Why Practicing Practicing from an Early Age Is So Important

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This post was written by performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama.  Noa is on the faculty of The Juilliard School and teaches performing artists how to utilize sport psychology principles and more consistently perform up to their full abilities under pressure. For more tips on effective practicing, learning, and performing, visit his blog, The Bulletproof Musician.

 

A few years ago, I heard Robert Duke (who was once a band teacher) tell a story about how he flipped practicing, and got his students to beg him to be allowed to practice more.

Essentially, he told his students that they were not allowed to take their instruments home, until he had heard them play individually and gauged whether they could practice effectively and avoid developing bad habits.

Once they demonstrated a certain level of practice competence, they could take their instrument home – but only practice for a limited amount of time.

When they proved that they had reached the next level of practice competence, their daily allotment of practice time would increase, and so on.

This created a situation in which students would feel great pride in how long they were allowed to practice, and would essentially compete with each other to see who would be allowed to practice longer.

I thought this was a hilariously clever tactic, but the underlying idea upon which this is based is an important one.

Can young students be trusted to practice effectively on their own?

Self-regulation

Two Australian researchers did a study tracking young musicians’ practice habits over a three-year span, to see how effectively young learners could self-regulate – or control and direct their own learning behaviors in six specific areas:

  1. Motive: How capable are students of initiating practice on their own?
  2. Time: How much do students practice? How effectively do they manage their practice time?
  3. Method: What sorts of practice strategies do students use?
  4. Performance outcomes: How capable are students at monitoring, evaluating, and controlling their playing?
  5. Physical environment: How effectively do students structure their practice environment to minimize distractions and maximize learning?
  6. Social factors: How much initiative do students take in seeking out help that might help them improve faster (asking questions, help from parents, etc.)?

Procedures

157 families were approached, but relatively few agreed to videotape practice sessions, and fewer still followed through on a consistent basis. Ultimately, seven students’ videos were selected for inclusion in the study.

The included students were all aged 7-9. Two were complete beginners who didn’t know how to read music, while the other five had learned another instrument previously.

The practice videos spanned a 3-year period, and the researchers selected two practice sessions from the first year and two from the third year to analyze in greater detail.

Here are a few of the more interesting findings:

1. Motive

Even at this young age, there were clear differences in motivations for learning an instrument. Some expressed more externally motivated reasons, like wanting to be in band because their friends were doing it. Others had more internally driven reasons, such as liking music, or wanting to play specific pieces they liked.

Ultimately, the researchers found that the children who had more extrinsic reasons for learning made the least progress, while those who identified intrinsic reasons progressed more quickly. It seems that students motivated by a more personally meaningful reason to learn are more likely to engage in the kinds of behaviors that maximize learning.

2. Time

Not all “practice time” was actually spent practicing. In year 1, for instance, only 72.9% of their time was spent actually practicing. They spent the remainder of time engaged in activities like looking for music, day-dreaming, etc.

As a group, they became more efficient practicers over time, but there were pretty significant individual differences from the very beginning. “Male Trumpet 1”, for instance, spent less time practicing than the others, instead engaging in avoidance behaviors like fiddling around with his instrument. As a result, it took him 3 years to reach the same level of playing that many of his peers had reached in 1 year.

The researchers suggest that tiny differences in the beginning can add up and have a significant impact on subsequent learning and students’ progress as the years go by.

3. Method

As you might imagine, the beginners’ practice strategies were pretty unsophisticated. The most popular strategy was to simply play the piece through from beginning to end, which represented about 95% of their practice time.

There were some additional strategies, like foot-tapping, counting, thinking, singing, or silent fingering, but these were pretty rare to see (<2% of their time).

Another finding, was that despite being asked by their teachers to repeat pieces until they came more easily, ~90% of the time, students played through a piece only once, and looked pretty content to move onto something else once they got to the end, regardless of how it sounded.

4. Performance Outcomes

One of the key areas of self-regulation is the ability to know when you’ve made an error, stop playing, and fix it.

In year 1, most of the young learners simply ignored their pitch errors (there were so many rhythm errors that the researchers stopped keeping track). But here too there were individual differences. Some students were much more capable of noticing and correcting their errors, and played better on the second run-through of a piece, while others actually made more errors on subsequent run-throughs.

Based on their data, the researchers suggest that teachers stop during lessons and ask students to reflect and comment on the accuracy of what they just played.

This could then be the basis for teaching students strategies like mentally singing the opening phrase before playing, or looking at the music to identify potential trouble spots, or remembering to think about the tempo or key before they play.

Their other suggestion was to occasionally take a momentary time-out in lessons and ask students to demonstrate how they would practice a tricky section. To see how they approach listening and problem-solving – to essentially practice practicing in lessons.

Two take-aways

Admittedly, it’s a small sample of students, but the researchers make two specific recommendations based on the observation that while most of the students displayed the desire to practice in the videos, they didn’t appear to have the skills required to practice effectively.

In other words, while their teachers were helping them identify what to practice, the students weren’t very clear on how to practice. Students were also not so great at noticing errors and monitoring the quality of their playing.

Thus, the researchers’ recommendations to teachers were twofold:

1. Spend time demonstrating or modeling specific practice strategies during lessons, that students can try using at home during the week.

2. Find ways to help young learners reflect on the quality of their practice time. Whether through practice diaries or goal-setting exercises, help students get better at listening/evaluating their own playing, and making better decisions about what to spend time working on. Because these are not necessarily things that students will intuit on their own – and the researchers suggest that the tiny differences that start to appear even in the very first practice sessions accumulate over time and could very well be the difference between a student who practices harder, is more confident about their learning ability, and achieves at a higher level, and a student who lags behind.

