Recital and festival season is upon us, and our students have been preparing their selected pieces for the past few weeks! Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned performer, memorizing a piece is something we all have to do to be performance ready. There are a lot of different approaches to memorization, so we have tips from a few of our teachers!
Memorize WHILE you learn the piece not AFTER you learn the piece.
Four types of memory (you should have ALL of them):
1) aural - can you sing it?
2) physical - can you play with your eyes closed? Do you have articulation marks and dynamic marks memorized?
3) visual - can you find where your hands should be on the keyboard? Can you see the music in your mind?
4) conceptual - do you know the theory behind all the notes? Do you have a story or narrative to tell?
Use post-it notes to cover each measure of the piece that is memorized. Soon, the whole piece will be covered!
Memorize as you learn, starting with small chunks (maybe a couple of measures or one phrase). Being able to hear it in your mind or sing it out loud is important! Once you can do this, try playing one hand and singing/hearing the other part simultaneously, then switch. Make sure you know where your articulation and dynamic marks are before practicing without the music, as it’s much harder in my opinion to go back and add them in.
Memorize small sections of your piece one at a time. Sometimes it’s even fun to mix up the sections and not go in order! Do one section each day and plan out which sections you will memorize each day you sit down to practice. This gives you a goal to work towards and a plan to make it happen! Another fun thing to try is to put the music behind you, maybe on a chair, and when you get stuck, turn around, look at it, and then get right back on the piano. Before you know it, you've got your whole piece memorized!
Q: Tell us about how you first became involved in music
I started playing trumpet in the band in the 5th grade.
Q: Is anyone else in your family a musician?
My brother is a trombone player and is also a band director for the past 35 years.
Q: Tell us more about your music education
I played trumpet through the 10th grade and moved to the baritone for the 11th and 12th. I started playing guitar in the 7th grade and moved to the electric bass in the 11th grade. Studied general music at Tyler Jr. College and finished my Bachelor Music Degree with a Minor in Education at UNT and my instrument at UNT was the Double Bass.
Q: Growing up, did you have any influential teachers/professors who guided you towards becoming a professional musician?
My high school band director, who was also a professional musician, had a great influence on my music career.
Q: What is your personal teaching philosophy?
Anyone can learn to play a musical instrument if they “want” to.
Q: You have taught orchestra for over 30 years in DISD, including at Booker T. Washington. What is your favorite part about instructing an ensemble? How does it compare to teaching private lessons? Working with ensembles helped me explore a great deal of string repertoire with a variety of textures. That is a lot of fun. When teaching private lessons the experience is still fun but more on watching the student’s growth.
Q: One of your string orchestras performed at Carnegie Hall in 2012. Tell us more about that amazing experience.
In one word is was “surreal”! The hours and hours of preparation with rehearsals and picking the repertoire perfect for the student’s level to maximize the experience was worth it when you hear the beautiful acoustics of the Hall. New York was amazing!
Q: What is your favorite music genre?
I am very moody about music genre. It depends on what instrument I have in my hands. My favorite when I play an electric bass is Classic Rock but when I am playing a string instrument my favorite is music from the Classical Period but when I conduct my favorite is music of the Romantic Period.
Q: Do you have a favorite musical memory?
Between meeting Itzhak Perlman or Elmer Bernstei or conducting at Carnegie Hall … Very hard to choose.
Q: When you are not teaching, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Play with my 5 Grand Kids.
I read an article recently by violinist Noa Kageyama that inspired me to write about something I’ve believed for a long time about practicing. It doesn’t necessarily matter how long you practice, but rather the engagement of your mind when you practice (you can read the original article here: https://lifehacker.com/a-better-way-to-practice-5939374)). In the article, Kageyama categorized practice into two types: mindless and deliberate. Sounds pretty self explanatory, right? Let me go into further detail about each one.
Mindless practice is exactly what it sounds like: playing your assignment as if you were on auto pilot, not really concentrating on what you’d like the result to sound like. There are a couple of problems with practicing this way. Number one: it really is a complete waste of time. Without concentration, you won’t actually improve much at all. Kageyama states that “this model of practicing strengthens undesirable habits and errors, increasing the likelihood of more consistently inconsistent performances.” You will then have to spend more time correcting the errors you made, when they could have been avoided in the first place. Mindless practice is also extremely dull and takes the joy out of music making, and thus motivation to practice is lost. So, if you are taking the “broken record” approach, you are probably doing more harm than good.
