Music Lessons. Who Cares?

Many teachers and families use games and activities to spur on the music practice cycle in their kids. If this works for you, great. But take heed:

Games, stickers and similar activities only motivate the student as far as the game itself. They won’t in themselves make students care about the music or the violin. Then, when the novelty of the game wears off, what is left?

On the other hand, when a kid really cares about music and the violin, meaningful progress will occur, even with a beat up instrument and uneven family support.

For older students and adults, it’s much the same. Your deep passion for the work will carry you through the inevitable bumps and dips.

FOR PARENTS: CREATING KIDS WHO CARE ABOUT MUSIC

Inspire, don’t entertain. It’s not your job to amuse those kids with an endless parade of practice bribes. So prepare to go deeper into the music as a family. Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend lessons and take notes (instead of your iPad). Be involved with the daily practice routine
  • Explore music every day.
  • Listen actively as a family and talk about what you’re hearing.
  • Attend live concerts performed by great musicians across many genres.
  • Quit talking (or even thinking) about “talent” and/or comparing your children to their peers.

Too busy or not interested in doing the above? Then you’ll get poor results at best. Be prepared for “I’m bored,” or “I don’t like violin lessons.” Novelty wears off quickly.

Seriously. If you don’t care, why should your kids?

My bottom line, speaking as a teacher to a student or to a family: “If you don’t care; I can’t help you.”

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Turning Passion Inside-Out

Instead of “practicing the violin music you love” perhaps a more useful idea for students of music, beginner or expert, might be “love the music you practice.”

If you can become passionate about etudes, scales, or music chosen for you by others (orchestra, or teacher for example) it’s far more likely that whatever and wherever you play, you will move your journey forward.

Some Days I Feel Like a Violin Beginner

Don’t resist, instead embrace those days. They’re not a bad thing. Actually they are a good thing.
Now you can erase all your assumptions and once again approach your instrument with a sense of excitement, discovery and curiosity.

Isn’t this the place where your best work happens?

How to Practice Music When the Results Really Matter

  1. Resist the urge to ad lib your practice. Instead set the intention that it is a fully planned project with benchmarks and specific, measurable goals.
  2. Realize that the project is your responsibility, that you won’t depend on a teacher, coach or anyone else for results.
  3. Write it all down in a short practice project document. The final goal, the estimated timeline, the benchmarks along the way.
  4. Read your practice document before you begin each practice session. 
  5. While you practice, add simple notes to your document. Specific practice strategies, any helpful notes, and percentage of completion toward benchmarks and final goals.
  6. Build in some slack. Allow more time than you think you need at the beginning, it feels much better to finish early. Falling behind feels like failure.
  7. Be obsessive about defining goals and objectives in great detail. Without this, you’ll never be sure when your project is complete.
  8. When it’s time, move on rather than seeking perfection. But take the time to write down exactly what worked and what didn’t. So next time you’ll be able to move the project further and your playing will get stronger.

 

How to Get Unstuck on Your Violin Music

Do you have a dozen half-baked projects on your music stands?

What about those violin songs or pieces you’ve been practicing for weeks, months or even years, but you still don’t have much to show for your work?

Here are a few suggestions to spur your motivation, speed your progress and get unstuck on your violin music:

1. Work with a coach, teacher or other accountability partner. During and after the move of my violin studio to Morro Bay, CA, I’ve had a bit of logistical down time. I’ve booked some lessons with a coach to get things back on track. (Yes, even seasoned players need to mentor with others from time to time). There is no way I’ll go into my coaching sessions less than prepared. And I’ll bet this will work for you too.

2. Calendar a performance date for your music. Knowing that a performance or audition is imminent will often be a powerful kick in the pants.

3. Build one or more small footholds for each practice session. Human beings generally avoid tackling large projects. But the ability to complete a series of small goals is easily available to any level of player. For example, my coach asked me to prepare a Kreutzer etude. So I’m completing a foothold or two a day on Kreutzer #12 as follows:

  1. Play the etude slowly, to identify and mark a red X on any measures that are most likely to contain pitch problems.
  2. For each subject measure that contains pitch problems, identify the probable cause of the problem and one or more solutions. Complete at least 2 or 3 of these in each practice session.
  3. Choose one or more problem measures per day, select and implement the best solution.
  4. Identify tone and rhythm problems across bar lines. For example, can I maintain great tone and rhythm when playing measure one, and then maintain that level of polish while I transition to measure 2.
  5. Link increasingly longer segments of music. Start with 2 bars, and expand to a whole section or phrase of the etude.
  6. Video record my self playing an eight bar section of the etude at performance level.

And so forth. Depending on the challenge in front of you, more or less structure can be added to your practice session. As I complete each foothold, my progress is constant and obvious! Each day, I ascend the mountain one step at a time, and soon it begins to look like a mole hill. The key is to plan your practice in detail, write down the steps and check them off as they are completed.

Your transformation: Working within this structure is transformative! It seems like more work, but it’s actually more fun. It works for violin practice, and equally well for just about any other large goal that you could consider.