The Value of Toddler Movement Classes

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by Sarah Ruppel Bullis

I’m thrilled to witness that in the past several years a growing number of people have realized the importance of dance education for children. I have noticed that more and more schools in the Richmond area are including dance as part of their curriculum. I personally teach movement classes to infants through adult age, and have noticed that those students that start at a very young age and continue through their childhood development are much more advanced in every aspect of their life than those who have not. Dance has been a part of my own life since the age of 2, and I attribute much of the success in life (communication, organization, and memorization skills, discipline, manners, excellence in school, and success in business) to what I learned in dance classes. This is not to say that my faith and my parents’ encouragement and way of raising me were not significant; however, without a doubt, years of dance classes ingrained the above elements of success into me and have shaped me into who I am today.

It is never too early to put your children into dance classes! Ponder this: babies move before they talk. Movement is an innate part of us. Why not learn how to coordinate movements at the early development stages of our lives? A “dance” class for a toddler does not mean that the toddler will be learning serious dance technique of any particular style. A toddler dance, or better known as creative movement, class entails that the students will learn and perfect the foundations of dance: coordination, balance, spatial awareness, rhythm, pattern recognition and memorization, expressiveness, and creative thinking.

I cannot speak to the specifics of all toddler movement classes, but I can speak for my own. I have been teaching young children how to dance for 20 years (yes, I was 10 years old when I started to arrange dance classes at my house for the younger children in my neighborhood), and I now teach the Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes at Passion Academy. This blog in particular will focus on these 2 classes. The additional younger-age classes on our schedule follow the principles I describe below with a format based on the age group and style of the class.

Both Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes are parent participation classes. Thus, the child does not have to have prior movement experience to attend one of these classes because the parent and teacher will help the child with the movements. Do not think that your child has to be “good” at dance or moving in order to enroll in a dance class. This is what I will teach them with your help!

I believe that individual attention from the teacher is important in every dance class, and thus, the student body in each of these toddler classes at Passion Academy is small. I limit the number of students in each class to 6 or less so that I am able to teach the sequences as well as provide individual attention to each student several times during the class. A limited numbers of students also helps keep the number of distractions to a minimum.

The Creative Movement and Dance Discovery classes are 30 minutes long, which I have found to be the perfect amount of time to keep a toddler’s attention with movement exercises. Each class begins with different warm-up exercises on the floor that will attune the students’ ears to the rhythms of music, familiarize each student with his/her own body, and introduce mild stretching. These warm-ups are repeated every class, and I gradually advance them as the students demonstrate their understanding and perfection of them. After our warm-up section, we perform different standing and moving-around-the-room exercises that teach coordination, directional movement, balance, jumping, and pattern recognition/memorization. I use colors, shapes, numbers, and musical tempos to teach these exercises. Finally, the last bit of our class includes a themed portion where the students will “become” something or “go” somewhere and learn how to move their bodies accordingly. I provide the guidelines for these movements and then let the students’ creative minds take over. In the more advanced Dance Discovery classes (ages 3-4), the children work up to learning short dances during this part of class. All of the above exercises include the use of multiple props as a way to better engage the children in the exercises, teach tactile coordination, and to help encourage their creative minds with the visualization of different objects that can be “seen” as different things, depending on the theme (i.e. a hula hoop could be a pond or a nest or a vehicle). Additionally, music is used throughout the class to assist and inspire each movement. However, unlike many other toddler dance classes, I do not use music with words to accompany the sequences. I use only instrumental music to better attune my students’ ears to the musical rhythms and so that they hear my words and instructions without the distractions of words in the songs.

Thus, as seen above, these movement classes will aid in the physical development of your child by teaching him/her body awareness, spatial awareness, coordination, and balance. They will enhance the development of cognitive thinking by teaching  rhythmical counting, following directions, problem solving through movement, and pattern recognition and memorization. They will encourage his/her emotional development by inciting the use of facial expressions and imagination during the themed part of our class. They will advance social development as your child dances with other toddlers and is taught social skills such as sharing and staying in line. Finally, they will enhance your parent-child relationship by providing you and your child time set aside each week to work and learn together in a loving, encouraging, positive environment.

And one final important note for these classes: Do not give up on your child’s ability after the first class! It is very rare that I will have a young student perform or participate in every movement exercise or sequence in the first class. This takes consistency and time, which is why the repetitive nature of my classes is extremely important. The first 20 minutes of class is repeated each week and gradually advanced throughout the session, and I always repeat the entire 30 minute lesson plan (i.e. the same theme) 2-3 classes in a row. The repetition will allow your child to learn and become comfortable with the movements, and the goal is that he/she will eventually be able to perform them on their own. Also do not compare your child’s progress to another student’s progress. Every child learns at a different pace, and it is up to you to encourage your child to continue at his/her own pace. Patience and positive reinforcement is the key!


Passion Dance Program Director
Creative Movement and Dance Discovery Mentor

Passion Dance offers several classes for students under 5 years old:

Tuesday
Creative Movement  9:30-10:00am (Ages 18-24 months)
Creative Movement  10:00-10:30am (Ages 2-3)

Wednesday
I Got Rhythm  10:00-10:30am (Ages 16-24 months)

Friday
Creative Movement 9:30-10:00am (Ages 18-24 months)
Creative Movement 10:00-10:30am (Ages 2-3)
Dance Discovery 10:30-11:00am (Ages 3-4)
Creative Movement 4:15-4:45pm (Ages 2-3)

For young dancers interested in an introduction to tap or ballet ballet technique, we offer Primary Tap and Pre-ballet classes during the following times:

Primary Tap
Monday 10:30-11:15am (Ages 3-4.5)

Pre-Ballet
Tuesday 10:30-11:15am (Ages 3.5-4.5)
Friday 11:15am-12:00pm (Ages 3.5-4.5)
Friday 3:30-4:15pm (Ages 3.5-4.5)

ENROLL TODAY

Who Actually Quits Musical Instrument Instruction — Children or Their Parents?

