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

 

 

Reflections on the Glory Days

Reconciliation: Somber Ruminations of a Retiree

And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days…
Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
          —Bruce Springsteen

Okay, admittedly, this blog may be a little on the “dark side” – so before and after you read this, be sure to go out and take a long walk, hug your spouse or your grandchild or a dog, find something fun to do, indulge in some ice cream – anything to recharge, bolster your mood, and “come back to life!”

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Reconciling with and Redefining Retirement

According to Merriam Webster, the full definition of “reconcile” is the following:

“…to restore to friendship or harmony, settle, resolve, make consistent or congruous, cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant…”

Also referring to online dictionaries like Webster, the terms retiring and retirement mean “seclusion from the world, privacy, withdrawal, the act of going away, retreating, or disappearing.”

bucketlistNope. I cannot accept these archaic definitions! My translation for what it means to face this life-style shift of changing perspectives and expectations, “Crossing the Rubicon” into retirement, is finding alternative but purposeful pursuits, fulfilling “bucket lists,” and reshaping fresh new goals leading to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.

The Stages and Emotions of Retirement

In the July 25, 2016 PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, I reflected on a few of the ups-and-downs of post-employment transitioning and the emotional journey of re-adjustment, “reinventing” yourself, or as Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz advise in their book (by the same name), “Refire! Don’t Retire!”

In which “stage of retirement” do you find yourself? Are you resting and taking an extended vacation, or currently mapping out your post-employment “plans,” or already diving into your “golden years” with a full schedule of activities, or seeking new goals and your “life’s purpose,” or retreating from everything just to “get your head together?”  —Paul Fox

In a USA TODAY article (2014), Ken Dychtwald (gerontologist, psychologist, educator and CEO of Age Wave, a research think-tank on aging issues) labels the logical progression of Ken Dychtwaldfive stages of retirement that he predicts most people go through after leaving their full-time job. (See http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/10/12/five-stages-of-retirement/16975707/).

  1. Imagination
  2. Anticipation
  3. Liberation
  4. Re-engagement
  5. Reconciliation

I think every retired person should read these, figure out on which step they are, diagnose their feelings, and “move on” toward the final stage of reconciliation.

“Thanks to the ever-increasing longevity, many of us will have decades to learn, teach, play, work and re-invent ourselves again and again after our core career has ended. Perhaps it’s time to retire retirement.”  —Ken Dychtwald

However, I hear from many retirees that, at some point, they experience a period of depression or sadness after they retire, even a profound sense of loss or grief. There are hosts of articles about this phenomenon:

It boils down to coping with a few of these emotional “bumps” along the way:

  • Loss of professional identity
  • Loss of goals, daily routine, and purposeful activity
  • Loss of social network and interaction with co-workers

In my article, “Surviving Retirement: Avoiding Turmoil, Traumas, Tantrums, and Other Transitional Problems” in the Winter 2015 issue of PMEA News, I mentioned how quickly we retired teachers seemingly become forgotten and obscure.

Someone wise once told me not to be alarmed when even your own music students forget you after two or three years. Not having you in class, nor hearing your name on the public address, nor seeing you in the halls, nor watching you direct an assembly, ensemble or musical, it is perfectly natural that your identity will likely fade away as the “graduates” leave and the new enrollees enter the building.

However, since I was still working with the marching band (and had been involved in so many other extra-curricular activities), I figured I might have a year or two before disappearing into obscurity. Surprise! One month from stepping down, I was walking my dogs at the high school and came upon a junior girl and her mother in a “driving training session.” I shouted out “hello” (my Yorkie-poo didn’t even bark), and the girl immediately rolled up her windows and moved away… “Stranger danger?” A few minutes later, when the opportunity presented itself (mom and driver switched seats), I introduced myself and received a blank look when I reassured them, “I just retired from this school. Surely you remember Mr. Fox?” Nope. Don’t expect it. Anyway, there are advantages to losing the spotlight and becoming totally anonymous.  —Paul Fox

This is normal. “Type-A” personalities and “peak performers” must make a concerted effort to limit linking the majority of their self-worth and identity to their employment! Echoed by author Sydney Lagier in “Seven Secrets to a Happy Retirement” at US News and World Report (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2010/07/20/7-secrets-to-a-happy-retirement), we should not be addicted to achievement. “The more you are defined by your job, the harder it will be to adjust to life without.”

