Category Archives: Music education

Seven things to stop doing if you want to carry on enjoying music

Carry on listening

Carry on listening

1/ Stop thinking that your musical tastes are set

If you don’t expand your listening repertoire you could be missing out. The music you enjoyed when you were a teenager is almost certainly not the music you favour in your thirties because, as each year goes by, your tastes continue to develop and expand. If you stop imagining that your musical tastes are fixed and unchanging you will be open to enjoying a virtually limitless world of styles and genres. For example, as we gain musical maturity, we begin to appreciate a wider range of harmonies so, although you may not have liked jazz a few years ago, you might love the more dissonant sounds now. 

2/ Stop being too busy to listen

Being too busy will prevent you from setting aside the time to listen. You’ll avoid buying concert tickets in case you can’t make it on the night and, if you do manage to attend a concert, working too hard may cause you to lose concentration or even fall asleep during the performance. Being too busy will stop you relaxing as you listen to a concert on television or radio. Listen to recorded music while you do something else if you really cannot find the time to stop what you are doing and focus attentively.

3/ Stop being over-critical

Be discerning but don’t be over-critical. If you approach every concert and recording with the intention – conscious or otherwise – of picking out what is wrong with it, you will spoil your enjoyment and that of your companions. If a concert is clearly substandard, just leave at the interval but, if it has redeeming features, stay and enjoy them. Be open to new interpretations of music you know well and avoid making a hasty judgement right from the start of the performance.

4/ Stop limiting which performers you hear

Well-established performers are, of course, amazing but young, up-and-coming artists have a freshness and enthusiasm that can be just as engaging and moving. Enjoy the deeper wisdom and insight of the more mature performer and also treat yourself to concerts by young musicians who are still immersed in wonder and awe at the music they are performing.

Don’t dismiss support musicians and just arrive at a gig in time for the main artist – you could be missing out on an astonishing new performer who will take your breath away.

5/ Stop damaging your hearing

Listening to loud noise damages hearing so, if you work in a noisy environment, wear ear defenders. Moderate the decibel level carefully if you use a headset or earphones for listening. For loud concerts, invest in a good pair of musicians’ earplugs that lower the decibel level without distorting the sound. Take a break from sound regularly each day and give your ears a rest throughout the night, by wearing your earplugs if necessary. You may think that, if your hearing becomes less acute, you can just turn up the volume, but hearing damage comes in many forms; you could develop tinnitus, a whole range of noises such as whistling and hissing that can actually sound louder than anything you want to listen to. Even worse, you could develop hyperacuity in which every sound, even normal speaking, seems to be intolerably loud. Protect your child’s hearing too – some toys make noises that reach an ear-damaging decibel level.

6/ Stop letting your personal situation get in the way

If your partner does not enjoy the music that you like, or if you do not have a partner, go to a concert with a friend or join a social group that does concert visits. You may need to take a break from concerts if you have a baby, but you can still listen at home and begin your baby’s music education at the same time. Once your children are old enough, take them with you. Children are very receptive to all sorts of music, particularly if you are personally enthusiastic and if they are prepared beforehand. Remember that musical tastes are, to a great extent, formed by the music we grew up with and bear in mind that parents are supplying the next generation of performers, teachers, composers, producers, technicians and concert-goers.

7/ Stop thinking you are too old to learn

The benefits of learning throughout life are well documented and, no matter what your state of health is, there will be some musical activity that you can enjoy, whether it is learning to follow a score, taking up playing or singing again or listening to a wider range of music. The internet offers an expanded horizon, allowing us to watch, listen and learn with such ease and convenience as would have been unimaginable in years gone by, so enjoy making the most of it, remember that maturity confers wisdom and never be limited by thinking you are too old. 

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Filed under Children's musical success, Enjoying music, Music education, Music performance

Do you want to understand your child better?

Boy playin violin

It’s almost a silly question isn’t it? All parents want to understand their children better so that they can build a stronger relationship with them, communicate more effectively, help them with their problems, and share their joys. The same applies to teachers – if we know our students well, we can understand what motivates them and adapt our teaching accordingly.

The TAT Test

A few years ago I came across this fascinating technique, the Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT. It’s simple, fun to do and it gives insight into all sorts of issues. Underlying motives can be revealed, concerns expressed and views aired in a non-confrontational way. All you have to do is show the child a relevant, but ambiguous, picture and ask them to make a story up about it.

Motivating music practice

This was a conversation with one of my piano students, Edward, aged 6 as he studied a picture of a boy playing the violin.

Me: What is the boy in the picture thinking? Can you make up a story about him?

Edward: He’s feeling sad because he has to do his practice and his prep so he never gets to play with his friends.

Me: Does he like playing the violin?

