- Get some sleep
- Go for a walk
- Kiss your spouse
- Play with your kids
- Drink some water
- Watch some YouTube videos
|David Story West End Toronto Piano Teacher||
Practice is hard work. Sometimes we need to step back and take a short break. Fatigue, physical and/or mental reduces practice effectiveness.
Over the long weekend I had a free hour to practice piano without other pressures impeding my focus. A couple of preliminary procedures helped to make it fun and productive.
1. With only an hour, I didn’t try to accomplish too much. A little done well is way more satisfying that a lot done poorly.
2. I sought out competent professional recordings of each piece before starting. When I found a performance that spoke to me, I listened and marked the score, noting the phrasing, dynamics, balance, tempi, and most importantly how the cadences were executed.
3. I played very slow, one phrase at a time, concentrating on the fingering and my initial artistic impression of the pieces gleamed from the performance I had briefly studied. Another way of putting it is this, I played what I heard in my head. My question was, “how do I get the sound in my head out of these notes?” Not, “I wonder how this goes?” Note, I didn’t plan to go back and work on the expression after I had “learned the piece”. As a teacher I suspect many students, lacking this initial artistic impression, end up playing the piece pretty much the way they practiced it in the beginning: flat and without much insight. Remember the key in learning to play is to model great performances.
Pieces I worked on or reviewed
· Allemande in E major from French Suite by JS Bach, new work. I can now play it half tempo
· Prelude in Bb from book 1 WTC by JS Bach first page focus on the left hand melodic development
· First movement from Beethoven’s piano sonata in F minor, with focus on the development
· A small amount of Impromptu in A flat Major (no. 4) by Schubert, focusing on the pulse.
If you would like a free interview, call me.
From Pianist Magazine YouTube Channel. Click here for more.
A list of tunes I've played at public jam sessions in Toronto over the last 2 years that I've been attending as a drummer.
All of me
Now's the time
Scrapple from the apple
It don't mean a thing
C jam blues
Straight, no chaser
All the things you are
East of the sun
If I were a bell
There will never be another you
What is this thing called love
Have you met miss jones
Song for my father
Take the A train
All the things you are
Scrapple from the apple
There is no greater love
Girl from Ipanema
Days of wine and roses
Softly as in a morning sunrise
Lester leaps in
Fly me to the moon
Blues for Alice
My little suede shoes
A night in Tunisia
How high the moon
Stella by starlight
Body and soul both fast and slow
I hear a rhapsody
Up jumped spring
There will never be another you
I love you
Out of nowhere
Night and day
The link below offers some good advice to read before you attend your first jam, including a short list of essential tunes for beginners. You don't need to learn the entire list before attending. A blues in Bb and F, a common standard or two, one bossa and you are ready to go.
The 7 circles to mastery. The following is taken from the YouTube video below. I’m just riffing on the ideas presented.
7. Finally, Practice at the instrument
Hearing: Good old-fashioned ear training. This is often the most overlooked component in learning. Traditionally Classical piano students avoided this until a week or two before an exam. Bad, bad, bad. It takes time to develop this. It is of the greatest benefit because I don’t believe you can play what you can’t hear.
· Melodic playback for Classical students
· Transcriptions for Jazz Students
· Chord identification
· Chord progressions
· Rhythm clap-back
Imagination: A tough one to teach. I believe a teacher must help the student trust their musical instincts. And, treasure them. Not with the goal of ignoring the musical vision of mature artists, but by helping trust and treasure their personal uniqueness.
Expression: Expression marks aren’t suggestions. Be sure to work on them from the first reading. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can add them later after you “learn” the piece. Consider this, we all play like we practice. So, under stress (in an exam or performance) you will revert to your initial way of playing. Why? This is the way you learned it, spent the most time on. You perfected the piece in a monochromatic way. Flat and boring.
Technique or what is called the fundamentals: Change your attitude. Think of them as the FUN-damentals. I use them as a form of meditation. A chance to slow down and practice playing beautifully. Beauty is that combination of touch and time we learn through repetition and reflection.
Theory: Oh boy, another area most students practice the fine art of avoidance. Students, the musicians we admire know what they are doing! If you want to have any chance of joining them, you need to understand what is going on. Form, harmony, melodic structure, intervals, historical context, the list of knowledge goes on and on. It all helps. Knowing what you are looking at makes it all easier. I promise.
