Let me begin by saying that I completely respect a parent’s authority and (as a parent myself) that a parent’s decision is absolute; however, I would like to challenge the idea that ceasing lessons is the best answer to academic “rough spots.”
Music is Education
Music lessons are too often ranked low on the totem poll in comparison to academics, sports, and other school-related activities. I am a strong believer that music is a very important part of general education. There are countless studies that support music’s positive impact on the mind and learning. Music is, and should be, classified simply as education. The most successful students I teach are well-rounded individuals educated and trained in academics, physical activity, and the arts.
Music Can be a Career
My dad once told me I was living a pipe dream by trying to succeed in music. He actually kicked me out of the house because of the differences in our outlooks. Nowadays, he’s my biggest fan and has apologized for not believing in me. There are so many avenues for students to make a legitimate career in music. Like any trade, if you do good work, you will be successful; how successful is up to the individual. It is my hope that parents will start appreciating its validity and not trivialize music as only a hobby that accompanies your “real job.”
Strengths and Weaknesses
There are some students at our studio who are extremely gifted and passionate about music. In some instances, it is one of the few areas in which the student excels. Many parents believe that taking away something that their children love and are passionate about will make them more focused on their school work. I would argue against that line of thinking; if they love it and are passionate about it, and it is education (see my first point), then perhaps it would serve the child better to pour more into it. Music may actually be the most viable career for some of these students.
At Freeway Music, we instructors highly value the mentoring aspect of our jobs. We not only teach students how to play, but we also ask them about their weeks and their schoolwork, encouraging them to do better, instilling professionalism and responsibility into them, and more. This mentoring is vital in children’s lives. Rather than removing the lessons, what if you had a meeting with their private instructor (who often has heavy influence on the student) and ask them to help encourage the student to improve in school as a way of showing how serious they are about pursuing their passion for music? Use this passion to fuel their academic pursuits.
When it comes to removing distractions that can be leveraged as privileges, there are more appropriate things to remove from a child’s life than music lessons. What about phones, tvs, tablets, computers, going out with friends, dessert, cars, etc.? Surely there are some pretty strong bargaining chips beyond music lessons.
At the end of the day, music is a form of education that can help make a student well-rounded and perhaps propel them to a career. Music instructors provide a service that includes one-on-one mentoring. I must say again, I completely respect parental authority and the parent is final arbiter. I just ask that you consider these points I detailed above and challenge your preconceived notions that music lessons are expendable.
You just had a great lesson, and are packing up to leave your teacher’s studio when he/ she says those all-important, gut-wrenching words: “Practice a lot this week!” Good practicing habits are difficult to form, especially if you’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect,” which is not true! Practice doesn’t make perfect- it makes permanent.
So, how do you make the most of your practice time and make progress on your music? Here are a few tips for making practice time productive, efficient, and more enjoyable that apply to beginners or experienced musicians!
1 – Prepare your practice space
– Have a regularly scheduled time set aside for practice
– Free the practice area of any distractions not needed for practice: snacks, TV,phone, electronics, etc.
– Always warm-up first (flash cards, scales, app/review, etc.) if even for a short time!
2 – Have a plan- “what needs work today?”
3 – Don’t simply play through each piece from beginning to end- be diligent and work out the trouble spots. (Just ‘playing’ through songs isn’t true practicing.)
4 – When something is hard, think: “What is the melody?” “Am I in the correct hand position/on the right notes?” Practice hands separate and figure it out.
5 – SLOW-motion practice- practice under tempo- not fast! Especially with a new piece, play it slowly to get the correct fingering, rhythm, and notes correct before playing it up to performance tempo.* (*this is not super fun at first, but saves a lot of headache from wrong notes/rhythms later!)
6 – Reward yourself- if you accomplished your goals and practiced well, have fun and play through some old music or mess around with a new idea! You deserve it.
7 – Set goals, stay focused, and leave your practice session hearing a difference in your music! (Your teacher will be super excited, and your parents will be so grateful you don’t have to keep playing the same songs over and over…plus, you will enjoy the benefits, too!)
Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent. Take the time to do practicing the right way and you will notice the difference in your lessons and in your music!