Now don’t get me wrong, repetition is important- but it has to be thoughtful. Having a specific goal in mind before you start your practice is key. When you play/sing a passage, does it “speak” the way you want? If not, that’s when repetition is helpful- repeating the phrase slowly until it sounds exactly how you want each time. For a beginning student who may not be at this point yet, their goals are simpler. Perhaps the first day is just focusing on playing the rhythm correctly. Day Two could be to incorporate staccato/legato and other articulation marks. Day Three could be dynamics and phrasing, and so on. Having an intention in mind is what makes the difference in becoming a really fantastic musician. The goal is to work smarter, not harder!
Some other suggestions are to practice only as long as you can stay focused and during the time of the day you have the most energy or feel the most productive. Because it is so easy to slip into mindless practice mode, keep yourself on track by using a problem-solving model and a practice journal (one of Ms. Ellie’s favorite solutions!) Write down your goals for practice that day, and how you were able to achieve them. Define and analyze the problem you are targeting, then test solutions. Once you figure out the best solutions, write this down in your journal so you can continue implementing next time!
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well it is, which is why most musicians don’t take the time to practice this way. Parents, this is where your support is so very needed when your child is beginning his/her music study. Your instructor is there to guide their learning once a week, but the real progress and development takes place between lessons. Feeling uncertain about how to help your child practice in the best way? Design a practice plan with your teacher- he/she will be glad to do it! If you are an adult student, try this approach out. You’ll feel more connected to your progress and you will love the way you sound!
I'm one of those teachers who a long time ago did have a studio on my own and worked at a music school. I've also had parents tell me that they would rather just take from a private teacher and not be at a music school. I've got feelings on both! However, before I continue, I do need to mention that all music schools are not created equal! And, all private teachers are not created equal. This is more of a generalization of both.
I will say that it is hard finding teachers who want to teach at a music school simply because they don't make as much money. However, on the plus side, they don't have to deal with the business side of things. They simply show up and teach! This can be amazing for teachers who simply love to teach and don't want to do billing, advertising, and organization. More than likely, teachers who work at a music school really LOVE to teach and are there because of that. Teachers also gain a sense of community within the school and have comradery with the other teachers that they would not have solo teaching at home. This is perfect when they need to have their student perform for another teacher! All they have to do is knock and ask! It is obviously wonderful for the students as well, because it's built in performance practice, and another teacher's ideas that they get to hear!
For parents, taking lessons at a music school can almost be "one stop shopping". If there is a teacher that is not a great fit for the student, makinging a shift to a different teacher is sometimes possible. Often at music schools, there is the possibility of multi-instrument instruction, so you don't have to go out and hunt for a different teacher. The other plus side is that if you trust the music school and its mission, you are comfortable with their teachers and know that they are all "safe" individuals.
Most individual teachers don't have a commercial space. Going to a "business" that is primarily for music lessons definitely has a different feel than going to your teacher's house. Now, I went to my teachers house for years and years, and a lot of my students have come to my house for lessons, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! However, when I show up to teach at our studio, I'm focused and ready to teach. It's true that a lot of my students felt that my house was more of an "intimate" space- but it was also a little more noisy (my kids or husband or dogs). There seems to be a little more structure in my lessons at the studio vs. my house. It feels like a better learning environment- AND there's not a pantry full of food to raid or laundry you can voluntarily fold (LOL).
The best thing about a music school? It's the community- if it's the right community for you and your family. Hopefully, it's nice being able to keep the financial part separate- knowing there's a person to talk to about that and that oversees the instruction of the teachers (my students are not allowed to comment!) There are different teacher personalities and all kinds or opportunities to take part in. There's variation in classes and performances/recitals. There's a higher standard.
That in a nutshell is the difference! I love sharing this unique perspective and hope it was helpful. If you have thoughts, comments, or questions, don't hesitate to reach out!
A way to practice well and not feel like you’re dying from boredom (we’ve all been there!)
Serves: 1 student (and 1 teacher by default)
Total Time: 45 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minute warm-up, 10-minute break
1. Open teacher’s notes FIRST to see what will be due in the upcoming week(s).
2. Plan your practice session, set a goal for each piece, write down if you feel you might forget.
For example: “I want to play all the right rhythms in this piece” or “I want to memorize these four measures today”.
