Tag Archives: music

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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What do children really think about doing their music practice?

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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 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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An approach to performance anxiety

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ~ Cicero

Playing Piano

So much has been written on the subject of performance anxiety that there seemed little to add to the wise words of Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey on awareness, trust and skill in The Inner Game of Music.

Certainly, I was greatly influenced by this bookwhen I read it a number of years ago. The approach I normally take with my own students, most of whom take Advanced Level performance examinations, is two-fold. Firstly I provide weekly performance opportunities at a lunchtime Piano Club, so that playing for an audience becomes routine and loses its power to frighten them. Secondly I ask them literally to talk themselves into being calm, focused and confident by repeating positive affirmations, aloud, to themselves when they are relaxed, for instance before bedtime and when they wake up.

The most effective statements seem to be:

When I play I think only of the music

When I perform I play fluently and musically

The examiner enjoys hearing my playing

When I perform I feel excited, calm,  focused and happy.

The affirmations must be placed in the present tense, not in the future, so it is not advisable to say, ‘When I give my recital I will play fluently’,  but better to say, ‘In recitals I play fluently’.

Recently, however, I read an interesting post by Daniel Miller on the Tiny Buddha website* about how gratitude can calm your nerves and make you more effective and I’m thinking that this could be added to my pre-recital support programme.  Gratitude has many benefits, including the capacityto promote happiness, health, self-esteem, as well as improving relationships and sleep patterns.

Thinking grateful thoughts could be helpful in taking the emphasis away from the importance of ‘Me’ in the recital and putting the focus where it belongs, on the music itself. Helpful statements could be along the lines of

I’m grateful that …

I am able to play this wonderful music

I am doing something I love to do as part of my education

I have this opportunity to play for a fellow musician who wants me to do well

I am privileged to play on a good, grand piano.

Gratitude can shift our focus from negative to positive thinking;  it can give us a more balanced perspective on the situation – if I make a slip I can keep going because I am well prepared;  it can allow us to stay in the ‘now’ moment rather than dwell on the outcome; it can take the place of fear.

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*Tiny Buddha  http://archive.feedblitz.com/850672/~4766223/29317868/68abb382e5838eb2e4a9c8f82b887f8b

 

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