Practice Tips

Practice Time

We have lunchtime, bath time, snack time, and so on. Now that your child is learning to play piano, it’s practice time.

But what does that involve? How do you get the tasks done and keep it fun?

Just like any of the “times” above, it occurs everyday. Sometimes more than once. Practice must then become the same thing. You ensure that your child brushes her teeth everyday, because that is what is best for them. Music literacy, leading to the enjoyment and performance of music, is another thing that you have chosen for your child.

Mornings are often the best time for children to focus at any task. Or after a snack or meal, so that they are not distracted by a growling tummy!

A parent (usually the parent who attends class) needs to be present at these practices in the first few years of study. You are there to gently assist with fingering, note correction, and to ensure that the items on the homework sheet are being checked off. Try to approach each song the way your teacher has in class. For young children, actions speak louder than words. If music practices comes before screen time, than you are saying that it is priority. And the more frequently practices happen, the less a child will balk at it. It’s part of a daily routine. No big deal!

But to make it a happy part of the day, make sure that you are set up to be patient, and cheery- not tired and grumpy. That would send the message that music practice is “one more thing” on an exhaustive to-do list. Not fun, or important. Just like your child, pick a time that is not rushed, make sure that you have  had a little break and something to eat too!

Soon this time will become something special that you share with them. And just as soon as that happens, they will begin to play on their own, and know more than you can even keep up with!

Take time

Events, News, Practice Tips

Who is the Practice Monster?

This week I have invited private students, along with Sunbeams 2 and 3 students, to attend a workshop entitled Calming the Practice Monster. And although it sounds silly, the practice monster is real. He is the anxiety you face when you have a new song to work on. He is the nerves you encounter before a performance, or an exam. He’s the resentment toward me, or your mom or dad. He’s getting in the way of one more game on the Wii, or just a little longer (please mom?!) of talking/texting to your friends.

He’s ugly. And we need to address his

Paul Coates has many ideas on how to vanquish the monster. How can we create the fun in music lessons? Isn’t that why we all began playing in the first place? Can we honour an agreement with ourselves? Can we stick to a plan to avoid disappointment on lesson day?

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much I say or ask something of my students. I’ve forgiven you all before (holidays = a break from practicing, that’s pretty familiar!). It’s nice to see another teacher’s perspective. And other students. If you attend this workshop, you’ll be among peers who really understand the struggles and joy of learning music. And I promise you’ll leave inspired.

If each class of Sunbeams 2 and 3 can attend, I will consider it a lesson and refund you for the cost of the workshop (1 parent & 1 child = $30 to attend). Please register here for the Kanata workshop on February 24, 2012. 2-5pm.

See you there!

Reflections, Uncategorized

MYC’s International Conference

Good Morning!

Recently, I spent a lot of time in downtown Ottawa, which is very rare for me. What could draw me to the busy hub, you ask? It was Music for Young Children’s International Conference. It is usually held every two years across Canada. In 2010 I went to Banff, in 2008 I went to Niagra Falls. I can’t wait for 2015 in Halifax! MYC will be celebrating 35 glorious years in it’s “birthplace” of Nova Scotia.

I’m not sure what kind of conferences you may have attended, but this one was action packed. They are specifically tailored for MYC teachers, and this year, as a conference committee member, I got a sneak peak into what would planned. We had workshops ranging from conservatory exam prep, music history, puppetry, technology for music teachers, child psychology, neuroscience, dancing, and more! It was hard to choose sessions.

I met with teachers from Calgary, parts of BC, and even South Korea. I met with Roland Canada’s president, Paul Coates from Conservatory Canada, and of course, Frances Balodis, creator of MYC.

Mairéad on Parliment Hill before the group singing of O Canada and the MYC Theme Song

Every morning we sang in harmony, and every evening we partied! Check out MYC’s facebook page to see photos from this year’s conference. I learned and reviewed so much, but I’m going to put in brief some things that you may find interesting:

On Music History…

  • In the classical era, hair (or, powdered wigs) went to extremes: horse hair was used to make hair dos over 5 feet high!
  • In the Romantic era, virtuosos like Franz Liszt and Nicolo Paganini had groupies: adoring women would swoon and faint when Liszt threw his gloves into the audience!
  • As soon as Bach died, his music died too. No one played it until it was re-discovered and performed almost 80 years later by Mendelssohn.

On Exam Taking… 

  • Conservatory Canada wants to open e-exam centres for students to take “distance” exams using MIDI, skype and specialized music software. Would you come to an e-exam at my studio? Perhaps I’ll open a centre…
  • “The Practice Monster” affects students and teachers. Why do we keep pushing ourselves with critique? Can we phrase such changes differently? How can I recognize my students’ awesomeness and still demand a high level of performance?
  • Examiners ARE looking for proper fingering, so nya nya! I’ll keep demanding it 🙂

On Children…

  • The “Pampered Child” (arguably a generation of children in generation Y and beyond) has no tolerance for boredom, a sense of entitlement, and is dismissive of adult authority figures. Sadly, they are given the authority to make decisions that we should be making on their behalf. As parents and educators, we need to 1. Be the Adult; 2. Teach. Don’t punish; and 3. Communicate Clearly.
  • Some children with special needs require proprioceptive treatment- a firm touch or stomping movement to begin a self-calming process. This below my mind because as a teacher, I don’t really “touch” students.
  • The homework keyboard pages MATTER to your child. They can choose any colour, combination of colours, or patterns to show what they have been working on that week. I will be more diligent in checking these pages! And please, this is your child’s job. Not yours.
  • We make assumptions and place them on children. I will try to ask more questions and make less assumptions.
  • I can manipulate a puppet’s mouth, eyes, hands and body to communicate effectively with young children. And I need to get all those voices straight! PS: Can’t wait for you to meet Mrs. Treble Clef and Mr. Bass Clef!

