Practicing

Getting Back into Routine!

Yes, I first need to start with an apology. I’ve been a bit silent. Between getting my studio filled and “fall” lessons started (It doesn’t feel like fall in Houston) and my wife and daughters starting school last week, time to work on content wasn’t quite there.

 

But I thought that routine would be a great topic for new blog post! It’s always interesting to look at the stereotypes of musicians. Musicians are disorganized, late, chaotic and more. While for some, that may be true, to become a musician of any level, it takes work and discipline. And a big part of that is….routine!

 

I’ve been sharing with my students that started school last week or may be starting this week, that practice needs to be a regular routine in the rhythm of their life. Every night growing up, my mom would always say, “Craig, why don’t you practice the piano while I do dishes?” We didn’t have a dishwasher. So I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. I finally asked her this summer if she decided to slowly take her time, double rinse the dishes and more, and she just laughed. Which I took as a yes. I hated that routine at the time….but now, I’m thankful for it.

 

We’re in routines in many other parts of our life. Exercise, sports, watching our favorite streaming show, checking social media and more. As a musician, practice has to be a part of that routine for growth and excelling to happen. No one likes practicing. It’s work. It’s frustrating at times. Yet it is so beneficial and necessary.

 

One thing that I was reminded of on Saturday is something that I need to be in a better routine of. Writing/arranging music and publicizing it. See, I try to write and arrange music and have it self-published. I don’t talk about it like I should, except for the times like Saturday morning when I get an email saying that I sold copies of an arrangement. Which triggered the thought that I need to be in a better writing routine. And then a better publicizing of my compositions routine. (Which, by the way, you can find them here) So I’ve started to think through my schedule and how I can make that a priority and invest the time to improve that skill.

 

Routines are essential to life. Routines are necessary and beneficial, even if at the time, we don’t think that it is. How are you going to improve or change your routines this week? Comment with what you’re going to do.

Music stories, Practicing

Parents make the difference!

After being a child and taking piano lessons, learning how to practice, and then becoming a music educator, as well as a parent myself, I can clearly and firmly say that parents make all the difference in students’ learning. That doesn’t mean that parents have to be amazing and well trained musicians, but the encouragement and pushing at times makes a difference.

 

My story is quite simple, and very similar to many of my students. I started piano at age 5 because I loved music. And for the first few months, things went well. But then…it got hard. And I wanted to quit. Like tears quit. But my mother wouldn’t let me. You see, my grandmother let my mom quit piano lessons and it was something that my mom wished she wouldn’t have ever done. So, because she knew that I was talented, she wouldn’t let me quit. And I’m so thankful for that. I persisted, learned how to practice (even though I still to this day hate practicing) and I’m so thankful for that decision.

 

Just like working on homework, there will be pushback. It will be hard, and there’s plenty of other things the child will want to do. But having that routine, structure and discipline to practice makes all of the difference. As a teacher, one thing I come across from time to time with parents is the mentality that students will learn everything in 30 minutes with me. That’s impossible when it comes to music! Music lessons are not like Tae Kwon Do or other activities where you learn things in groups and do not have to put in any work outside of that time. Music is a commitment, and I try to stress that to parents at the start. It’s not only a commitment from the student, it’s a commitment from the parent, as that is a financial commitment as well!

 

Because of my experiences in being a student and my 20 years of experience as a music educator, I try to make learning fun. I give students the input on what they would like to learn in addition to the method books that we’re doing. I want to challenge my students, but I want them to not feel overwhelmed and burdened by it. My goal for my students is to have them love and appreciate music, as it will be around them for their whole life.

 

Learning music is something that everyone can do. It’s like learning a language. There are levels to your understanding and knowledge. A good part of that comes from how much time you spend working at it. I love the opportunity to encourage students, but a part of that also means encouraging parents as well, because if they truly want to see the full value of their investment in lessons, the work has to happen on a consistent basis at home. It doesn’t have to be hours on end, but 5-10 minutes once or twice a day will add up!

 

I am scheduling summer lessons for in person, as well as online. You can find out more here.

Music literacy, Music Motivation, Practicing, Science of Music

Why Should Children Take Music Lessons?

There are lots and lots of benefits as to why children should take music lessons. Here are just a few.

Music builds coordination

When it comes to piano, or really any musical instrument, it’s building hand-eye coordination, using the dominant and non-dominant hand, and in the case of the piano, can have different motions for each hand at the same time!

 

Music strengthens academic skills

There are many things that can be strengthened when it comes to musicianship, be it math, or language, especially when it comes to learning about phrasing and shaping the phrase, music helps to strengthen skills that students need in the classroom.

 

Music makes students more empathetic

Learning how to be a musician takes the student from making robotic music, to interpreting the music in their own way, making certain parts louder or softer than others, as well as bringing out the overall ethos of the music.