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Completing the Circuit
Every so often, a parent of a student will make a comment or ask a question that just sticks with you. For me, that happened as I was getting ready to write this post. I casually mentioned my topic of choice which, up until I spoke with this parent, was going to be insight into what happens in beginning piano lessons and why X was critical in developing Y…how academic. The parent commented, “I would love something on what our jobs is as parents,” and I referred her to my more recent post on practicing tips for parents, but her comment stuck with me. It’s stuck in my head so much that I think the real question is, “what is it that you do as a private teacher and how do I help my child progress?”
For a parent, I have to imagine our jobs seem somewhat vague and the gauge of progress is marked by recitals and practice time at home. Ask us how your child is doing and we will usually say something positive, in some instances offer some more critical feedback, and usually try to sum up the lesson that week in thirty seconds as we end one lesson and begin another. Sometimes we email or make calls, but we rely heavily on the ever present notebook, markings in the music, and, most importantly, sending the student home knowing what they have to do. So, what is it that we private teachers do and where do you fit into all of this?
The first thing to address is that we couldn’t be more different from public school teachers. Attire and atmosphere aside, there is no cut and dry curriculum, no single set of standards to which we teach, no marker of passing or failing, and no singular way that any one student is taught. It is perhaps the greatest blessing and greatest curse of the private teacher and our relationship with parents. We are often minimally concerned with parents reinforcing our roles since we work directly and individually with each student one at a time within their own capacity. We gauge success on interest peaking and technical achievements that there simply isn’t a way to easily define. We rely on ourselves and our individual approaches to help each student move forward and build a positive relationship with playing their chosen instrument. As a parent, you may be left wondering, “where does that leave me and what do I do?”
It leaves you confused, but there’s a very good reason and that’s because we all came through the American educational system of quantifiable results, standardized testing, and a constant progression of learn this, then this, and then you will know that. Leaving out any mention of what is happening in education today, the history of this model is fairly recent. Believe it or not, our structure and system of education is modeled after the assembly line pioneered by the Ford Motor Company. Now, if you reflect on your own education, no matter the shifts that occur nearly by the decade, you will see that this model fits perfectly around how we were taught to learn and how progress is measured. Think of the diploma upon graduating high school as a representation of the car you just completed and college the road you will travel finding your way in academia. Concurrent to trends in public education, we private teachers were there all along, teaching our instruments and, while we evolved over time – becoming more modern using technology, offering less traditionally classical educations – not much has changed in the sense that the goal is to get you to love to play and to play well.
You may have noticed that I still haven’t answered where you, the parent, belong in all of this and how you might help your child succeed. The fact is, you can Google that and there will be tons of private teachers and academics out there who will offer a wide array of suggestions, make up fanciful games, suggest using this bit of technology or that, but I’ll offer you what I believe the truth is: you know your child better than we do. We can offer suggestions on what to do at home; we can offer advice on how you should never, ever force someone to practice; we can remind you that the love of practicing is built over years, not months, but that a positive relationship to music should be maintained at all times. There is no singular magic fix to make someone love an instrument faster or to get them to practice or play more. You know your child and their interests, their attention span, and you have to find a way to get those to work together with music making until playing is a brand new and personalized interest. That’s exactly what we do in private teaching. The parent that I spoke to earlier said her son loved performing, but practicing was having its ups and downs. I made a suggestion for a fun practice idea, but will it work? I have no idea. All I can hope is that if it doesn’t, maybe that will inspire a new idea at home.
We try our hardest to engage each student and we rely on you to be our cheerleader. We tell you things that seem to feel so contradictory to what you feel like should happen – how practicing can’t be treated like homework and it doesn’t just ‘get done’ or how it is completely fine that they only played their piece three times that week and we’re so thrilled that we can shoot for four times next week. We tell you it takes time and it does. If you want to know what the best day in private teaching is, it’s the day that a student asks their first real musical question based on inference. Those are the days I live for even if they didn’t practice that week.
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The It’s a word we all fumbled over as we began to read aloud as kids. Most of our words work phonetically from the alphabet that we learn. Teachers and parents patiently waited as we sounded out “r-u-n” or “j-u-m-p” in our first reading encounters. There came a time, though, when “sight-words” were introduced. Which is why, at the beginning of this paragraph, you heard the word “the” in your head as you read and not “tuh-heh”—which would be the literal sounding out of the word. At some point, we also learned how to spell the word “the,” realizing in the process that it looked nothing like what the phonetic equivalent would be.
