“Top 10” Organizing Tips for 2019

Food for Thought for “Getting Your Stuff Together”

Once in awhile, someone suggests an article that might be suitable for everyone who stumbles upon this website… retired (but very busy) music teachers, active music educators, collegiates, and music students of all ages. Of course, I cannot resist putting together my own list of ways to become a better time manager and efficiency expert… mainly because I was never that organized when I taught classes in three buildings, assisted in marching band, produced plays and musicals, and served as a curriculum leader during my 35+-year career. (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do…” or did!) It’s now easy to recommend… and after trolling the Internet a little, backing up this advice with numerous “expert” protagonists.

 

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1. Throw out the “to-do list” and use a calendar

“Millionaires don’t use to-do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.”

– Srinivas Rao at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists

According to The Muse (https://www.themuse.com/advice/8-expertbacked-secrets-to-making-the-perfect-todo-list), “41% of to-do tasks are never completed.” Janet Choi on LifeHacker (https://lifehacker.com/5967563/master-the-art-of-the-to-do-list-by-understanding-how-they-fail) maintains that for most people, there are four problems for using to-do lists:

  1. We have too many to-do’s.
  2. We’re not good at making to-do lists.
  3. We give ourselves too much time.
  4. “The future is full of unknowns, interruptions, and change.”

paper-3141341_1920_rawpixelSupported by Dan Ariely and his team at Timeful (a company acquired by Google), Srinivas Rao writes at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists that we should throw away the to-do list and use a calendar app like Google Calendar for tasks and reminders, to set goals, and to schedule meetings.

Srinivas adds, “Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.”

 

2. But there’s still a good reason for keeping your a note-taking app.

Combine a virtual assistant like Apple “Siri” or Amazon “Alexa” with an application like “Evernote” for “brainstorming” to get your thoughts organized.

Perhaps creating to-do lists may or may not work in your day-to-day environment, but the use of note-taking apps with voice-activated personal assistants may be the ticket to sketch out your short to long-term planning and even respond to email or other forms of writing drafts. Basically, I find I talk faster than I can type!

Jill Duffy offers these assessment criteria for picking the “best for you” digital note-taking tool at the blog-site Zapier (see https://zapier.com/blog/best-note-taking-apps/):

  • EvernoteEasy to set-up
  • East to use
  • Specialized to fit your needs
  • Good value (some require no subscription fees)

She reviews Evernote (my personal favorite), Microsoft OneNote, Paper, Quip, and Simplenote for day-to-day use.

A lot of my blog writing is generated using voice recognition by Siri dropped into the Evernote app. It has worked well for me. However, if you are running errands in the car, or even taking a longer trip on the highway, it is not recommended to dictate your manuscript while driving! Your attention is drawn away from watching the road to check on the status of your “writings,” and Siri does not always hear things right the first time! Even if you do not look at your phone while talking to your device, you will find that your distracted “brainstorming out-loud” may cause you to miss an exit or even sit unresponsive at a green light. Never note-take and drive at the same time!

 

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3. Of course, you have to set priorities!

I was never good at going from brainstorming to finalizing the goals and action plans! It seems easier to “think outside the box” than to construct that multi-leveled box of jobs!

Tatyana Sussex at Liquid Paper (https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/how-to-prioritize-work-when-everythings-1/) proposes these steps for “How to Prioritize Work When Everything Is Number 1.”

  1. Collect a list of all your tasks.
  2. Identify urgent vs. important.
  3. Assess value.
  4. Ordered tasks by estimated effort.
  5. Be flexible and adaptable.
  6. Know when to cut.

Benjamin Brandall contributes additional insight on systems for prioritizing at https://www.process.st/how-to-prioritize-tasks/, defining “the Four D’s” (see section #5) and my favorite concept, “When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first.”

Finally, should you feel you need it, definitely revisit the inspiration of Stephen Covey, especially in his book, First Things First or this website: https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

 

4. Creative things should come first!

cello-521172_1920_enbuscadelosdragones0As musicians and music teachers, this suggestion may hit home: Do something that stimulates your “right brain” with acts of personal self-expression or artistry every day, and schedule it both intentionally and early!

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Playing an instrument or singing? Composing? Writing? Painting or drawing?

I have previously blogged about ways to enhance your daily creativity quotient:

I also like this Inc. article: “32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day.”

“Here is what I’ve learned from these creative warm-ups: my thinking continues to be more flexible and multi-dimensional throughout the day. I approach work challenges with less fear and more playfully; I’m more open to see things in new and unexpected ways… And that makes all the difference.”

– Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Life You Love

 

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5. Adhere to the “four D’s” system of productivity.

Have you heard of Priority Manager or other systems of paper and digital notes management? My favorite… the four D’s was previously blogged at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/help-how-does-one-keep-up/.