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by Anthony Mazzocchi

How many times have we heard from adults that they wish their parents didn’t allow them to quit their musical instrument when they were younger?

There comes a time in a large percentage of music students’ lives when they want to quit their instrument — and more often than not, parents allow them to do it.  But is the child quitting … or is the parent?

I remember wanting to quit the trombone when I was in middle school.  Honestly, it’s hard to remember why.  It could have been peer pressure, boredom, or something else — but I had my mind made up.  I shudder to think of what my life would be like now if my mother had decided to quit as well and give in to my pleas.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that when it comes to music education and other transformative activities that require some grit in order to succeed, most children go through a period of time where they must succeed despite themselves.  They must be encouraged and supported through the tough times, not given a pass.  It is only at a certain point that children — and parents — can make an informed decision to quit their musical instrument, and that point is usually much later, not sooner, than one may think.

Here are a few ways that parents are the ones that quit music instruction, and some thoughts on overcoming the tough times with our children that are bound to occur:

“I can’t bug my child to do one more thing”.  I have heard this line so many times as a teacher and administrator.  A parent tells the teacher that their child will be discontinuing music because they haven’t had any luck getting their child to practice, and the “child doesn’t want to play anymore.” In addition, the parent says the child “seems to be over-scheduled and is overwhelmed with the demanding school curriculum.”

This parent has clearly given up.

There are many things that children need to do that they do not want to do. They don’t want to bathe, do homework, brush their teeth, or do their chores oftentimes.  But we as adults understand that we would be teaching them to be irresponsible if we gave in.  We also understand that children are not old or mature enough to make many life decisions — but when it comes to quitting music instruction the rules somehow seem to change.  The truth is that we can insist our child do “one more thing,” and if that’s really not humanly possible, a curricular activity such as music should not be at the bottom of that list.

Parents have overcommitted their child.  Our children are growing up in a time where the U.S. has turned into a society of “overachievers”. Downtime or activities that are perceived to be “fun” (i.e. music and the arts) are considered wasted time because concrete results are not being measured and money (and a job) is not at the end of the equation. Children have so many choices of ways to “enrich” their lives that quitting has become an easy response to frustration or boredom. Most adults regret many of the things in life that they quit, especially because they could have had stuck it out, reached a good level of proficiency and found that enjoyment that seemed to elude them earlier.  Parents need to remember this fact and encourage their children to stick with music instruction for at least two years, if not through middle school.

Parents must remember what their goals for their child’s education is.  Perseverance, commitment, loyalty, and grit are all values I hope that I — and my schools — instill in my children. Learning to endure something even when it temporarily becomes boring or unpleasant or when the teacher isn’t the most engaging person in the world is a lesson truly worth teaching. I would argue that the time you let your child walk away from something just because at that moment it doesn’t suit them is the last time you may have any credibility with them about endurance or resilience ever again.

Parents, teachers and students have a misguided view of passion.  Parents often talk about helping kids find their passions.  When parents allow their children to quit music, we often hear excuses such as, “Music is not where my child’s passion lies, it seems.”  But most of the time, passions do not always appear out of nowhere; they are often a result of hard work and dedication — the happiness that comes from doing something well over a period of time.  I have spent most of my life reaping the rewards of a life devoted to music, yet in 7th grade I was begging to quit.  And there are thousands upon thousands of other children who were not allowed to quit who have gone on to rewarding lives in many fields that would never have been possible if not for their musical education.

Parents need to embrace the struggle that their children are facing.  The reward of performing a piece of music after overcoming obstacles during practice is a great vehicle for parents to teach their children that true growth occurs when we struggle a bit.  Learning to deal with struggle yields some of the greatest benefits imaginable over time when applied to other areas of life.  But a child’s struggle is a parents struggle as well, of course.  There are bad days — and some really frustrating days.  There may be tantrums and miserable practices and screaming scenes where you may feel as if you are at the end of your rope. But if you stick with it, your children will have long, enduring relationships with instructors and classmates who will change and enrich their lives.  Don’t forget to reach out to your child’s teacher for extra help during these challenging times — I promise you that they will pass.

Your child’s experience with their music studies will shape their adult lives more than you will ever know.  They will be different people in the best way imaginable — people who would be far poorer intellectually without music in their life.  Let’s not kid ourselves — children quit things all the time.  Sometimes it’s even the right thing to do, but sometimes they are simply bored or don’t like the teacher or would just rather do nothing at home — and that is not acceptable or in their best interest over the long-term. Deciding when to let your child quit is a difficult problem that never goes away, but it is safe to say that one year is simply not enough time for anyone to decide whether to stay with musical instrument instruction or not.

Maybe you didn’t study music.  Maybe you quit prematurely and you didn’t even realize it — but the road is open to your children, so steer them down it.  They will never tell you later in life that they are angry at you for not letting them quit.

Learn simple steps to becoming a great Music Parent in Tony’s new book:

The Music Parents’ Guide – A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent

The-Music-Parents-Guide-Book

3 Things Parents Must Tell Their Children When They Begin a Musical Instrument

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by Anthony Mazzocchi

Hopefully your child will begin a musical instrument through their school music program.  If so, when they bring home their instrument for the first time, it is more than just an exciting day…

...It is an opportunity...

