Posts Tagged ‘the lesson studio boulder’

The Lasting Benefits of Percussion Study

May 4, 2017

by Chris Eagles

Drum and Percussion Instructor at The Lesson Studio

As a music educator, it is unreasonable for me to expect each of my students to pursue music as a career. However, through regular drum lessons and a good practice routine, I fully expect to equip each student with a skill set desirable in every industry. Music serves as a practical means to learn these skills in a fun, and challenging environment.

Each of my students will learn music fundamentals, rudiments and practical knowledge when it comes to percussion, this goes without saying. However, problem solving is inherent to each of these topics. It is the single most valuable aspect of percussion study, and maybe of music studies in general. Students who learn to flex their problem solving muscle will inherently  have a great deal of perseverance. In an age where “googling” can solve most any problem, it is easy for students to get discouraged when faced with a difficult issue. In music study, there is no easy solution. It seems strange to say, but the study of music is a great way of realizing just how much of an effect hard work, and persistence, with this comes a boost in confidence.

 

Playing percussion is a physical endeavor, possibly the most physically demanding of any instrument (of course this could be debated). Percussion forces students to be mindful of their physicality, many lessons will start with light stretching, or simply by checking in to see if the student (or the teacher) is holding any unwanted tension. This often forces the student to be aware how they are using their bodies in their daily routine, not just while playing percussion. Bad physical habits that arise while playing, can often be traced to something that is non music related giving further insight into a better, more effective use of our bodies.

Compiling a full list of extra musical benefits to taking private lessons (with any instructor on any instrument) is a task far too great for a short blog post, these were only a couple. I encourage you all to ponder them and consider enrolling your child, or yourselves in lessons to reap the lifetime of benefits. You won’t regret it.

 

A Lesson in Chords and Voice Leading

April 5, 2017

By Jim Simmons

guitar instructor at the lesson studio

Many famous artists have used and much good music can be made from strumming simple chords against melodic lines, vocal or otherwise. Nevertheless, during guitar lessons at the studio, I am often asked by those who have moved beyond a cursory acquaintance with simple chords and strum patterns how to choose more interesting chords, or how to differentiate their part from other instruments, especially another guitar prone to strum the same chords.

Possibilities here are myriad, and some comment should be made on how to navigate these choices, but before that, I want to introduce two concepts which may prove helpful in any and all scenarios from here on:

(1) Chord Scales, & (2) Voice Leading.

While both of these are topics unto themselves, much can be gleaned from their use in the present inquiry. Now, for a brief survey of options for the inquiring guitarist, and how those options will inform and interact with these two concepts above:

 

(1) Using a Capo/choosing a different register/chord shape (CAGED, etc.); (2) Adding or reducing tones;

(3) Doubling tones; (4) Using inversions;

(5) Differentiating strum patterns; (6) Playing a separate part, ostinato; (7) Playing a separate part, melodic; Etc.

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Now for the “how-to” part: I. Chord Scales

Regarding chord scales, begin with root position triadic chords (root-3rd-5th), barring

chords if necessary to locate each root in the overriding scale of the song (or portion of song). In a normal major key, this won’t be that hard, since the bass notes up the neck will complete a major scale (“do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do”). If the portion is in minor, or something more exotic (like a mode), you will need to revisit how to walk up the neck to

complete the scale, and in the case of minor, double-check for options that make minor so interesting (such a raised leading tone on a major V chord; use of the melodic ascending scale, or Dorian, etc.).

Establishing a chord scale (or more than one: (1.) Taking the scale up the neck with the root located on the same string; (2.) Exploring the chord scale across the neck, letting the root move across multiple strings) will provide your hands and ears with a lexicon of

 

options for each chord, each option profiled by its location on the guitar, its register, and its fingering (if it has open strings or not). Doing this is crucial for beginning the search for differentiated guitar parts.

Here I mention the CAGED method for chords and scales, as searching through the neck for other chords will naturally run into the options this technique will present. Simply put, the CAGED method will supply quick landmark options for each chord, which can be accessed either through using a Capo or playing all chords by-hand. I will revisit CAGED shortly, but these two approaches compliment one another very naturally (no pun intended).

