Does Practice Make Perfect?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Alexander Kalina

 

foxsfiresides

Tips on Developing Better Practicing Habits

Every good musician knows that regular practice is a must, but did you know that careless or inattentive practice can actually make you worse?

It is not necessary true that “practice makes perfect” – more likely that “perfect practice develops perfect playing.” Quality not quantity, you say? Your school music teachers will urge you to increase both the quality (focus, attention, goals/planning, etc.) as well as the number of minutes per week. Here are a few hints on improving practicing techniques. Read on… there are many additional resources for parents to guide their musicians to musical mastery!

  1. Designate a quiet place for practice at home
  2. Limit all distractions (TV, video games, computers, phones)
  3. Plan habits of consistent daily practice time(s) and weekly frequency
  4. Make practice goals (what do you hope to accomplish this week?)
  5. Take a few minutes to warm-up (scales, finger patterns, long tones, or lip slurs)
  6. Sandwich method (start at the bottom and work your way up)
    1. Review a song you already know (bottom slice of bread)
    2. Focus on a few “hard parts” (the meat in the middle of the sandwich)
    3. Sight-read something new (condiments, pickles or cheese)
    4. Review another well-prepared song (top slice of bread)
  7. Pizza slices
    1. Identify and prioritize the problems or hard sections
    2. Partition the entire song
    3. Focus on a “slice” of the music – a measure, phrase or line of music – at a time
    4. Drill (daily) on one or a few slices
    5. Next practice session, repeat then progress to next section
  8. Re-order the sections of a piece (scrambling)
  9. Target a difficult passage, play slow at first, then increase tempo gradually each time you play it
  10. Try patterns of instant slow/fast and then fast/slow
  11. Fire up different sections of the brain on a problem spot
    1. Say the letter names out loud (or sing them) – speech center
    2. Bow or tap the rhythms “in the air” – left-side psychomotor
    3. Finger the notes without the bow or mouthpiece – right-side psychomotor
    4. Combine a, b, and/or c on specific passages – all parts of the brain
  12. Create new rhythmic or articulation/bowing variations to challenge your playing of the passage
  13. To improve your musical batting average, implement the Ten-Times Rule (accurately in a-row)
  14. Always add expressive markings including dynamics, tempo and articulation changes, etc.

seriestoshare-logo-01Yes, practicing should be heard at home. It is NOT enough simply to play at school. The long-tested “success equation” is TIME + MAKING PROGRESS = FUN (encouraging more time, progress and fun). Practicing on a regular basis improves technique, musicianship, self-confidence, endurance, reading skills, and besides… playing better is a lot more FUN!

PARENTS: Here are several excellent websites on recommendations for developing better practice skills, but ask your school music director for more advice!

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “A Community Orchestra for All Ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Please feel free to download a printable copy (CLICK HERE) and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.

SHJO rehearses most Saturdays in the band room of the Upper St. Clair High School, 1825 McLaughlin Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241. New members are always welcome! For more information, please go to www.shjo.org.

Advertisements

How Retirement Has Changed Me

Part I: One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history

Freedom! “Living the dream” in post-employment life has opened so many new avenues of exploration, allowing me to embrace many things I have always wanted to try. Released from the 24/7 nature of running a music program, classes and/or ensembles (even at rest, your mind is still “back at work” thinking about your next lesson or concert selection – and we all know how much time we spent on extra-curricular activities and professional development), you must now find your own intellectual stimulation, replenish your “curiosity quotient,” rekindle your creative self-expression, and re-invent yourself. laptop-1242490

Gone are the days that my laptop computer was used mostly for taking daily homeroom and class attendance, updating the student data in MMS or the grade-book program, and reading school emails and directives from administration. Thank god, those forms of “technology” are “retired” (probably permanently for me).

Following my own advice from this series of blogs on retirement resources, I have had no trouble “finding purpose, structure, and community,” emphasized by Ernie Zeliniski as key components in his bestselling book, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. However, keeping track of the schedule (since it is ever-changing) can be a challenge! Our numerous appointments, lunch dates, babysitting chores, volunteer hours, and medical checkups now land at more unpredictable dates. Happily, the iPhone calendar app, which is linked to my wife’s devices, too, calendar-series-2-1192572is the most essential “tech tool” to maintain your “now busier than ever” daily/weekly plan.

It should be mentioned, if you are a fan of Google gmail, there is also an excellent Google Calendar, as well as a place for contacts, documents, and photos stored safely “in the cloud.”

