SMART Practice

Fox’s Fireside – Summer Camp Edition

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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

 

 

Virtual/Remote/Alternative Music Ed

Resources for Teaching Music Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19

The dreaded messages came to almost every educator:

EMERGENCY ALERT:

Out of an abundance of caution relating to the prevention of spreading the coronavirus, beginning on _____, all after-school, extra-curricular, and outside group meetings and rehearsals are postponed until further notice.

* * *

Dear Students, Parents, and Staff:

All ______ school programs such as sports, band and jazz concert, spring musical, choir festival, dance and voice recitals, booster meetings and fund-raisers, and the music department adjudication trip, are cancelled.

* * *

Important announcement:

The spring concert scheduled for March 28 at the Performance Hall will not take place. A decision about whether to cancel this performance or postpone it to another date will be made as the community health situation continues to evolve.

And then, the Governor closed the schools for two to eight weeks (or more?).

Governor Wolf
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf

Dear Families,

Thanks for your patience as we work through the events that have been occurring and planning for what lies ahead. We hope you and your family are staying well, and we know that many of you are looking forward to a Virtual Learning experience for your child.

We want to share some important information with all of you as we prepare this transition. While we do not know how long our buildings will be closed, we want to be prepared for ______ Virtual Learning for as long as it is necessary.

The immediate effect? Suddenly, our kids were sent home for an extra-early spring break, hopefully remembering to bring their instruments and music! Trying to “embrace” this world emergency (from a safe distance, of course), no one had a “crystal ball” to predict or even imagine the far-reaching effects, many of which we are still awaiting answers!

  • When will we be able to go back to school?
  • How can we collaborate, grow, and share our music learning, personal progress, repertoire and skills learned over the past year?
  • What will happen to everything all of us were forced to leave unscheduled, unfinished, or “in production?”
  • Will commencement be cancelled, too?
  • Worst yet, will our seniors fail to graduate, receive their diplomas, and start college on time next fall?

Every music teacher I know cried out, “How can I reach-out to my students to help them find alternative avenues to making music? The challenge is now thrust upon us to find ways to inspire our students to continue building on their “musical momentum” in daily practice, as well as stimulate other sources of artistic enrichment and the self-motivation to create new music goals.

My first act as a community youth director was to “fire up” my orchestra’s website and Facebook page. We regularly send out Fox’s Firesides of articles on practice tips, music problem-solving techniques, goal-setting, keeping a journal, developing teamwork, learning to conduct, acquiring college references, showing concert etiquette, etc. and other notices to the members and parents using a free-version of Mailchimp.

SHJOclips

In addition, we launched something called SHJO.clips, low-tech but hopefully effective in “exciting” future music enrichment and exploration: online music games, worksheets, sample recordings and videos, practice excerpts, music theory exercises, sight-reading and ear training assignments, and much more… a treasure chest of FUN things-to-do or c.l.i.p.s. to do ON THEIR OWN: Create, Listen, Inspire, Practice, Share.

Archives of both Fox’s Firesides and SHJO.clips are available by clicking the menu at the top or visiting http://www.shjo.org/ (look under “resources”).

Are we permitted access to our students and classes online during the official closures? Does your school use Canvas or other virtual educational environments to hold digital classes, post learning activities, make assignments, provide feedback, and/or assess your students’ achievement? (Are you even allowed to do so? I cannot answer this essential question because I do not know school law and I retired from the public schools in 2013.)

smartmusic and musicfirst

Are you one of the “lucky ones” who had previously set-up either the Smartmusic or MusicFirst online platforms (and the students know how to use the it) and can continue encouraging your band instrumentalists, string players, or vocalists to sight-read, practice, explore new literature, perform, record, and assess themselves?

Do you and your students need cheering up with a “pep-talk” by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, the famous “music educator’s guru,” guest speaker and expert motivator often presented as the kick-off keynote session at music conferences. “Dr. Tim” challenges us all to focus on what’s important and how we can put our time to good use:

“Life is about 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

The pessimist sees the challenge in every opportunity, but the optimist sees the opportunity in every challenge.”

 

Set aside 17 minutes to recharge with this video. Then, share it with your students!

I am proud to admit that, in a single act, our profession has so far risen to the occasion. In an effort to help our “stranded” programs and motivate music educators and their students, so many tech experts jumped into the fray to post their recommendations and resources. At the end of this blog-post is a (very long) list of links from them, at least active as of today, for distance learning strategies and virtual music education.

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https://www.pmea.net/council-for-ttrr/

We have taken the time to compile many of these suggestions and warehouse them on the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association State Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention website here. Look under the heading “Virtual Music Learning – Engaging Students During the Break.” This is the impetus for this article. The samples provided below (probably only the “tip of the iceberg” and already out-of-date) are by no means all-comprising and fully comprehensive. With every minute of the day dragging on during this crisis and we are still “shut in” our homes away from our music students, new solutions are being posted to Facebook groups like Music Educators Creating Online Learning.

Click here if you would like a printable PDF file of this revision of resources.

Take the time to research what might work for you. At the very least, pass on the music games and puzzles offered at sites like Music Tech Teacher or Cornerstone Confessions. Venture into learning new apps like Zoom.com for webinar/meeting management.

Music does make a difference in all of our lives… and we need to keep our musicians and singers “at it” even during this catastrophe!

Best wishes to you and yours. Stay safe and healthy! Thank you for your dedication and contributions to music education!

(Editor’s Note: We have continued adding many more updates to the list below at the website of the PMEA Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention accessible from this link.)

PKF

 

 

Sources of Online Music Media and Instruction

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “child-play-game-technology-3264751” by ExplorerBob

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

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.