Analysis: applied theory and the cornerstone of memorisation.
Practice: Learn to practice, read books on the subject, what YouTube, listen to your teacher. Learning to practice like a pro will save you years of fiddling around. And, it is way more fun because progress is faster. You will learn pieces long before you get sick and tired of them. Always a good thing.
Please watch the video below. A wealth of knowledge.
Scales, chords, arpeggios, reviewing some favourites, work on your new pieces, sight reading, ear training, and for jazz musicians there is alway transcribing. Whew! Sometimes it is all a bit much. Sometimes the best use of a hour is just too...
Six not so secrets of learning we can take from babies.
I paraphrased these thoughts from the blog, "6 secrets infants can teach adults about learning" from Scientific American. The author is Rachel Wu a psychology professor at University of California, Riverside. Have a look.
The author postulates that cognitive decline maybe linked to older adults refusing to learn anything new because of embarrassment. Ouch.
See you in the practice room.
Alan Rusbridger, Gary Marcus, Tim Jenison, 10,00 hours and the hope, fear, and the dreams of mature students
Obsession is good. It puts a lift in the day, week, month, and year. Below are some inspirational stories of folks who just went for it.
Alan attempts Chopin's Ballade in G minor in one year.
Gary takes up heavy metal guitar at 40
Tim learns to paint.
What do they have in common? High intelligence, a bias for action, a naïve belief in themselves, and guts.
Gary's second short video, the third on this list, explodes the idea you need 10,000 hours. A great place to start.
BTW: I'm over the 3,000 hour mark in my drumming. That's 7 years of effort.
This blog is a commentary on the following fine article. "4 Myths About Learning An Instrument As An Adult." by Connolly music.
Background: I took up the drums age 50. I now play joyfully in Toronto with terrific musicians in the Jazz, Rock, and New Music areas. I still study and practice daily.
PS, I'm off to practice my double bass drum pedal technique.
Meeting once a week with your music teacher has its challenges for both parties. Time is short.
Adult students often have some knowledge of the subject, they may have spent countless hours on line with YouTube, bring lofty expectations after years of enjoyable listening, and all have pressured practice times. They often feel overwhelmed and may be looking for a shortcut. Some of spent years looking for this secret. They’ve read books, magazines, attended workshops, spoke to musicians. All hoping to find a quick path to musical success. In short, they can’t see the forest for the trees. The teacher on the other hand has an extensive body of teaching and professional experience, they can see the forest for the trees. They have watched students succeed and fail. They know the student needs to slow down and go deep with a few basic concepts.
Now how do we match these two parties up successfully?
A good balance of questions from the student’s experience and guided exercises from the teacher says I. To make progress in piano a student must discover and experience aurally and kinetically what they are seeking. Reading alone won’t do it. Mindless adherence to the teacher’s direction and/or mechanically non-reflective practice won’t do it either. Or worse, bopping around the internet chasing one interesting video after another.
Some old-school attitudes to learning a musical instrument
· They believe practice is a chore they must endure.
· Teacher as drill Sargent. (Like “boot camp fitness” classes)
· Teacher as joy killer. (Ouch!)
· Learning music is about pleasing the teacher/master. (Load up the guilt)
· The teacher knows everything, I’ll just be obedient and everything will work out. (Evading responsibility)
Some new-school attitudes to learning a musical instrument
· Practicing is what taking lessons is all about.
· Teacher as coach. (they will support and guide me on my journey)
· Researching Meta cognition, the science of learning about learning.
· If practicing is not fun, change it. Change the repertoire, or your attitude, or the time of day you practice, or even amend your aspirations to fit your lifestyle.
· Go easy on yourself. Patience is a virtue in music study.
· Seek out opportunities to experience music making at a prominent level. For example, attending concerts to hear world class performers.
I'm playing piano and drums. Last year's show was a sell-out. Bill's music is colorful, subtle, and thoughtful.
What Is Freedom? (Resistance is Fertile!)
Bill Gilliam Art Ensemble
Saturday April 22nd, 2017 at 8pm
$20 / $10 students
A performance of spoken word with composed and improvised new music inspired by texts and poems about freedom and resistance across time and cultures.
The poems in this performance are examples of how different international poets responded and gave courage to people resisting the types of autocratic forces similar to what we are currently witnessing.
The spontaneous music we perform in response to these poems is our creative way to energize and support the continuation of freedoms we currently enjoy. In the words of a banner from the January 2017 Women's March, "Resistance Is Fertile!".
For further information
A good time to revisit the topic. My observations after decades of teaching piano.
If I can help you, call me.
A important addition to our knowledge of practice. Five minutes well spent.
Patience: This is going to take some time. Playing a musical instrument is, in a large part, an athletic event. Like getting back in shape, sustained effort over time wins every time.
Enjoying the journey: Musicians love to practice. In fact, that is what it is all about. Sitting at the piano is a joyous act. Learn to enjoy the little things, like an evenly played scale, a beautiful phrase ending.
Organization: Pencils, recordings, ear buds, phone to record ourselves, some quiet time, and a plan on how to use that time.
Review: Spend some guilt-free time just playing stuff you love and play well. Over time this list will grow, like a garden. A list you will be proud of.
Keeping the inspiration well filled: Get out there. If you live in a city of any size, there is a music community of like-minded adults. Join them. Chat after concerts. You'll meet other adult musicians, make friends, get together and play duets. In short, have some fun.
They did it!
We warmed up, and broke down some nervousness, by all playing multiple pianos together in the Steinway Piano shop. C major scales and chords. Then we started.
Clapping, cheering, and with shouts of encouragement everyone got through it.
Were they nervous. You bet. Did they conquer their fears and get up there and deliver. You bet. Were they excited and animated afterwards? Yes, yes, yes.
I'm as proud as punch.
We are trying a first in our studio: the adult piano party. Yes, an adult piano recital. Lots of interest, lots of anxiety, lots of second thoughts.
Here are some thoughts to consider on reducing stage fright.
1. Be prepared. Chose a piece you know and love. Remember the other musicians present will remember how beautiful you played, not how difficult the piece was.
2. Go by the venue prior the event and check it out.
3. Bring your music.
4. Remember the stakes are low, really.
5. It will be good experience in preparation for a piano exam, if you are going down that road.
6. Leave critical family members at home.
7. When you arrive, speak with other musicians, who like you may be experiencing various levels of anxiety.
Notes on Practice for precollege and college musicians. I wrote in New Orleans after hearing Mr. Jones speak.
This could be subtitled, "how I raised myself from obscurity to playing in Lincoln Centre and how I keep my place in the band now that I've got there post."
Start with your goals. This year, this month, this week, this day, this hour. And then 5, 10, 15 20 years out. These goals must be congruent. (I'll vouch for that)
Sean's Four Hour Daily Routine
Self assessment is important. These moments define your character as a musician. It takes for your body to catch up to your brain. Plateauing. Respect this, you are still moving.
Practicing is proof you have it in you.
Jamming and gigs take priority
Rest as much as you play
Endurance comes from enduring
Don't hurt yourself
Push to exhaustion but not injury
Slow and clean
"Practice is the repetition of an action that gives you the results you want to achieve"
"How I became a cornetist" book A how to manual from the 19th century (I'm reading this book currently. It is so inspiring)
Educators, "Don't limit your advice to your own experiences"
The music is the motivation to practice.
Environment is important. Peer group affirmations.
It was a packed room of enthusiastic music strivers.
For more information click this link from Downbeat:
Goals give direction and focus to our efforts. Habits will get you there.
Habit: hab·it ˈhabət/
noun: habit; plural noun: habits
1. a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
There are a lot of myths on learning music. "I'm too old, I'm too young, I'm too this I'm too that"
Some of my finest students are in their 70's. Gary is swinging hard playing jazz, he is off to Jazz camp this summer with his cousin. Eleanor is arranging and composing up a storm exploring Scottish Folk Songs of her youth. She has learned to score her music, create a website, and post it all on the web.
What do they all have in common? Good practice habits.
Habit #1: When they practice, they practice thoughtfully and deliberately. No wondering around the piano. They are focused and expect to accomplish something that day.
Habit #2: They listen to music, they go to concerts, they are involved in music.
Habit #3: They seek feedback from the teacher. They work on their own, they know what they want, they understand that music classes are just one aspect of the journey. Personal exploration is the main focus.
If you'd like classes give me a call, I'm all booked up now, but I'm organizing for July and September now.
If you are a New Year resolution kind of person, you are familiar with the routine. I won't go over it here.