One other strong benefit to establishing chord scales becomes important in the next phase: discovering the notes of the melody within accompanimental chord shapes

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Part II: Voice Leading

While this topic sprawls across all of music and music history, I want to limit our discussion of it to two main concepts any guitarist will appreciate: smoothness of chord change, and supporting the melody inside chord shapes.

Regarding smoothness of transitions between chords, two ideas become important: how close each chord is to one another; how harmonically smooth the change of each chord is one to another, that is, in terms of tension and resolution and stepwise motion between chord tones. Let’s say your chord progression involves going from an E major to a B major (I to V in the key of E), a certain amount of block-iness may be hard to overcome, but let’s try and see what happens:

Our first two options involve moving up the neck to the V chord either to the 7th fret of the low-E string (a barred E major-shape), or to the 2nd fret of the A string (a barred A major-shape). Let me say neither of these is “bad” necessarily, so no guilt here, but let’s analyze each option in terms of voice leading: by opting for the barred E major at the 7th fret, we here a transposition of every tone up a Perfect 5th; now, we have the open E string “do” resolving to “ti” in an oblique way (“ti” is on the G string here, 8th fret); again, the fact that it’s oblique is neither good or bad, just neutral, but if the music called for this motion to be heard clearly, the guitarist using this 7th fret choice of a B major could

simply strum only out to this note on the G string, and not provide the other two strings.

Now let’s compare this option to the second of these, barring an A-shape at the 2nd fret: a similar choice can be made here, taking the strum all the way out to the B string and leaving out the E string. Which of these is easier or better, I leave to you to decide, and they both have advantages and disadvantages, which we will look to presently.

The first of these is that both of these shapes reduplicates the exact same chord tones, except that the 7th fret adds one last tone, the reduplication of the B on the 7th fret of the E string; otherwise, the notes produced (assuming one strums the second option from the A string) are exactly the same (notes given by string, low-to-high):

Option 1:

B – F# – B – D# – F# – (B) Option 2:

 

(F#) – B – F# – B – D# – F#

So, while there is some difference in the timbre of each of these choices (notice the thicker strings resonate a darker quality than the thinner, higher ones), these two options do little to provide any profile between the guitarists. Thus, we may consider another “voicing” of the chord, or even chord shape. Beginning with chord shapes, we might decide to place the Capo on the 4th fret, and use a C-shape chord for our E major (I) and a G-shape for our B major (V). Some very nice changes occur in this scenario: we now

here the 3rd on top of the I chord, and, while we may have a reduplication of the high B on the E string (if Guitarist 1 is using the 7th fret bar for the B chord), we still have some new tones resulting from the G-shaped B major chord.

Guitar 1 (Open)                                                   Guitar 2  (Capo 4, or 4th pos.)

E-shape                                                                       C-shape

E (I):  E – B – E – G# – B – E                                   (G#) – E – G# – B – E – G#

E-shape, barred, 7th                                                                              G-shape

B (V): B – F# – B – D# – F# – (B)                              B – D# – F# – B – D# –  B

As you can see, now we have more harmonic variety, which may be what you’re going for. If it isn’t, then we need to look at our last few options, but at least we see how many more choices are possible with only exploring one other position on the neck.

In terms of the voice leading, we also see that our “do”/”ti” motion is accomplished with much greater ease in the Guitar 2 part (the 5th fret resolves to the 4th fret). Let’s assume one further possibility: the “do”/”ti” motion is actually part of the melody. In this case, the notes of the melody could be synced with Guitar 2’s voicing with much less effort than Guitar 1.

The final layer of considering voice leading in your guitar parts is considering how you can support, or directly represent the bass and melody of your particular piece. In terms of support alone, when choosing a chord voicing, you may want to lean towards voicings which contain the melody note(s) somewhere in the chord. I often try to keep the melody going continuously on the High E and B strings while providing the rest of the chord in the middle strings, and also providing a bass line in the Low E and A strings.

