Do I Need Ear Plugs?

foxsfiresides

What do the following famous artists all have in common?

  • seriestoshare-logo-01Pete Townshend
  • Roger Daltrey
  • Neil Young
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Eric Clapton
  • John Densmore
  • Anthony Kiedis
  • Ozzy Osbourne

Answer? According to AARP (see this article), all of the above celebrities have serious hearing loss, audio difficulties, or been diagnosed with “tinnitus” or “buzzing in the ears.”

Music students, teachers, musicians, or family members who go to music performances: Have you ever noticed humming in your ears? Did you recently attend a rock concert or had a indoor rehearsal of your school’s marching band? This could mean you were recently exposed to excessive levels of loud sound (musical or noise) which may eventually lead to future, long-term, and permanent damage to your hearing!

This article is a comprehensive look at “hearing conservation” for all practitioners of the Performing Arts… “food for thought” to review and reflect on your own “safe habits” of sound consumption!

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First, I would like to reprint a portion of an “ear-opening” flier thankfully shared by an expert in the field:  Dr. Catherine Palmer of the UPMC Musicians’ Hearing Center (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).

Hearing Protection for Young Musicians

UPMCWe would not consider allowing our youth to play football without a helmet, work in chemistry lab or shop class without eye protectors. Yet everyday, we allow our children to participate in school-sponsored instrumental music activities without hearing protection.

Loud sounds are the number one cause of permanent hearing loss and this type of hearing loss is 100 percent preventable. The result of noise exposure is ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and permanent hearing loss. By the time people realize that they have permanent hearing loss, they have significant damage to the inner ear. Hearing loss impacts individuals across life activities – social, school, work, and home. School age children are the fastest growing population of noise-exposed individuals suffering permanent hearing loss.

Background

Day in and day out, music students (e.g., band and orchestra members) and their instructors are being exposed to potentially damaging levels of noise during practices and performances. Hearing loss is a function of exposure time, the average noise level, and peak level of very loud sounds. The chart below illustrates the levels of sound produced by the various instruments played in schools. Alone or together, musicians often are exceeding safe limits of noise during practice and performance.

Musical Levels

Musical Levels

I recommend perusing the entire website of the UPMC Musicians’ Hearing Center here and view Dr. Palmer’s video on noise-induced hearing loss.

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After a few additional online searches, I found numerous quotes from supportive research, articles, and links.

Surveys of universities reveal that more than 60% of band members suffer from tinnitus, or ringing in their ears, and more than 50% suffer from Noise-induced hearing loss. According to the World Health Organization, loss of hearing has escalated over the past 20 years and shows no sign of slowing down.

Band members have an increased risk for hearing loss as they have spent a majority of their young lives playing loud instruments near each other and during this time they have been exposed to horribly dangerous and irresponsible decibel levels without being warned about the lifelong pain and discomfort that they may potentially face due to playing in the band. Most musical instruments used in marching bands produce sound levels ranging from 92 – 126 dB as shown below will if unregulated or protected against cause irreparable hearing loss and may have already caused you tinnitus (rdistortioninging in the ears).  — Big Ear (#9)

As I understand it, the problem is two-fold: exceeding the safe decibel-levels of sound and the length of time you are exposed to these dangerous dosages without protection.

According to NIOSH, any level higher than 85 decibels (dB) for a cumulative period of 8 hours is damaging to the hearing mechanism and requires hearing protection. As the decibel level increases, the safe duration decreases. This means that a jazz band playing at 100 dB is safe for about 15 minutes before hearing damage ensues. —  BandDirectorsTalkShop (#10)

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Professional musicians may be at significant risk, according to many research studies, including one documented by the University of Toronto and the National Ballet Orchestra of Canada.

For the study published this month in the [January 2011] journal Noise and Health, a team from the University of Toronto’s sensory communications group attached microphones to the musicians’ shoulders — as close to their ears as possible — with a wire connecting them to a bulky box at their waist that recorded the “dose” of noise. To avoid under-estimating the risk, they chose performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the loudest ballet the company performs, then extrapolated the results across the full season of shows and rehearsals.

Some of the National Ballet musicians were exposed to levels as high as 94 decibels, equivalent to the sound of an electric drill. Interestingly, the flute and piccolo players absorbed the loudest noise, followed by brass instruments, and the double bass. The violins had the quietest experience, according to the study. —  National Post (#7)

For young musicians, I have recommended the specially discounted Etymotic’s ER-20 ear plugs, which seem to offer a practical way to help protect hearing during rehearsals and performances. The company that makes them offers an interesting article about their “adopt a band” program here and a “slide rule” tool (pictured below) to help predict measurements of dangerous levels and time exposures to loud sounds here.

Know the Risk

There seems to be some debate about sound distortion with the use of these ear plugs. The cheap yellow foam plugs may cause alteration of the music’s intensity and timbre. Personally, I have noticed few problems with the ER-20s, although you may “hear” of conflicting viewpoints on hearing/comfort/distortion issues in the media.

This is the chasm between audiologists and musicians. We [Etymotic] think we’ve found the answer and the technology, and the musicians are telling us, no, not yet. This outlines the importance of collaboration between audiologists, hearing health care providers, and musicians to find what works. —  Ascent Hearing (#11)

The bottom line, if you want to protect your hearing, you will have to use them regularly.

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Also from the University of South Carolina Marching Band and Big Ear (#11), here are a few tips on conserving your hearing in a band rehearsal. Starting right now, you can “monitor and adjust” any excessively high sound exposure and dangers to your health!

  1. If you feel any sensation in your ears, speak up. Your section leaders and band directors are across-the-board caring people with a healthy appreciation for music and those who make it, so don’t ever feel like you are being bothersome if you talk to them about pain in your ears.
  2. Notice the times of your rehearsal when the music peaks and prepare yourself by having a cheap pair of foam earplugs to stick in for that overwhelmingly loud duration.
  3. Distance yourself from an unruly player. If there is a member of your band who is known to let off an extra loud trumpet, piccolo, alto sax, or drum solo after you finish a song, try to distance yourself from the blast zone and be aware of your surroundings.
  4. Hand-in-hand with tip number 3, talk to that person about their habit and politely ask them to be mindful of their fellow musicians around them.
  5. If you are taking any medication, talk to your doctor or school nurse about the specific medications interaction with decibel levels as there are hundreds of medications that can damage your inner ear hair cells and cause you permanent hearing damage.
  6. In the same light, if you hear the word ototoxic followed by the name of a medication you are taking, speak to your doctor and band director immediately.
  7. If you hear for any reason at all ringing in your ears, address the sensation immediately with your section leader or band director.