…Perhaps one of the greatest opportunities in your child’s life thus far.

If you are like me, you want your kid(s) to complete their K-12 education with far more than factual knowledge and an ability to score well on tests.  You don’t believe that your child’s success in life depends primarily on cognitive skills — the type of intelligence that is measured on IQ tests and such.  You don’t believe that school should be primarily focused on stuffing kids’ brains with as much factual knowledge as possible, but instead is focused on growing skills and mindsets that will last a lifetime.  Psychological traits that include

  • The patience to persist at a tough (and perhaps boring) task;
  • The ability to delay gratification;
  • The curiosity and grit to problem solve;

…just to name just a few.

 And the musical instrument in your child’s hand could be the key to learning those skills.

You see, your child didn’t receive an instrument with the expectation that they would become a professional musician, just as they did not receive a math book with the expectation of them becoming a mathematician.  But, unlike any other subject, your child has the opportunity to develop some of the most important life skills through learning to play an instrument, and you need to let them know this is the case.

Here are three things parents need to know and be able to express to their child as soon as they begin learning to play a musical instrument:

“You are allowed to fail, and you will become better because of your failures.”

There are no red pen marks for missed notes in music the way there are on tests — there is nothing to feel bad about when you play something “wrong” in music.  To become skilled at a musical instrument — and to become great at anything — one needs to struggle a little.  In your child’s case, they need to sound bad before they sound good; they need to work on things just beyond what they are capable of in order to get better and smarter, and that means they need to make mistakes.  There is a small gap between what we all are able to do and where we want to be, and focusing on that gap makes us better learners and better people.  Learning a musical instrument allows us to grow from our mistakes.

“Hard work trumps talent every single time.”

Practicing a skill over and over, the right way, fires circuits in our brains that solidify that skill.  Sure, some people find some skills easier at first than others, but the people who practice that skill daily in order to “burn it” into their brain will always far surpass people who don’t practice enough.  Practicing a musical instrument helps children learn the universal truth that hard work trumps talent.

“This is a long-term commitment, and we are going to stick with it.”

Studies have shown that students who identified that they would play their instrument for longer than one year outperformed students who only committed to one year of playing by up to 400% — practicing the same amount of time if not less!  The ideas and mindsets students bring to their musical instrument study have a direct effect on their success, and it’s the parents’ role to set the tone on the first day by not giving their child an “easy out” to quit.  Make the decision to invest in your child’s music education for at least a few years of their schooling and you will see results.

There are not many subjects taught in school that have the potential to give our children the life skills they need to be successful beyond their school lives.  Our children can learn how to have grit, motivation, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and character during and after their K-12 schooling — and music is the vehicle to teach these skills.

What if we as parents treated music like any other core subject and expected our children to study it for at least 4 or 5 years? What does “success in school” mean to you and your child?

Learn simple steps to becoming a great Music Parent in Tony’s new book:

The Music Parents’ Guide – A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent

The-Music-Parents-Guide-Book

What Makes A Great Music Teacher

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Great Music Teacher Imageby Anthony Mazzocchi

Greatness in teaching is just as rare as greatness in any other profession. Although it’s impossible to offer a prescription of qualities in order to cultivate great music teachers, understanding these qualities can give all would-be teachers a standard of excellence to strive for, and guide schools and parents toward what they should look for in current and prospective teachers.

Here are just a few characteristic traits that I believe all great music teachers have:

Great teachers connect to their students on an emotional level.  We all remember how teachers we really respected made us feel.  We remember the teachers who saw something special in us and identified with us on some level.  Before we teach, we must show that we care — and there are many ways to do this.  The best way is the one that comes natural, and for me that is humor — but it can be anything from eye contact, a strong sense of empathy, or something else that indicates that the teacher truly “sees” the needs of each individual student.

Great teachers don’t look to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy all the time.  There are a lot of school music teachers who strive to have all of their students “like” them.  They look to ensure that all of their students are happy and comfortable at all times, making sure that there is not too much effort involved with rehearsing and learning.  These teachers usually run entire pieces of music and cover a lot of material in a short period of time –they tend to not “dig in” to small sections and have a laissez-faire approach to developing young musicians.  Great teachers, however, command respect and are not afraid to stretch their students’ comfort zone in order to teach them how to strive toward achieving greatness.

Effective teachers are great communicators of knowledge.  You will rarely walk into a great teacher’s rehearsal and see them giving long speeches.  Highly effective music teachers keep the concepts at the highest level but the explanations short and incredibly clear.  A great teacher has a target they are aiming their students toward and do everything in their power to guide them toward it in the most efficient manner.  Often times, the most useful information is delivered in a few seconds between the  action (in our case, making sounds) that should be occurring throughout the majority of class time.

Great music teachers love fundamentals (and know how to “sell” them to their students).  Wise music teachers understand that technique is essential, and that proper technique can be taught during a school day, no matter how many students are in the class.  These teachers are not afraid to go back to the beginning of a method book and honor the foundations of playing a musical instrument.  Not only will a great teacher understand that building blocks such as posture, breathing, and hand position are critical to beginners, they also understand that these fundamentals must be constantly reinforced throughout their student’s schooling.  Great teachers do not abandon fundamentals in order to “teach to a concert” — they ensure that their concert repertoire is an extension of strong musical foundations.