That may be a bit much to bite off right now, but it gives you an idea of what the guitar is capable of, as well as how different guitars can complement one another in musically practical ways, such as one guitar strumming simple chords, while the other supports or provides melodic elements.

Let’s look at a few other considerations to conclude this brief exploration in creating guitar parts.

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Part III. Other Options: ostinato, counter-melody, inversions, strum patterns

Ostinato

An ostinato is a musical idea that obstinately stays part of a musical texture (ostinato is Italian for “obstinate”). Several musical examples come to mind: think of Ravel’s Bolero, or the high electric guitar from Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” the main riff to “Kashmir” from Led Zeppelin, or any Ratatat song, for that matter. A great deal of popular music, whether classical, rock, or EDM thrives on repetition (and often transformation) of small musical ideas. Depending on the context, an ostinato may be created that doesn’t conflict with the melody, or even supports it. One favorite of mine is the melodic ostinato  (or riff) that accompanies the song “Release” from Pearl Jam’s Ten record. Another beautiful, but radically different (much “heavier”) version can be heard in “Tempting Time” by Animals as Leaders, at 2:51”.

Counter-Melody

Somewhat similar to an ostinato is a counter-melody, a melody that wouldn’t be considered the primary melody, but that weaves about more independently than a simple harmonization.  In the chorus of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” we here a counter-melody in Slash’s guitar part against Axl’s vocals. Another well-known counter-melody occurs half- way through J.P. Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” in the high piccolo/flute part, against the main theme. Melodic descants are yet another type of counter-melody, When constructing a counter-melody, take care not to step on the main melody too much. Inversions

As you become acquainted with all of the methods above, you’ll find chord inversions lend themselves readily to voice leading, most especially for bass motion. For instance, an E/G# (in the key of E, a I6 ) goes to an A (IV) smoothly, since the bass note only has to ascend a half step (G# to A). Once you’ve mastered your chord scales, experiment with trying them again in first and second inversion (first inversion puts the

3rd in the bass; second inversion puts the 5th in the bass).

Strumming Different Patterns

Quite a lot can be gained simply by strumming similar or even the same chords in an entirely different way. For instance, consider letting one guitar strum eighth-notes in a palm-muted fashion, while another guitar fingerpicks, or strums only on strong beats (like the downbeat of each measure). This method is especially effective when one guitar is acoustic and another is electric, but is useful in almost any situation to create a new texture.

I hope you found this Blog lesson useful! Good luck fishing for guitar parts, and have fun while you’re at it!

The Responsibility Never To Be Bored

March 20, 2017

by Rex Weston

Instructor of cello at The Lesson Studio

I think of the cello as the best toy ever. Part of that is the flexibility of the instrument – it can be used to play any genre of music: classical, folk, bluegrass, celtic, rock and roll, jazz, hiphop. It can make a wide and lively variety of sounds, and it can take up many roles: bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, folk guitar, fills, harmony, and melody.

And there are a lot of fun things that happen when playing. The act itself should be physically pleasurable – as far as the brain is concerned, playing a difficult passage is as stimulating as skiing a difficult mogul run. Playing an instrument lights up an EKG like a Christmas tree.

Making great and weird sounds is fun. Playing a tune is fun. Improvising is extremely satisfying. Playing music with other people is great fun. Being swept away by playing great music is one of the high points of anyone’s life. Writing and improvising music are totally engaging.

But the most important part of the cello for me was the end of boredom in my life. I learned that if I was doing anything, and I was bored, that I needed to STOP, and figure out how to make it interesting. That it was absolutely my responsibility not to be bored. When practicing a piece, the moment I checked out with boredom meant I was no longer learning anything. That I might still be making sound on my instrument, but it wasn’t doing me any good at all, because my brain wasn’t focussing on what I was doing, and that made practicing pointless.

Now the typical response to boredom, and the one I was trained as a kid by television to do, is just to switch channels. The problem with this is that it is the opposite of productive, and just leads to a life of channel surfing. The productive way to deal with boredom, is to analyze the problem and find a way to make it interesting. This requires creativity.