The final authority on noise-induced hearing loss comes from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, a good online resource posted here.

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For our South Hills Junior Orchestra players, we are selling the ETY-20 ear plugs (discounted by UPMC for only $6/pair). Last year (2018-2019), I made sure my piccolo players had a set, and will strongly encourage the purchase of these by all of my brass and percussion instrumentalists, especially those who participate in their school marching band programs.

PKF

 

References

  1. “Teen Musicians: ‘Uncool’ Earplugs May Save Your Hearing” https://www.seattletimes.com/life/wellness/teen-musicians-uncool-earplugs-may-save-your-hearing/
  2. “Musicians in an Orchestra May Be Exposed to Unhealthy Sound Levels” https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/have-you-heard/orchestra-musicians-unhealthy-sound-levels
  3. “Protect Your Hearing When You Play a Musical Instrument” https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/have-you-heard/musicians-face-higher-risk-of-hearing-loss
  4. “Incidence and Relative Risk of Hearing Disorders in professional Musicians” https://oem.bmj.com/content/oemed/71/7/472.full.pdf
  5. “School Band Performances Causing Hearing Loss” https://www.hearhereindy.com/school-bands
  6. “Musicians and Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know” https://www.signiausa.com/blog/musicians-hearing-loss/
  7. “Orchestral Musicians Face Unhealthy Sounds: Study” https://nationalpost.com/news/orchestral-musicians-face-unhealthy-sound-levels-study#ixzz1ApNlDV42
  8. “Turn It Up? Musicians Run Far Higher Risk of Hearing Loss” https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/turn-it-musicians-run-far-higher-risk-hearing-loss-n93981
  9. “Why Do I Need Hearing Protection?” https://www.bigearinc.com/university-of-south-carolina-marching-band-hearing-protection/
  10. “Conserving Your Earsight” — https://banddirectorstalkshop.com/2017/11/24/hearing-protection-for-band-directors/
  11. “Musicians, from School Bands to Symphonies, Risk Hearing Loss” — https://www.ascenthearingsimivalley.com/musicians-from-school-bands-to-symphonies-risk-hearing-loss/
  12. “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss” — https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss
  13. “List of Rockers with Hearing Loss Grows” — https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2018/musicians-hearing-loss.html
  14. “Musicians’ Hearing Center” — https://www.upmc.com/services/ear-nose-throat/services/hearing-and-balance/audiology/musicians-hearing

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

All Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Do I Need Earplugs?

Other “Fox’s Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

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If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

hi-res logo 2018

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

Life Hacks for Musicians

The Laws of Practicing & More Tips on Preparing Music

foxsfiresides

Many of the early South Hills Junior Orchestra “Fox’s Firesides” are about developing new techniques to solve musical problems, dispelling the myth that all you need to do is put in the time. Is there any truth in “practice makes perfect?” Not really. It is more critical that all instrumentalists set-up a regular schedule for focused practice, limiting all distractions, defining and working on goals, and then the truer adage can be modeled: “perfect practice develops perfect playing.”

Perhaps since January is the first month of The New Year, this would be a good time to review the different practice techniques we have already published at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/, especially #1, #4, and #8.

Here are a few more ideas, “borrowed” from my former place of employment – the Upper St. Clair School District Performing Arts Department.

 

THE LAWS OF PRACTICING

The 24-Hour Law – It takes 24 hours for yesterday’s lesson to be learned.

The Perfect Attendance Law – Practicing a little every day always beats cramming.

The Three Musketeers Law – Never practice without a metronome, tuner, or recording device to hear how you sound.

The “Elephant in the Room” Law – One must “face the music,” specifically, the musical passage with which they are struggling the most.

The Sloth Law – When in doubt, play it slower.

 

LIFE HACKS (Practice Edition)

Sloth Hack – Playing slower, to the point that it is impossible to mess up.

Jaws Hack – Slur a passage with which you are struggling.

seriestoshare-logo-01Karaoke Hack – Play the passage in conjunction with your favorite recording of the piece.

Time Trial Hack – Put a timer on for a few minutes and see how much you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

Drop the Bass Hack – If a passage is too high, play it down an octave.

Cheat Code Hack – Simplify a rhythm if you are struggling to learn it.

Here are several additional websites with excellent “hack” recommendations for developing better practice skills, but don’t forget to ask your school music director and private teacher for more advice!

 

Keep up your commitment to and PRACTICE towards real self-improvement, creative self-expression, making beautiful music, and participating in your school and community bands and orchestras!

PKF

hi-res logo 2018

 

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of LIFE HACKS for Musicians

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireplace” by judenicholson

The Three “P’s” and One “B” of Success

Practice, Patience, Perseverance & Belief in Yourself!

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To inspire greater forward progress and more resolve in meeting our goals, I wrote this “Fox Fireside” back in 1995 for the student, parents, directors, and family members of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO). This “pep talk” was motivated by reading anecdotes from my favorite series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, and begs these three essential questions:

  1. “Why were there so many people who “put down” the achievements or aptitude of these historical figures?”
  2. “What would have happened if these individuals had received more encouragement and support along the way?”
  3. “Are you living up to YOUR potential?”

We are very optimistic about the future! Perhaps if we all “put down” our tech devices (instead of each other) and focused more time and energy on making music together, we can attain new levels of creative self-expression and artistry. Really, all you need is a little practice, patience, and perseverance… so lets make a New Year’s resolution to “play more music,” “attend more rehearsals,” and “share more of our love of music!”