Being “scared” of your teacher once in a while is not the worst thing in the world.  Of course I do not mean that students should fear their teacher, or that teachers should ever scare their students  intentionally.  But great teachers often evoke feelings that may be unfamiliar to our younger generation — students should feel true respect for a great music teacher;  they will also tend to admire them very much; and yes — they will be a little scared of them from time to time.

Even though it may often seem this way, students do not win when teachers seek to be their buddy, or even a parent figure.  They do need someone who they trust (and trust a lot) and someone who they will dedicate their time to being with for a long haul, but there needs to be a little distance present.  Students should be a little timid to show up unprepared to create music.  The words “that’s okay” should not come out of a great teacher’s mouth when students aren’t holding themselves to a high standard.  Great teachers are honest and tell students “how it is”, even if it is sometimes a little blunt.  Hearing the truth is rough, but when true constructive feedback is delivered with clear language that is not personalized, students will be thankful, and see that they can use that information to get better.

Great music teachers understand that every single child is capable of becoming proficient at their craft.  We have a long way to go to dispel the myth that talent and musical ability is inherent and inborn.  Great teachers understand that they must help build proficient young players, one day at a time.  While some students may have instant and early success, a great teacher communicates through their teaching that those who persist and practice in an intelligent and mindful way will grow, learn and reach their potential as well.

Great teachers render themselves useless.  The long-term goal of any teacher should be to help their students learn so much that they longer need the teacher.  They do not lead by personality alone, and needing to be the center of attention.  That’s why great music programs cannot be built on a personality — it isn’t sustainable. Successful music teachers create a culture where students want to continue to go beyond their comfort zones in order to get better on their own.  These teachers seek to create moments of independence, so that students can slowly begin to “teach themselves” moving forward beyond the classroom.

Self reflection is a requirement of great teaching.  Most great teachers do not think of themselves as being great.  They are constant students of their craft, and constantly look in the mirror and ask themselves, “How can I do this better?”.  We all learn by experiences and mistakes, but unless teachers question themselves about what their experiences mean and think actively about them, they won’t make any changes.  Self-reflection enables teachers to move from good to great by eating some “humble pie” once in a while and not being afraid to grow and make changes along their professional journey.

It’s impossible for me (or anyone) to produce a complete and definitive list of the characteristics of great music teaching, but I believe this is an important starting place. Knowing the qualities of greatness can help teachers strive for the highest standards and help students, parents, and school systems celebrate music as a core part of their curricula.  Observing a great music teacher at the top of his or her game is like watching a masterful performance; although infinitely difficult and painstakingly planned, great teaching appears effortless and seamless.

Many parents and administrators tend to believe that teaching music is the simplest thing in the world—until they actually see the work that goes into it.

Learn simple steps to becoming a great Music Parent in Tony’s new book:

The Music Parents’ Guide – A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent

The-Music-Parents-Guide-Book

12 Ways To Practice by Wynton Marsalis

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WYNTONʼS 12 WAYS TO PRACTICE, FROM MUSIC TO SCHOOLWORK

Published in the Education Digest – September 1996

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.

4. Concentrate: 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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10 Reasons to Thank Your Music Teacher

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Many people making a living from music, or even those who carry it on as a hobby, will be able to remember being heavily influenced or inspired by a music teacher. Whether it was at school or as a private tutor, they are often responsible for that initial bit of encouragement that makes young people realize that music can be much more than something to be enjoyed in your spare time.

Even if it doesn’t ultimately result in a professional career, engagement with music is increasingly being recognized as a great benefit for us all in many ways. This has produced a growing number of efforts to draw attention to the importance of music education in schools and in the community.

Music Monday is an annual event held in Canada on the first Monday of May. Organized by the Coalition for Music Education since 2005, it brings together school children and their teachers, community groups, music ensembles and work colleagues to highlight the benefits of a musical education. The day involves a mass concert where groups across the country come together at the same time to play a song which has been chosen as the anthem for the year.

Another major part of the day is to highlight the hard work put in by music teachers. A couple of years ago, CBC asked several leading musicians to write letters of thanks to their most influential music teacher to recognize the role they had played in their life and education. The letters described teachers who had run numerous bands and musical ensembles at high schools, organized trips to competitions in other cities, and inspired the creativity of their pupils.

In one of the letters, jazz pianist Oliver Jones writes about the huge impact his piano lessons with Daisy Peterson-Sweeney, the sister of famous jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, had on him: “All of my musical life I have considered myself to be very fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful and talented people, those who have guided me, inspired me, and most of all those who have motivated me as a youngster. It is rare to find all of these qualities in one person.”

Even for those of us who don’t quite manage to make a professional career out of musical performing, there are no shortage of things that we can take from our school music lessons and the teachers who delivered them. Here are ten things music teachers should be thanked for.

1. They taught you that it’s OK to make mistakes, and making them is how we learn and grow as a person. That’s something useful for life in general, not just music.

2. They taught you to believe in your abilities and stay calm under pressure. Again, not bad qualities to have regardless of what you’re doing.

3. They encouraged you to do your best and push your limits.

4. They destroyed the “practice makes perfect” cliche. In reality, a copious amount of practice is not enough to become a great musician. You always need to find a way to make yourself inspired.

5. They show tremendous dedication, including by taking after school lessons, running school orchestras and clubs, and planning activities. A lot of this additional commitment is never recognized in a teacher’s working hours or salary.

6. They made mathematics easier to understand. After all, its simpler to grasp the concept of two quarter notes fitting in to a half than trying to stare at a badly drawn diagram on a blackboard.

7. They pushed you to take responsibility for your actions, by practicing for your weekly piano lessons or remembering to bring your violin to school.

