There’s that dirty ‘P’ word that every musician dreads. PRACTICE!
I first studied Piano, as just about everyone did in my small town, and I loved to practice! I had cool songs to play and some neat tricks to learn to make my technique better. It was the same when I started taking guitar lessons a few years later. Cool tunes and tricks to play them AND a teacher that played in a band! It wasn’t until I picked up trumpet in junior high that practicing fell out of favour.
For some reason practice stopped being cool. Maybe it was because there were more things competing with my time or there weren't as many cool tunes to play. When you are part of an ensemble it’s easy to fall into the trap of being satisfied to be in the middle of the group. There will be those players that look for and find cool things to play that aren’t part of the collective experience and there will also be those who are satisfied with the bare minimum. Whatever the reasoning the result was that practicing became a chore. I’m sure we all remember sitting in band rehearsal when the director asked who had practiced since last week. There were the keeners who sat there and beamed while others were gnashing their teeth, hanging their heads, and suddenly finding a new interest in oiling valves or adjusting reeds. It had become a group experience rather than an individual experience. Why practice when I can already play all my parts?
That’s where creative teachers need to step in and reward extra musical activity. As a private music teacher, I keep a library of fun and challenging things to play for all instruments and at all levels. And some of them have backing tracks so that while practice is a solo experience the student can bring the band home to play along with. My goal is to make every musical experience an individual one like it was when studying piano or guitar versus the collective experience that dulls practicing.
The next challenge is to develop a practice regimen that students not only find enjoyable and rewarding but will also foster their skills. Stay tuned for Painless Practice (part 2)
When we think inner city schools we usually think New York, Chicago, and other major cities. West Yorkshire isn’t normally on our North American radar as an area that we would list in that group. Feversham School is in Bradford Moor and according to the head teacher the school was suffering from low staff morale, unhappy students and poor academic results. The community outside the school gates is one of the city’s poorest and most densely populated neighbourhoods. Most students don’t speak English as a first language and thirty languages are spoken at the school.
A more traditional approach would have been to pile on additional math and English classes supplemented by “booster” classes. Instead of just looking for results the school wanted to rebuild staff morale and get the kids enjoying learning.
They achieved their goal by adding six hours of music per week per student and the turnaround has been amazing. The article goes on to detail the improvement in academic achievement, the school is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading writing and maths, and boasts a 98% attendance rate.
Better scores all around and a happier more productive atmosphere - music for the win!
Many of my friends have been asking why I would start teaching privately again, and why now. Well honestly, I have missed working with people and sharing my knowledge and love of all things musical. Playing with the groups that I am part of is fun but it doesn’t compete with working with musicians at all levels to master your craft. As for why now? Why not! I found there are two ways to improve your playing, well three if you include practicing. The first is to just get out there and play and the second is to teach others. Imagine taking the old rhyme to its logical conclusion.
A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to teach two young tooters to toot;
Said the two to the tutor,
“Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”
There’s something about seeing how other players approach and master the obstacles that anything new puts in your way to drive home how many ways there are to do the same thing. The Tutor, by working with the two tooters, would see how each attacked the same problem and apply that to his/her knowledge and adapt the way the tutor tooted. The result would be a different view of achieving the goal that might be very different from the tutor’s original approach, a blended approach that is partly tutor and tooters!
As I get ready to take on my new students I’m looking forward to the challenges they bring to the studio and learning from them new ways to develop my own playing and approach.
Oh, and while I’m on the topic of ways to improve your playing – never underestimate the value of practice!