Edward: Yes and he wants to play well … He might like to have a year of playing and then a year off. He might ask him mum if he can do that.

Me: Then would he have to practice even more, to make up for forgetting a lot in the year off?

Edward: Oh I hadn’t thought of that.

Me: What advice would you give to this boy?

Edward: Probably he could see his friends on some days and practise on others.

Me: Does he have any friends who play?

Edward: Yes – his friend, George plays.

Me: Would he like it if George came into some of his practices every week?

Edward: Ooh yes!

Me: They could make up some music together and play duets.

The outcome

Subsequently, Edward began playing duets with his friend, really called George, whom I also taught. Edward started practising much more regularly and enthusiastically. Everyone was happier!

Here’s an easy piano duet to try…

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What do children really think about doing their music practice?

dreamstimehappy_girl_piano_xl_18349840

Why practise?

I loved doing my piano practice as a child and I never needed reminding to do it, probably because I never thought of it as ‘practising’ but more as doing the real thing – I was just having a nice time playing the piano. It is a pity, I think, that we use the word, ‘practice’ instead of ‘play’. Rather than suggesting enjoyment, ‘practice’ conjures up a tedious, isolating and difficult activity that is necessary to prepare for the real business of ‘playing’, which seems to be conceived of as some time in the future.

Why do children begin playing an instrument?

The ABRSM Making Music report (2014) found that the main reasons children wanted to begin playing were because they enjoyed music and because they liked the sound of the instrument, yet teachers thought that the main barrier to pupils making good progress was lack of practice / motivation. It seems paradoxical that children said they wanted to play and yet did not feel motivated actually to do it.

What do parents think?

I would love to know (comments welcome) what parents of musical children think are the reasons for the following:

  • why their child takes music lessons
  • why their child does their music practice, or not
  • why progress is being made, or not.

My own views on motivation to practise

I am guessing that my own experience as a piano student was fairly common in that I was never taught how to structure my practice, nor even told how much practice I should do. I just played until I could play better but, gradually, I devised strategies of my own, which I have continued to develop over years of study and teaching. In fact, as a teacher, one of the things I find endlessly fascinating is finding ways of engaging each individual student’s interest in practising effectively, using a whole range of learning strategies that continue to expand as the child’s knowledge, technique and capacity for learning develop.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to make a substantial part of lessons a template for what to do at home during the week’s practice so that students understand how, as well as what, to practise and, hopefully, feel motivated. I also welcome parents sitting in at lesson time and, if they prefer not to, I like to talk to them after lessons to update them on progress, for the child to explain to them what they have learned that day and to say what I would like their child to do over the next week.

Why do children want to do music practice?

I once asked all my younger pupils why they wanted to practise. Before I asked the children the question, I summarised my own assessment of their achievement, motivation and enjoyment of playing. The balance between these factors varied according to the child’s individual personality and preferences and I was able to see a fascinating connection between my prior assessment and the responses given, with just a few surprises.

This was the question

‘Why do you want to do your piano practice?’

Here are some of the responses.

I wonder if you can guess which children practised, which ones enjoyed their playing and who were the high achievers – my prior assessments are at the end.

Laura

I had this really horrid piano teacher before and I never wanted to practise. He used to shout at me. If you get a nice teacher you want to do it for them. Sometimes when you have a practice your friends come in and it’s annoying. If you’ve got a grade coming up you’ve got an aim so you want to practise, and the same with concerts.

George

I want to practise to be a good pianist and to get onto my grades quicker. I enjoy it at all times. It doesn’t make any difference what I play. I get them off by heart in my head and then start playing them. I’d think of the notes sometimes where I was going wrong and sometimes I’d just get them straight in my head.

Luke

I’d always wanted to play. I played with this lady up the road but she shouted and it didn’t work out. I like practising now because it learns me to play better things and you’re more encouraging than that other teacher was. She didn’t explain how to play the notes right … she just said play it.

When I start a piece I think, ‘I can’t do that!’ but then I practise it and I think it’s easy and I want to do the next one.

Jodie

I know I’ve got to practise otherwise I’ll fail the exam. I want to play something I like … it’s more important to like it if I’m not doing an exam. I don’t like my parents listening – it embarrasses me.

Lucie

Sometimes I’ve got nothing to do so I practise.

Katie

A tune you know and like, if you’re determined to get it right. I’m practising for my exam because I want to pass and I like the pieces.

Kate

My mother says, ‘Your lesson’s tomorrow and you haven’t done any practice. Don’t you think you’d better get on with it?’

Sometimes I practise to avoid doing homework … I enjoy it once I’ve started.

I like it when my mum says, ‘That was nice, the piece you played today.’ I wish my dad would like it when I play and listen to me.