Music is a language.
Approaching the aspect of rhythm from a linguistic point of view by expanding your vocabulary of rhythmic “sight-words” can make speaking music a much more instantaneously satisfying and simple process. Getting to the point of being able to consistently speak/tap/play a specific rhythm correctly without having to count through it (i.e. sound out the word). This process of learning “rhythm sight-words” may only involve a measure—or it may involve an entire phrase. Internalizing patterns so they can be easily “spoken” (played) allows you as a musician to read quickly, understand poly-linear rhythms (two different patterns happening at the same time), use patterns in improvisation, incorporate new rhythms into your song writing, and learn music by ear with pattern recognition.
Hooked On Rhythmics
As a pianist, I often separate rhythms and pitches for beginning students learning how to read. Sometimes when I encounter a new piece, there will be times that I simply pat out or speak rhythm patterns before attempting to play the piece. Here are some tips for growing your vocabulary when it comes to “rhythmic sight words.”
1) Isolate small sections of rhythm that you’re either drawn toward or fumble over. Start with a measure that trips you up or a section of a riff in a song that you find yourself tapping or humming.
2) If reading rhythms, count out loud and work with a metronome to ensure that you’re playing them correctly (you don’t want to be playing a rhythm incorrectly for the rest of your life…haha). If you picked a section of rhythm by ear, make sure you can play/speak/tap it accurately, and then write out the rhythm that you picked, making sure it lines up with the original recording. The first time you do either of these things, you may need to work with a teacher who can guide you through it—it’s also helpful to have someone double check accuracy. Remember that everything takes a little longer the first time and gets easier with repetition—think about the first time you read a sentence aloud.
3) Once you’ve gotten totally comfortable with the pattern, play or sing it in context. As a pianist, I often play multiple lines, so I attempt the rhythm in conjunction with the other lines that are supposed to be played simultaneously.
4) Take and find the pattern out of context. Try playing scales, arpeggios, or new ideas in that rhythm pattern—this is a great way to keep warming up from being boring! Find the pattern in other pieces of music, whether through listening or reading, and explore ways to use the patterns in other songs. Maybe use the pattern in your own songwriting.
Finally, remember that music is a language and that to be fluent in any language the skills of conversation, reading and writing, are non-negotiable. Work for fluency so that you can express yourself fully and easily in your music! You’ll be amazed at how this takes the fun of playing music to the next level.
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Through teaching and running Freeway, I’ve had many opportunities to hold and attend a lot of great songwriter clinics. So, I want to share some of the best advice I’ve learned about songwriting.
“A song is a snapshot of time” ~Tom Conlon
This is such an inspiring statement and so very true! Music is an amazing art form. Most people attach sound to music, but seldom visual art. Words and lyrics create settings and paint pictures in listeners’ heads. The music evokes certain moods. Certain lyrics will reflect the culture of the time period in which they are written. Various music styles move with time as well. Since culture will always continue to change and evolve, lyrics can be fresh forever. Just look Sam Cooke’s “Change Gonna Come”. It’s clearly about the civil rights movement. Songs are a “snapshot in time” and it’s almost our civic duty as writers to capture these moments.
“Make songwriting a Ritual.” ~ Danielle Howle
To master writing, you have to maintain the attitude you would with anything you would master. You have to stay the course and practice writing. One of the toughest parts about working out is getting yourself in a routine. You have to be intentional and set aside time to write everyday. Get into the ritual of songwriting. If you are prolific, you are bound to have some gems in there. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Not ALL of your songs will be amazing. I am a huge Beatles fan. They wrote a ton of tunes and they have a lot of songs that I don’t like at all. You can’t have the cream of the crop without a good sized crop.
“If you aren’t writing, you aren’t living.” ~ Tom Conlon
Yes. It’s the second time I’ve referenced Tom Conlon, but he is a very wise man. If you aren’t filling the tank up, how do you expect to put anything out? It’s the same as any endeavor in life. Take a trip out of town, watch a movie, read a book, listen to new music, go to a show, or take part in any other activity to create some new life experiences. If you aren’t experiencing life, you will not have anything to talk about. You will be amazed at how inspiring it will be.
