njschoolofmusicllc

Welcome to our blog about music education

What to expect as a student new to private music lessons

Welcome to our school and to the world of music education. You have made a very important decision and the first step in what could be a lifelong exploration into the art of playing an instrument or singing (your voice is indeed an instrument). We know that you will approach this milestone with a great deal of excitement. We want to help you to hold onto that same feeling as your lessons progress. Toward that end this blog is full of helpful information for you and we hope you will take the time to get acquainted with it.

The purpose of this short post is to help you begin your lessons with healthy expectations geared to getting you started on the right track toward many years of musical and personal growth, self expression and satisfaction. Whether you are the student or the parent of a student I am sure you will find this guide very helpful.

  1. It is essential that you have a working, well maintained instrument. If your instrument needs repair or tuning please don’t wait to see how the lessons go before attending to that. The lessons will not go well without a playable instrument.
  2. Make a commitment to attend your weekly lessons; to arrive a few minutes before the lesson is due to begin and to be properly prepared.
  3. Dedicate yourself to practicing regularly (see many of the other posts in this blog for helpful information). Your teacher will give you weekly assignments and help you to understand how to practice.
  4. Know that playing music is very satisfying and that practice can be hard work and that the more you practice the more satisfaction you will derive!
  5. There is work involved in the learning process. Know that and approach it with a positive attitude.
  6. Little will be accomplished by just attending lessons without practicing; working on your assignment at home in preparation for your next lesson. Your actual lesson time is for review of previous assignments and  the introduction of new material.
  7. Communication is essential. Get engaged. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. The more involved you are, the better the outcome.

You have made the all important first step of beginning your music lessons. These simple expectations will help to set you on a successful path.

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I haven’t practiced all summer and my lessons resume next week…

Avoid the tendency to panic! If you have been away from your lessons and your practice for a while have faith in the process and in your teacher to put you back on track. Prepare yourself for the inevitable and rather than getting bogged down by your frustration just accept the situation and resolve to go forward from wherever you are.

Your teacher has many years of experience and has worked with many other students who are a bit rusty after a break. There is no shame involved. We would certainly rather see you and do some review with you than not ever see you again. We would rather help you to get back to where you were and beyond than to see you let all of the work you had put into your lessons before your break, simply go to waste.

If you haven’t played at all this summer and you don’t even know where to begin, don’t stress, just come back to your lessons and allow your teacher to be your guide. There is no need to do anything in particular to prepare for your return at this point, however, if you have some time and the motivation in the days or weeks before your lessons resume by all means sit down with your instrument and do some light review. Scales are an excellent place to begin. The perfect speed is very slow, focusing on tone, intonation and technique. If time allows you can work up to a tempo that is closer to what you had been playing before your break.

If you do nothing else before resuming your lessons, practicing your scales will prove very helpful. Just playing will help to reconnect you with your instrument and to act as a reminder to your muscles. If you are using a scale book when you play, you will be reviewing your note reading skills as well as helping your body and mind to recall all that is necessary to think about and to focus on as you play.

If you are motivated to do more in preparation for your return to lessons then after you feel comfortable with your scales choose something that you knew well before your break, something that you had already completed and that was easy to play. Spend some time going over that piece rather than challenging yourself with a new piece. Again, trust your teacher to move you ahead once you are back on track.

Getting back after a break can be frustrating if you let if but it can also be an opportunity to let go some of your old, less than ideal practice and playing habits. Starting with a clean slate provides a chance for you to begin anew and to take your playing further than before. No doubt you do remember many basic skills.  Now you can get back into your fundamentals and reinvent yourself as a music student, taking the best of what you used to play and bringing in new inspirations and your development as a person.

We welcome you back! Please take your time and allow your playing to gradually reach a level that feels satisfactory in terms of having regained any lost skills.

*Note, remember to bring your books with you to your first lesson back even if you haven’t looked at them recently.

 

 

 

What to expect when resuming music lessons after a break

Though we all acknowledge that taking time away from your lessons is less than ideal in terms of learning, some students do opt to take time off during the summer and for some there is simply no option. We know that students often resolve to make time to keep playing during their absence. However, despite that conviction they get busy doing other things and very little if any practice actually happens.

Now that summer is just about over we are fortunate to have the opportunity to welcome many of the students who have been away back to the school to resume their lessons. As exciting as it can be to return please be prepared for the fact that there can be a  bit of initial frustration over what may have been forgotten. We want to acknowledge that it can be a bit difficult but not impossible to get back into the swing of things!

