Wayland School of Music Logo

By Penny Wayne-Shapiro

It's that time of year again. Young Susie or Sam loves to sing, and Mom and Dad think s/he is ready for music lessons.  So a very appealing idea arises – let’s put an instrument under the tree!

We often get calls in December from a parent who says, “My 6 year old is getting a violin/flute/keyboard for Christmas, and we’d like to set up lessons.”

My first question is, “Did you already buy the instrument?” And I have my fingers crossed, hoping very much that the answer will be NO.

What? Why??

Actually, there are several very good reasons. 

First: cost. Rental is the way to go for a beginner. Purchasing a decent quality beginner outfit may run you several hundred dollars for even a small violin, and $1,000 or more for a wind or brass instrument. Meanwhile, you can rent one of the same excellent quality for $20-25 a month. Of course, we hope your child will end up playing for many years or even a lifetime - but let's make sure it sticks before making that big investment!

Second: size. Instruments should be professionally fitted. String instruments come in six different sizes - your 6yo may need anything from a 1/10 to a 1/4 - and some wind instruments also have size options. The wrong sized one will not only be much harder to play and therefore frustrating; it can cause pain and injury by over-stretching small arms, hands and fingers. Also, think of how quickly your child is growing out of those sneakers you bought only last month. The same may apply to her instrument. Much better to be renting from a reputable company which will switch out the size painlessly, rather than have to resell and repurchase.

Third: quality. A piano teacher will have specific requirements for keyboard type and features. And sadly, I’ve not yet seen a string instrument purchased online that did NOT have problems. Even if there are no visible issues - keys badly set, or strings set too high for little fingers to press down - an inferior instrument will have a thin, “surface-y” sound because of poor set-up. I've even seen violins without a soundpost - the small but vital piece of wood that transmits vibrations internally from the front to the back of the instrument. (The Italian word for this part is “alma”, literally meaning “soul”, and instruments without one sound about as bad as you might imagine.)

Imagine the disappointment and possibly tears of a child who comes to the first lesson all excited and proud to show off their shiny new instrument, only to be told, “I think we’ll need to wait for you to grow into that” – perhaps for several years; or worse, to have parents be told quietly that the instrument isn’t fully functional.  Not a great start to lessons....much better to get your new teacher's recommendation for a quality instrument that will help rather than hinder learning, and have your child skip out in excited anticipation of getting it as soon as possible!

So - what musical gift possibilities are there that will get your child excited about music and eager to start lessons after the holidays, while still being fun to open on the big day? Here are a few ideas:

An instrument tree ornament, accompanied by a certificate (hand designed by you, or downloaded and customized) good for renting the same instrument after the holidays. Here's another one.

A children’s book about instruments and composers with accompanying CD; or a musical story book and CD such as this time tested classic in which each character is represented by a different instrument.

(These last two are an especially good idea if you don’t really know which instrument your child would actually like to play. Maybe you’ve always wished you'd had piano lessons. But if your child is discovers s/he's really drawn to the cello – that’s the one s/he will be excited about, and most willing to practice even if it gets tough!)

A musical hat, socks, or this awesome piano shirt

For Kwanzaa, a traditional African djembe drum or pocket piano.

For kids who love animals and/or coloring (probably most of them!) - Instrument Zoo, a coloring book with sound samples. 

For those who like decorative items, a piano music box, guitar keepsake box, or violin lamp.

If Hanukkah is your holiday, this menorah full of young musicians - still a favorite at our house even though its owner is now a college student.

We hope this list sparks some ideas! Let us know which instrument you're thinking of, and we'll be happy to set up a free tryout session for after the holidays. And if you still want to put that instrument under the tree, we can point you to local rental companies that will help you make sure it's a good quality, correctly-sized one.

We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and great new beginnings in the New Year!

 

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Sunday, 07 September 2014 00:00

How to Choose a Private Lesson Teacher

By Penny Wayne-Shapiro

Has your child expressed interest in learning an instrument?

Is your child's orchestra teacher encouraging your young instrumentalist to take private lessons? (I hope so!)