Paul K. Fox, SHJO Founding Director

 

Life is full of course corrections, not failures! Throughout our learning in school or at a job, we face many challenges, some that do not immediately bring us the just rewards for our time and hard work. Every one of us occasionally gets a little discouraged, but we must not give up hope nor fail to commit the resources to continue our pursuits. Consider many of history’s great geniuses who faced similar “bumps” along their pathway to fame:

  • After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the casting director of MGM, dated 1933 said, “Can’t act! Slightly bald! Can dance a little!” Astaire kept that memo over the fireplace in his Beverly Hills home.
  • An expert said of Vince Lombardi: “He possesses minimal football knowledge. Lacks motivation.”
  • Socrates was called, “An immortal corrupter of youth.”
  • When Peter J. Daniel was in fourth grade, his teacher Mrs. Phillips constantly said, “You’re no good. You’re a bad apple, and you’re never going to amount to anything.” Peter was totally illiterate until he was 26. A friend stayed up with him all night and read him a copy of Think and Grow Rich. Now, he owns the street corners he used to fight on and has published a book, Mrs. Phillips, You Were Wrong!
  • Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, was encouraged to find work as a servant or seamstress by her family.
  • Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions instead of improving his technique. His teacher called him hopeless as a composer.
  • The parents of the famous opera singer Enrico Caruso wanted him to become an engineer. His teacher said he had no voice at all and could not sing.
  • Charles Darwin, father of the Theory of Evolution, gave up a medical career and was told by his father, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat catching.” In his autobiography, Darwin wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and by my father a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect.”
  • Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for lack of ideas, and also went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was too stupid to learn anything.
  • seriestoshare-logo-01Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was seven. HIs teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift in his foolish dreams.” He was expelled and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.
  • Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 in chemistry.
  • By all accounts, Isaac Newton did very poorly in grade school.
  • The sculptor Rodin’s father said, “I have an idiot for a son.” Described as the worst pupil in the school, Rodin failed three times to secure admittance to the school of art. His uncle called him ineducable.
  • Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, flunked out of college. He was described as “both unable and unwilling to learn.”
  • Playwright Tennessee Williams was enraged when his play Me, Vasha, was not chosen in a class competition at Washington University where he was enrolled in English XVI. The teacher recalled that Williams denounced the judges’ choices and their intelligence.
  • F.W. Woolworth’s employers at the dry goods store said he had not enough sense to wait upon customers.
  • Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.
  • Babe Ruth, considered by sports historians to be the greatest athlete of all time and famous for setting the home run record, also holds the record for the greatest number of strike outs.
  • Winston Churchill failed sixth grade. He did not become Prime Minister of England until he was 62, and then only after a lifetime of defeats and setbacks. His greatest contributions came when he was a “senior citizen.”
  • Eighteen publishers turned down RIchard Bach’s 10,000 word story about “soaring” seagull, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, before Macmillan finally published it in 1980. By 1975, it had sold more than seven million copies in U.S. alone.
  • Richard Hooker worked for seven years on his novel, M*A*S*H, only to have it rejected by 21 publishers before Morrow decided to publish it. It became a runaway bestseller, spawning a blockbuster movie and a highly successful TV series (still airing today on cable channels as reruns!).

 

A Modern Day Parable…

There was once a wise woman who lived by herself near a small village. Rumor had it that she could always accurately predict when the rains would come, or help heal a sick child with herbs, or calm angry neighbors and help them to resolve their fights and arguments. People came from all over the land to meet with her and seek her advice on matters both small and great. Her reputation was such that was said she was never wrong — not ever.

Some of the children of the village didn’t believe that it was possible to always be right. Surely she could not know everything! They decided to test her knowledge. First they asked her to answer questions about the planets, the animals, and the world. No matter how hard the questions, she always answered correctly.

The children were amazed at her knowledge and learning and most were ready to stop testing the wise woman. However, one boy was determined to prove that the old woman couldn’t know everything. Hatching a devious scheme, he told all of his friends to meet him at the woman’s home the following afternoon so he could prove she was a faker.

All through the next day he hunted for a bird. Finally he caught a small songbird in a net. Holding it behind his back so no one could see what was in his hands, he walked triumphantly to the wise woman’s home.

“Old woman!” he called. “Come and show us how wise you are!”

The woman walked calmly to the door. “May I help you?” she simply asked.

“You say you know everything — prove it — what am I holding behind my back?” the young boy demanded.

The old woman thought for a moment. She could make out the faint sounds of a birds wings rustling. “I do not say I know everything — for that would be impossible,” she replied. “However, I do believe you are holding a bird in your hands.”

The boy was furious. How could the woman have possibly known he had a bird? Thinking quickly he came up with a new scheme. He would ask the woman whether the bird was alive or dead. If the woman replied, “alive,” he would crush it with his hands and prove her wrong. If she answered, “dead,” on the other hand, he would pull the living bird from behind his back and allow it to fly away. Either way he would prove his point and the wise woman would be discredited.

“Very good,” he called. “It is a bird. But tell me, is the bird I am holding alive or dead?”

The wise woman paused for a long moment while the boy waited with anticipation for his opportunity to prove her wrong. Again the woman spoke calmly, “The answer, my young friend, is in your hands. The answer is in your hands.”

The boy realized that the wise woman had once again spoken correctly and truthfully. The answer was indeed in his own hands. Feeling the bird feebly moving in his hands as it tried to escape his grasp, he felt suddenly very ashamed.

The answer was in his hands — slowly and gently he brought his hands to the front of his body. Looking into the eyes of the delicate bird he apologized, “I am sorry little one,” and he opened his hands to let her go free.

https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/tales/session11/story1

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Is this fable a little too deep for you? Well, remember: the answer is in your hands.

Only you have the power to succeed or fail. Regardless of what others say about your present or future worth, your “wins or losses” are in your hands. You need to trust your mentors/teachers/parents and especially believe in yourself!

Then, the application of practice, patience, and perseverance (never giving up!) will make all the difference!

What are your goals and ambitions for 2019?

Happy New Year!

PKF

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of The 3 Ps and 1 B to Success

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Ember” by VIVIANE6276 and “bird” by Pezibear

 

Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor

Resources to Learn the Basics of Directing an Orchestra

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One of my favorite times with the South Hills Junior Orchestra, leading up to preparations for the Charity Concert, is when members take the baton and conduct most of the carols.