Hopefully, these pieces of advice will aid you in being a better writer as well. Always remember the importance of your art, make it a priority, and live a little. Until next time, happy writing!
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As a boy growing up in New Orleans, I remember my father, Ellis, a pianist, and his friends talking about “sheddinʼ.” When they got together, theyʼd say, “Man, you need to go shed,” or “Iʼve been sheddinʼ hard.”
When I was around 11, I realized that sheddinʼ meant getting to the woodshed – practicing. By the age of 16, I understood what the shed was really about – hard, concentrated work.
When my brother Branford and I auditioned for our high school band, the instructor, who knew my father, was excited about Ellisʼ sons coming to the band. But my audition was so pitiful he said, “Are you sure youʼre Ellisʼ son?”
At the time, his comment didnʼt bother me because I was more interested in basketball than band. Over the next several years, however, I began practicing seriously.
Practice is essential to learning music – and anything else, for that matter. I like to say that the time spent practicing is the true sign of virtue in a musician. When you practice, it means you are willing to sacrifice to sound good.
Even if practice is so important, kids find it very hard to do because there are so many distractions. Thatʼs why I always encourage them to practice and explain how to do it.
Iʼve developed what I call “Wyntonʼs 12 Ways to Practice”. These will work for almost every activity – from music to schoolwork to sports.
1. Seek out instruction:
Find an experienced teacher who knows what you should be doing. A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.
2. Write out a schedule:
A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later. If you are practicing basketball, for example, be sure to put time in your schedule to practice free throws.
3. Set goals:
Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress. Goals also act as a challenge: something to strive for in a specific period of time. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.
You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning. This means no video games, no television, no radio, just sitting still and working. Start by concentrating for a few minutes at a time and work up to longer periods gradually. Concentrated effort takes practice too, especially for young people.
5. Relax and practice slowly:
Take your time; donʼt rush through things. Whenever you set out to learn something new – practicing scales, multiplication tables, verb tenses in Spanish – you need to start slowly and build up speed.
6. Practice hard things longer:
Donʼt be afraid of confronting your inadequacies; spend more time practicing what you canʼt do. Adjust your schedule to reflect your strengths and weaknesses. Donʼt spend too much time doing what comes easily. Successful practice means coming face to face with your shortcomings. Donʼt be discouraged; youʼll get it eventually.
7. Practice with expression:
Every day you walk around making yourself into “you,” so do everything with the proper attitude. Put all of yourself into participating and try to do your best, no matter how insignificant the task may seem. Express your “style” through how you do what you do.
8. Learn from your mistakes:
None of us are perfect, but donʼt be too hard on yourself. If you drop a touchdown pass, or strike out to end the game, itʼs not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong and keep going. Most people work in groups or as part of teams. If you focus on your contributions to the overall effort, your personal mistakes wonʼt seem so terrible.
9. Donʼt show off:
Itʼs hard to resist showing off when you can do something well. In high school, I learned a breathing technique so I could play a continuous trumpet solo for 10 minutes without stopping for a breath. But my father told me, “Son, those who play for applause, thatʼs all they get.” When you get caught up in doing the tricky stuff, youʼre just cheating yourself and your audience.
10. Think for yourself:
Your success or failure at anything ultimately depends on your ability to solve problems, so donʼt become a robot.
Think about Dick Fosbury, who invented the Fosbury Flop for the high jump. Everyone used to run up to the bar and jump over it forwards. Then Fosbury came along and jumped over the bar backwards, because he could go higher that way.
Thinking for yourself helps develop your powers of judgment. Sometimes you may judge wrong and pay the price; but when you judge right you reap the rewards.
11. Be optimistic:
How you feel about the world expresses who you are. When you are optimistic, things are either wonderful or becoming wonderful. Optimism helps you get over your mistakes and go on to do better. It also gives you endurance because having a positive attitude makes you feel that something great is always about to happen.
12. Look for connections:
No matter what you practice, youʼll find that practicing itself relates to everything else. It takes practice to learn a language, cook good meals or get along well with people. If you develop the discipline it takes to become good at something, that discipline will help you in whatever else you do.
Itʼs important to understand that kind of connection. The more you discover the relationships between things that at first seem different, the larger your world becomes. In other words, the woodshed can open up a whole world of possibilities.