Or did you always want to play yourself, and you've just decided that the time is NOW?

If so, please choose your teacher carefully! Choosing the right teacher will make all the difference between an empowering experience and a frustrating one. Here are some essential qualities to look for in a teacher:

Essential quality #1:

Experience

Only with deep experience gained over time can a teacher learn to work effectively with a wide variety of ages, learning styles and learning goals. Any truly experienced teacher will tell you that his or her teaching has changed and grown considerably over the years since that first student walked into the lesson studio.

Why is experience essential?

Most talented young conservatory grads can explain how something should be done, but that isn't nearly enough. It takes deep experience - and some mistakes made along the way - to learn to get inside a student's mind, to see that what's obvious to you is not obvious at all to that student, and to figure out how to bridge the gap.

And it takes maturity, creativity, and the ability to "think on the spot" to do that with a student whose learning style may be very different from yours, or who may be struggling today for reasons that don't even have anything do with the lesson.

You wouldn't want to go to an inexperienced doctor or mechanic who is learning their craft by "practicing" on you. Why should choosing a teacher for your child or yourself be any different?

Essential quality # 2:

Excellence (as teacher and performer)

You're entrusting your child's (or your own) musical development to this person. You want the experience to be a positive one: enjoyable, challenging in a good way, inspiring, and leading to increasing skill which will both enrich the student's life and lead to opportunities to play with others.

So excellence may seem like an obvious requirement. Perhaps less obvious, though, is the importance of choosing a teacher who has a record of excellence as both teacher and performer.

Why is excellence in both areas essential?

A teacher who is also an excellent performer will simply teach at a much higher level. This not just relevant for more advanced students -  it's important right from the start!

A teacher who plays beautifully has a better and more subtle understanding of the instrument. S/he will have a plan for developing beautiful tone and phrasing, plus posture and hand positions that facilitate better technique, from day one - and will demonstrate these things to students in a more inspiring way. Whether the student's goals are simply recreational or something more, a more satisfying musical experience will be the result.

Also, when well-rounded musicians both teach and perform, the one skill feeds the other. (Speaking personally, solving my own practice challenges helps me to be much more effective in the lesson studio; at the same time I benefit from helping my students to learn. That cross-fertilization keeps my teaching alive and growing.)

Finally, you can be confident that a musician who has continued to teach even after achieving performing success has actively chosen to do so, because s/he enjoys it and is committed to the craft.

Essential quality # 3:

Enthusiasm

Experience and excellence, although vital, are not enough. It is only the teacher who has real enthusiasm - for music, for teaching, and for this instrument - who will instinctively impart that joy and inspiration to the student.

Why is enthusiasm essential?

Learning an instrument is a wonderful and life-enhancing endeavor, but it's not easy, and it's not always fun. The enthusiastic teacher who brings spirit, energy and creativity into the lesson room is the one who'll help you to keep pushing through the hard parts, cheer you on as you do so, and lighten the whole experience with a sense of humor.

Enthusiastic teachers are also the ones who are "life-long learners" - still challenging themselves and reaching for more, and in the process bringing their excitement and inspiration to all their students.

So - how DO you find an experienced, excellent and enthusiastic teacher?

First, do your research. Ask friends where they or their children go for lessons. How has their experience been? Is the teacher not only excellent, but also warm and encouraging to all students - not just the "high-fliers"? Is s/he able to teach to different students' varying styles and goals, while encouraging them to challenge themselves if and when appropriate?

Check out the teacher's biographical details online. Ideally the bio should not just say, "Teacher A trained at the B conservatory, teaches at the C school, and plays with the XYZ Symphony Orchestra," but should also give you a sense of the teacher's personality and teaching approach.

Once you've narrowed down the list, you're ready to check out the final piece of the puzzle:

Essential quality # 4:

Fit

The "fit" between a teacher and student is indefinable, and can only be checked out in person. Beware of any school or program that expects you to plunk down your hard-earned dollars without taking a tryout lesson first!