According to “The Method Behind the Music” website at https://method-behind-the-music.com/conducting/intro/, “Conducting is more than waving your arms in front of the band/orchestra. The conductor has two primary responsibilities:

1.      To start the ensemble, to establish a clear, uniform tempo, and keep it throughout the performance.

2.      To help the musical quality of the piece (expression, dynamics, cues).”

I also like the comments from School Band & Orchestra (SB&O) digital newsletter:

 “As a conductor, you have one of the most creative jobs in the world – you sculpt sound with your hands! You evoke, shape, and inspire sound with your conducting. Have you ever asked a snare drummer to keep time for your ensemble? Many conductors are the visual equivalent of our snare drummer. If you were given the task of inventing conducting, would you pound the air on every beat regardless of the musical impetus? Or, rather, would you craft a set of gestures that indicates all aspects of the music, not just the meter. If you choose the latter, imagine your conducting as the artistic catalyst to inspired music making.” — SB&O

In other words, be an artist, and “shape the music!” Check out their “15 Conducting Tips for Inspired Musicianship” at http://sbomagazine.com/1269-archives/2320-59creative-conducting-15-conducting-tips-for-inspired-musicianship.html.

seriestoshare-logo-01The purpose of this short SHJO “Series to Share” is to get you started with some basic “how-to steps” to learn how to conduct. Truly, for success in directing an ensemble, the only thing you need to do is “give it a try” and practice those beat patterns with your favorite musical selections. During the Saturday SHJO rehearsals in December, we will give you the opportunity to direct the entire group and provide you a few hints!

Enjoy! PKF

 

1. Conducting in 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 (mirror image – follow her)

 

2. Conducting in 6/8

https://ourpastimes.com/conducting-orchestra-in-68-time-13580341.html

 

3. Tips for Conducting an Orchestra (series):

Common Time Signatures for Symphony Orchestras

 

Hand Movements to Conduct an Orchestra

 

Mistakes of Beginning Conductors

 

4. The Conducting Beat Patterns

http://cnx.org/content/m20804/latest/

 

5. Use of Left Hand in Conducting

http://cnx.org/content/m20895/latest/

 

6. Advanced Concepts about Conducting

https://www.ted.com/topics/conducting

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by JerzyGorecki.

Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter

How You Act During Public Performances Is a Reflection on Who You Are

foxsfiresides

Almost 30 years ago, an article I wrote for the Upper St. Clair High School Choral Boosters was a lighthearted attempt to address a growing need in public performances – one of improving our audiences’ listening habits and knowledge of musical “traditions,” as well as raising their overall consciousness and sensitivity. Although it now seems a little “retro” and “dated” (texting was not invented yet and tabloids were the fiction of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi programs), it “hits the nail squarely on the head,” identifying the ongoing problem of inappropriate audience etiquette for student, amateur, and professional music, dance, and drama productions.

 

“Uninvited Guests at Performances” (1990)

The painter begins his/her creation on a clean white canvas, void of any dirt, smudges, or imperfections, so that the final art form is pure and readily convey to the viewer. In much the same way, a musician or singer relies on “a clean slate” – that is, a quiet and attentive audience in the concert hall without any stray noises or interruptions that will distract from his/her extremely delicate art form of live music. However, unlike the painter (or unless the concert is recorded and distributed at a later date), music represents only a temporary art… the effects lasting only a moment, and then forever lost until the next time the work is performed. That is why a tradition of concert customs have evolved to “set the stage” for clear communication of that really wonderful expression of music.

However, we have noticed in school and professional performances in our area, several new trends have been born from our fast-paced life styles, overworked schedules, television viewing, and Walkman listening habits. Several uninvited guests have been seen at concerts, unintentionally making life miserable for performers and audience members alike. Do you recognize these “characters?”

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First of all, there is Gertrude the Gossip and Theresa Talker who spend the entire performance discussing local events or their personal lives. They usually sit in the center section, first row, in order to have the greatest disruptive effect, even though they would be the first to suggest that you were rude for listening in on their conversation. A close relative, Prentice Postmortem, likes to give a “play-by-play” account of the relative success of the concert, with comments like, “Did you hear that wrong note?” and “I wonder why he was chosen for the solo part?”

Then we have several distinguished visitors from the Planet Hypertension, including the “frequent flyers” Leroy the Seat Leaper and Hortence Half-a-Concert and a host of others. Everyone has witnessed spectacular events created by these adults, who have developed the most advanced technique of choosing only the softest or most sensitive moment in the music to jump up and change seats, run down the aisle towards the bathroom or parking lot, or go get something to eat. Somehow, they feel they are being helpful or considerate of the musicians or actors on the stage when they stand up to leave before or during a particular song, often right after their son/daughter performs. Of course, some music directors themselves are contributing to the situation, selling 12-ounce cans of pop and sugar candy at intermission, which are known elements of improving (?) the biochemistry and behavior of young children staying up past their bedtime.

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To add a touch of “color” from a very large pallet of noises, several other guests in the audience feel it is necessary to “perform” along with the singers and instrumentalists. If you sit near the recording or PA microphones or cable TV cameras, you will usually find the boisterous Cyril Cellophane unwrapping candy specially designed to “rattle” everyone’s nerves, along with his friends Velda Velcro and Hildegarde Hum-along, not to mention Winslow WatchBeeper. One of the finest (?) musical moments ever experienced at Upper St. Clair High School was the cacophony of buzzers, chimes, Looney-Tunes™ alarms, and chirps during the slow movements of Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio in the 1987 USCHS Holiday Choral Festival. Performers and conductors have always appreciated the opportunity of setting the exact hour of an ongoing concert using the hourly signals of digital watches in the audience.

And don’t forget those long-time veterans Clem the Clapper, Shouting Sherwood, and Wardella Whistler, who store up their applause for inappropriate moments like between movements, or after the Hallelujah Chorus or Star-Spangled Banner, but leave early so that they missed the curtain calls.