  • Do it! (Act on it immediately!)
  • Delay or Date it! (Assign it to the future!)
  • Delegate it! (Give it to someone else to do!) or
  • Dump it! (Delete or move it into the trash)

Check out the practical advice unveiled at https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/4-ds-of-productivity. I particularly liked Mike Renahan’s visual which sums up the system:

Four Ds

 

6. Devote at least 30 minutes a day to professional reading.

“Why did the busiest person in the world, former president Barack Obama, read an hour a day while in office?”

“Why has the best investor in history, Warren Buffett, invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career?”

“Why has the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, read a book a week during his career? And why has he taken a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career?”

Answer? “If you’re not spending five hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.”

– Michael Simmons at https://qz.com/work/1124490/5-hour-rule-if-youre-not-spending-5-hours-per-week-learning-youre-being-irresponsible/

***

“In the busy teaching day, it can often be the last thing on your mind to dive into some professional reading. So, why should you make it a priority and how can you utilize your time effectively to fit it in?”

– Hazel Brinkworth at https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/10/09/time-to-read/

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Teachers have to “keep up” with their “craft,” explore mobile-791071_1920_kaboompicsdeveloping innovations, trends, and movements in their field, and embrace better instructional techniques and use of media for their students!

“I don’t have time” means you are not a true professional. Doctors and other medical care providers, lawyers, investment counselors, clergy, etc. – you name the “profession” – must continually renew their knowledge-base and “sharpen their saws.” Regular reading and attending conferences help motivate you, “recharge your batteries,” retool for the formation of new goals, review better strategies, and introduce improved teaching methods, materials, literature, and technologies.

The aforementioned Teacher Toolkit website scripts tips on how to get started:

  1. Focus your topic of interest.
  2. Know where to look.
  3. Listen instead of reading!
  4. Set aside a regular time slot in your week.
  5. Find a quiet place.

 

 

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7. Cut back on your “screen time,” especially closer to your bedtime.

“There’s a lot of debate about how much screen time is too much screen time, specifically for children, but also for adults. Likely you’ve heard about how it’s a good idea to stop using our electronics in the evening so you can wind your brain down for bed. But when it comes to screen time, the only thing that seems conclusive is that there’s such a thing as too much and that it may be different for everyone and depend on the circumstances.”

Interesting Engineering blog-site offers these “11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time” (https://interestingengineering.com/11-easy-ways-to-reduce-your-screen-time).

  1. Eat your meals without a screen
  2. Limit your non-work screen time
  3. Don’t watch movies or TV in bed
  4. Cut down on computer socializing
  5. Set a timer
  6. Ban phone charging from the bedroom
  7. Take up another hobby for boredom
  8. Schedule a meeting phone call instead of using chat
  9. Think of other ways to access information
  10. Get your news in a condensed feed
  11. Exercise while you watch

 

8. Are you  getting enough sleep?

male-3730041_1920_Engin_AkyurtThe answer is… probably not.

According to a 2013 Gallup Study (the last year Gallup published a sleep study), the average American sleeps only 6.8 hours a day — and that number may be getting worse over the last several years.

Most experts recommend we receive 7 to 9 hours per night, but the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. The HelpGuide website (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm/) posted this chart with data from the National Sleep Foundation:

sleep

Brittney Morgan at https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-hack-your-sleep-schedule-and-get-your-full-8-hours-242712 suggested these remedies:

  1. Ease into an earlier bedtime.
  2. Rethink how you use alarms.
  3. Create a sleep routine.
  4. Unplug and de-stress before bed.
  5. Write out your thoughts.
  6. Limit alcohol and caffeine

spiral-notebook-381032_1920_kathrin_I remember when I taught full-time and was in the middle of a full-blown musical production, I sometimes laid awake feeling “stirred up” inside trying to think of all the things I needed to do the next day. #5 of Brittney’s list is solved by putting a legal pad and a good pen by your bed stand, and without awakening your spouse, roll over and jot down a few of your “don’t forgets.” Or if you prefer to use the magic of technology, you can do this digitally… take a minute or so and use your tablet or smartphone, but don’t stay up very long and let the screen’s blue-light make your insomnia worse. Revisit title heading #2 above for note-taking apps.

It’s absolutely amazing the number of sources you can find on the web for additional advice for improving your sleep habits:

 

9. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need

“Now and again, everyone faces a big life transition. For me, it was when I lost my father — right around the time I realized my kids were rapidly growing up (funny how that sneaks up on you, huh?). I started to think about how I really wanted to live my day-to-day life. From the clothes on my body to stuff in my home, I wanted to stop perpetuating things that made me feel bad about myself.”

minimalism-241876_1920_bohemienne“Much like Gilligan and his infamous “three hour tour,” what I thought might be a quick clean-out extravaganza turned into an epic, six-month journey through the nether reaches of my closets and my psyche. Along the way, I learned many things from Maeve about organization — and more than a few things about myself that changed my relationship with my stuff.”