What should you look for at that tryout lesson?

You should be able to observe the lesson if you wish (essential with a young child). The teacher should do his or her best to make you and your child feel comfortable, and to be sensitive to issues such as shyness and learning style. 

A good teacher will find ways to engage a student, even if it takes most of the lesson for the student to really warm up. Whether or not the student has any previous experience, s/he will find a starting point with activities that are comfortable and "doable", enabling the student to experience some success.  At the end of the lesson, s/he will encourage the student and parent to take the time to discuss the lesson between themselves, rather than pressuring for a decision.

Once you've done your research and had a successful tryout lesson, it's time to jump in and start learning! If you've chosen the right private lesson teacher to guide you on your musical journey, the road ahead will be enriching, inspiring and fun.

[Note: At Wayland School of Music we offer a free tryout lesson with any teacher(s) you'd like to meet. We require all our private lessons teachers to have at least 10 years of professional teaching experience, and a proven record as performers. See our Faculty page and How We Teach to learn more about them. If you're ready to schedule a tryout lesson, fill out this form or call us at 508 358 7835.]

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Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:08

"I don't like practicing..."

By Penny Wayne-Shapiro

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a child saying that....Wayland School of Music would be housed in a custom-built, state-of-the-art facility with Steinway pianos in every studio. :)

Joking aside, though, I know just how these reluctant practicers feel, because sometimes I don't like practicing either! And you can bet that all professional musicians have had that same feeling at one time or another.

So why do we keep doing it anyway? And how can we encourage students to do it too?

"Well," you might say, "we all have to do things that we don't like doing. It's character forming." But that argument doesn't go very far even for an adult musician, never mind when you're hoping to inspire a child to learn and love music long-term, rather than see it as drudgery to be endured!

Should we point out that there are also things that we enjoy doing sometimes but not always - such as exercising, studying, taking care of a pet? We keep doing these even when we don't feel like it because we understand the benefits, and we trust that in a day or two we'll be more into it again.

That's an improvement, but it takes maturity to keep that long-term end in mind, and most young children are not yet at that point developmentally.

In fact, this blog post was inspired by a 7 year old student who had her lesson a couple of days ago. Like many students, she's enthusiastic about lessons and has made a great start, but she's just getting to that point where the initial excitement has worn off and the long-term benefits have not yet been experienced.

What she actually said was profound: "I don't like practicing, but I like playing!"

And right there, we have the seeds of a solution. If we can keep an age-appropriate balance of work and fun along the way we'll keep students engaged, and much more willing to practice regularly.

I asked this young lady what other activities she enjoyed. She mentioned soccer so I asked, "When you go to soccer practice, what's the first thing you do?" As I expected from my own experience as a soccer mom, the reply was "Drills." Does she enjoy the drills? "Not particularly." But she agreed enthusiastically that the drills help you play better, giving you skills that make the game itself more fun.

But drills are not the only way you learn skills, and they shouldn't be too heavy. You also get better at soccer by actually playing it, and the same is true for an instrument, as long as you're doing so with reasonably good habits.

Playing an instrument really is fun....and it's more fun the better you can do it. How can we maintain that balance of drill and pleasure for our young developing musicians, so they can find that out for themselves?

1) Make sure drills don't take up too much of the practice session.

Just as in soccer, it's best to do some "building work" first - scales or other exercises before pieces, and prep work on new material or tricky passages before playing a piece through. That way you're setting things up right.

But there should be plenty of time and stamina left over for the enjoyment of actually making music: trying new pieces through, and revisiting old pieces for fun and the pleasure of mastery - "This piece used to be hard for me, but now I can play it easily!"

2) Help the student to celebrate the intrinsic rewards of the drills.

There are immediate benefits that can be enjoyed right away. For example: "Did you notice how the third time you played that part slowly, your fingers almost seemed like they were doing it by themselves because they knew what was coming? You didn't even have to think about it! How cool is that?" Realizing we've just achieved something feels good, and makes us want to repeat that experience.

3) Find ways to make even the drills fun!

