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

 

 

Daily Ten Minute Warmups

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

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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

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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.