8. They opened the doors to something which has been shown to stimulate the entire brain. As noted in a recent article, a vast quantity of scientific research has proven the positive effects of music in many areas.

9. They stressed the importance of always looking for ways to improve. Whether or not you’re still playing piano today, a healthy dose of self-criticism can only be a good thing.

Original article on CMUSE 4/21/2015

Why the First 2 Months of Being a Music Parent are the Most Important

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by Anthony Mazzocchi

I often observe that many parents hold some age-old assumption that musical talent is God-given or inherited, but let’s be clear:  everyone possesses musical talent to some degree.  I believe the high attrition rate of students between the first and second year of musical instrument study in school music programs is partly due to parents who are unsure of how to help their child develop their talents.

Regarding these beginner students who only have one lesson per week in school, the questions remain :

How can parents cultivate their child’s talent in its early stages?

How can their child gain a lot of progress in the small amount of time school offers music instruction?

The habits created during the first two months after a child receives their instrument have a lot to do with whether or not the child will continue playing beyond the first year of study.  Parents play a huge role during this 8 week “window”, and with minimal guidance their child can be set up for a lifetime of musical enjoyment and character development.

Why 8 weeks?

Many recent studies have concluded that growing new skills requires a minimum of 8 weeks.  This doesn’t mean that one can master a skill in 8 weeks, but a few things will happen:

  • Circuitry in the brain will begin to form and create habits (hopefully good ones) after 8 weeks.
  • Grit can be cultivated in students during the first few weeks of musical instrument study.  Children and parents tend to make negative judgements about their “talent” and ability too early in the learning phase, especially if they are creating a sound that isn’t too great.  This is an important time for parents to teach their child to embrace struggle and be patient — their brain needs time to grow.  Students who persevere and stick to goals early in music instruction learn valuable life skills such as self-discipline and grit that can last forever.

The inequity of time with instrumental music education in schools

Most academic subjects meet every day in elementary school, but instrumental music usually meets once a week in a small group lesson format.  As a matter of fact, 8 weeks (56 days) of academic subjects is almost twice the amount of instructional time students receive in a full year of music instruction.

While the simple math above should have parents immediately emailing school leaders insisting on more days per week of music instruction in their schools, it’s more important to realize that music teachers are working at a disadvantage right off the bat; parents need to be cognizant of their role as supporters of learning at home.  It is crucial that parents make sure their child plays their instrument at home most nights, even for 5-10 minutes, in the first two months of instruction in order to avoid frustration, letdown, and quitting.

Here are a few other things parents should do during the first 2 months their child studies a musical instrument:

Parents should understand how the brain works

Practicing skills over time causes neural pathways to work better in unison via myelination  — a chemical process helping the brain optimize for a set of coordinated activities through “wrapping” the wires of the brain.  To improve performance, one needs to practice frequently, and get lots of feedback so they practice correctly.  Myelination basically debunks the theory of “natural talent” — it takes time on task to become good at something, and parents need to realize that their children are capable of being successful at playing an instrument (or doing anything) when practiced consistently.

Parents must teach their child to embrace repetition

Playing a musical instrument is a great and rewarding way to learn how to embrace repetition.  In order to wire our brains to become faster and more accurate, we must repeat actions over and over.  The reward of practicing a piece of music correctly — and sounding good as a result — is a great vehicle for parents to teach their children that repetition is not a chore, it’s a life skill that yields some of the greatest benefits imaginable over time when applied to other areas of life.

Parents should fill their child’s mind with beautiful sounds (preferably right before bed)

Visualization is one of the most important skills that eventually leads to motivation, grit, confidence and improved performance.  Play a recording or watch a video of a great musician with your child right before they go to bed and let their unconscious mind do the rest while they sleep!  The more children hear and see greatness, the better model in their head they have to strive towards — and we need a great mental model to be great at something.

Parents should aim to create an independent learner out of their child

I call this “giving ownership” of learning to children.  Our goal as parents is to help our children improve so much that they no longer need us.  The more involved parents are during the first two months of instrument study, the more often they can step back and create moments of independence for their children later.  We know that the most successful students are those who take charge of their own learning.  Although it’s a little difficult at first, anyone is capable of becoming an independent learner with a little willpower and the proper support.

What if your attention to your child’s practice for two short months was the difference between them staying with an instrument for the rest of their life and reaping all the benefits music education has to offer — or quitting after one year?  It’s never too late to pay attention to the way your child approaches their instrument study.  Try it for 8 weeks and see what happens!

Learn simple steps to becoming a great Music Parent in Tony’s new book:

The Music Parents’ Guide – A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent

The-Music-Parents-Guide-Book

Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument

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Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It)

Every year almost 100% of public school students begin an instrument though their school’s music program (if a program exists).  One or two years later, more than 50% of students quit; unable to enjoy all that music education has to offer for the rest of their K-12 schooling, if not beyond.

During my time as an educator and administrator, parents and students have shared with me several reasons why the child quit their musical instrument, including:

  • The student is not musically talented (or at least thought they weren’t).
  • The student is too busy with other activities.
  • The student hates practicing (or the parents grow weary of begging the child to practice).
  • The student doesn’t like their teacher.

…and there’s more…

But the real reasons that students quit is often beyond their own understanding.  It is up to teachers and parents to create moments for students to want to continue on their instrument during the early years of study in order for the child to be successful and stay with the craft.