Here are a just few suggestions to liven things up:

a) Roll a die to see how many times to play a tricky measure.

b) Divide your piece into short sections and number them. Using regular playing cards or Uno cards, pick a number to see which section to practice next.

c) Play the practice lottery: write each scale, exercise or piece on a small piece of paper, shake up the folded papers in a jar, then close your eyes, pick one out and do whatever it says.

d) For a variation on c), write silly instructions such as "turn around in circles while playing", "play with your eyes shut", "stand on one leg", etc., and pull one out for each repetition of an exercise.

e) Turn the drill into a competitive game of "ding the bell". Many of my students love this! Set a challenge, such as playing a scale with correct fingerings, or maintaining beautiful hand positions for a section of a piece. If the student forgets or makes an error, the adult can "ding the bell" by tapping a pencil on a glass; the student wins if s/he completes the task correctly without the adult getting a chance to ding (or only dinging, say, twice). As I tell students, "You win if you can keep me quiet." It's amazing to see how intently they focus on the task at hand for the satisfaction of beating the adult!

As young musicians grow in maturity and skill they will begin to develop their own intrinsic motivation to keep practicing for the long-term rewards. Along the way, the principles above will keep them leveraging the short-term rewards - the fun of "playing", in both senses of the word - to help them get there.

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By Penny Wayne-Shapiro


The other day I started a young student's lesson off by asking her to warm up with a scale. Her fingers were pleasingly fluent, but the sound was fuzzy. I helped her to adjust the angle of her bow and dig it into the string for a much deeper, richer sound. She played the scale again, and we both enjoyed the result.

I opened her practice notebook to write a reminder for her to do this at home too - and realized that I'd written the exact same advice the previous week, and two weeks before that. "Oh yeah....I forgot!" she said.

Of course, this won't be a surprise to any parent who has reminded a child (for the fourth time) to put the dirty socks in the hamper! And let me be clear, I'm happy to keep on working with a child for as long as it takes, and in as many ways as it takes, to build a new skill or reinforce a concept.

But in this case, the child had already grasped the concept and was capable of doing it well. She just wasn't remembering to apply it, so we were spending lesson time (and incidentally her parents' money) reinforcing something that could have been integrated during practice, instead of moving on to new material.

The example above is fairly basic, but it happens with older students too. Sometimes I've spent 15 or 20 minutes of a lesson helping a student get to grips successfully with a tricky passage, only to find we're back at square one the following week.

And it's not because the student didn't care or wasn't appreciative - just that by the next time s/he got the instrument out of the case, the useful information had seemingly "leaked away".

So, how do we bridge that gap between a productive lesson and home practice, making sure that the student is really "bringing it home" and getting the best value from lessons?

The first thing is to understand how easy it is for things to get forgotten! Picture this: your child comes out of the lesson, jumps in the car, goes home and eats dinner, does homework, goes to bed, gets up and goes to school the next day, goes to soccer practice, showers, eats dinner.....and then, 24 hours or so later, gets out the instrument to practice. It's hardly surprising that some useful information got lost along the way!

What we really need is a way to make that information "stick" quickly, right after the lesson, so it'll still be readily available at the next practice session. A useful analogy is computer memory. While you're working on a document you're using RAM, but before you leave your computer you have to press "save", so it's stored on your hard drive for your next session.

When you come out of your lesson, there are two easy ways to "save" the information before walking away from it and possibly forgetting it: review it, and explain it. Each of these takes only a few minutes, if you do it soon enough. Here's how:

Review it: Put your instrument away, and then immediately take a quick look in both your notebook and your music (you can even do this in the car if you're in a hurry, but start as soon as you get in!). Read what your teacher wrote and think about what s/he said; run your eyes over the music to remind yourself which parts you worked on together, and how. Write a few reminders of your own right there in the music, if you like.

Why do this right away? Because right now, the memory of what you actually did is still fresh. While your teacher's notes are useful, they are really just a kind of signpost to the actual work you did. Take a few minutes right now to reinforce the memory of that work before it fades - and you'll find you've retained much more of it to use when you next practice. 