3. Warm-up: scales/arpeggios/five-finger patterns.
This is your opportunity to check hand position. Are fingers curved? Do you sound good?
Warm-up with three different tempos: slow-medium-fast
4. Practice your first piece/assignment. Star with pencil any place that are hard to do. Spend 5-10 minutes fixing these starred sessions.
5. With each piece, check the goal you set in step #2. Can your goal be accomplished today? If not, can your goal be accomplished tomorrow?
6. If you do not complete a goal, write a note down in your practice journal to complete tomorrow.
7. After finishing your first piece, take a five-minute break. Even if you don’t feel tired, you were probably focusing for 10-15 straight minutes. That’s a lot.
8. Now you are about 15-minutes into your practice. Start your second piece, repeat steps #2-6.
9. Take another 5-min break.
10. It has now been 35 minutes. At this point of time, go BACK and review pieces #1 and #2. See if your short-term memory has learned anything. Did your pieces improve today? If not, no worries, you will have to work on it again tomorrow (with a different strategy than today since today did not work). Spend 5 minutes reviewing anything you might have forgotten over your 5-min break to reinforce your memory.
11. Now you are at the 40-minute mark! And you only did two pieces so far! But it has been very productive and by writing down what you want to do tomorrow, you will remember better what you learned today. Spend the last five minutes for personal pleasure (we often forget we are doing piano for fun). Explore a new piece that your teacher has assigned, improvise, write your own composition, or perhaps you have saved the last five minutes to revisit a piece you played before. If this is the case, make sure to make improvements to this piece. How can you be more artistic and interesting?
12. Come to next lesson…maybe you will sound so good that your teacher will actually make you a pie??? (Not Ms. Ellie. You don’t want her pies. They’re disgusting.)
MIDI for Kids is a program that puts kids right in the middle of music making. Students will learn about keyboard geography, notation, and other keyboarding skills, of course, but the real joy comes from playing with classmates and creating ensembles!
Students will learn about the different parts of an ensemble: the melody, bass line, percussion, and any additional parts. Everyone will learn how to play together to make a meaningful product. Before we play the parts ourselves, we will play along with a recorded sequence that we can isolate different parts and adjust tempo. Since we play on keyboards we can change the instrumentation to make a more authentic sounding ensemble.
Students learn to be critical listeners of their work as well as other recorded music. They will be able to discern if the melody is too loud, the percussion is behind the beat, or if the bass line is too overpowering.
The MIDI for Kids process is a multi-year journey to discovering the joy of making music. Using these skills prepares students to continue their study of piano as well as other instruments.
For more information, please contact Robin Coolidge.
Drumroll please...this week marks our 100th blog!! That’s A LOT of blogs!! Why do we take the time to write blogs? We feel it reflects our studio’s mission, allows you to get to know our teachers, and expresses our opinions about music teaching and relevant topics. We are proud to say that we write two new blogs every month (although we used to write them weekly our first two years as a studio!) To celebrate this accomplishment, we are going to recap about some of the different topics we’ve written about (and include links to read them!)
First off, we’ve written a few times about the benefits of music lessons- how it builds brain development, character and grit, and teaches arts appreciation. This is an ongoing topic as new research surfaces constantly. There are endless articles about how great music lessons are for both kids and adults!
One of the biggest questions we are asked from parents is how much and how long to practice. We’ve shared about how to practice efficiently and what parents can do to help their children practice at home. Keeping students motivated through the entire school year is another big category. Music Bucks, Honor Roll, 40 Piece Challenge, Student of the Week, and Music Ball (formerly Piano Ball) are just some of the fun things we do to keep students going that are unique to our studio!
As new teachers join our studio, we ask them to fill out a questionnaire for our blog and for their profile on the website. Currently, we have 7 teachers for private lessons (piano, voice, and guitar), and we are adding two new teachers this fall: Robin, who will be teaching group piano classes, and Giuseppe, who will be teaching private flute lessons. We’ve also shared about the importance of the relationship between the teacher and student, which is why we take the time to really make sure it is a good match between the two.
In addition to our growing number of private students, our early childhood music classes are steadily growing as well. You might be surprised that we believe music education should begin as infants, and continue through preschool to our Merry Musicians class.