On being Digital Citizens…

  • It’s heeeere! Don’t fight it- understand it!
  • Canadians are the #1 viewers of YouTube
  • Canada ranks #1 (per captia) among countries with people who  purchase musical instruments
  • In 2011, digital music sales surpassed CD sales for the first time. Apple tallied 12 billion downloads that year.
  • 36% of parents report that their children ages 2-11 have watched TV and surfed the Internet — simultaneously. (Not sure how to feel about that one!)
  • Given this information, if I don’t meet children and families with these needs, I am going to be way behind! I sure hope I do meet your technological needs 🙂

Professional Development is something very important to me. I like to be a student as much as I enjoy being a teacher.

I hope you are all enjoying your Summer! Love to hear your thoughts on the above post.


Practice Tips, Resources, Uncategorized

Your practice Space

Okay folks, now you have your first assignment– a bonus one, yes, I know- but even if the page isn’t fully checked off come the first week of September, you really ought to get back to the bench (or book) and start practicing. Athletes don’t run the big race without warmups and test runs.

Getting started early...

I will use this blog PLENTY to describe practice tips, but just as important as that is the space you’ll be working in. So what should your practice space include?

  • Pencil – write on the score, write in your notebook/diary, write down questions for your teacher etc….
  • Notebook– This can be used in a variety of ways. A lesson agenda details what you will do in between each lesson (one week). What will you do TODAY? How will you know when that’s ready? What do I need to do to be ready for next class? You can also write down questions for me. Another section could be for breakthroughs and can ready as diary entries: “Today I NAILED the staccatos in Sur Le Pont” or “I can read/play the RH of Bow Wow Wow without starting and stopping.”
  • Homework Sheet- These are your practice instructions. But don’t stop there. Put them into your own words, or scribble your own notes onto this sheet. Always keep track of your daily practice on the keyboard/days of the week (or chart for Moonbeams 3).
  • Coloured Highlighters– For information at a glance. Orange for dynamics, blue for phrasing, yellow for note reading accuracy- it’s up to you!
  • Photocopies- Best to colour and write all over a copy– not your original score. This is not copyright infringement, it’s a study tool. You aren’t distributing these copies or performing them in public.
  • Playing Cards/Dice- name 2-Ace (or the suits) for scales, practice elements (adding dynamics, fixing the phrases, speeding up tempo etc..), bar numbers- just about anything! This can really shake up a BORING practice routine.
  • Recording/Listening equipment- Record yourself or listen to a performance of the song you are working on. Review your previous recordings and track your improvements or find your weak spots. I can record you in studio, just ask.
  • Family Members- Well, not always. Although sometimes it’s good to perform for a test audience.

Like what you see in this post? I am very much “into” this book, Practiceopedia, right now. There are so many ideas for music study, I’ll never get to them all. Oh, and you’re welcome to borrow, but chances are, you’ll end up wanting your own copy 🙂

Practice Tips, Reflections

Practise like the Pros

Canadian pianist, Angela Chang

I’ve stumbled upon a few radio interviews (check them out here) with great performers, some Canadian gems. I find it weird (okay, kinda appalling) that some were bribed with candy to practice as a child. I may have a pizza party now and then, but sorry, I won’t be handing out sugary junk every time I hear a C scale. Many have horrible memories of it, or some no memories other than the daily habit of it- waking up at 6:30 to get some time in before school (Louis Lorite). Practicing is not an option- a commitment has been made. But how can we make the most of it? Quality over quantity rules supreme.

The interview with the Kiwanis Festival participants (children ages 10 to 12 in this case) is very interesting. These are children who may be the next Angela Cheng, or Jamie Parker. One boy LOVES scales for the patterning (well, duh, he also loves math!) And another can feel happy about the changes and improvements made through practice. This is not an easy achievement for young children. We can assist by asking those open ended questions, “How did the left hand feel today? Is it better than three days ago?”

Isn’t it a relief that these guys can admit to procrastination, distraction and avoidance of their practice?  Yes, we’re all human!  Lara St. John has figured out a huge key to success: get to your instrument before 2pm! For some kids, it may even be 11am, or 9am. You’ll know your kid best.  And yes guys, I understand evading it every once in awhile. But overall, we know that the pros conquered that, and put the time in just like everything else. Heck, Angela Cheng LOVES to practice and does so for 6 hours a day. How? In 1.5 to 2 hour intervals. So why would you put all your practice until after supper, after homework, after school. How looooong would that take. Yuck! Break it up guys!

Finally, the fact that these accomplished musicians today ENJOY practising, or feel no guilt about taking a month off only to return refreshed, points out (to me, anyway) that all of the early work and dedication must have paid off. We’re not all going to take this pathway to performance, in fact, many will not. But to get the difficulties of practice out of the way early and arrive at a place of enjoyment? Now, therein lies one of my fundamental goals for my students.

Practice Tips

The Multiple Uses of Painter’s Tape

I have been painting my kitchen and living room over the past few days, and was reminded of a practice tip I heard from a music parent. They use painter’s tape to stick the printed off homework sheet to the wall, right above their children’s piano. Then they always have what needs to be done in view, and they can mark off their practices each day. It’s no surprise that these sisters often enjoy turning in 7-day practices!

The other Music use for painter’s tape? Umm…. I got nothin’.

Post your creative uses below! Or more constructively, what practice tips can you share?

-Mairéad (Mrs. Frizell)