Let’s take a simple problem in practicing a difficult passage in a piece of music. Playing the passage over and over usually doesn’t help. That is because the brain has checked out in the process – if it isn’t interested it won’t help you out. Doing the same thing again and again – sorry, but your brain has left the building. So the way to get the brain back in gear is to look at and play the passage many different ways. Playing the passage in different rhythms is a good start. After one has played the passage in a jazz swing rhythm, a salsa rhythm, a reggae rhythm, a waltz, hiphop, a march, playing the passage straight becomes suddenly simple. Basically you have to have fun to learn something. And the chances are that if you are not having fun, you are not learning anything.

This obviously applies to the rest of your life, too. Instead of checking out when being bored in a classroom, the new response is to look for something in the subject that is interesting, and explore that aspect in depth. It is called self-directed learning, and is the only way we really learn anything that makes a difference. It works in your job, and it works in your life.

After learning your basic chords, what’s next?

February 27, 2017

After learning your basic chords, what’s next? This is a common question that I get when teaching adult students who are self taught or have taken lessons for a few months. In this video, I describe a technique called travis picking and how it can be used to create more interesting arrangements with the basic chords you already know.

 

 

I hope you enjoy this instructional video. If you want to learn more about our program, visit rockpopma.com and http://www.thelessonstudio.com, and contact us if you’d like to sign up for in-person lessons!

Live Music is Worth It!

February 1, 2017

by Ani Gyulamiryan

Instructor of piano at The Lesson Studio

ani_blog_1 Taiyuan, China

In the piano lessons I teach at the Lesson Studio, I often get a first-hand view of how music takes a hold of us. Western classical music, specifically, has gained a universal appeal since its inception in Europe. Countries like America and China have adopted and even continued in their own right to advance Western Classical music, and music lessons are both a staple of education and cultural inheritance. The concert hall is where our cultures diverge; in the West, the majority of classical concert goers are from the older generations, but the audiences in China are predominantly comprised of young professionals, kids and entire families.

In the summer of 2016, I completed a month long tour across China with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. I performed in a multitude of majestic concert halls, which have cost China billions of yuan to build in the past couple decades. In every concert of the fourteen cities we performed at, there was row after row filled with bright, enthusiastic, curious children. And they were part of an audience of young men and women, students, professionals and entire families that attended our concerts in order to be exposed to Western music (performed by an American orchestra). It was very moving to see how receptive and appreciative the near capacity audiences were in every city we toured throughout China.

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Shenyang, China

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Chongqing, China

Colorado has also continued to expand and grow its musical education. There are more music studios in every county than there were just a few years ago. They are doing better each day because of the growing interest in music education and awareness. However, students often seek lessons to become musically aware, instead of becoming proficient in an instrument. Although music lessons can be any student’s introduction to great music, artists and venues, eventually they must grow to become ‘plugged-in’ with the current music scene themselves. As a piano teacher of ten years, I have noticed some trends in the music lessons at private studios and various education centers. One growing trend in private lessons is a focus on music appreciation within the framework of individual lessons that dismisses its importance outside of the lesson and the private teacher’s influence.

As a piano instructor, I often tell my students about the composers they study, their adventurous and rebellious lives, and the intended meanings behind their masterworks. However, it is rare for these students to have experienced live performances of the works they study. The music scene today is vast, and performances at local concert halls offer a great exposure to the masterworks of classical music, but many music students remain largely unaware of these events.

To gain a broader exposure and appreciation of classical music, I encourage students of classical piano, orchestral music, jazz, or any instrument to explore their community and find the best performances in their area. Check the local library for amazing performances coming up, search on university and music schools’ websites for their upcoming concerts, find the season schedule of local orchestras. Attend some of these live concerts in order to develop your own musical taste! Western classical music is more varied in style than the number of different genres of music, so there is much variety to enjoy.