Explain it: When you explain to someone else what you've learned, you not only reinforce it, you also understand it more deeply. This could be a simple as either telling or showing: "When I play nearer the bridge, I get a bigger sound." Older students can re-explain the concepts to themselves in their own words. Parents of younger children can simply open the notebook and ask them, "What does this mean? Could you teach me?" or "What was the most interesting thing you learned today?" Again, this need only take a minute or two, and can even be done right in the waiting-room before you leave.

If you follow these simple steps, you'll be surprised how much more you remember next time you get the instrument and notebook out. Your practice will be more directed and you'll progress faster. Try it!

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Sunday, 15 December 2013 00:00

How to Feel Confident at your Recital

By Penny Wayne-Shapiro

Many schools and teachers hold recitals at this time of year. For all those of you who have a performance approaching, here are some tips to help you walk out confidently, knowing that you're ready to give a strong and secure performance.

1) Of course, make sure you practice well. Follow your teacher's advice about slow practice, using the metronome, how to clear up tricky passages, and listening to your recording. Conscientious preparation will not just give you the best physical control of your piece, but will also help you to know, "I've done everything I can to get ready," and to give yourself a pat on the back for that.

2) Practice performing. This is not practicing your notes, but "running the performance" multiple times before the event itself.  Although it's great if someone is available to watch you, you can just as well do a practice performance for the family dog, or even an audience of stuffed animals or basketballs! Here is how my students do this, in their lessons and at home:

Walk up (carrying instrument and music) with a smile, and give a nice deep bow.                    

Place the music on the stand; prepare your instrument and hands.

Hear the beginning of the piece in your head; give a breath cue (this is both for yourself and for the accompanist, if there will be one), and start.

Play through as best you can - no stopping for mistakes, or "advertising" them with a frown! Bow again, and walk off.

By the time you've been doing these performances several times a day for a week or two, the recital will be "just another one". Even if you feel anxious or something unexpected happens (a door slams, or someone sneezes right in front of you), you will keep right on going because you've run the sequence many times before.

3) Learn from these practice performances. I ask my students to find three things they liked about their performance, and three things they'd like to improve. These things may be general: "I played all the rhythms right," or "My loud passages should be louder," - or specific: "I missed the high G in measure 17,"  or "My trill was nice and clean." This is process of self-evaluation is very important, as it'll help you to use your practice time efficiently.


4) Remember that the goal is NOT perfection, but sharing the joy of music. Audiences are there to enjoy young people making music! They are not there to mark it like an exam. Although you and your teacher are familiar with the details of the piece, the audience is not, and no-one will begrudge you the occasional wrong note or missed rest. In fact, those small errors will go unnoticed if you have prepared well, and play your piece with enjoyment and spirit.

Parents, your attitude is a big factor here! Yes, in our lessons and practice we are always working to improve - but when students actually give a performance, whether at home or in public, please make sure you are encouraging them to do the best they can with what they've got right now, rather than criticizing them for "messing up" or not  "getting it right"!

5) Take the focus off yourself and find a person in the audience who looks like he or she needs your music. At WSM we play our recitals at the local senior residence, where quite a few of the audience members are medically fragile or lonely. For many, this will be the highlight of their day or week. There will always be someone in the audience who needs the comfort of your beautiful music. As you walk up to play, focus on the gift you are giving and you are sure to play well!

6) Try re-framing "nerves" (if you're feeling them) as "energy" or "excitement". Although that adrenaline may feel uncomfortable, don't run away from that feeling - take a deep breath and use it to your advantage. Riding that wave of extra energy can actually result in your very best performances - the ones with with that extra bit of "zing" that really excites an audience!

7) Don't compare yourself to others. Some students have been playing longer than others. Some are serious about music and practice an hour or more every day, while others are competitive swimmers and spend much of their after-school time at the pool. Some have a musical parent at home who can help them with practice and some do not. As long as you have prepared to the best of your ability with the time and resources you have available, you can feel proud of yourself.