Andrew

Wanting to learn … I enjoy learning new pieces. And Mum makes me. It’s a good thing she makes me practise, otherwise I wouldn’t learn and she’d stop my lessons.

Sarah

Because it helps you to learn. Whether I feel like it depends on what sort of tune I’m playing. I like dances. It’s better when someone listens to me … Mum listens and Gran and Grandpa.

Tom

When I’ve got a tune in my head and I want to play the music, like a TV tune. You practise when you’ve got time.

My prior assessments

I assessed motivation by how regularly pupils practised and, more subjectively, by obvious enthusiasm for playing, how cheerful they were in lessons and improvement from one lesson to the next.

I was able to keep a fairly accurate track of practice because most of the pupils attended a preparatory, boarding school.

Laura

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

George

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Luke

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Jodie

Motivated by exams, but otherwise does insufficient practice, enthusiastic about some pieces

Lucie

Practises sporadically, making slow progress, seems to enjoy lessons

Katie

Highly motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Kate

Variable motivation to practise, making some progress, seems to enjoy lessons

Andrew

Well motivated to practise, steady progress, seems to enjoy lessons

Sarah

Well motivated to practise, good progress, evident enthusiasm

Tom

Motivated by exams, otherwise usually practises only what he enjoys most, which is often his own compositions

Four main reasons for practising had emerged overall:

  • Achievement
  • Enjoyment
  • Approval of family and /or friends
  • Because of their teacher (which was pleasing!)

What do you think? What can you do?

I think that teachers and also parents of children who have music lessons would find it revealing to repeat the process and I would be really interested for you to comment on what you find out.

Help with practising Aural Tests (suitable for ABRSM and Trinity exams, all grades)

ABRSM (2014) Making Music  http://gb.abrsm.org/en/making-music/4-the-statistics/44-how-learners-learn/

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How to Impress a Music Examiner

stravisnky

My top tips

Practise performing Perform your pieces several times for different people before the exam date. If you suffer from high level performance anxiety, get professional help. Know which repeats, if any, you will make in the exam.

Prepare all elements of the exam Confident aural, fluent sight reading and accurate scales are all ways of getting extra marks. Use internet resources to help you and to make learning more interesting, but be sure to choose only high quality websites.

Be ready on the day Arrive in good time, but not so early that you start to build up anxiety. Before you walk in the exam room, take your instrument out of its case (unless you are a pianist!) so you are ready to begin. Find your reading glasses if necessary!

Smile and be polite When you walk in, give the examiner a big smile – it will not make any difference to your mark but it will make you feel positive and confident. If the examiner asks you which part of the exam you would like to do first (or next), answer politely and say, ‘please’. If you have an accompanist, thank them for playing for you.

Know where to stand for the aural tests Stand side by side with the piano, facing ahead so that the examiner can see your face to talk to you and watch your hands when you clap.

Make a good sound Create a beautiful, positive tone when singing or playing. Record yourself before the exam, so you know how you really sound.

Be fluent Keep the continuity – if you make a mistake, pretend it didn’t happen and keep going in pieces, songs and sight reading.

Be accurate Accurate intonation is very important in singing and playing. Listen to whether you keep in tune with the accompanist and whether you stay in tune when unaccompanied. Making a slip or two on the day sounds very different from misreading notes or rhythms.

Be expressive Give the examiner reasons to award extra marks by using varied dynamics, articulation and also pace changes if appropriate. Show the phrasing of the music with crescendos and diminuendos. Have a clear idea of the mood or meaning of the music – is it cheerful or sad and does this show in the pace and musical detail? What do the words of your song mean and do you show this in your voice and face?

Be stylish Play or sing in keeping with the style of the music, according to when it was written and who was the composer – your teacher will help you with interpretation of style.  It’s easy to find videos of pieces and songs on the internet but do ask your teacher which are the best ones.

These ten tips are my own personal recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of any examining board.

Sandy Holland is a music teacher, examiner and director of E-MusicMaestro: online music education resources.

Piano exam piece videos   https://www.youtube.com/user/EMusicMaestroChannel

Aural Test Training     http://e-musicmaestro.com/auraltests/

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How to be a bad music teacher: ten terrible things to remember

Ten bad things to remember about music teaching … and ten good alternatives imgres

1/ Sit and listen to a piece all through, picking out the mistakes … or teach actively first – small sections, slowly

2/ Praise indiscriminately … or say what was good and what might be improved

3/ Just teach the notes first, then add on the details later … or insist, from the start, on correct fingering and articulation

4/ Count out tricky rhythms in jazzy pieces … or fit the tune to words, resulting in correct, memorable rhythms

5/ Don’t bother about tone production … or demonstrate and teach exactly how to create a beautiful sound

6/ Teach music reading by note naming (and write the notes in) … or teach by interval and pattern recognition

7/ Don’t let parents sit in on lessons … or invite parents to observe, so they understand how to support practice time

8/ Test sight reading and aural only just before an examination … or teach the concepts first, a little every lesson

9/ Don’t tell your students how to practise – they’ll work it out … or give specific advice and instruction

10/ Teach only how you were taught  … or keep up to date, with professional development courses, online resources and the best Youtube clips.