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Summary: No one wants to practice an instrument, but everyone wants to play. Parents are the key to succeeding during the six days between lessons.
About six years ago, I changed a core expectation as part of my teaching to beginning through early-intermediate students: I no longer asked them to practice. I completely eradicated the word ‘practice’ from every aspect of my teaching to students on this level. Of course, this required a monumental overhaul of how I taught, but in the most basic sense, I viewed the six days between lessons as an opportunity for each student to play the piano, not practice it. I only assigned music that was learned successfully in the lesson, could already be performed well, and used each piece to teach how a student would eventually come to practice so when the time came, the fundamentals were all in place. The success of this, however, is in the third party involved in the lessons: the parents.
There are really only two kinds of children who begin lessons: the first is the student who wants to play an instrument and the second is the student whose parents what him or her to play an instrument. Regardless, my job is to teach them how to do it and have it be a rewarding and positive experience along the way. The idea of practicing a sport and practicing an instrument are often compared, but I’ve never really believed these analogies hold up. Really, a better argument might be drawn that these analogies were created because many people quit music to play sports. Why? Practicing a sport is social while practicing an instrument is isolated. Playing a sport can result in a quantitative gain – a winning score, a total number of wins – where playing music has no measurement beyond personal growth. Private music teachers are left trying to find a way to tangibly or numerically show progress. We invent practice charts where minutes are recorded, wall charts where stickers are earned, or the antiquated check-mark that lets a student know they ‘passed’ a piece. A better comparison might be between practicing medicine and practicing music. Do you really want a doctor to ‘practice’ their craft on you? No! You want them to know what they’re doing just as I want my students walking out of the lesson knowing what they are doing. So, I beg all of the parents out there to no longer ask their child, “did you practice,” and, instead, I want to give you easy ways to get your child playing. This should be the first tip to parents.
Change the Question
Instead of asking, “did you practice,” ask a telling sentence. Try, “how was playing piano today” and listen to the response. The likely response will be, “I didn’t play piano.” We want to eventually transform that response into, “I didn’t play yet,” and finally to where they answer the initial question. How? A follow-up question: “why don’t you go play for a little bit and then tell me about it,” or, “we’ll talk about it at dinner.” The number of minutes played don’t matter since they can already play the piece successfully. This is just about building a positive relationship with time at the instrument. When they talk about playing is when they will develop how they talk about music even if it sounds like nonsense. This connection matters. Over time, the language will smooth out into correct terms and there will no longer be the response, “I didn’t play yet.”
Stop Designating a Practice Time ALL the Time
Yes, kids need structure, but this doesn’t always build a good relationship with playing. I had a friend in middle school who came home from school and had to practice piano for a half-hour every day from 3:30-4:00pm. I remember thinking, “gosh, that’s awful,” and I even liked the piano. Kids are busy and busy minded, so remind them when they haven’t played, but don’t force time at the instrument. The point of playing is to engage the busy mind, but designating a set number of minutes can be torturous when they already know how to play their music.
Ask for a Private Concert
A private performance is a special time with Mom or Dad. Alone time with kids and one parent is sometimes more meaningful than any activity. This special time where a student gets to perform for a parent is their own private showcase where they are the star. Does it need to happen every week? No, but sometimes this can be the greatest motivator on the weeks when a student just doesn’t want to play.
Generating Positive Responses from other People
When I was a kid, the most technology we had was the GIANT Macintosh computer with the floppy disks that were the size of an average face. That hass changed and technology is everywhere, including in my teaching. When playing at home, why not record a performance and send it to Grandma or Grandpa or even the teacher? Yes, I know this isn’t ground breaking, but most people miss the point of the recording. It’s not so the child can be recorded and shared; it’s that they get a positive response back from whomever you send it to. This feedback can be critical for students who don’t like to perform and can build a positive relationship with the process. Furthermore, they can record their own teaching video showing you or a family member how to do something musical. A seven second “Vine” finding D can be all the motivation in the world.