8) Give yourself a pat on the back - no matter how it goes! Preparing for a performance, and then actually getting up and doing it, is rewarding but also challenging. Congratulate yourself for accepting the challenge and doing the hard work involved. That work is never wasted. Ask your teachers - even as professionals, we have all had performances we're proud of and others we'd rather forget! As long as you grow from all your performances, you're heading in the right direction. Do the best you can with what you've got, and then enjoy relaxing after the concert - you've earned it!

You can read more about Wayland School of Music recitals here: Recitals        

Videos of a few recent recital performances can be seen here: Videos

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By Penny Wayne-Shapiro

 

The student attempted the passage several times, growing increasingly frustrated. "But I could do it yesterday!" he protested.

I bet he could, too. But there was a missing piece in his practice, and it was time for me to introduce him to the four stages of learning.

They are:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence (you don't even know that this skill exists)

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence (now you know about it, but you can't do it yet)

Stage 3: Conscious Competence (you can do it, but only by concentrating and trying really hard)

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence (you can do it without even thinking about it)

Here's what these stages of learning might look like from a musical point of view for a beginner, an early intermediate student, and an advanced student.

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Our beginner has just arrived for her first lesson. She has as yet no idea that the violin is supported with the left shoulder and the head, rather than hanging down in front and resting on the palm of the hand....

Our intermediate student tried out a new piece that caught his eye. Unfortunately he forgot to check the key signature first, and is unaware that for the past week he's been merrily playing a minor key piece in a major key. Very cheerful, but not quite what the composer intended....

Our advanced student has already mastered several 3-octave scales. She is currently unaware (although only for another minute or two) that her teacher is about to introduce her to the ear-bending challenges of a diminished 7th chord sequence....

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

The beginner's teacher helps her to position the violin on her shoulder, then turn her head and bring her chin down into the chinrest for the "Lion Hold". She tries to hold the violin steady for 10 seconds, and makes it to 7 seconds before it slips. "That's really hard!" she exclaims.

The intermediate student's teacher gently suggests that he check the key signature. Uh-oh! Now he realizes he has some re-training work to do on this piece.

The advanced student is half-way up the diminished 7th sequence and is already lost. What key is this again? Where did the tonal center go? How will she ever learn this thing?

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

A week later, our beginner can manage a 30 second Lion Hold very well - as long as she remembers to go through the set-up steps beforehand, so the violin is positioned correctly to start with.

The intermediate student has had some trouble adjusting to the correct key for his piece, because he had already spent a week playing and hearing the piece in a major key. With his teacher's help, he circles the notes that are different in the minor key. He stops for a moment before each one so he can deliberately play them correctly, re-training his fingers and his ear as he does so. He will repeat this process during his practice at home.

The advanced student is finding the chord sequence very challenging, but she finds that if she plays through the notes several times on a keyboard first, it helps her to stay on track.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

No longer a complete beginner, our young student now automatically places the violin correctly on her left shoulder.

Having successfully retrained his fingers and his ear, the intermediate student confidently plays the piece as the composer wrote it, without a second thought.

And our advanced student feels a sense of satisfaction in a job well done, as she zips masterfully through her diminished 7th sequence.

Or....

Do they??

(dun-dun-daaaaah......!!)

The answer is yes - if, and ONLY IF, they've spent enough time repeating stage 3, Conscious Competence.

One of the most common pitfalls for students - and even for us professionals sometimes! - is practicing something UNTIL we get it right. "Great, I did it!" we think, and move on to something else. But if we stop there, having played it correctly just once or twice, it won't stick but will fade away like a dusting of spring snow.

Learning a new skill, including a musical one, is not like solving a math problem: do it once and you're done. It requires many correct repetitions of the skill - a long enough stay in stage 3, Conscious Competence, for intention, muscle memory and ears to start working together reliably and consistently. That's the route that will bring us - slowly but surely - to stage 4, Unconscious Competence.

