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How to Practice

Dear Students
Did you know that practicing music is different than playing music?  Playing is about personal enjoyment and sharing the gift with others: practice is about improvement and progress.  As a teacher, most of the time I talk about practice – but the truth is, it is incredibly important find a healthy balance between the two.
I can’t tell you how to enjoy playing music – you’ve got to figure that one out on your own.  🙂  But I can give you tips on how to practice to make the work more enjoyable and keep frustration to a minimum.

  1. It is good to set a weekly goal.  Do you want to get better at keeping your pitch consistent?  Do you want to get more confident with your bowing skills or sight reading?  Use your goal as a way to focus your practice time.
  2. Warm up your mind and your fingers by using scales or an easy technical exercise to start your practice session.
  3. Break your music into small pieces that are easy to concentrate on.  Being able to concentrate on an entire piece of music all in one go is difficult, so take it one line at a time – or even one measure at a time if you are finding it very challenging.
  4. Build a solid foundation and work your way up.  No matter what the performance temp is, start slow.  Learn the notes first, then add in special bowing techniques like slurs or staccatos.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat!  When I was taking lessons, my teacher told me to play each measure in a new song three times perfectly before I moved on to the next measure.  This might sound like it would take a lot longer to learn a new piece of music, but it actually takes less because it cuts down on the bad habits we accidentally allow when we try to focus on too much.
  6. For the last few minutes of your practice time relax and play something just for fun.  🙂

Let me a comment and let me know which tip helped you make better progress in your practice sessions this week!

dear students, music, practice, Uncategorized

Top Five Practice Tips

Dear Students,
Congratulations – you did it!  You survived the first two weeks of a new school season and rolled through all the changes that happen at break-neck pace – new teachers, new classmates, new classrooms . . . all of the New Things All at Once . . . with in-process renovations.

I thoroughly enjoyed our first week of lessons – reconnecting with those who studied with met last year, and those who are just starting.  We are going to have so much fun this year!  To help us all stay on the same page I’ve put together a list of five practice tips to give us a good foundation to build on.

  1. Make practice part of your daily routine – just like eating breakfast and brushing your teeth before bed.  Find a time of day that you can consistently practice during, and ask your family to hold you accountable.  It might be right after you get home from school; or as soon as the dinner dishes are done; maybe even in the morning before school.  Find something that works for your family’s schedule do what is necessary to make it stick.
  2. Keep your instrument and books in the same place – that way you can find everything right away when you’re ready.
  3. Eliminate digital distractions – don’t practice where the TV is on, or audio stories are playing.  Leave phones/iPods/iPads in a different room so you’re not tempted to pick them up during your practice time.  This time is about practicing your music.
  4. Set a timer – it will take a while for you to get comfortable with the practice length we set during our first lesson.  If you sent a timer, you won’t have to check how much time you have left, and pretty soon instead of taking forever your timer will go off sooner than you expect.
  5. Maintain realistic expectations – and have fun!  Itzak Perlman didn’t become a world class musician over night – you and I are no different.  Practicing an instrument is really hard work.  Even if you understand the concepts we talk about in our lessons right away, it takes time and repetition to train your body to consistently perform the motions correctly.  You’ll enjoy it more if you give yourself grace to make mistakes and then try again.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well – and music is worth the effort, so enjoy your journey through it.

Practice well this week!

 

I’ve decided practice is practice, and progress is progress.  Hailee Maunu

 

 

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Violin History

Violins are really amazing instruments.  Do you know how old yours is?  Or where it was made?  Do you know what kind of wood was used, or how long it took to make?

Mine was made right here in Warroad by Bob Wenzel, and it is about 15 years old – just a youngster by violin standards.  As an instrument ages, its sound changes – so the ones that are hundreds of years old usually have a deep, grown up sound.  Its easy to think that because violins are delicate – they really aren’t as sturdy as a tuba or kettle drum – they might not last very long.  But they do.  And some of the really old ones are found in the most surprising places.

Recently I listened to someone tell the story of how they had recently pulled their grandfather’s old violin out from under the guest bed.  Instead of hanging it on the wall as a sentimental memento of family history, they took it to a local luthier to see if it was worth repairing.  The luthier said it was an Amati, a violin from one of The Great Names in the history of violin craftsmanship.  It was the kind of story – and instrument – that make my fingers itch to play, if only to experience a connection with the violinists who came before me.