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This is my favorite reflection implying our failure to let go of “our glory days,” used with permission from the very gifted poet Nancy Ellen Crossland (see her other writings at http://www.voicesnet.com/allpoemsoneauthor.aspx?memberid=1022350010):

Reflections on an Autumn Day

Where once they hung in glorious array
Golden tinged, copper swirled
Russet swatches
Now trodden and dampened;
What a sad display!

Where once waving and twirling
In crisp autumn days
Clinging to the ground
Plastered on soles of shoes
Forever appear to be bound,

Ah, but a few stalwart leaves hang
Grasping on for life
Another gust, a downpour or two
They also shall join those
trampled leaves askew,

So bid farewell, oh hearty ones
Another season shall again pass
You shall have your days in the sun,

Your brilliance shall never slip away
For always shall be remembered
Your autumn glory days. 

—Nancy Ellen Crossland    11/04/2010

 

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In addition, I noticed feeling these “retirement blues” when I attended the viewing of the late PA music educator Andrew Ruzzini. To be honest, at every funeral, the concept of facing our own mortality becomes more and more difficult. But, even worse, very few people attended Andy’s service, most of his students were unaware of his passing, and my heart ached witnessing the dismal response to the death of one of the most influential band directors in the early years of my former school district! We will all be forgotten?

The Legacy of Heroes and Mentors

The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus lays out a beautiful theme for music teacher retirees: that last scene and the speech of his former student, a clarinet player who struggled to get a good sound, now the governor of the state, was so moving.

Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.  —Adult Gertrude Lang, character in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus
My own idol (ensemble director and violin/viola instructor), the “father of strings in the East Hills of Western Pennsylvania,” Eugene Reichenfeld lived to a ripe old age of 103 years. In spite of a few health issues, he was still teaching privately up to two weeks before he passed on. He was a tireless, very physical, extremely active, fullprospective-music-student-1440071y engaged man. One example, he transformed his backyard by moving a truckload of large rocks around his garden when he was 80 years old. I attended his 100th birthday party where he played an hour-plus recital with three generations of the Reichenfelds. He always told prospective teachers, “Surround yourself with young people and you’ll never grow old.” The comment I wrote in memory of Eugene Reichenfeld in the online guest book (legacy.com) came from the heart: “With our mentor’s passing, orchestra music and education in our area will never be the same. However, thankfully, Maestro Reichenfeld’s legacy is that he ‘passed on the baton’ and inspired so many future teachers to follow in his footsteps… sharing his love of and skill in strings for eternity! The music lives on!”

Three More Reflections for the Road…

I am grateful for finding the final column of Maryellen Weimer, Penn State Professor and Editor of the The Teaching Professor, sharing her thoughts on the things she will and won’t miss after 33 years of teaching: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/retirement-reflections-things-i-will-and-wont-miss/.

If you have the time (and the intellect – he is very deep), you should also read the “retirement notes” of Gary T. Marx: Hither and Thither No More: Reflections on a Retired, But Not Shy, Professor at http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/hitherthither.html#note2.

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And, thank you, Corita Kent, for summing up the prescription to a happy, healthy, rewarding, and meaningful life… before, during, and after employment!

If you look too far ahead, living only for dreams, or too far back, living only to repeat the past, you will miss the fullness of the present. This is a lesson for both your professional life and your personal life. It is important to have balance in one’s life, so find the time to do the things that you enjoy — athletic or physical activities, the beautiful outdoors, visiting with friends, reading books, volunteering in your community. May you find the satisfaction of living a well-balanced and healthy life. —Corita Kent
PKF
© 2016 Paul K. Fox

More on Retirement…

For additional articles on retirement at this site, please click on “retirement resources” to the right, or one of the following links to other blog-posts: