Thursday, December 20, 2007

"I didn't practice because..."

Yes, a music post, but don't worry. This stuff is useful for anybody, whether they're musical or not.
It never fails. We as music educators will always have those couple kids that never practice. They always have an excuse, and most times, it's an excuse that I've used myself. So what do we do? I have the answer...partially

I'm leaving for Philadelphia tomorrow evening, without either of my instruments. You may be wondering, "How is he telling his students to take their instruments home and practice, yet he's leaving both his locked up in the apartment for a week? Kinda hypocritical don'cha think?" Well...yes and no.
Here are some things as a string player, but more importantly, as a musician, that you can do to practice even without your instrument. Many of these tips, I do everyday. Some, I'm even able to do while I'm driving, eating, and just about to doze off into dreamland. So here they are, in a nice, compact list:

  1. LISTEN - You should be doing this daily no matter what. Listen to the pieces you're working on, listen to new music, listen to music concrete (everyday sounds from life). The more you listen, the better you can make musical choices in your performing.
  2. Stay in Shape - I don't necessarily mean going to the gym, because I surely don't. But if you're a brass player, you can easily take your mouthpiece with you and "buzz". String players can practice fingerings (I haven't ruled out Guitar Hero yet, either), and small-muscle training. Any musician should be practicing slow-breathing and can easily be combined with a simple form of meditation.
  3. SING - Just because your instrument isn't with you, doesn't mean you can't take your music and sing the parts. And no, I don't mean like Placido Domingo. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the pitch should be correct. I end up teaching 60% of my concert literature to my orchestras via me singing the parts. I'd even wager that I sing more than most general music teachers in the course of a school day. Singing your music commits it to a different memory mechanism than playing it or listening to a recording of it.
  4. Be CREATIVE - Your instrument isn't your only creative outlet. Sing (see above), draw, paint, make up games outside, etc. Something as simple as trying to do a routine task in a new way (a friend of mine made spaghetti with meatsauce in a coffee-maker once, blew me away with the idea!) can jog your creative side of your brain.
    And finally,
  5. Keep TRACK - Seinfeld uses a 30-days system to learn a new habit or routine, where-in he crosses off the day on a calendar every day he completes that task. It's much harder to break a "streak" when you're keeping track of it. Conversely, it's much harder to get back into it once you've skipped a few days, and the streak isn't so impressive. Everyday you practice (or do one of the things from my list), make a note of it on a "practice calendar".

There ya go! Got any more reasons for me? I'm about to sit through a re-run sitcom and practice some scales and Irish jigs. What's your excuse?


  1. Our violin teacher has really emphasized that memorization is not just muscle memory or playing by ear with muscle memory, but committing to learning the patterns of the piece so that you can describe the pattern. So, since our mini-van is packed full for a short road trip without fitting cello, violin, and viola, I plan on not just having the kids listen to the recordings but also talking about the patterns in the pieces they're learning. Bonus, someday they'll be learning sonata form, etc. and realize they already understand it.

  2. It sounds like you had the same thought processes I did while writing this post. An added bonus, is that each child will get to hear the music that the others are working on, and someday applying all of that info to their own pieces as well. I'll do another post on memorization after the holidays.
    Thanks for commenting!