I realized I’d forgotten my basic History of The Violin 101.  I thought you might like to re-explore it with me and find out just how much the violin has changed over the last 500 years.  Click here to watch a video about how the design has changed over time (I am so grateful for the addition of a chinrest!), and here to see a quick exploration of how luthiers make violins (my favorite part is the purfling).

Do you know?  Did Antonio Stradavarious, Nicolo Amati or Menegheni come first?  Leave me a comment and tell me what you learned!

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Student Resources: MPR

Dear Students,
Isn’t it amazing that music is a way to tell stories without words.  And sometimes, without clues in lyrics or pictures, the stories we associate with music can be different than the ones the composer intended.  Its one of the beauties of well crafted creativity – the ability to be personal no matter the social or historic context.

Take, for example, the Minnesota Public Radio’s series Classical Kids Storytime: classical music is used to illustrate an original telling of a classic fairy tale.  (This is such a cool thing!)  Their latest episode features the tale of The Three Little Pigs – and is quite brilliant. The music is three excerpts from different pieces composed by George Bizet (pop quiz: what opera is George Bizet famous for?).  Originally the music had nothing to do with pigs or huffy wolves.  And yet, when I listened to it I could hear the pigs running in terror and see the scruffy, hungry wolf pounding on front doors.
If you can, try set aside some time before our first lesson and listen to this story.  Tell me if you think the music illustrated the story well.  Listen very carefully to the end, and think about how the moral of the story – the lesson we can learn if we listen carefully – can be applied to music lessons.

Leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

dear students, music, Uncategorized

Music Students: Measuring for an Instrument

Dear Students,

I feel like I blinked and missed summer . . . but fall means school starts . . . which means it is almost time to begin lessons!  Now is the perfect time to dust off your instruments – even though I know you practiced every day this summer 😉 – and brush up on your scales.

Find your music bag and make sure all your books are still there.

And maybe ask your mom or dad to measure you, just to make sure your instrument still fits well.

To measure for instrument sizing:

  1. stand up straight!  Extend your left arm straight in front of you, palm up.  (Make sure your shoulder doesn’t move up toward your ear, or push out toward your hand)
  2. with a tape measure, measure from the middle of the shoulder (between the top of the shoulder and the collarbone) to the middle of the palm of the extended hand.

18.4″ – 20.4″ = 1/4 size

20.4″ – 22.2″ = 1/2 size

22.2″-23.5″ = 3/4 size

23.5″ = 4/4 size

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EO’s to purify air: fact or fiction?

Smoke has turned our sky hazy, and our local weather station has issued an air quality warning.  My back yard is being affected by fires in British Colombia, Alberta, and Ontario Canada.  I don’t usually suffer from seasonal allergies and for the most part my lungs seem pretty healthy.  But this haze of smoke is an environmental stress and it is taking its toll.

It seemed like a good opportunity to examine the evidence behind one of the more popular uses of essential oils: air purification.

The theory is that if one diffuses essential oils with anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, or anti-bacterial properties it will act as a sponge and pull impurities out of the air we breathe.  The idea that “more is better” is usually coupled with this idea and diffuses are set on maximum output and run continuously through the day and/or night.

Lets apply some logic to this thought process.  Essential oils are Volatile Organic Compounds, a classification that the American Lung Association treats as potentially hazardous.  Many essential oils do have anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial properties BUT if their lab tests were based on direct surface contact we can’t automatically apply the results to airborne pathogens.

Lets use the process of cooking spaghetti as an example.  The water in the pot will represent our air.  While its on the boil, its pretty clean and clear.  Once the spaghetti noodles go in (the noodles are the fire generating smoke), the water starts to get cloudy because of the starch (smoke) released as the noodles cook.  Adding additional components to the pot – such as salt – won’t return the water to its original clean state.  You have to drain the water through a colander (remove the source of the contamination), and then run the water through a filter that has been specifically designed for water filtration to remove the cloudy starch.
Air needs to be run through specifically designed filters (or a plethora of plants) to removed airborne pathogens.

Pretending that essential oils will improve air quality is a myth.  They might work on relaxing or calming the lungs, but they won’t make the air any cleaner.  In fact, diffusing them as a way to cover up the problem might do more harm than good by allowing us to ignore the problem and stay in a harmful environment longer than we should.

Based on common sense, this myth is busted.