you play. Rosin can build up on the varnish and eat it away. Instruments should be stored in their cases when not used, and put in a safe place, away from pets, small children and high traffic areas, and away from air conditioning and heating vents. Always use enough rosin on your bow and loosen the hairs when storing the instrument. If you use an instrument stand, make sure you are wiping the instrument free from dust regularly. Put new strings on your instrument once a year, and make sure your piano is tuned regularly. NEVER transport your instrument in the trunk of a car, or leave it unattended in a car.

 

Lesson Tips

 

Talk to your teacher often! 

Have open conversations about your or your child's lessons with your teacher on a regular basis. These conversations should not just include how you or your child is doing, but what is going well in the lessons and what you think could be improved both by your and your child's participation and the teacher's guidance! Good teacher appreciate regular feedback about how they're doing as well, as it gives them the opportunity to learn and grow into better teachers!

 

It's not a race.

Everybody learns differently; at different speeds and in different ways. Some are visual learners, some have great ears, others are very analytical. Your progress can't compare to that of another's because you are each uniquely different. Do your best, strengthen your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths and you can achieve anything in your own time. 

 

No pain, only gain!

Listen to your body. When you're first starting a stringed instrument, your hands and arms will experience a little discomfort as your muscles get used to how to properly hold and manipulate the instrument. After the first month or so, this should disappear! After long rehearsals or practice sessions, it is normal to have tired muscles, but you shouldn't be feeling pain! Recurring pain is a bad sign, and one that you should bring to the attention of your teacher, and if necessary, doctor. 85% of all performing musicians, both professional and amateur, experience some kind of repetitive motion injury in their lifetime of playing. Proper posture, relaxed and conditioned muscles, and reduction of stress, not only when playing, but when not playing as well, are essential!

 

Parents, practice is your responsibility.

Would you have practiced when you were 6, 7, 8, 9 without being told to do so? Neither will your kids! It's not a reasonable expectation that your kids should shoulder the responsibility of ensuring practice happens and happens well. Your budding musician needs your support, encouragement, and enforcement of regular practice!

 

It’s never too late to enjoy music.

I have taught many adults, and although it is easier for adult beginners who have played some music at some point in their lives, every adult can enjoy music and achieve a reasonable level of ability if they want to and they dedicate themselves to practicing regularly.

 

There is a right instrument for everyone. 

Budding musicians experience greater success when they play the instrument they like best! Piano is not always the answer. I specialize in strings and piano and can help kids select the instrument that is best for them.

 

The expert in anything was once a beginner.

That virtuoso you saw at the concert hall last night was once exactly where you are! Work hard and you can achieve your wildest dreams.

 

Performing is essential.

Performing in at least 2-4 recitals or concerts each year reinforces good skills. Having a good experience in public music performance helps quell stage fright, builds confidence, increases skills and allows you to share your expression of music with others.

 

Scales, Arpeggios and Chords are very important.

Every note you play is part of a scale (steps), an arpeggio (skips) or a chord (multiple notes). These are the building blocks of music and practicing these teaches you how to get around your instrument in different keys.

 

Before you perform, eat a banana.

Bananas are an excellent nerve-calmer. About 30 minutes before you perform, eat one and it’ll help settle your nerves. Avoid dairy, sugar and acidic foods before performing, and if you’re a singer, luke-warm water is best for your vocal cords and your nerves.

 

Find a good teacher.

The best teacher for your child’s friend is not necessarily the best teacher for your child. There are as many learning styles as there are teachers and students. Try out different teachers and find the best match for you. A good teacher understands this and will not be upset if you choose someone else.

 

Supplement your studies.

Listening to recorded music and watching videos is a great way to enhance your studies. Most classical pieces can be found on the Internet for free on websites like Spotify.com and there are millions of videos on youtube.com.

 

Have regular lessons.

For kids, it’s essential to have a weekly lesson. Children do not retain information learned in a lesson for very long, especially if they don't practice it daily. Each week, there must be a goal, or an assignment to complete, or students lose interest. Having a regularly scheduled lesson makes students accountable for their progress.

 

Play with others.

Ensemble playing, whether it’s simple duets with your teacher or another student, or playing in a youth symphony, community orchestra. piano team or a string quartet, has a great positive effect on our confidence, musicality, sight-reading skills, and builds team skills even more effectively than sports.

 

Memorization is not that difficult.