“This is tough for anyone, but it’s a crucial step in regaining control over your stuff. I was really honest with myself, and resolved to not beat myself up over getting rid of (or donating) things we didn’t need — even if they were in good shape. When you start to think of your things as part of an ecosystem for your life, it becomes easier to pare down to only the stuff you really love.”

Ask yourself, how often do you “purge the junk” from your home?

Showcased on Beginning Minimalist, Joshua Becker also shares “10 Creative Ways to De-Clutter Your House” at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/. Be sure to read what he refers to the Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment, now my “new favorite” way of discarding seldom-worn clothing.

 

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10. Don’t forget to organize your living spaces.

In “7 Smart Organizing Tricks You Probably Have Not Tried” (https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/organizing/smart-organizing-tricks), Louisa Kamps recommends these logical time-savers and better spacing engineering techniques:

  1. Expose everything in your dresser drawers
  2. Store like with like.
  3. Be mindful of the pleasure your possessions give you.
  4. Keep your workspace clean and clutter free.
  5. Streamline your files.
  6. Create effective to-do lists (or see #1 above)
  7. Make “mise-en-place” a way of life.

Need more household tips? One Crazy House also provides a wealth of ideas in their blog-post, “17 Clever Organizing Tricks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner” by Donella Crigger at https://www.onecrazyhouse.com/organizing-tips-tricks/. And, if seventeen are not enough, what about over a hundred? Go to the Good Housekeeping’s site: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/.

 

Hopefully these hints help you “tidy up” for the New Year, and bring you more productivity, peace of mind, and joy in your lives!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “young” by kaboompics, “checklist” by TeroVesalainen, “paper” by rawpixel, “important” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “board”by rawpixel, “mobile” by kaboompics, “iPhone” by JESHOOTScom, “male” by Engin_Akyurt, “spiral-notebook” by kathrin, “minimalism” by bohemienne, “clutter” by Kasman, and “ring-binders” by AbsolutVision.

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

 

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.

Does Practice Make Perfect?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Alexander Kalina

 

foxsfiresides

Tips on Developing Better Practicing Habits

Every good musician knows that regular practice is a must, but did you know that careless or inattentive practice can actually make you worse?

It is not necessary true that “practice makes perfect” – more likely that “perfect practice develops perfect playing.” Quality not quantity, you say? Your school music teachers will urge you to increase both the quality (focus, attention, goals/planning, etc.) as well as the number of minutes per week. Here are a few hints on improving practicing techniques. Read on… there are many additional resources for parents to guide their musicians to musical mastery!

  1. Designate a quiet place for practice at home
  2. Limit all distractions (TV, video games, computers, phones)
  3. Plan habits of consistent daily practice time(s) and weekly frequency
  4. Make practice goals (what do you hope to accomplish this week?)
  5. Take a few minutes to warm-up (scales, finger patterns, long tones, or lip slurs)
  6. Sandwich method (start at the bottom and work your way up)
    1. Review a song you already know (bottom slice of bread)
    2. Focus on a few “hard parts” (the meat in the middle of the sandwich)
    3. Sight-read something new (condiments, pickles or cheese)
    4. Review another well-prepared song (top slice of bread)
  7. Pizza slices
    1. Identify and prioritize the problems or hard sections
    2. Partition the entire song
    3. Focus on a “slice” of the music – a measure, phrase or line of music – at a time
    4. Drill (daily) on one or a few slices
    5. Next practice session, repeat then progress to next section
  8. Re-order the sections of a piece (scrambling)
  9. Target a difficult passage, play slow at first, then increase tempo gradually each time you play it
  10. Try patterns of instant slow/fast and then fast/slow
  11. Fire up different sections of the brain on a problem spot
    1. Say the letter names out loud (or sing them) – speech center
    2. Bow or tap the rhythms “in the air” – left-side psychomotor
    3. Finger the notes without the bow or mouthpiece – right-side psychomotor
    4. Combine a, b, and/or c on specific passages – all parts of the brain
  12. Create new rhythmic or articulation/bowing variations to challenge your playing of the passage
  13. To improve your musical batting average, implement the Ten-Times Rule (accurately in a-row)
  14. Always add expressive markings including dynamics, tempo and articulation changes, etc.

seriestoshare-logo-01Yes, practicing should be heard at home. It is NOT enough simply to play at school. The long-tested “success equation” is TIME + MAKING PROGRESS = FUN (encouraging more time, progress and fun). Practicing on a regular basis improves technique, musicianship, self-confidence, endurance, reading skills, and besides… playing better is a lot more FUN!

PARENTS: Here are several excellent websites on recommendations for developing better practice skills, but ask your school music director for more advice!

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. Please feel free to download a printable copy (CLICK HERE) 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.