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All sarcasm and joking aside, performers do appreciate the faithful support of the community. Without the public, lavish Broadway musical productions and extensive choral and instrumental concerts could not be featured. Our talented and hard-working students/musicians/singers/dancers/actors need and deserve large audiences in order to exhibit their craft. The “final exam” of every music ensemble and theater company is the public performance. And, nothing is more demoralizing then spending three months in rehearsal and then performing for only a handful of parents and well-wishers!

However, occasionally it is our job as music lovers to remind everyone the need for concert customs which just add up to good manners. With the bad habits of MTV™ and Muzak™ that music education researchers say may have bred insensitivity and inattentiveness in the indiscriminate consumption of music, we have to focus on providing that “clean slate” – a calm, orderly, and quiet atmosphere of an alert, well-informed audience!

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Yes, “manners matter!” I can still hear my mother scold us, “Don’t be rude. Do you think you were you raised in a barn?”

On the subject of “audience do’s and don’ts,” we will leave the “last word” to http://www.fanfaire.com/rules.html. The following are considered their updated and succinct “Golden Rules” of Audience Etiquette:

  1. Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
  2. If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
  3. Unwrap all candies and cough-drops before the curtain goes up or the concert begins.
  4. Make sure beepers, cellphones, and watch alarms are OFF. And don’t jangle the bangles.
  5. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
  6. Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
  7. THOU SHALT NOT TALK, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
  8. Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
  9. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky. But, leaving while the show is in progress is discourteous.
  10. The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Here are several things to add to their guidelines – NO TEXTING, not even turning on your smartphone or iPad for a moment to look at the time or your messages. The light from the screen is very distracting to everyone in the auditorium and the performers on the stage! In addition, flash photography is generally prohibited, and may even be dangerous to the performers (can cause accidents!). Finally, any audio/video recording of the event may be an infringement of copyright law. (Don’t do it!)

In conclusion (from fanfare.com): “Remember, part of one’s pact as an audience member is to take seriously the pleasure of others, a responsibility fulfilled by quietly attentive (or silently inattentive) and self-contained behavior. After all, you can be as demonstrative as you want during bows and curtain calls.”

Here are more links to explore for teachers, practitioners, and supporters of music:

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter.”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

seriestoshare-logo-01

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “fireplace” by joseclaudioguima, “angry” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, “lolly” by yossigee, “grandstand” by cocoparisienne, and “smartphone” by SplitShire.

Auditions, Adjudications, & Screenings

The Tools of Music Selection and Evaluation – An Insider’s Look at Student Placement

foxsfiresides

Do you know the differences among the terms screening, audition and adjudication?

Listed in order of low to high feedback, these evaluation tools furnish staff, students and parents methods for identifying the talent, level of achievement, preparation and potential success for participation in future music and drama productions, festivals or special ensembles, or for rewarding solo parts, seating placement, musical leads, and other student leadership positions.

A screening (sometimes called a pre-audition) is the simplest form of selecting students on a quick “pass” or “fail” basis. One or more judges usually listen for one or two characteristics such as overall preparation or a prerequisite proficiency to determine “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” In many cases, participants who earn a “passing mark” go on to a more detailed audition to determine ranking for a particular ensemble or part.

pmeaExample of a screening: Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) District One regularly sponsors a pre-audition for sopranos and altos auditioning for District SHS Chorus, as well as flute, clarinet and trumpet players for seating in Honors Band and other instrumental festivals.

In some cases, the application form itself is the initial “screening” for a particular event. For example, to participate in a music education association (MEA) like PMEA Junior High Chorus, you must be a 7th through 9th grade student, member in good standing of your school’s choral ensemble, and sponsored by the school music director who is a current MEA member and attending the try-outs. If an applicant does not meet these simple qualifications, then he/she is automatically eliminated from the selection process.

An audition (sometimes called try-out) is the process by which a panel of three or more judges rate a candidate based on a series of specific characteristics or “audition criteria” using a numerical score (usually 1 to 10 or 1 to 5). The sum of these scores from all of the judges reflects an overall ranking, often listed by voice type or instrumental section.

Here are a few local examples of audition criteria:

MEA Ensemble Placement Try-outs: Tone, Rhythm, Intonation, Technique, Musicality and Preparedness

Spring Musical Cast Auditions: Voice (intonation, expression, technique, range), Projection (tone quality, dynamics, overall loudness), Clarity (diction, rhythm, timing, dialect), Movement (blocking, flexibility, grace, coordination), Expression (animation, emotion, presence, characterization), Attitude (stability, reliability, desire, takes direction?)

Frequently very competitive, membership in a particular organization or the assignment of solo parts or leadership positions is usually very limited. Auditions are used to select the “very best” from the pool of contestants—a well-defined “cut-off” is made to fulfill the size of the ensemble/group or availability of solo/lead openings. Every year in most schools, hundreds of students audition for competitive festivals, drama/musical leads, scholarships, or leadership positions—less than 5% earn recognition or “win” a position at the conclusion of these auditions.

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While auditions may select or “deselect” students for an event, they cannot be used as instruments of individual evaluation or “grading.” Judges are not expected to write comments or make “value judgments” about the overall achievement, improvement, strengths or weaknesses of each candidate. There simply is not enough time to provide detailed individual feedback from an audition process or to issue a performance rating (such as “superior,” “excellent” or “good”). Therefore, since an audition is only a “snapshot” ranking of people at a specific moment in time and for a specific goal, no references should be made about an individual’s aptitude for success.

This is where the adjudication comes in. The most costly and time-consuming process of the three evaluations, adjudication provides specific comments, ratings and (in some) rankings for determining the strengths and weaknesses of an individual or ensemble. Judges in an adjudication (called adjudicators) are charged with evaluating each candidate or group with a “page” of musical criteria (not just a row or line of scores), defining the assets and needs of the performer(s) and making specific comments about focus areas and methods for improvement.