Integrate Playing into Daily Life
This idea comes from another teacher friend who gave me this advice. Sometimes spontaneous activities with a quick goal can be all it takes. Imagine it’s just before dinner and your child is walking past you. All you have to do is say, “I totally forgot! I was thinking about your song you played the other day. How super-fast do you think you can play that? Can you do it before dinner?” Yes, it’s going to sound terrible fast, but it doesn’t matter. They’re engaged at the instrument again and Mom or Dad has shown that they remember a musical performance from before and not just making them do a task. Does this playing use good technique? No, but that’s not the goal here. The goal is a positive feeling associated with playing. Let me fix technique and I’ll let you know when issues arise.
Talk to the Teacher After Music Lessons
One of the biggest things that makes me feel defeated in my teaching is when I haven’t inspired a parent enough to be outside the door asking how a lesson went and the child is instead walking out to a parking spot. I have one of the few professions where I am able to give you a weekly progress report on how your child is doing and the more I can involve you, the better the experience for all of us. Plus, this isn’t a classroom; this is one of the few things in a child’s life that is literally one-on-one and I am giving you 100% undivided feedback. Take the time after the lesson to hear about how we made music this week. Even more importantly, take five minutes in the car to ask the child what they learned with details and not just “how was the lesson?”
Whenever I hear a parent wanting to withdraw an early student for lack of practicing, I ask them, “what have you done to make it a positive experience?” I usually hear, “well, I ask him/her to practice and he/she just doesn’t want to,” and I have to continue to emphasize how my expectation is that a student plays piano, but doesn’t practice. I’m hoping that these few ideas might help parents see that the goal isn’t to practice early on, but to play and to play enjoying what they do. Remember, when someone signs up for lessons, they want to play the piano, not practice it. In time, and by teaching skills that aren’t even obvious to the student or the parent, it’s my job to create the path to practicing. In the meantime, it’s the parent’s job to help them love to play.
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David Pacific is the Assistant Director of The Southeastern Piano Festival. Make sure to check out the SEPF!
Why do we play the trumpet, trombone, tuba, french horn, or any instrument for that matter? We love the sound of it. It is the sound of the instrument that called us and it is the sound of the instrument that keeps us practicing, performing, and playing it. This is especially true for brass players.
Blow Your Horn
Brass instruments, and wind instruments in general, are so closely entwined in the human experience as it is the very breath of life that gives rise to the tones produced. In this regard, the expressive potential is immense. From a quiet, soft whisper, to a growling, barking, heralding shout, brass instruments are powerful conduits of emotion. They are also very demanding instruments when it comes to the physical nature of producing music on them. Brass instruments require a daily discipline in order to maintain the slightest bit of endurance, technique, and a good sound.
Practice On Your Horn
Your tone, how you sound on your instrument, comes from the types of music you listen to, especially the particular instrumentalists or vocalists you like and listen to the most; this internalization, in conjunction with your personality and the idea you have in your head on how you want to sound on your instrument, has a huge impact on what sound you are producing on your instrument. Perhaps you like a very bright sound or maybe you enjoy a very dark tone, either are fine, so long as you know what you want, embrace it as yours, and give it the respect it deserves by working on it as much as possible.
Let It Flow
As is the case in most any endeavor, the trick is to get the maximum from the minimum – to put the least amount of effort into something and experience the optimal results. This is true when it comes to producing your best sound on the trumpet. You want to train your body to get your lips vibrating with the most relaxed airflow filling the horn up like water through a garden hose and let the horn sing a rich, full tone at a soft volume.
Here’s world-renowned, award-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis speaking on tone and this exact exercise:
If you’d like to learn more and excel on your brass instrument, contact Mark Rapp
Say you’re a singer and you have a big performance coming up. You may also have an audition for a singing position, school play, or solo in chorus. You really want to show that you are the best one for the part. You are a mix of emotions: nervous, excited, hopeful, fearful. How do singers do it? How do they get up there in front of complete strangers and deliver a performance that seems seamless, heartfelt, and draws the audience in? 75% of the performance lies in the preparation. The way that we practice, eat, and sleep all effect the voice. The remaining 25% of the performance is effected by what we do on stage, but preparing for your performance in well planned practice time will help the final product! While important to the development of our style, practice can be a frustrating part of our routine. It does not have to be. Here are 5 tips to ensure a great practice session for singers. All of these tips are easy, but must become habit to notice results. Your body is your instrument! You carry your instrument around with you all day everyday, so it’s important to take care of yourself.