When we've achieved Unconscious Competence, permanent changes in the brain (caused by neurons firing together over and over, developing stronger and stronger networks in response to the repeated task we've set them) have led to permanent skill acquisition. Now we can say, "I can do it!" - and know that we really can, every time.

Years ago I watched a very young student perform at a master-class. While playing, he was also happily chatting to the instructor about his upcoming birthday party and a variety of other topics. Towards the end he observed, "By the way, this is my 'polished piece'." The clearly amused instructor said, "Yes, I can tell - you've just had an entire conversation with me while you were playing it."

Now that's Unconscious Competence!

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Friday, 18 October 2013 02:07

Finding the Time to Practice

“I didn’t have time to practice this week.”

When I started what was then Wayland Violin Studio back in 1997, I didn’t yet have children, and wasn't aware of how packed with activities kids' lives are these days. So the first time I heard that statement, I asked my student, “Well, what time do you get home from school?” and then “How much homework do you have, and what time do you go to bed?”-  naively expecting to lead the student gently to the realization that yes, endless free hours were available to fit in that little bit of practice!  

Well……you can guess how the rest of that conversation went. By the time I had heard about twice-weekly religious school, soccer practice at least twice a week with traveling games every weekend, and after-school math tutoring, I was wondering how this child managed to practice at all, in any week! 

But if you’re wondering the same thing – be reassured that there is hope, and a way to make everything (not just practice) seem much more manageable and less overwhelming. It’s the useful skill of time-chunking. 

If you can chunk your time and set up a workable plan, half the job is done. Once practice becomes a predictable and routine item like brushing your teeth and doing your homework, it tends to get done without complaint - or at least with less complaint! Yes, it takes a bit of planning - but that planning is an investment that can actually help your whole evening go more smoothly, not just the practice.  Here’s how to do it: 

First, make a table like this one with your child. I’ve done this one with 30 minute increments, but you could do it with 15 minute increments if that suits your situation better. 

 

Mon

Tues

Weds

Thurs

Fri

 

Sat

Sun

3:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To fill out the table, we’ll use an imaginary student named Joey. Joey is in 4th grade. His violin lesson is on Friday at 5.00. His teacher expects him to do about 30 minutes of practice, 5 – 6 times a week. Let’s see if that is practical.

On school days he gets home at 3:30pm, and his bedtime is 9pm. He has up to an hour a night of homework. He also has an after-school math tutor on Mondays and Fridays. 

On Monday and Wednesday he has soccer practice from 5:00-6:30, and on Thursday he has religious school from 3:30-5:00 (he goes there straight from school). He has dinner (which takes 30 minutes) at 7 on M and W, and at 6 on the other days.  

Probably your head is already spinning! But once we put all this in the chart, it’s much easier to wrap our minds around it: 

 

Mon

Tues

Weds

Thurs

Fri

 

Sat

Sun

3:30

 

 

 

Religious Ed

 

 

 

 

4:00

Tutor

 

 

Religious Ed

Tutor

 

 

 

4:30

 

 

 

Religious Ed

 

 

 

 

5:00

Soccer

 

Soccer

 

Violin lesson

 

 

 

5:30

Soccer

 

Soccer

 

 

 

 

 

6:00

Soccer

Dinner

Soccer

Dinner

Dinner

 

 

 

6:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7:00

Dinner

 

Dinner

 

 

 

 

 

7:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, how can we fit in his homework and his violin practice? Looking at the spaces that are left on the chart, here’s a plan that could work for Joey. 

Monday is his heaviest homework day, so he could take that as his day off from practice. On Tuesday, he could relax for an hour on arriving from school, do his homework before dinner, and then practice after dinner from 7:00-7:30. On Wednesday, he could do homework before soccer, and again practice after dinner - or the reverse if he prefers. On Thursday, he could practice between religious school and dinner, doing homework after dinner. And on Saturday and Sunday, it should be easier to fit in 30 minutes of violin.