The best example of group adjudication is the international music festival enrolled by school performing arts groups during their spring music trips. The bands, choruses, jazz ensembles, and orchestras typically perform in front of three adjudicators who each record personal observations on a digital recorder during the music, write a one-page (or more) report on the positive and negative aspects of the group’s level of achievement (accuracy and mastery of technique, tone—blend and balance, ensemble-playing skills, appropriateness of musical selection and stylistic interpretation, poise, overall appearance, preparation, etc.), score the presentation (usually up to 100 points), and grade each group with “superior” or “excellent” ratings in comparison wusctaglineith all groups at all adjudications. When I was teaching at the Upper St. Clair High School, this adjudication process took more than a day for all of our ensembles to participate—thirty minutes per performance, costing as much as $50/student, and involving more than ten professional adjudicators and fifteen festival staff members for a multitude of adjudication sites.

For detailed individual appraisals, your MEA may offer noncompetitive Solo or Small/Large Group Adjudication Festivals (see your school music teacher for details). In addition, the hiring of a qualified private music instructor to evaluate your son’s or daughter’s abilities is an excellent idea. Pay for a month’s worth of music lessons (for theater students: drama and dance lessons, too.) and ask for an analysis of his/her strengths and weaknesses. A list of several local private voice or instrumental teachers may be available from your school music director.

Selection Tool Grid

In order to build self-motivation, creativity, leadership, self-confidence, teamwork and self-discipline, and to achieve greater skills in problem solving, personal goal setting and stress/time management, music teachers frequently encourage their students to participate in extra-curricular activities. As a further enrichment to the educational program, many musicians, actors, and dancers enroll in screenings, auditions and/or adjudications. However, the competitors in these activities need to develop (and update) realistic self-appraisals and understand the major differences of each evaluative tool. Most of all, we must all learn how to “lose gracefully” and not allow the diminishing of our self-esteem when positive results and recognition are not immediately forthcoming.

Another point: We cannot all be number one! For example, a musical production “team” needs multi-talented members from all skills and ability levels. Some performers need to be in the chorus, others in the dance ensemble for the production numbers, while still  others are suited for solos depending on the roles in the play. We need technical and stage operators (otherwise the curtain will not be raised, and backdrops and props will not appear!) After all, a football team would look silly at a game with only quarterbacks. Experts say explore your hidden talents, don’t be afraid to try new things, set “reasonably attainable goals,” prepare hard and long, and, most of all, persevere!

Parents: Does all of this make it a little easier to understand? When your child tells you he/she is planning to participate in the school play, or sign-up for drum major, captain, section leader, or other leadership position in marching band, please review the selection procedures carefully and these three definitions of student placement tools: screening, audition, and adjudication. Make sure both of you are aware of the audition criteria, what is expected, music or conducting assignments, and to allow for ample time for preparation and practice. I recommend to my students to video-record “mock tryouts” and playback and self-assess their progress. Listen to professional recordings of the selections. When appropriate, memorize your lines/music. Add expressive elements to your performance, such as an extended range of emotion,  phrasing, and dynamics. Repetition counts! Remember: practice does not necessarily make perfect… repeated “perfect practice” makes perfect.

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members. (For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.) This blog-post is free and available to share with other music students, parents, and directors.

Click here for a printable copy.

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

SHJO recruit

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Amber” by Pexels

Daily Ten Minute Warmups

The Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance

foxsfiresides

Just like an athlete’s regular workout to achieve specific goals for improvement in form, strength, and stamina, musicians need to adopt consistent practice habits, and apply a daily routine of the Three T’s:

  • Tuning and slow/long-tone warmup
  • Three Scales a Day
  • Technical Etude or Study

Even if time is very limited, the music directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra recommend that, at a minimum, every musician spends at least ten minutes a day on a regime of playing scales and at least one technical exercise or etude (usually prescribed by a private teacher) to “maintain their chops,” increase flexibility and resilence, and further their technical proficiency.

The TECH TIP #1 outline below provides a suggested framework to follow (especially suitable for violin, viola, cello, and string players, but adaptable to any instrument).

This involves the following approach:

  • Consistent drill (ten minutes a day, seven days a week)
  • Focused drill (no distractions or interruptions, or it doesn’t count)
  • Repetitive drill (many revolutions and repeats)
  • Creative drill (innovative and inventive: new keys, articulations, rhythms, etc.)

 

How to Practice: “Variety is the Spice of Life!”

Key to this formula is venturing out of your “comfort zone” and exploring the entire “Circle of Fifths” – different key signatures (don’t just play in the same key every day), 400px-Circle_of_fifths_deluxe_4.svgMajor and minor scales, and numerous varied patterns:

  • Repeated notes
  • Unique rhythms
  • Slow to fast tempos
  • Slurs
  • Bowings (strings)
  • Intervals (e.g. scales in thirds, etc.)
  • Arpeggios
  • Dynamics and other expressive markings

Other practice strategies have been previously shared here (click on the “fireside” menu above or go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/), and offer a host of problem solving techniques suitable for instrumentalists of any age and abilty level.

In addition, here are a few more tips for effective practice:

  1. Play your instrument every day, at least 5-7 times per week. Practicing in short amounts daily is more preferable than “cramming.” Developing technique is much like an exercise workout. Teach your muscles by doing a little bit daily.
  2. Set regular time(s) to practice. Consistency is the key to success.
  3. Find a comfortable, well-lit, quiet place to practice.  No television or telephone interruptions!
  4. Practice standing up, not sitting (except cello players). Remember to keep muscles relaxed and loose.  Relaxation and breathing exercises prior to the start of a practice session can be especially helpful.
  5. Use a mirror to visually check your form and technique. Use a recorder to aurally check your playing.
  6. When trying to improve intonation, play SLOWLY. Try to memorize your music or passage, close your eyes or play in the dark.  By restricting visual input, you may help enhance your aural ability, becoming more sensitive and “attuned” to tuning.
  7. Experts say “start slow and small.” After sight-reading (without stopping) your new selection, break it down into “practice goals” and “problem solve.” At each session, focus on a small section or difficult passage(s). Gradually increase your tempos or add more difficult fingerings/positions/bowings. As you learn each section, overlap your practice goals into repetitive longer “run-throughs” of the music.
  8. Test yourself performing “ten-times-in-a-row” with 100% accurate notes, rhythms and articulations.
  9. LISTEN!  If you are having trouble with an orchestra piece, or a new solo work, buy a recording, research it on YouTube, or try to get one from the library. Even better, get multiple recordings of it so you can hear different interpretations. Then, listen to it a lot.  Listen to it in the car, on your headphones while taking a walk, as background music while talking to a friend, during dinner, etc.
  10. seriestoshare-logo-01Don’t forget that the ultimate goal is not to produce the notes you see on the page as you would type in words on a keyboard—the goal is to produce beautiful music.  Listen to yourself and “make music” as you practice.