 

Music build discipline and patience

Learning how to practice and the discipline of regular, daily practice helps to build a positive habit that can translate to other aspects of life, as well as helping students be patient and persistent in practicing.

 

 

These and many more things help students grow and build skills that benefit as musicians and in life. Harmanny Music Education can help! Summer lessons for June and July are currently being scheduled and you can find out more and more about the ukulele camp to be held the week of June 27th here.

Practicing, Rhythm

Practice Tip: Use a Metronome!

When my grandmother gave me her piano when I was in 4th grade, she included many things with it. Sheet music, a lamp, even a padded cushion for the bench! But the most important thing that she passed on with the piano to me was her metronome. She had played piano and cello for much of her life, and I know that metronome gave her much assistance in playing music.

But as for me, I learned to HATE that metronome. Do you know why I hated it? Because I either played faster or slower than the speed of the metronome. So, it quickly became an annoying reminder of the fact that I was off. It aggravated and frustrated me. But now, as a more mature and well seasoned musician, I know better.

I will still use that metronome (or the app on my phone) for difficult passages that I’m trying to work out. But, the most important thing for me is that I start slower than the finished product will be. Why? Because if I can get it down and confident at a slower speed, as I slowly increase the speed, it will become easier.

I encourage my students to use a metronome, not because I want them to be ahead or behind the beat. I want them to be on the beat. It is possible to do, and when you effectively use the metronome at a slower speed, then you will find yourself being more competent and steadier in your tempo without having to use it!

Practicing

Top 5 practice tips

If you can suggest it, I’ve probably done it. I’ve been a musician for 39 years. I’ve tried lots of different ways to practice, sometimes out of creativity, out of boredom, even out of challenging myself.

 

The biggest thing is to go slowly! You’re building up your brain/finger connection. The slower you go, the easier it is to get things right as you begin. It doesn’t mean that you have to go slowly forever!

Separate your hands! If it’s challenging to put both hands together, then focus on one. More often than not, it’s our non-dominant hand that needs the focus. So make sure you don’t shy away from that hand!

 

“Chunking” music is a great way to put things together. Normally, our challenge comes in going from one measure to another or one line to another. So if you take it apart and focus on the smaller sections or chunks, the easier it will be!

 

Finding the hardest part, or the most challenge part, whether it’s rhythm or coordination, is counter to what we want to do. We want to focus on the easy parts, by nature, and avoid the hard parts. But if we attack the hard parts first, that makes everything much easier!

 

Finally, as I said before about splitting your hands, focus on your non-dominant hand. It’s non-dominant for a reason, and it’s the one the needs the most attention! It’s always going to feel awkward and weird, but the more time you spend with it, it feels less awkward and weird.

 

So what about you? If you’re a piano player, what’s your go-to practice tip? Comment with what works best for you! If you’re wanting to learn, I have times available this week in person or online. You can find out more at harmannymusiceducation.com/lesson-schedule

Podcast, Practicing

Practicing is WORK

Taking lessons can be fun. Making music can (and should be) fun. But practicing? That’s not always fun. Practicing is WORK. There’s no getting around it. You can get by on natural ability for so long and it will take you so far without putting in work. The work will help you improve as a musician. The work will help stretch and grow you to be able to try new things and pick up harder and harder challenges a little bit easier. 

A, B, Twinkle Little Sheep? Harmanny Music Education Podcast

What in the world? Well, there is something similar about Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Baa, Baa Black Sheep and The Alphabet Song! Find out more in the podcast! Links to listen to: Mozart: https://youtu.be/NO-ecxHEPqI Haydn: https://youtu.be/VOLy6JxEDLw Liszt: https://youtu.be/-Wcp2Vey4vc Saint-Saens: https://youtu.be/bcAJpsWWuIY
  1. A, B, Twinkle Little Sheep?
  2. Patience
  3. Performing
  4. Goal Setting
  5. Motivation

To download Craig’s 10 tips to practice better PDF, click here.

To find out more about Craig and his teaching, go to www.harmannymusiceducation.com 

Practicing

Bad Habits

One of the HARDEST things to do as a musician is going back and fixing what you’ve practiced incorrectly. I’ve had to do it. Or, even worse, when we’re talking about fixing bad habits. When I first started the piano, I had the awful habit of dropping my wrists. And so, my piano teacher threatened to put a quarter on the top of my hand to keep my wrists where they needed to be. Thankfully, I fixed that habit very quickly!

Here’s a fun video about what happens when we try to fix bad habits.

It’s hard. It’s frustrating. And it makes you want to give up. But, if you keep at it, keep focused and put in the work, soon that good habit will take hold and you’ll be a better musician for it!