If you practice effectively, building a piece up segment by segment, you will memorize most pieces automatically. There are three elements of memorization: 1-visual, 2-aural, 3-kinisthetic (muscle memory). Do each small segment 3 times, each time concentrating on a different element of memorization. Then link the segments together by twos, by fours, etc. until you can play the whole piece from memory.

 

Music is the best trainer of memory. 

Music is the only activity that uses visual, aural and kinesthetic memory all at once. This is one of the many reasons why learning music is so important and sharpens one mind so much. Many of the great philosophers considered the study of music to be of paramount importance over other subjects, including Plato and Isaac Newton.

 

Have your own mini-recitals.

Periodically, schedule your own family mini-recitals. It makes students accountable for their progress, helps them be more comfortable with performing and being in front of people, and it can be great fun!

 

Parental involvement.

It is of paramount importance for young children to have their parents involved in their lessons and practice sessions. Students must be kept on task and have someone to refer to if they need help. As students get older (or more stubborn), the parent’s role diminishes to that of enforcer; making sure their kids do practice. But students will take on more of the responsibility of knowing what to do as they mature.

 

Study music theory.

The more you know about how music works, the better you become at sight-reading, the more rapidly you advance, and the better musician you become. Ear-training is particularly important!

 

Everyone has to do the work.

Some people have amazing talents but experience little results because they have not learned to work.

 

Music is a language, not a sport!

Treat your music lessons as a language that needs to be practiced and utilized daily to its full advantage. It isn't like a sporting activity where you can show up for practice and games and not practice between them.

 

A nurturing environment for lessons.

If you take lessons at home, set aside an area free of traffic, noise, television and other distractions. Your child will be able to concentrate better and your music teacher will appreciate it. If you take lessons away from home, make sure that a similar space, dedicated to music-making is being used for lessons and that your home practice space is set up this way.

 

Fact: 20% of kids learn to play music. 70% of adults wish they had.
I've never had an adult tell me, "I'm so glad my parents let me quit music lessons!"

 

Go over old music.

Going over old music you haven’t played in a while can be lots of fun! You keep more music in your repertoire and you realize how much progress you have made since you first learned those pieces. So hang on to those old books and revisit them from time to time!

 

Practice as if you are the worst. Perform as if you are the best.

 

There’s no such thing as a person with no musical abilities.

It can be said that many people have undeveloped musical abilities. Virtuosos practice many hours a day to achieve what they accomplish. If you want to be that good, you have to want it, and you have to do the work. But if you do, the rewards are limitless!

 

"You know what music is?

God's little reminder that there's something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars." Robin Williams in August Rush (2007)

 

Have consistent lessons.

The best plan (until you’re on a pre-professional track) is to have a lesson once a week. Do your best to minimize your absences, especially for young children, who forget quite a lot with more than a week between lessons. In my experience, lessons less frequently than once per week is not enough to sustain interest in any beginner or intermediate student.

 

Grab every chance you get to sit in on your child’s lessons.

You will be a hundred times more likely to be able to support your child’s practice if you’ve been observing the teacher working with your child throughout the lesson – from how to use the body (shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingertips, proper seating position, etc.) to how to practice each piece to getting to understand the lingo (staccato, arpeggio, inversion, etc.). You have the chance to get your own free tutoring just by sitting in on your child’s lesson!
http://elissamilne.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/it-takes-two-generations/

 

Discover your favorites.

Who are the masters of your instrument? Which composers do you prefer? Watch videos, listen to recordings and attend concerts and recitals to discover who your favorites are. What do you like about their playing or their compositions? How is their personality reflected in their playing or in the music they compose? Find out their stories – where have they come from and what did they do to get to where they are now?

 

You don’t have to learn piano before another instrument.

A common myth among parents is that you must learn piano before you can master any other instrument. Although this doesn’t hurt, it is not necessary. I know many fine, successful musicians who know little to no piano.

Quotes

 

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” ~Peter Drucker

 

"The world's most famous and popular language is music." Psy

 

"Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." - Ludwig van Beethoven

 

"Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts." - John Wooden

 

"No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you are progressing, you are still ahead of everyone who isn't trying." - Unknown

 

One World Under Music

Music has the power to unite people of diverse backgrounds, social statuses, economic statuses, abilities and disabilities, races, genders, and anything else you can think of. The same sounds go into all our ears and how we all interpret those sounds differently helps us respect and love one another!

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