Drink all the water!
Stay hydrated. Our body is 60% water. In order to prevent dehydration, you should consume around 8 cups of water per day. This will ensure that your vocal chords stay lubricated and vibrate easily. Some people say to stay away from dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea, and soda; however, if you replace that beverage with an extra cup of water, that should do the trick.
This may seem like a silly way to start of your practice session, but I promise it makes a world of difference. You stretch before a big race, why not singing? The muscular system is connected all throughout your body and, therefore, affects the muscles that make up your vocal chords. Tension in the neck, shoulders, back, and hips can add tension to vocal production. Begin your practice session with stretches that target each of these areas for a more relaxed start. I even include a few minutes of lying on my back and breathing deeply, to feel the rise and fall of my belly, for dual efforts of relaxation and working proper breathing technique.
Be kind to your voice.
Of course there is the advice of refraining from any excessive screaming or shouting, but for singing practice, there is a tip that is just as helpful. The best advice I ever got from one of my voice teachers was to treat a practice session like every day is a fresh start. He would start off each lesson by sitting at the piano and saying, “Let’s see how the voice is doing today.” Your body never quite feels the same from day to day. It can be affected by weather, sickness, or maybe you’re out of sorts because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Start small in your practice sessions, maybe with some humming, sirens, or lip trills to explore how the voice is feeling that day. Gradually, increase intensity from there based on what you’re feeling. Over time, the good days will become more consistent.
Frustrated energy is wasted energy.
When our voice isn’t doing what we want it to, we tend to get frustrated! Belting that high D-flat was so easy yesterday! What is the deal?! When you feel this shift in your practice, this is a good time to stop and take a minute to breathe. We want to do it over and over again until it’s perfect, but singing with frustration is singing with muscular tension. The same teacher I mentioned above, when I would get frustrated in a lesson, would look at me and say, “And how’s that working for you?” He was so right. In the long run, it’s bad for your voice and doesn’t help you sing any better. Remember to stop, breathe, and go back to your basic fundamentals. You also have the option to stop, take a break, and come back to it.
End on a good note.
Pardon the terrible pun, but it’s good for your morale to finish a practice session with a song with which you are not only comfortable, but that you also love. Finish your practice with something that reminds you of why you sing in the first place, because, after all is said and done, THAT is what you want to give to your audience. Frankly, no one cares if your belted high D-flat is perfect if there isn’t any soul in it. Remember that singing is hard work, but it should also be fun! You should always leave your practice session with a little extra pep in your step because you worked hard! Because you had a productive practice, you are a better singer than you were an hour ago!
One lesson that I drill into all of my music students is the importance of being prepared. I stress how important it is to be professional in any business. Here are some situations to be prepared for:
Your Music Instructor
There is no doubt that part of furthering yourself in you music career is mastering your instrument. If you aren’t studying or taking private music lessons, do it! When your teacher gives you an assignment, make sure you come back to the next lesson with it nailed down and then some. If a student shows up unprepared they might as well say, “I don’t care about getting better,” or “music actually ISN’T a priority to me.” Not only does it slow down the student’s personal growth, but it also leaves a bad impression on the music instructor. If someone calls me for a gig that I can’t do or if they are looking for a player in a band, I am going to refer my students who have practiced and have been prepared.
Show up on time to your rehearsals, have all of your parts perfected, and bring a great attitude. Everyone WILL notice. You will sound better and you have instantly created a great reputation for yourself. The word will definitely get around that you are a true professional. Other people will call you for gigs and other people will refer you to other gigs. The same is true if you aren’t prepared; no one will want to refer you…no matter how “awesome” you are.
Your Studio Session
Get yourself a recording of the tune you are going to record…even if it’s a scratch recording from a phone or computer. Listen to the tune and get it in your head. I generally try to come up with a few options for parts to present to the artist or producer/engineer. Then, experiment with tone, gear, effects, etc. Once you head into the studio, everyone again will be blown away by how prepared you are and it will immediately affect your reputation. You will probably land more session gigs in the future.
These are just a few situations for which you need to be prepared. There are so many chances for you to prove your professionalism through being prepared. Take the time and work hard to be ready. Teachers, fellow musicians, artists, producers, engineers, and others in the industry will be your best way to solidify your reputation and propel your career.