Updates and Passwords

Retirement provides me more time to literally “figure out technology.” Although I would never claim to have much skill as a nerd (nor would I ever try to seek employment as a member of the highly esteemed Geek Squad), I am finally taking the necessary steps to update my software more regularly, download revised apps, and even go as falinux-login-1497422r as changing my passwords. Everyone knows, with hackers lurking around every corner of the Internet, you are supposed to do two things: have a different password for each application, and from time to time, change these passwords. They should not be something someone else could guess, like “1234” or your phone number or the nickname “foxy” for me. A “good” password should utilize numbers, capitalized letters and small-case, and special characters like $, &, or underline. Using a password manager program like Last Pass (my favorite, and it also comes with a “free version”), you can generate totally random characters for any password and maintain a secure “password vault” under one “master password.” For password manager reviews, check out PC Magazine: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp.

Media Moments

When I was teaching, after a long day of classes and rehearsals, the purpose of the television was to put me to sleep when I got home. Of course, that has not changed much. I hate television. There are very few programs in which I am interested. However, I finally got around to discovering what Amazon Prime and Netflix offer. Crazy old Trekkies like me can now can view every episode of the original Star Trek series in chronological order. When my wife revisits her fixation on the new Gilmoreleo-logo Girls three-part movie or The Crown (Netflix), all I have to do is go into another room, fire up my computer’s browser, and check out the latest video podcast of “Leo the Tech Guy” (techguylabs.com) or any number of the playlists of Ted Talks (these about music caught my notice):

silent-serviceOne of my hobbies furthest from a career in music education has to do with collecting and reading books about World War II, particularly U.S. Navy, submarines and surface fleet. One of my fellow hospital volunteer escorts, a veteran of the Vietnam war, turned me on to the free classic online episodes of T.V. series The Silent Service, for example the 25-minute 1957 broadcast of  SS Tinosa Story #8310 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1nESHgqAnY) archived by Persicope Film LLC.

Almost anything can be found on the Internet. Archived in YouTube, do you remember that old science film your elementary teacher may have shown called  “Hemo the Magnificant” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08QDu2pGtkc? Although the content is out-dated, I can’t help being a little nostalgic in sharing the entire “Bell Lab Telephone” series:

  1. Our Mr. Sun (1956)
  2. Hemo the Magnificent (1957)
  3. The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays (1957)
  4. The Unchained Goddess(1958)bell-lab
  5. Gateways to the Mind (1958)
  6. The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)
  7. Thread of Life (1960)
  8. About Time (1962)
  9. The Restless Sea (1964)

The Rise of “Siri” and other Personal Assistants

My new girlfriend Siri has become a constant trip partner, not just for using turn-by-turn directions (often needed since my wife would tell you I can get lost in my closet), but to open up opportunities for brainstorming and sound out new ideas for my  writing. Whenever I am “on hold” sitting in a doctor or dentist office, doing family shopping at the mall, or even waiting for traffic at an accident or during rush hour, my hands-free blue-tooth connection allows me to “babble” my thoughts into an app called Evernote, which provides (not always accurate) transcripts that can be downloaded from any of my devices including my computer. Later on, I can use the text as a basis for an article’s outline or to add to my “honey-do” list. However, just remember, you should not use this “tech technique” while driving… the distraction of turning Siri on and off or viewing your last entry does not allow for safe/alert driving!

echoPowered by artificial intelligence, other voice-activated virtual assistants and knowledge navigators including products like Google Home and Amazon Echo (with a different “girlfriend” named “Alexa”) are flooding the market. This should be no surprise… the 21st Century seems to be developing many new inventions of super-automation, not so far from the female-voiced computer interface on the USS Enterprise (Star Trek) that could control everything. Soon you may take a ride from Uber in a driver-less car or “program” the autopilot on your pure-electric Tesla. Do you foresee the time when you will accept your Amazon merchandise or pizza being delivered from the air? What were those drone-operated lights we saw in the background of Lady Gaga’s halftime performance at the 2017 Super Bowl… possible future special effects for HS musicals and marching band shows?

My generation of teachers who entered the profession had no experience or training in microcomputers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches or other devices, or virtual reality headsets. (They weren’t invented yet!) Throughout the advent of technological “innovations,” many of us felt like we were “technology immigrants” trying to catch-up! It was easier for those “technology natives” born after 1980 since they grew up with the Internet. Change is inevitable, and we are all life-long learners. So it almost goes without saying: You can teach an old dog new tricks… even retired music teachers and other baby-boomer retirees how to grasp the fundamentals and benefits of technology, media, and online learning.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

(First four photo credits: Ned Horton, Jean Scheijen, Maxime Perron Caissy, and Joshua Davis at FreeImages.com)