This is a great little TED talk that reminds us how ‘making music’ makes our brains engage, stretch and grow. It’s like a ‘whole body’ workout for your brain, that strengthens connections between your hemispheres. If you ever despised the idea of taking your child to music lessons, or practising your own instrument, keep this in mind!
As the clock ticks over the 11pm mark on this sultry summer eve, I am contemplating the year ahead. Yes, I know we have already celebrated the New Year (and for some reason I like even years better than odd ones! Is anyone else with me on that?) But in just 9 hours time the working day will officially begin and I will be “back” for the school year – along with a few hundred eager, or not-so-eager, students. I’ve spent the day, and the last few weeks, preparing for what is to come. This waiting period is often more stressful than the actual event. Once we are back at school the tasks become more about the day to day than staring blankly at a whole term or year and wondering how on earth we will get through it all.
The students will bring their own problems, concerns, interests and passions. It is up to us as teachers to teach them to be learners, life-long learners, who look at life with a positive outlook, take hold of opportunities and seek to be the change in situations that frustrate them. We encourage them not to let the problems they bring, or the excuses in their head, or their poor self-esteem, hold them back. As you can imagine, this task is no small thing. And half the time we have problems, excuses and doubts about how we as teachers can make a difference.
As Christian teachers there is an extra challenge – or two. We try our best to model Christ, to be Christ-like in our dealings with students. We seek to achieve restoration when students break trust or relationships with us and others. We try to share the Gospel – ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.
With all this on my teaching plate, I ask you fellow bloggers to spare a prayer for me when you can, that I can be some small positive influence in the lives of students this year – and that through me they can know a little more of Christ and the acceptance we know in Him.
(Note: The photo is the final day of school for the students I looked after as Year 12 Coordinator in 2015. Apparently the balloons were biodegradable, in case you were wondering. 🙂 Maybe we should begin with a balloon release.)
I found this set of eight helpful suggestions for finding time to enjoy practising your instrument. I’m sure we could all use the encouragement to keep learning skills and enjoying the gifts we have developed.
1. Sight read often
Believe it or not, sight reading can be fun. Not convinced? Dig out your old grade books from two or three grades back and try playing through a few of the pieces you didn’t learn at the time. Not only is this good sight reading practice, it’s a good way to reacquaint yourself with your instrument if you’ve taken some time off over summer. PLUS you’ll learn new repertoire that you might enjoy AND you’ll give yourself a confidence boost by sight reading music you once thought was impossible.
2. Don’t separate theory from repertoire
Time’s up! Another lesson or practice session has come to an end and, alas, there was no time for theory. Don’t sweat it! Make musical theory a part of your everyday practice and lessons. Stop playing briefly and analyse one passage of your sonata. Grab your smartphone and check that you know all the definitions for the Italian terms in your piece. Play on and ask yourself ‘what key am I in? What relationship is this key to the original key?’
Spend a lot of time online? (Answer: ‘Yes!’) Sacrifice just 10 minutes of precious internet browsing time to do a lesson or a test from an online theory course once a week. You’ll be a theory guru in no time.
We all have memories of that time we were playing around on our instrument, came up with a brilliant riff, never wrote it down and learned the true meaning of regret. Are you the next Brahms? Maybe not. Do you have great ideas that other people might like to hear? Absolutely. Keep a pencil and a manuscript or manglescript pad with you while you practice.
Ideas don’t often strike out of the blue like a bolt of lightning (especially in this drought-ridden country!) – so write them down if they do! Then you can spend some time working them into something more substantial through ongoing exploration and experimentation. Working on your own musical ideas can also be a great way of really engaging with the sound that you are making, sparking musical ideas for your other repertoire.
Insightful Clara Schumann says, ‘There is nothing greater than the joy of composing something oneself and then listening to it.’
4. Record yourself
A recording device may be one of the most effective practice tools and most students just aren’t using one regularly. There is no need for fancy gear, microphones or studio set-up; recording is for personal use only! Your smartphone, tablet, laptop or handheld digital recorder will work just fine.
Recording yourself puts you in the teacher’s or examiner’s chair, helping you to listen critically to your own playing. How would you rate your pitch, articulation, phrasing, tone quality and overall performance? Make a conscious change to your performance, record and evaluate again. As musicians, there is often a significant disconnect between what we feel we are creating and what we actually produce on our instruments. Recording is an important reality check and benchmark and the best tool for students who are eager to see practice results first-hand – even if it is a little scary at first!
5. Master the short-and-focused practice session
You don’t have to wait for a two-hour window to appear in your schedule in order to sit down with your instrument or work on your voice. Long practice sessions can be great for building stamina, but sometimes more can be achieved with multiple short sessions in which you set out to achieve one particular goal. Keep track of your goals and your targeted practice in your practice diary.
Clever Leonard Bernstein says, ‘To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.’
6. Listen to great recordings
“Have students listen to fine performances of the pieces, even before you begin teaching it” advised Glenn Riddle to teachers at last week’s Piano Series 17workshop in Melbourne. Between concerts, recitals, studies and everything else life throws at us, most of us don’t spend enough time just listening for the sake of listening.
Listening to music is not only an inherently pleasurable experience, it is also an incredibly beneficial exercise for the brain. A recent study from UC Berkeleyfound that listening to familiar and unfamiliar music ‘increased interaction between the nucleus accumbens and higher, cortical structures of the brain involved in pattern recognition, musical memory, and emotional processing.’ That certainly sounds convincing!
Listening to repertoire before or as you learn a piece can help to inspire you, give you ideas for your own phrasing and interpretation and allow you to see the piece from another performer’s perspective. Grab a recording of your exam repertoire from iTunes or Spotify, plug in your earphones and talk a walk outside. You never know what details you might hear!
7. Go to concerts
Seeing a live classical music performance is insanely exciting… the nerves, the spectacle, the variety, the triumph! So why do we so often save concert-going for ‘special occasions’ or one-off experiences? It is easy to think of concerts as expensive ventures or special-occasion experiences, but this is not necessarily the case!
Google your local university music department and attend one of their (usually free) lunchtime concerts. Most professional concerts also offer discounted student tickets or last-minute ‘student rush’ tickets. Even better, have a soirée-of-sorts with your musical friends. Get an opportunity to practice performing in front of others, support your friends and be introduced to a lot of great music!
8. Have fun!
Remember that all of your hard work is really aimed at making it easier to get your instrument or voice to do what you want it to do. From time to time, play around with the sounds you can make – beautiful sounds, ugly sounds, funny sounds and sad sounds! Get up close and personal with your instrument (or voice) and experiment away. If you’re not enjoying playing or singing at the moment, maybe you just need to reacquaint yourself with the joy of making sound. Learning music is challenging but should also be fun and rewarding.
Happy John Cage says, ‘Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.’
Upgrade your practice with these simple tips.
“Don’t think of church as an address or location . . .
but as something deployed.
Don’t think of it as a place you are for an hour each week, but rather WHAT YOU ARE every day of the week.
The Church is the hands and feet of Jesus. . .
Now Go, be the church.”
This comes from a great 1.5 minute clip from Igniter Media. We have used it in our church services, when plenty of people were around who don’t normally come to church, or know what it means to follow Jesus. It’s also a good reminder to all of us, of what church is, and isn’t. Hope you can find a use for it. Blessings! (Click link below to watch the clip.)
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