SMART Practice

Fox’s Fireside – Summer Camp Edition

foxsfiresides

 

My wife is a genius!

Well, I knew this before I married her in 1978, but every day I work “side by side” with her on music education projects like the South Hills Junior Orchestra Online Academy (SHJOOLA – pronounced shah-ZOH-lah), I discover even more of her amazing “hidden” talents and insights!

Donna Stark Fox is the author of 99% of this Fox’s Fireside.

We launched SHJOOLA and other digital/virtual/alternative programs (like SHJO.clips) to keep our community orchestra instrumentalists practicing inspite of the school closure and restrictions caused by the pandemic. We want to foster our players’ self-confidence and motivate even greater focus on new growth and achievement in instrumental technique, key literacy, ear-training, musicianship, personal goal-setting, and artistic enrichment. As the character Jean-Luc Picard from the Star Trek Next Generation series says, ENGAGE… in the pursuit of their own inspired initiatives in music learning!

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During the first week of SHJOOLA, we introduced this SMART Practice Primer (download and adapt to your own practice regime). The philosophy comes from my wife’s (ahem) 55+ years in the field of music performance as a violinist and pianist and a versatile career of 38+ years in the public schools teaching strings, band, general music, elementary chorus, musicals, etc.

What are the secrets of practice success? Past Fox’s Firesides address many issues of time, goals, focus, mentors, problem solving, and various playing techniques. (You may also peruse this catalog of past articles and our SHJO.clip library here.)

This article hopes to bring out a new approaches to “practice builds self-confidence…”

Are you ready for SMART Practice?

  • Schedule time for practice by using a calendar.
  • Find a quiet place to practice and gather everything you need.
  • Set goals. Write them down, make them measurable, and be specific and realistic. Check them off and “raise” your goals frequently.
  • Gather your equipment, including your instrument, music stand, chair, pencils, music folder, metronome, and tuner.
  • Chart your practice with a list of what to practice, because writing it down is a promise to do it!
  • Keep a reflective journal to organize your thoughts, to analyze and to set new goals.
  • Regularly make audio or video recordings of yourself and keep them in a file in a folder on your electronic device.

Smart Practice 1

Success starts with a plan!

Begin with a long-range goal/dream.

  • I will perform a solo with a symphony orchestra.
  • I will become a professional musician.
  • I will play in a college orchestra or band.
  • I will enjoy music throughout my adult life.

Set medium-range goals.

  • I will play a Mozart Concerto before I am 16.
  • I want to upgrade to a better-quality instrument when I am 14.

Set and rest short-term goals on a weekly and even daily basis.

  • This week, I will play the Bach Fugue with accurate fingerings and pitch.
  • This week, I will play the Bach Fugue at performance tempo.

Here is an example of one violinist’s SMART Practice plan:

 

Practicing with a plan

Tips on SMART Practice

  1. Warm-up with drills and exercises.
  2. Identify the key of each selection you are practicing.
  3. Play the scale for the key you have identified, using a rhythm or articulation pyramid.
  4. Select a passage to improve and mark the fingerings in pencil.
  5. Say the note names in half notes. (“If you can say it, you can play it!”)
  6. Be sure you practice every note as a half note using the fingerings provided by the conductor.
  7. Use a metronome to “keep it honest.”
  8. Practice VERY SLOWLY using the original rhythm and bowings/articulations.
  9. Gradually increase the tempo by “inching up” on the metronome.
  10. How many times have you played the passage correctly?
  11. Ten consecutive times right today, and ten more tomorrow, will already make the passage 20 times better than it was before!
  12. Schedule your next practice session.
  13. Reflect in your journal and set new short-term goals for tomorrow!

 

smart practice is training your brain

Training your brain is SMART Practice

  • Practice is a process.
  • Practice is all about habit development.
  • Practice leads to self-confidence.
  • Practice is an opportunity for self discovery.
  • Practice is cumulative.
  • Practice is where you can make mistakes privately.
  • Amateurs practice to get it right.
  • Professionals practice so that they never play it wrong.

This is your brain on SMART Practice

Variety is the spice of life and music variations challenge the mind!

You may have heard these strategies before:

  • First make it easier, then progressively harder.
  • First subtract (e.g. remove slurred notes) and then progressively add more challenging elements to the music (dynamics, longer phrases, articulations, fingerings, positions, memorization, etc.)
  • First play it slower, then progressively faster.
  • First take smaller sections (measure by measure, phrase by phrase), then progressively expand to larger sections, eventually being able to play the entire piece.

practice rubric

Try these rhythm and articulation pyramids on your scales, warmups, etudes, and any difficult passage in the music. Taking “baby steps,” create a new way to learn the part…

More to come… Part II will dive into additional recommendations for personal music problem solving with numerous examples.