Lastly, we’ve written many tips about recital etiquette and coping with performance anxiety. We really encourage all of our students, no matter how long they’ve been taking lessons, to perform at our twice per year recitals. Since all of our piano teachers are members of the Dallas Music Teachers Association, many of our students are involved in their performance opportunities. The three most common events our studio participates in are Sonatina Festival, Achievement Auditions, and the State Theory Exam. We explain the scoring system that DMTA judges use for these events.
It’s really neat to look back at all the blogs we’ve written- it reflects different stages of how our studio has evolved. We also hope that our blogs are helpful to parents and that they provide a deeper connection to our studio.
At the very beginning of my summer, the day after my son's eighth grade graduation, we got the horrible news that Paula had died. Even though she had suffered so much pain and trauma over the 9 months after her fall which resulted in a brain injury, we still held out hope that she would one day recover. But knowing she is in a place without suffering is an answered prayer.
So who is Paula? Well, the easiest explanation is that she was my piano teacher's wife. To the general person, that may not seem like much, but as I started thinking about what most people think, I have really begun realizing why I put so much effort into my students and why I think being with the "right" piano teacher is so important.
At the beginning of this huge loss, I was so confused as to why people were asking me who Paula was and why was my entire family at her funeral? To be honest, I was dumbfounded. Jerry, my piano teacher, and Paula were a huge part of my family. They became part of our life when I was 8 years old. Paula worked for the Dallas County Commissioner, and regularly ate at my parent's restaurant. She had told my parents that her husband was a piano teacher, and literally the rest is history. My parents instantly became friends. We had piano twice a week, with all 4 of our lessons back to back, which meant we were at their home for hours. Paula ended up spending evenings with my family while Jerry accompanied the Dallas Symphony Chorus every Monday night. She helped us with homework- in fact, she was an amazing tutor! Seriously, I have no idea how I would have gotten through 7th and 8th grade history or Ursuline without her help!
As our lessons continued and our relationship became stronger, Jerry and Paula went on family vacations with us. They never had their own children and it's not really a secret that they adopted us. They even came to Greece with us! In college, I had a trip to New York that had me a little freaked out, and Paula took off from work to come with me. Paula, especially, was like a second mom to me and my 3 siblings. Even just writing this brings tears to my eyes.
It wasn't just my family. To explain how many students Jerry and Paula affected is not even possible. Together they attended countless student weddings, college graduations, and music productions. They supported every single student. I can't count how many of his students reached out to Jerry with Paula's death or were at her funeral.
I can't possibly give enough of a tribute to Paula's life. I can smile when I see my wedding certificate, and know that Paula's signature is on it (this is where working at the Dallas county comes in handy! I remember her so giddy with excitement taking care of this for me and Brian). I think of all of the ways my "piano teacher" affected my life, and it's not all at the piano! When I say that relationships are important, this is where it stems from. I'm not saying that you will have the same sort of relationship with your piano teacher, but there will be a lot of influence both at and away from the instrument.
Even just today, one of my students was dropping off her brother for a guitar camp and she wanted to stay and "help me work". I love being invited to my old student's weddings! I still stay in touch with them, even if it's just through holiday cards each year. This one bit of family and kindness is what our world is. And it's important. Life is short and relationships are important. I know we all stay so busy, but Paula has made me realize that we all need to slow down and enjoy each other and life just a little more.
-James Brett Landrum
You see that look in your child’s face as she watches the neighbor’s family play with their new guitar. They take it on walks, to family gatherings, and sometimes let it stay in the bed at night.
You love the idea of musical family charm, but you worry that your child will not care for it like they swear they will. You don’t want the constant noise late at night, the mess of music all over the floor and in the carpet, or even finding picks in the laundry!
When you choose to adopt an instrument, you are picking up more than just a fun hobby, it is a responsibility to care for a fragile tool that does need maintenance, but thankfully not walks.
I’m primarily the guitar teacher here at Music SO Simple, and guitars require lots of maintenance, but most of it is simple and achievable. Here’s some things that apply to both guitars AND pianos that we should all be aware of:
Guitar specifically requires a few things pianos don’t:
Instruments today are all masterful pieces of skilled craftsmanship, their own pieces of art even without the sounds they make. If you want them to provide years of beautiful music, treat them just as good as you would Rover.