Not all students suffer from setbacks after a break but it is better to acknowledge and prepare for the possibility than to be surprised and overwhelmed by it. Following are some of what can be expected and a few suggestions for effectively dealing with it.

While some may think that students will come back to music lessons rejuvenated after summer break, that is not always the case. During their time off, students can lose some of the skills and the dexterity they had worked to attain, as they were not being reinforced. This can result in the necessity to backtrack and review forgotten material during the first several lessons after a break. It is best not to view this as a negative thing.

Additionally, students may find it difficult to get back into the habit of a routine practice schedule. Playing the instrument may feel awkward at first due to loss of muscle memory. It is even possible that the new lesson time is not as conducive as the one you left behind in the spring. All of this can lead to a bit of frustration when lessons are resumed.

If the new lesson time is not ideal, let us know. Though we cannot make any promises we can certainly work to improve that over time. Getting back into a routine, once school and activities resume, can be challenging. Here are some tips that can help to ease the way back into lessons after a short absence.

It is important for students to know that it is normal to digress a a bit during a break. Encourage students to be patient with themselves allowing for time to get reacquainted with their instrument and back to the level of proficiency attained before the break.   Some students get frustrated and expect to pick up right where they left off. It can be disconcerting to be rusty and that can cause some students to lose motivation too quickly! It will all come back in time as long as the student is patient, practices, is persistent and avoids stressing and worrying.

It is a fact that anything that is scheduled in advance is much more likely to get done. If practicing is on your calendar every day after dinner, for example, the practice will happen. If the student had not been on a schedule before the break now is a perfect time to make the commitment to scheduling regular practice time into your day.

Where possible, practice should occur at about the same time everyday (ex: after you finish your homework), or perhaps it will vary based on the day of the week. Do what works for you and your family but be consistent. This will go a long way toward helping students to get back to where they were and even quickly surpass their own expectations.

Some teachers recommend creating a practice chart. Making lists and recording practice works well for many students. Once the practice is recorded, the student becomes much more accountable for what is practiced and for how long they practice.  Crossing items to do off of a list can be very satisfying for some!

Following these guidelines and referring back to many of the previous posts on this blog about practice tips will provide you with all you need to know about effective practice habits which are the key to success for all music students.

For all of those who are returning after summer break, welcome back! We can’t wait to begin working with you again and to watch your skills and abilities grow as you progress.

 

 

 

Keeping your musical skills fresh when life gets in the way

This is such a busy time of year that it’s difficult to stay on top of everything. The school year seems to rev up just before it winds down, vacation time is looming, there are proms, graduations and recitals, and finding the time and the focus for productive practicing can become a challenge with all of those distractions. Yet you’ve worked so hard on developing your skills that I am sure you want to protect your investment from the inevitable loss that can occur due to neglect. In short you want to do what you can to keep your skills fresh!

If at all possible, resist the temptation to put your instrument aside or to take a little break. Taking time off is the surest way to have some of that carefully honed skill, technique and newly acquired dexterity deteriorate.  Of course it is always possible to gain back lost proficiency but nobody likes to have to re-do something that they’ve already done if they don’ t have to. As it turns out, there are ways to avoid it.

The first thing to do is to step back and take a breath. Most of the time the situation does not require an all or nothing approach. Of course an hour of daily practice is better than 30 minutes and during an occasional busy time, even 20 minutes a few times a week is better than nothing.

The second most important thing you can do is to keep your instrument visible so that it is always on your mind and  accessible so that the simple act of getting ready to practice does not take up all of the time you have. At the same time, please keep your instrument safe! If your instrument is left out of it’s case be sure that it is not in harms way especially if there are very young children or rambunctious pets in the house.

Most of the students we teach are pursuing music as a hobby, for enrichment, self fulfillment and enjoyment. If you are pursuing music as a career than you are in a different situation that requires you to put a higher priority on making time for serious, daily practice. Either way, keep in mind that stepping away from all of the stresses in your life to play your instrument can actually be therapeutic.

If you have a recital coming up then at the very least sit down and review the piece you are performing.  You are already comfortable with that piece so playing it should be a source of comfort, satisfaction and enjoyment. Reviewing it as often as possible will keep it fresh and actually reduce the stress of worrying about your upcoming performance. A few daily repetitions with a bit of concentration on the remaining rough spots should not take all that long.