Keep at it! You’ll make us all proud. Most importantly, especially yourself!

PKF

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The mission of the nonprofit South Hills Junior Orchestra 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 players.

The second half of our 37th season (Spring 2020) was postponed due to school closures and the pandemic. We are now offering SHJOOLA – the South Hills Junior Orchestra Online Academy. The program includes virtual sectional rehearsals, special workshop seminars via Zoom, and remote music learning activities, both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and provides a one-year subscription to MusicFirst Classroom, PracticeFirst, Sight Reading Factory, Musition (music theory), Noteflight (score notation) and other apps. Western PA instrumentalists are welcome to apply for membership in one of the 25 remaining “seats” in SHJOOLA by contacting Managing Director Janet Vukotich.

(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. For a printable, hard copy of this article, click here.

 

© 2020 by Paul K. Fox and Fox Paws Publications

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com:

“Camp Fire” by Chris Aram

 

 

Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor

Resources to Learn the Basics of Directing an Orchestra

foxsfiresides

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.

Goals for the Musical Road to Success

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Matt Hains

Making mature and meaningful decisions to plan personal practice

As the school concert season draws to a close and summer is almost upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on a little musical goal-setting, complete a personal inventory and needs assessment (in what areas do I need help?), foxsfiresidesprioritize what’s the most important, and define several new “practice plans.”

Do you recall a cartoon with Lucy van Pelt bossing Charlie Brown around and handing him his own very long list of New Year’s resolutions? Except for your parents and the music teachers who know YOU, it isn’t usually effective for someone else to pick your goals. (Of course, if you don’t listen to the suggestions from your music directors and private teachers, there’s a good chance you will never improve!) Sitting around doing nothing, accepting things as they are now, and randomly floating from one task to another accidentally “making music” without foresight or planning are not likely to work. Inattention and osmosis are slow ways to achieve anything in life. Obviously, you must be motivated, ambitious, focused, and committed to “whatever it takes” on the pathways towards self-improvement and musical mastery!

According to “goals experts” (such as the One Minute Manager book by Kenneth Blanchard and the Utah State University recommendations below), to create meaningful personal goals, they should:

  • Be written down (Take the time and post them in your room!);
  • Be specific (Keep it focused, simple, and to the point!);
  • Be concrete (Exactly what/how do you need to do?);
  • Be measurable (How do you know when you’ve succeeded?);
  • Be viewed and reviewed often (Look at them daily/weekly/monthly, and every time you practice!);
  • Be shared (Show them to your music teacher and/or parents/spouse!);
  • Be flexible and change as needed (Modify and adjust – set new goals!);
  • Have a time frame (When will these have to be completed?).

ALL students, parents, and teachers – CLICK ON THIS LINK! Download, print, and read Getting What You Want – How to Make Goals: https://www.usu.edu/asc/assistance/pdf/goal_setting.pdf

seriestoshare-logo-01Your practice should have well-defined goals. What do you want to learn as a musician? Are there particular pieces of music, styles, or technical skills you would like to be able to play? Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide what work is needed and assist defining specific learning targets. If you have a private teacher, he/she will automatically prescribe objectives for you, based on your present strengths and weaknesses. But if you desire to join the local youth symphony, participate in a music festival, play in a pit orchestra, perform solos or chamber music, become a conductor, help coach your peers, or want to improve a specific technical skill or general musicianship, make sure your teachers know it! They may be able to share warm-ups, strategies, or practice materials that will help you improve and expand your knowledge, technique, expressiveness, sight-reading and ear training.

Here are some goal-related questions to ask yourself (consider several of these):

  1. Have you signed up for the local band or string camp?
  2. Have you made arrangements to take a few lessons on your instrument or even on piano or music theory over the summer?
  3. What was the last method book you used? Did you finish it? How many pieces can you memorize from it?
  4. When was the last time you performed a solo or two and recorded yourself? Wouldn’t it be fun to video yourself playing a mini-recital and sending the DVD to your grandmother or grandfather?
  5. One of the greatest challenges in performance is sight reading. Can you pull-out a random piece of music (even something written for a different instrument) and play it straight through without stopping?
  6. Pick your greatest weakness or problem on the instrument. What needs your attention? New keys, rhythms, articulations?
  7. Ask your teacher what would be an appropriate exercise book. Can you define several new challenging goals in playing scales, arpeggios, other warm-ups, or études specifically geared for your instrument?
  8. For Western Pennsylvania residents, did you know the South Hills Junior Orchestra is always open to new instrumentalists? SHJO begins its Saturday practices a week after Labor Day (USCHS Band Room 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Everyone is welcome to play in 2-4 free-trial practices!

Take a trip to the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the three sets of free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

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. Feel free to download a printable copy 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.