Now Joey’s schedule looks like this: 

 

Mon

Tues

Weds

Thurs

Fri

 

Sat

Sun

3:30

 

 

 

Religious Ed

 

 

Practice

Practice

4:00

Tutor

 

Homework

Religious Ed

Tutor

 

(flexible

time)

4:30

 

 

Homework

Religious Ed

 

 

 

 

5:00

Soccer

Homework

Soccer

 

Violin lesson

 

Home…..

(flexible

…work

time)

5:30

Soccer

Homework

Soccer

Practice

 

 

 

 

6:00

Soccer

Dinner

Soccer

Dinner

Dinner

 

 

 

6:30

 

Practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

7:00

Dinner

 

Dinner

Homework

 

 

 

 

7:30

 

 

Practice

Homework

 

 

 

 

8:00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There we go: 5 practice sessions of 30 minutes accounted for, and he will be making excellent progress! Also – and this is very important – he still has some downtime every day when he can play or just vegetate. 

It’s important to involve your child in this planning process, and to allow some choices. The more input s/he has, the more investment s/he will feel. Perhaps you feel that homework should always be done first, but if your child argues for doing practice first on some days, consider giving it a try and seeing how it works out. Learning this skill of time-chunking, and following through on it, can be a very empowering experience for your child.

What's more, getting good at time-chunking will not only help your child to feel more in control of his or her time right now. It’s also a valuable life skill that kids can use to manage the increasing responsibilities that come their way as they move on through school and college, and into adult life.

 

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Your child’s orchestra or band teacher recommended private lessons. You did your research, came for a tryout lesson, and found a good match for your child with an enthusiastic and experienced teacher. What next?

First of all – congratulations! You just helped not only your own child, but your child’s orchestra or band teacher, and the other beginning musicians in the class. Our local school music teachers, whose outstanding programs do a wonderful job of introducing students to their instruments, encourage private lessons right from the start. They know that hands on, one-to-one help from a good private teacher will make your child a more confident and better-prepared student, and thereby help raise the standard for everyone in the class.

Here’s how you can help your budding instrumentalist get the most value from his or her private lessons right from the get-go:

    • Set up a good practice space. Your young musician needs good lighting, room to move as the instrument requires, a stable music stand, and ideally a mirror to check hand and body positions (a picture is worth a thousand words – especially when it’s a picture of yourself). And of course, the space should be free of any electronic distractions – including a loud TV or stereo in the next room.
    • Help your child figure out an evening routine that factors in time for practice. You learn to play an instrument by doing it, and doing it often. Planning ahead makes it much more likely that regular practice will happen. Shorter daily or near-daily sessions are the way to go; last-minute cramming doesn’t work, especially when you’re trying to build muscle memory.
    • Make sure your child checks the private lesson notebook and the school music website (or check yourself along with a younger child) before practicing, so that time is used effectively and required material covered before the next lesson or class.
    • Ask your child to share some of his new pieces with you – and applaud his efforts, even if they’re a little squeaky. Getting a sound out of a new-to-you instrument is not easy, and beginning musicians need lots of encouragement!
    • Ask your child to teach you one or two of the techniques covered in class, or mentioned in the notebook – especially if you yourself can barely figure out how to hold the instrument! Teaching the material to someone else is a terrific way for your child to reinforce what she’s learned at her lesson, but that’s not all. When she sees you struggling with something that she’s already getting better at herself, she’ll feel empowered and successful, and encouraged to do more.

Some of these points will be covered in more detail in future blog posts. Meanwhile, call and ask us if you have any questions!

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Tuesday, 27 August 2013 02:31

Getting Ready for Fall

It seems barely a few weeks ago that summer still stretched out ahead of us, with September nothing but a distant haze on the horizon. But suddenly here we are registering for activities, buying school supplies and scheduling back-to-school haircuts. (Actually if you have the haircuts down, you’re a more organized parent than I am!)

Here at WSM, we’re busy reorganizing the teaching space and putting the final touches on our brand new website and brochures. There are just a few more summer lessons to teach in this final week of August. Before we know it, we’ll be welcoming you all back to a new year of musical learning, and exclaiming over the fact that we teachers have apparently shrunk over the summer.