SHJO’s mission is all about supporting school music programs. (For more information, about the Southwestern PA community ensemble, please visit www.shjo.org.) Consult your band or orchestra teacher, as well as a private teacher (if you have one) for more detailed instruction on warmups, tuning, scale reading, and etude assignments.

 

Sample Scales

If you do not own a scale book, here are a few guides for string players:

Best wishes on setting up a daily ten minute PRACTICE PLAN!

PKF

Tech Tip #1

Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance

  1. Tuning
  2. Three Scales a Day (two Major and one minor)
  3. Technical Etude or Study

What is needed?

  • SmartMusic, eTuner, or other standalone digital tuner
  • Lists of scales in different keys
  • Supplemental materials (such as Essentials for Strings or Essential Elements 2000 for Strings Book 2 p. 44-45)
  • Violin or Viola Etudes: VIOLIN/VIOLA: Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 1 or Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 2*
  • Cello Etudes: Sebastian Lee or Alwin Schroeder*
  • String Bass Etudes: Simandl*

Other instruments: any etude appropriate to your instrument *(ask your private teacher)

Recommendations

  1. Per daily warm-up, perform two Major scales and one minor scale.
  2. Play one scale slow with focus on natural tone production/vibrato and precise intonation.
  3. lay one scale fast with emphasis on articulation or bowing style.
  4. Play one scale using unique rhythmic, slurring, melodic patterns, shifting or in positions.
  5. Play at least one of the above scales in a flat key (Major or minor).
  6. epending on level of achievement, two octaves is the norm; one octave for novices or playing new keys starting on D (violin), G (viola/cello), A (bass) strings, C (all other instruments); three octaves for advanced string students.
  7. Check off the different keys you play on the Circle of Fifths. (The goal is that all string musicians should be able to play scales in keys of 1-5 sharps and 1 to 4 flats.)
  8. Vary your workout to include a range of expressive elements including articulations (staccato, marcato, legato, spiccato, hooked bows, pizzicato) and dynamics (forte to piano).

Definitions

  • Major Scale: Do-1 Re-2 Mi-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps between 3-4 and 7-8
  • Natural Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Te-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 5-6
  • Harmonic Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3, 5-6, and 7-8
  • Melodic Minor UP: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 7-8
  • Melodic Minor DOWN (same as Natural Minor)
  • Speedy Rhythm Drill (looks like an upside-down pyramid): four sixteenth notes per scale note (up and down), three sixteenths, two sixteenths, and one sixteenth
  • Speedy Slur Drill (looks like a normal pyramid): one quarter note (once up and down), two eighth notes slurred played twice, three notes (triplet) slurred played three times, and four sixteenth notes slurred played four times.
  • Slow-Fast drills: four eighth notes followed by four sixteenths (or vice versa)
  • The 2 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 2): Triplets Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Fa, Sol-Sol-La, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.
  • The 3 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 3): Sixteenths Do-Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Mi-Fa, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.

 

For a printable copy of this TECH TIP #1, click below:

Music Tech Tips TEN MINUTES A DAY

 

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by Alexas_Fotos

 

Summer or Anytime Music Enrichment

Focus on YOUR MUSIC during summer vacations, holidays, or academic breaks

foxsfiresides

The following idea-bank is a checklist offered to Band and Orchestra instrumentalists, their music teachers, and family members as “food for thought!”

Here are a few suggestions to consider as a TO-DO LIST after all the standardized tests, final concerts, and end-of-the-semester projects in all academic areas. Summertime is a wonderful way to “get to know” your instrument and build on your knowledge-base, technique, musicianship, and repertoire.

  1. Help organize your time by setting up a regular daily practice schedule. Practice a little every day. Consistency creates confidence!
  2. Create a “scale journal.” Write down on manuscript paper all your major and minor scales and the I, IV and V7 arpeggio series. Practice scales in all keys.
  3. Shriya NarasimhanCreate four new scale variations every day and add them to your “journal.” Creative new variations should make playing scales more enjoyable. Some examples are unusual rhythms (pizza toppings, desserts, interesting proper names), more difficult slurs, scales in thirds, etc.
  4. Explore the performance of one, two or three octaves of major, minor, chromatic, pentatonic and whole tone scales.
  5. To improve reading skills, play new music “at sight,” even music written for other instruments. Don’t be afraid to play a challenging piece above your ability level or even read a song from a piano score.
  6. Play through some of your “oldies” and favorites from past lessons or Band/Orchestra classes.
  7. shjo_Jonathan Pickell and Wendy HartVisit the local music store and browse. Explore new publications of Classical, pop, folk, fiddle/jazz, show tunes or other styles.
  8. Sign-up for a music camp or college classes of music appreciation, theory, eurhythmics, etc.
  9. Take a few private lessons. For enrichment, take piano, voice and/or learn a new instrument.
  10. Spend an entire day in the sheet music, recordings, and music book section at the local library.
  11. Purchase and learn the music audition requirements for your MEA band/orchestra ensemble or solo adjudication festivals.
  12. Form a chamber group with other players in your neighborhood and rehearse at least once a week.
  13. _shjo_violinistsPurchase a duet book for mix or matched instruments (such as Beautiful Music for 2 Stringed Instruments by Applebaum—Book I (easy), Book II (medium), Book III advanced). Team up with another musician (band or string) and share non-transposing parts (flute or oboe with violin, trombone with cello, etc.).
  14. Encourage yourself to “pick out a song by ear” and try to write it down on music paper.
  15. Sit in or join a local community or youth ensemble like the South Hills Junior Orchestra which rehearses on Saturdays in the Upper St. Clair High School (Western PA) Band Room. Rehearsals resume on September 8, 2018.
  16. shjo_David Levin_and_Devon AllenPlan a vacation or academic break around an out-of-state music workshop or concert series.
  17. Update your iTunes, Google Music, Amazon Music or other online music streaming services by purchasing and listening new solo or chamber works by artists who perform on the same instrument as you.
  18. Subscribe to SmartMusic, install/learn new music software, or peruse free online programs. Samples: Have you tried https://www.musictheory.net/ or https://www.good-ear.com/?
  19. Tune in to WQED FM, WDUQ or PBS and share a few minutes of classical music at least once a week. Attend concerts by professional musicians (like the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Civic Light Opera, or River City Brass).
  20. Prepare and perform a fifteen-minute recital for the residents of a local nursing home, hospital or Senior Citizen center.
  21. _shjo_in_rehearsal_031018 - 00Read books or magazine articles about famous musicians, performers, conductors or composers.
  22. Take a “field trip” to a luthier (person who makes or repairs string instruments) or the instrument dealer. Have your instrument examined, cleaned, adjusted and appraised. Purchase accessories and do any necessary repairs. If necessary, update your insurance!