But, I will add this. When it comes to piano lessons, goals are great, but learn to enjoy the trip. Too many students are so eager trying to get to some point (i.e. Goal) that they are impatient, unhappy, and stressed out. Unless you have a hard deadline, like a university audition date, just start moving in the direction of your dreams and savour the views of your journey.
If you can hear it, you'll play it sooner. Here is how I practice the piano on an ideal day.
Why not call me? You'll have fun, learn lots about music, the piano, and yourself.
Some great reasons to make 2017 the "Year of the Piano"
"Ear training, instrumental skill, theory"
All accomplished musicians who improvise play what they hear in their heads. Let's unpack this statement.
Let's break it down further.
"They hear something in their heads." A developing musician must listen to the musical style they wish to improvise in: Jazz, Rock, Classical, whatever. How much listening? A lot. Last year at the Jazz Education Network convention in Louisville Kentucky there were several interesting young musicians in attendance. One, a young bassist, walked around with his ear buds in all day long. Complete immersion. With immersion, the knowledge students are acquiring in theory class starts to make sense. Theory is only helpful if you can hear it in the playing of others. Until you can, it likely won't make much sense to you. Or, will it be helpful in your playing. (An effective way to help your understanding grow is to transcribe music. Check out the video below for more information.)
"They can execute rapidly in real time." Learn to play your darn instrument. Learn how to practice. Then practice, as much as you can, alone and with others.
Taking up the piano after 50.
Why the heck not? Here are some of the fears I've heard over the years.
Let's break it down.
You are an adult, these are excuses. I have adults aged 18 to 78. All of them are improving, reaching their goals, and having a blast.
The successful ones recognize that patience and goals that are congruent with time and available resources will works. The unsuccessful students are impatient, failing to recognize the importance of clear goals and practice time. Happy students understand that practice is the point. They enjoy watching and measuring the incremental progress that thoughtful practice reveals.
"I can't learn anything new at my age" Of course you can, if you want to. Learning an instrument is a journey of exploration and discovery. Be in the here and now. Don't focus on the goal, just dive in and see what happens. I've taught adults for many many years. The successful ones just got busy and waited to see what became of their efforts.
"I won't live long enough to get good" What do you mean by good? As good as Lang Lang, Oscar Peterson? You are probably right. If you work at it can you get better than you ever imagined. You bet. Can you take satisfaction in that? Of course.
"I don't have a piano?" If you can afford lessons, you can afford to rent a portable electric piano. They are cheap.
"I had a bad experience with a teacher in my childhood." I'm sorry to hear that. But, times have changed and so has piano teaching. My students played pop music, video game music, classical music, jazz music, boogie woogie, and country flavored Christmas music.
"Piano lessons are boring, all the practicing and scales and stuff. I'd just hate it." I'll be honest, maybe music lessons are not right for you. Playing a musical instrument is about practicing. Ask any professional. We thrive on incremental improvements and discoveries. As Wayne Gretzky said, "I enjoyed every aspect of the game". No boring bits for him.
"I don't love Bach" Then don't play Bach. Play something you like. As you grow as a musician you may find that those acknowledged masters of music had something to them. Playing Bach is like taking a walk through the Vatican galleries. Each visit impresses us with the depth of it's grandeur as we discover new things.
"Piano teachers are boring" Some of us are fun. But, all the good ones will push you to be your best. Life is too short not to push yourself to reach beyond your grasp.
"Practicing is no fun" Then you are going about it all wrong. Learning to practice properly is thrilling in every way. I'm cranky when I must stop practicing.
"I don't want to go out to lessons on a cold night" I'll teach you on Skype. It really works. I've students all over Canada and the USA. Including in the GTA.
"My spouse would just laugh at me" Couples therapy. Or, just get a set of headphones for that electric piano you rented and leave them out of it.
What does fitness level have to do with music study?
Check out this abstract: "...The research suggests that physical fitness training leads to improved mood, self-concept, and work behavior; the evidence is less clear as to its effects on cognitive functioning, although it does appear to bolster cognitive performance during and after physical stress. Except for self-concept, personality traits are not affected by improvements in physical fitness..."
Sounds good to me. See you at the gym.
“Our object is to minimize the contrast between studio practice and public performance.”
–Philip Farkas, hornist (The Musician’s Way, p. 149)
Mozart taught his students to improvise I'm told. I think he would like this.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also an enthusiastic student of drums.