Music appreciation occurs not only in the classroom or during a music lesson, but also outside of it in the ever changing and rich world of the concert and recital hall. Attending a live concert will develop a student’s ear, make them more aware of the musical culture, enable them to become more musically educated, and aid in their personal musical growth. Hopefully every student can remember a concert they attended that made a powerful impression upon them, inspired them to continue, or was possibly the best musical experience in their life so far.

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Yichun, China

 

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Tangshan, China

Photo Credits: Roger L. Powell

 

Singing More than Just the Words

October 12, 2014

By, Catherine Behrens. Voice instructor at The Lesson Studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music can bring about strong emotions, bring back old memories, and soothe our tired bodies at the end of a long day. As musicians, it is one of our chief goals to move people with what we do. We want to give a message to our audience that will leave them changed after they have heard us play or sing. There are many things that go into creating an impacting performance, but there is one tool that I want to focus on that is specific to singers. We have words. Composers and songwriters choose their lyrics very carefully. Whether they have taken inspiration from a great poet such as Shakespeare, Dickinson or Goethe, or if they have written their own, these words have been crafted to evoke emotion. When we sing, we sometimes get so focused on all the technique (which is super important!) we forget about the words. So here are some ideas on how to get the most meaning out of your song.

First, write out your words on a separate piece of paper and read them out loud. If there is a part that doesn’t make sense to you, really focus in on it. Try and figure out if it is symbolic or literal. Maybe it’s a metaphor or a description. If you still don’t know, talk to other people about it. Your teacher, family members, classmates, anyone who you think might be helpful in understanding what the writer meant. Keep reading it to yourself until the message of the words, and what you want to get across when you sing it, becomes ingrained in you. This is also a fantastic way to help memorize your songs!

Next, go into each individual sentence and determine which words are the most important in that sentence. For example, if you have something like “Never mind I’ll find someone like you” I would pick “mind” and “someone” as my two big words (although next time I sing that phrase I might pick “find” and “you”). This is probably going to be a little different for everybody, which is great because that’s going to make your interpretation unique. Once you have your words for each sentence or phrase, go through your music and underline them to remind you that those are the words you want to highlight. When you sing them, give them just a little more love than the other words. Making them pop like this will give your listeners a road-map of what is important in the music.

Finally, invest in what those words actually mean. It isn’t enough to have a head knowledge of what you are singing about, you should be feeling it too. So if you are singing a love song, and you’ve never been in love, maybe try to think about a friend that means a lot to you, or a family member. Make the lyrics your own. If you can’t relate to it, neither will anyone else. The thing that makes your favorite artists so good is that they move you. Maybe it moves you to dance, or cry, or to change the world, but you are feeling those emotions because the artist felt them first. Now it’s your job to feel those same things and pass it on the the next person.

So, at the end of the day, be sure you know what your song is about, and that it means something to you. Whether it’s Mozart or Rihanna, look at what the words behind the music mean. They cared a lot about how those words fit into music, and you should too. So dig deep and make the world listen to your song!

A Guide to Picking & Buying Your First Drum Set

October 28, 2013

 

By Will Smith Drum and Percussion Instructor at The Lesson Studio,

            Congratulations! You are just beginning the great adventure of learning to play the drums. It is my hope that after you’ve finished reading this you will feel more comfortable making a purchase of an instrument that fits you and your budget. If you have any questions please notify us so we can help you with any additional needs.

            Let’s start with how to read the following pages. You’ll be looking for a few important key words. The term hardware refers specifically to any part of the drum set that holds the drums, cymbals and hi-hats. When buying your first drum set you should aim to find a package that includes the hardware, this will be cheaper and easier. Keep in mind many higher end drum sets will not be sold with hardware.Drum sets are another one of those investments where you “get what you pay for”. If you choose to find a set that costs more or less than you’ve budgeted, make sure you investigate the reasoning behind the change in price and what you may be gaining or loosing as a result.