Try E-MusicMaestro resources:

Aural Test Training free at www.e-musicmaestro.com/auraltests

E-MusicMaestro Grades 1 – 5 ABRSM and Trinity piano exam piece videos with tips on interpretation and demonstration of good technique at http://www.youtube.com/user/EMusicMaestroChannel

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What really goes into creating a professional internet music resource?

Today I read Deborah Rambo Sinn’s entry in the Oxford University Press’s blog, in which she highlighted some crucially important issues regarding the problems of music teaching being an unregulated profession and also the widely varying quality of resources and advice available on the internet and subsequently posted on Facebook. Deborah drew attention to the problem of ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ with regard to professional musicians and educators as opposed to, ‘Untrained teachers whose main goal is keeping kids happy […] by using well-marketed, but substandard and mostly self-published literature that is woefully lacking in sound pedagogy.’  (See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/11/music-teacher-presence-facebook/#sthash.s9apELDQ.dpuf)

Not so long ago, in fact, I wrote an article for EPTA’s Piano Professional magazine on a similar theme regarding Youtube videos which, already ubiquitous when I wrote the article, are now multiplying at an alarming rate. Youtube is an amazing resource – I use it frequently both for myself and in my teaching. The videos are often inspirational, instructional and informative. Often, they are sadly lacking in musical integrity, technique and even, in some instance, accuracy. The worrying situation is when videos of poor musicianship or technique are emulated by other students as examples of how to play.

We have a growing culture of embracing free access to information via the internet, which is wonderful and it is my own opinion that every professional and each company using the internet to promote or sell their service or products ought, if possible, to give something worthwhile for free.

The problems arise when people become unwilling to pay for the quality that a true professional provides. It would be good, in a way, to wish that one could provide a free, quality service for the good of music students on a simply altruistic basis, but in a society where professionals need to earn a living this is not only impractical but also unethical. It is generally true, as the saying goes, that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

At E-MusicMaestro we provide free Youtube videos to help students and teachers with the basics of keeping up accurate piano practice of repertoire pieces and exam pieces in between lessons. Our main internet business, aside from our individual teaching and examining work, is providing online music education resources such as Aural Test Training online, which teaches as well as tests aural perception and helps to prepare students for taking ABRSM and Trinity practical exams. We give a few free examples for those students who already have highly developed aural skills to run through the format of the tests and for potential subscribers to try out the resource. We charge for full subscriptions to our resource because we are professional musicians and because the creation of resources is massively expensive, not least in terms of time. We do need to earn a living!

What goes into creating a professional internet music resource? Here’s a brief summary of what was involved in creating Aural Test Training:

  • Decide on the format, according to what we want to teach and test online
  • Brief our web developer, who comes up with a design
  • Talk through and refine the design
  • Write wording of examples
  • Write The E-MusicMaestro Guide to Aural Tests
  • Buy use of copyrighted artwork for the web pages
  • Pay our web developer for the initial creation of the structure
  • Create examples that are similar, but not identical to, typical exam-type questions
  • Compose music for the examples and spend hours sourcing out-of-copyright examples
  • Have the piano tuned (again!)
  • Record the examples on our conservatoire model grand piano
  • Hire professional singers for the sung tests
  • Record the vocal examples
  • Edit, master, produce the recordings
  • Produce high definition videos that are annotated to help with the learning process
  • Load videos to video hosting company (and pay fees)
  • Load files to the content management system of our own website
  • Create soundfiles that help with learning
  • Set hundreds of questions and answers
  • Have everything checked independently to ensure accuracy and quality assurance
  • Back to our web developer for setting up the payment system – hours of work again – and payment
  • Test the system before going ‘live’
  • Consult with lawyer on various business-related issues
  • Put high level security measures in place to protect our copyright
  • Put the system ‘live’ – at last!
  • Respond personally, every day, to every enquiry from subscribers
  • Pay for costs such as web server and site maintenance
  • Liaise with examining boards to keep them informed of our latest developments
  • Advertising costs
  • Social media management
  • Continue development, monitor use of our resources
  • Onwards and upwards to Grades 6 – 8 Trinity aural …

How many hours does this take? How much does it cost? It’s infinite and it’s partly a labour of love … of music and of those who play and sing.

E-MusicMaestro Aural Test Training

MontythePenguin

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