Here are reasons students quit, and ways to combat them:

  • Parents need to find music just as important as other subjects.  The sad truth is that many non-music teachers and administrators do not find music equally as important as math or English language-arts, but parents need to.  Besides, you wouldn’t let your child quit math, would you?  Many kids would jump at that opportunity.  Music is a core subject…period.  The more parents treat it as such, the less students will quit.
  • Students don’t know how to get better.  Without the proper tools and practice habits to get better at anything, students will become frustrated and want to quit.  It is the role of the music educator and the parents to give students ownership over their learning.  Teachers must teach students why, how, where, and when to practice, and parents must obtain minimal knowledge about how students learn music in order to properly support them at home.
  • Parents and students think they aren’t musically talented.  Sure, there are some kids who pick up an instrument and sound decent immediately, but they will hit a wall later and have to work hard to overcome it.  Most everyone else won’t sound that great at first.  Playing a musical instrument is a craft that, if practiced correctly, is something that all children can find success in.  As long as students know how to practice and that it needs to be done regularly, they will get better.
  • Students discontinue playing over the summer.  Statistics show that students who do not read over the summer find themselves extremely behind once school starts.  The same goes for playing an instrument.  A year of musical instruction can quickly go down the tubes over the summer vacation if students do not find small ways to play once in a while.  Picking up an instrument for the first time after a long layoff can be so frustrating that a student will not want to continue into the next school year.
  • The instrument is in disrepair.  A worn down cork, poor working reed, or small dent can wreak havoc on a child’s playing ability.  Sometimes the malfunction is so subtle that the student thinks they are doing something wrong, and frustration mounts.  Students, parents and teachers need to be aware of the basics of instrument maintenance and be on top of repairs when needed.
  • Teachers don’t create enough performing opportunities during the year.  The best way to motivate students musically is through performance.  Weeks or even months on end of practicing without performing for an audience gets old very quick, and student will definitely quit.  Teachers should schedule performances every six weeks or so in order for students to stay engaged and practicing.  Parents can help by creating small performance opportunities at home — a Friday night dinner concert or a planned performance for visiting family members are great ideas.
  •  There is not enough “fun”music to practice.  It’s very important for parents to be aware of music that interests their child, because it exists in sheet music form for download or purchase.  It’s important that all students play music that is aligned to their interests in addition to other pieces that are worked on in school.
  • Other activities are pulling at the child.  Between art lessons, sports, karate, and other activities, parents grow weary of having “one more thing” to be on top of schedule-wise.  Parents need to understand that the enduring social and psychological benefits of music are as enormous as those of sports — in the same and different ways.  Budget time accordingly and children will have 10 minutes a day to practice an instrument, for sure.

Much like any worthwhile venture, practicing a musical instrument has its ups and downs.  Kids need to be reminded to practice, of course — but they should not be constantly pushed, and they should not be completely left alone.  It’s a balancing act where sometimes the parents will need to give their child a break for a few days and other times will need to bribe them to practice.  Either way, all children are capable of thriving with a musical education, and students will indeed thank their parents for not letting them quit.

Posted on March 27, 2015 in NAfME News
Author: Anthony Mazzocchi

Band Benefits

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The summer is fast approaching and our Passion Camps are filling up quickly. There are many great reasons to be a part of a band experience. In this article, Tim Bakker (Lead Mentor and Passion Camp Director) explains the benefits of being in a band.

One of my primary passions is directing bands. Since I went professional about 16 years ago, of the many hats that I have worn over the years, including the countless times leading worship, playing instruments, writing songs, arranging, producing, I would say that leading bands is my favorite. It’s something I’m passionate about. There has always been something rewarding about not just playing music to an audience as an individual but being part of a team of musicians who are all working towards the same goal – making music and in turn making people happy.

I have traveled to many countries around the world and the band experience is almost a universal one. Sometimes it required moving beyond language barriers, but when everybody starts speaking the same language of music, regardless of language, ethnicity, color etc. – it’s truly a gem… one worth repeating over and over again.

In the past 10 years, especially here in the United States, I have worked with a lot of youth bands, whether schools, churches, communities or organizations. I have picked up some valuable insights into the world of the young student and how playing in a band and expressing themselves through music in general, has made an impact on them as individuals and the ultimate result of influencing those around them in a positive way.

I have seen shy and socially awkward kids come into a band setting, nervous, overwhelmed, terrified and on the verge of tears…. that have eventually become confident, well adjusted individuals who everyone wants to hang out with. I have seen other kids who were already confident, but were not leading the pack but rather pulling others down with negativity and divisiveness. Yet after working with them for a year, I have seen these same kids evolve into true leaders who lead their peers with confidence, set the example and lost their ego in the process.

Besides the whole “learning life through learning music” principle, there are many other benefits to playing in bands. Students who play in a band tend to do very well with higher level learning. They have an academic edge over those who don’t play musical instruments. There has been research done from leading universities and a recent endorsement from the U.S. Secretary of Education, saying, “‘The arts can help students become tenacious, team-oriented problem solvers who are confident and able to think creatively.”

There is more and more evidence that musicians have organizationally and functionally different brains compared to non-musicians, especially in the areas of the brain used in processing and playing music. If you learn how to play an instrument, the parts of your brain that control motor skills (like using your hands, running, balancing, etc.), hearing, storing audio information, and memory actually grow and become more active.

So I have come up with a list of 15 benefits to playing in a band. This is primarily focused on my experiences with youth bands, but the same principles will apply all across the board, no matter the age or stage of life.

Students learn to read a new language – Music. Whether it is following music notations, chords, hearing chord changes, harmonies, melodies, rhythm, tempo etc. they develop the skill to communicate and “speak” a whole new language.

Students learn teamwork. They get very good at working together. Team skills are a very important aspect of being successful in life. Playing an instrument requires you to work with others to make music. You must learn how to cooperate with the people around you.