            Now let’s discuss the eternal battle of electronic vs. acoustic drum sets. Each has its strengths. Pick the option that suits you as an individual, if you struggle with turning a computer on/off you should probably not go the electronic route. I have an affinity for acoustic drum sets because the instrument makes the sound that I hear…not a computer. There’s just something about the good ol’ fashioned way that makes sitting behind an acoustic set more comfortable. The electronic set will save room and takes up much less surface area, it can also keep parents from having to wear ear plugs or talk down crazy neighbors. Choose wisely!

            On the note of noise, many products exist to muffle or eliminate the majority of sound coming from both electronic and acoustic drum sets. For electronic drum set simply plug in a pair of headphones, for acoustic drum sets you can purchase “SoundOff” mutes to completely eliminate the majority of sounds or “Moongel” damper gels to prevent excessive resonance.

            Remember the process of learning the drums is half muscle memory & half muscle memory…that is, your arms/feet & your brain as a muscle. Often times having a drum set in front of you helps to remind you that practicing the proper motions and techniques can be rewarding. Think of your practice time as time at the gym and your playing as lifting weights…the more you lift, the stronger you’ll be. They make heavier sticks if you plan to take that statement literally 😉

            After working closely with Billy from The Drum Shop (303-402-0122) in Boulder, CO we were able to put together a few packages that will make this process even easier. But don’t take my word for it, DO YOUR RESEARCH! It will only help you feel more at ease after making a purchase. The packages that follow this guide vary with what they offer please ask questions to make sure you are getting everything you need.

Musicians: Small Muscle Athletes

September 30, 2013

By: Beth Deininger ,violinist, instructor at The Lesson Studio

When most people think of athletes, they think of professional baseball, football, soccer, and basketball players.  But what most people don’t associate with the word athlete is musicians-but you should!  Musicians train, sometimes up to 8 hours a day, learning techniques and performance practices much like sports athletes attend practices, personal training, and strategy.

So why are musicians called small muscle athletes?  Think about it.  Most instruments require subtle, precise movements in order to create the best results both technically and musically.  Woodwinds, brass, piano, guitar, and strings all have small movements that involve their hands, fingers, and fingertips.  A violin etude could be likened to the football exercise with tires laid on the field, timing how quickly you can run through them.  With that etude, we are trying to see how quickly and accurately we can navigate a course.

Another similarity to think about is performance.  What do sports athletes do? They perform under pressure, hopefully at their most optimum level.  Isn’t that similar to what musicians do?  We practice our songs and pieces, with an ultimate goal of performing them.  We may have the pressure of performing in front of one, or in front of thousands.  Both athletes and musicians train for performances, constantly honing their mental and physical talents.

So whether you are training for a regional game or orchestra placement, it is important to treat your body in the same way.  Stretches, strengthening exercises, and frequent breaks are all important.  When you practice, you should treat your body and mind as if you were out training on the field.  So let’s break down the above three categories-

Stretches:  Stretching is imperative at the beginning, middle, and end of any playing/practicing session.  Find out what muscles or areas of your body you use most when playing, and stretch them frequently.  Most music related injuries are a result of too much tension in our muscles.  One great stretch to try is placing your hand palm down onto a wall, and then lean your arm forward.  You should feel a stretch down your entire arm.  Remember that stretches need to be held for 30 seconds in order to be effective. Whatever you do, DON’T pulsate back and forth on a stretch!!!
For other musician related stretches visit this website: http://www.musicianshealth.com/stretches.htm

Strengthening Exercises:  Like all athletes, we are trying to strengthen certain muscle groups and generally become more agile.  For strengthening exercises, it is best to ask your private teacher, who will know what muscle areas are liable to be weakest and which will need the most attention.   By acknowledging that we all have weak spots in our overall strength, we have already taken the step to becoming a more successful musician.

Frequent Breaks:  I cannot stress this last topic enough.  In a world where we are all constantly running here and there, it is important that we give our brain time to focus on whatever task we have at hand.  With practicing, quality is always more important than quantity.  I can practice poorly for two hours each day, or practice with intense focus for one hour each day and make more progress.  A general rule in music practicing is that we need a ten minute break for every hour of practice that we do (we call it the fifty minute hour). So if you practiced for an hour, you would play twenty minutes, take ten minutes off, and then play for thirty more minutes.  If you only practice for thirty minutes, play for ten, take five minutes to refocus and rest, and then practice another fifteen.  You will find that your practice sessions will be so much more rewarding when you give your mind time to focus.