How many of these can you accomplish over the months of June, July and August… or throughout the year? “Practice makes self-confidence,” and the more time you put into it, the more you take away from the experience. Please enjoy your summer or winter breaks, but learn to have fun with your instrument and EXPLORE MORE MUSIC!

Click here for a digital “take-away” of this list. Also, please feel free to share the other SHJO enrichment resources and “Fox Firesides” at http://www.shjo.org/foxs-fireside/ or https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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Paul K. Fox, Director, South Hills Junior Orchestra        www.shjo.org

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “fire” by skeeze.

 

Practice Journals Are “Notable” and the “Key” to Making Musical Progress

foxsfiresides

It’s all about defining focus, setting goals, practicing, and methodically solving problems!

A good way to “warm-up” to the benefits of making a personal practice diary, check out this video of cellist Sarah Joy “A Look Inside My Practice Journal.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=253UMKMfOoc.

(She has quite a collection of YouTube releases… everything from sight-reading tips to structuring your practice time. They are short and sweet!)

So, let’s get started with the “why” and “how” of using practice journals…

I asked the South Hills Junior Orchestra members to give me their insight on how they prioritize/plan their practice time. Thankfully, I received a thoughtful response from one of our violinists, Nicolette:

For practicing, I usually start out with a scale. Then, I’ll play a couple etudes I have. However, I won’t play all of them, instead I’ll leave some to play at the end of my practice. Then, I’ll move on to some of my easier pieces to practice. Moving on from that, I’ll play my harder pieces, or my orchestra music. I usually try to change it up a bit so I don’t get bored. Then I’ll finish up with the rest of my etudes. After I’m done practicing, I usually try to write in my practice journal. Whenever I practice, I will keep out my notes from my teacher and my practice journal to look back at while practicing.

For my practice journal, I try to write in it whenever I remember, because I would be lying if I said I wrote in it every day. When I do write in my practice journal, I write down what I need to practice the next day, whatever I was having difficulty with that day, and maybe some notes my teacher gave me.

If I’m starting to feel stressed and frustrated, or if I’m starting to get bored with practicing, I’ll start listening to music. The music can vary, but I mostly stick to musicals.

What do the experts say some of the rationales for maintaining a written journal for any serious educational pursuit?

  1. It defines targets for a more efficient use of time. http://www.essential-music-practice.com/efficient-practice.html
  2. Promotes accountability. http://theaspiringguitarist.net/guitar-practice-journal/
  3. Documents progress. https://www.musicindustryhowto.com/the-musicians-practice-journal-and-why-you-need-one/
  4. Keeps track of details. https://music.stackexchange.com/questions/3299/do-music-students-find-practice-journals-useful
  5. Harnesses creativity. https://lifehacker.com/why-you-should-keep-a-journal-and-how-to-start-yours-1547057185
  6. Explores what is important to you. http://blog.connectionsacademy.com/5-reasons-for-students-to-keep-a-journal/

What does a typical practice log/diary/journal look like?

The “basics” are lists of specific assignments, warm-ups, musical and technical goals, and repertoire. For example, the Fort Couch Band Director Dr. John Seybert distributes the following simple form to his grades 7-8 band students:

FCMS Practice Journal

Each entry should be dated and allow space to make comments and goals for your next session of practice. Many musicians divide up the page into segments, such as warmups, scales/exercises, etudes (studies), method book or solo pieces, and ensemble music, each with an area to jot down a narrative of what you did and how well things went.

When I was teaching strings (grades 5-12), my students and I developed an extremely detailed daily practice regime, which included a year’s checklist of lesson targets:

Daily String Practice Routine

You can make your own “things-to-do” list, including the focal points your music teachers “harp on” for improving form and technique. What does the band or orchestra director say about long tones, tuning, good posture, steady beat, rhythms and note-reading, fingerings, ensemble blend and balance, etc.? Emphasize one or more of these for each practice session!

seriestoshare-logo-01In your “customized” journal, I recommend leaving space for metronome markings, special articulations, practicing tips and instructions (like “repeat it three-times-in-a-row perfectly” or “work on measures #1-8 today, #5-12 tomorrow,” etc.) and time spent. Remember, you are a problem solver and seek ways to integrate your “tool box of tricks” to learn each challenging passage. What works for you? What doesn’t? That’s the true magic of a journal… in with the good, and out the bad!

Several previous Fox’s Firesides have explored practice methods and the setting of goals: http://www.shjo.org/foxs-fireside/. There are many other online resources, samples, and articles about practice journals. A few sites try to sell you printed forms, but others just offer you advice on creating and using documents to set practice goals. Take time to peruse these:

What do you have to lose? Try setting up and maintaining a practice journal! It may improve the value and focus of the time you devote to working on your music… and make a real difference in your musical progress! Like Olympic athletes… go for the goals and the gold!

For a printable copy of this article, click here.

Feel free to share all SHJO enrichment resources and “Fox Firesides” at http://www.shjo.org/foxs-fireside/.

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by Alicja