Students learn to memorize. Once they have followed their charts and know the music fairly well, they memorize it for performances, so they are constantly in the mode of retaining large “chunks” of data, downloaded and stored in their memory bank for later use. Research has shown that both listening to music and playing a musical instrument stimulate your brain and can increase your memory. A study was done in which 22 children from age 3 to 4 and a half years old were given either singing lessons or keyboard lessons. Another group of 15 children received no music lessons at all. Both groups participated in the same preschool activities. The results showed that preschoolers who had weekly keyboard lessons improved their spatial- temporal skills 34 percent more than the other children. Not only that, but researchers said that the effect lasted long-term.

It refines listening skills. Being in a band requires students to use their best listening skills. They listen for rhythm, pitch, blend, dynamics. Playing an instrument requires you to listen very carefully to things. You learn to hear when you or someone else is playing a wrong note or chord. Tuning your instrument means hearing if the pitch you’re playing is high (sharp) or low (flat). By playing in a band you are guaranteed to improve your listening skills.

It helps develop better eye and hand coordination. Students learn to use their eyes differently. They must follow their music charts and translate what the chart says through coordinating their fingers via their instruments. So, by reading musical notes on a page, your brain subconsciously must convert that note into specific motor patterns while also adding breathing (if you’re a singer) and rhythm to the mix.

It teaches you to multi-task, manage time and have better organizational skills. Being in a band requires you to really learn how to be organized and to manage your time wisely, since there is more than just you to worry about. A good musician knows that the quality of practice time is more valuable than the quantity. In order for a musicians to progress quicker, they will learn how to organize their practice time and pick out the challenging parts to work on, making efficient use of time. And then there’s the printing out of charts, having a pencil ready to take notes, putting the charts in a binder if necessary and remembering to bring all those things along with their instrument, cables etc. to band rehearsal. Not to mention rehearsal times, organizing gigs and all the rest of the stuff that goes with being in a band.

It teaches you discipline. Playing an instrument can be very challenging. One of the qualities that musicians learn is discipline. Practicing often and working on the hard parts of music and not just the easy and fun stuff requires discipline. When you’re in a band sometimes you are required to play the “boring” parts that require little skill. Yet if it’s not there, it makes the song you’re planning to perform only “half baked”. Every musical part is important. The best musicians in the world are masters of discipline which is why they are so successful on their instrument. They see the simple and the complex through one lens.

It boosts self-esteem. Being in a band gives students a sense of pride and accomplishment and is good for their self-esteem. It raises their confidence level and eases their mind that they will not let their band mates down or disappoint them. They learn to bring their part to contribute to the overall success of the band, and in doing so they feel validated.

It teaches you perseverance. Learning to play an instrument takes time and effort, which really teaches you patience and perseverance. Most people can’t play every piece of music perfectly the first time. In fact, the majority of musicians have to work difficult sections of music multiple times in a row before they can play it correctly. If you hang in there the hard work will pay off, even if you feel like giving up.

It provides opportunities to be stretched. There have been many times where I would put another instrument in someone’s hand, one they don’t play or feel comfortable with, and said to them, “you’re playing bass for this song”, or “you’re singing back-up” or “grab that tambourine and play along” (yes, I draw the line at the cowbell!) They learn to be stretched beyond their comfort zone, and in the process they put themselves out there and expand their knowledge of other instruments and learn what it’s like to be under pressure.

It improves your comprehension skills. According to a study published in the journal Psychology of Music, “Children exposed to a multi-year program of music tuition involving training in increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.” It’s not surprising to hear results like that because music involves constant reading and comprehension. When you see black and white notes on a page, you have to recognize what the note name is and translate it to a finger position on your instrument. At the same time, you also have to read what rhythms the notes are arranged, or if playing by ear, retain the rhythm you hear from a recording, in your memory bank.

It expands your knowledge of musical styles, genres and music history. Regardless of the primary style of music your band plays, a good band will inevitably venture out of their boundary lines and play other styles of music, whether it be for a specific gig or just as an experiment. Often times you are forced to research certain genres and styles, artist profiles, specific chord charts etc. and listen to music you ordinarily wouldn’t listen to. All of this leads to an often unintentional “crossing over” or meshing of styles.

It develops your social skills. Playing an instrument can be a great way to enhance your social skills. I have seen many kids come out of their shell through playing in a band. Weekly band rehearsals become an oasis in an often stressful and complex world and many times the friends you make in the band become like family. It’s very common for people to gain lifelong friendships through musical activities like these.

It teaches you to be a performer. One of the goals of practicing so much on your instrument is so that you can perform for others. The more you get up in
 front of people and perform, the easier it becomes and the more you will enjoy showing off your skills that you worked so hard to develop. Playing on stage in a band helps build confidence in yourself, and being prepared and really knowing how to play your part makes it much easier to get up and play for a crowd.

So there you have it. There are probably many more reasons that I did not put down on paper that are floating in my head somewhere, but you get the idea… go be in a band!

In spite of all these great reasons, if the experience isn’t fun and something you make a part of your life, it won’t hold as much value. Make it a part of your lifestyle and let the music flow out from all the experiences you have in your life.

As an instrumentalist myself, one of my favorite musicians is Charlie Parker. Whenever I want to practice my skill I pick up the saxophone or flute and start sight reading his books. Charlie Parker himself once said, “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

Wanna play in a band? Do it and then live it! You can be the performer you never thought you could be!

Tim Bakker specializes in Keys, Vocals, Band Direction, Production, Coaching and Arrangement.

You can learn more about our Band Performance Program HERE

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