Now that you know that you are a small muscle athlete, get out there and stretch, strengthen, and ALWAYS take time to give your brain a break!

Don’t worry, it’s just music

January 30, 2012

By Dave Goldenberg, Guitar and Mandolin instructor at The Lesson Studio

 

Dave Goldenberg, Guitar & Mandolin instructor at The Lesson Studio

Dave Goldenberg

 

The idea of letting go has really helped me grow, both as a musician and a person.  When you are first learning to play an instrument or sing, it is common to get nervous or overwhelmed, and thus be less productive. Let me tell you, those feelings are perfectly normal. However, if you can find a way to relieve yourself of these unnecessary stresses, you will be all the more focused. Keep in mind; this doesn’t just apply to music, but to any task in life.

I am going to outline a list of ways to relieve the feeling of being overwhelmed, and thus get you, as a player, to not avoid your practicing or hinder your enjoyment of music.

First things first…  it’s just music folks! Nobody’s life is at stake. So before you even start working towards a goal, you must realize that you don’t really have to care. However, you do care, and being aware of that fact is an important realization.

So now that you have accepted that you have chosen to be here (I understand some children are an exception), you really need to narrow your goals.  What do you LOVE to listen to?  What music really excites you on an emotional level?  What kind of emotional response are you looking to get out of playing?  What are you not as into?

By answering these questions, you really get to the meat and potatoes of what you need to work on. Do you want to play chords well?  Do you want to play complete songs well?  Do you want to sing and play at the same time?  What songs really excite you?  Do you want to write your own songs?

Once you have answered these questions, you need to really narrow your tasks.  Practice one chord.  Practice one chord change to another chord. Practice one strumming pattern. Maybe work on each one of these in different weeks. Before you know it, you’ve learned an entire song. Then, before it seems possible, you know ten songs. Don’t worry about getting an entire section or an entire song the first week or two you try. Enjoy the process. Always be headed towards learning more, even if it’s the tiniest of baby steps.  The goal is to keep the tasks small so that you avoid getting overwhelmed…  and don’t worry if you get it wrong. It is just music, and it takes chutzpah to even attempt doing it!

A Positive Approach with High Standards

February 27, 2011

By Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis

In any educational profession it is difficult to strike a balance between maintaining a high standard and being positive and encouraging towards students. In my five years of experience teaching piano and voice I have often thought about this distinction. It varies by student, of course. However, I have discovered some principles which help to sustain what I believe to be a healthy balance.

1. Always allow a student to sing or play through an entire piece before making comments:

As a child I studied with a teacher who stopped me repeatedly in the first three or four measures of a piece. I was never allowed to go on until the piece was perfect linearly from start to finish. This method of critique was not only discouraging, but also enforced a bad habit of stopping and starting after every mistake. When I went to college I found the habit very difficult to overcome. For that reason, I encourage students to go all the way through a piece before doing “spot work.” I want to enforce the performance element in every lesson- “the show must go on.”

2. Always give positive comments first and carefully word criticism:

I feel it is extremely important to begin your response as a teacher with positive feedback. It must be genuine, of course. There is always something positive to say, even if it is small. However, to say something like, “good job,” is not at all specific or helpful. If the student did not practice consistently, then saying that they did well in a broad sense in not genuine. Instead say, “good job with melodic phrasing in the B section,” or “your note accuracy between measures 12 and 14 has really improved from last week.” This feedback is not only specific, but also shows that you were paying close attention.

3. Teach by example and build independence:

A teacher should always illustrate spoken concepts by playing live or finding pertinent recordings, etc. Catering to different learning styles is so important for growth. Teach so that your student will become independent of you. Hopefully they will grow to make their own musical choices and assessments.