Another really nice way to keep fresh is to play scales. They are easy to memorize and to play.  They keep your fingers moving and allow you to maintain your dexterity and practice your technique. Even if you have time for nothing else temporarily, beginning or ending your day with fifteen or more minutes of focused scale practice can actually help you to unwind, relax and feel good about not neglecting your instrument.

The same can be said for any simple etude or other piece that you can play easily. Rather than stress about not moving ahead enjoy the fact that you are at the very least not going backwards. It is satisfying to feel that you are accomplishing something and protecting your investment.

Finally, if for some reason you cannot access your instrument remember that it is actually beneficial to engage in “mental practice” (The Science Behind Practicing, published here on March 10, 2017). Simply put this refers to practicing in your imagination in vivid detail when for one reason or another you must be away from your instrument. Physical motion can be reinforced just by imagining it!

If all else fails, engage in lots of focused listening. Find every opportunity to relax with the music you enjoy. Listen while you drive, while you exercise or while doing chores around the house but most importantly listen while you are doing nothing else but listening. You will find that it is a very different experience. (Passive vs. active listening to music, published here on March 28, 2016)

 

Recitals are not just for kids

Many adult music students will cringe at this statement. Recitals are not just for kids, they are for everyone. Students of all ages benefit immensely from performing early and often. Our recitals are open to students of all ages and abilities. We believe that the only way to get comfortable performing is by doing it. Performing is an integral part of your music education and is sure to help to push you to the next level.

We strongly encourage but do not require our adult students to perform in our twice annual recital series and many do just that. I can assure you that there is nothing childish about recitals. It is true that the majority of our students are youngsters but it is also true that a good percentage of our adult students take advantage of the opportunity to perform at our recitals. As an adult student your performance will not only be good for you but will provide an excellent example to the younger students. We are never too old to learn, to work hard and even to make minor mistakes with poise and grace.

To address the issue of adult students who are reluctant to participate in our regular recital series, some teachers will organize recitals that are designated exclusively for their adult students. These recitals are smaller and can be a bit less intimidating. One model would be for the recital to take place in the studio where regular lessons are held.  The students will gather, relax, chat, share some thoughts and ultimately take turns playing their instrument for one another.

This format is more informal than the standard recital which does not provide time to get to know the other performers and is generally in a larger venue with a larger audience.

Even more intimate are the adult recitals that are organized to be held in the home of one of the teacher’s students. Typically a student will open their home to no more than ten to twelve other adults along with their teacher. Each participant can bring a contribution for a pot luck lunch. The recital begins with time for refreshments and conversation. The setting provides the impetus to create not only a relaxing atmosphere but one of real camaraderie.

In either of the two models mentioned above the teacher might begin the actual performance segment of the event by volunteering to be the first performer. Though there are no written programs the teacher will organize the performers in such a way as to prevent the beginners from being intimidated by the more experienced students. Again, no one is forced to play.  Some students begin with a reluctant performance but really warm to the opportunity quickly.

Even if you are sure that you will not perform, if you are invited to a recital you owe it to yourself to make every effort to attend. You are sure to have a very nice time and to be inspired by the other students, whether they are your peers or the younger students. Some day you will perform and once you do you will be very pleasantly surprised at how much you get out of the experience and of how much value it adds to your music lessons.

 

 

How to create a great recital audience

At this time I expect that most students are busy practicing to give the best recital performance they can. We owe it to them to make ourselves aware of what it takes to provide them with the best audience possible. These points, while simple to actuate, all make a vast difference in the whole experience.

Being a good audience member requires us to do something that most of us have precious little time to do anywhere else. Basically, all we ask is that you sit quietly, relax and listen. Being at a recital gives you the opportunity to unplug, turn off your devices, breathe deeply, clear your mind and get into an almost meditative state. Each recital is only about an hour long, and for that hour, the rest of the world can wait.

For some of us doing nothing can be difficult. We are so used to running around in a constant state of connectedness that it has become unnatural for us to relax either our bodies or our minds. But, honestly, tranquility is really good for us. So, being a good audience member is not only beneficial to the performers but healthy for the audience member too.

The performer needs to be able to focus. Focus is arguably the most important attribute of the student in their ability to execute a fine performance. I know this on a very personal level. As some of you know I am a cello student. I am a member of a volunteer orchestra, the South Jersey Pops, as well as an amateur quartet and I have no problem performing with either. However it is nearly an impossible feat for me to perform at one of our own music school recitals. Why? As the hostess of the event, I simply can’t turn off the stream of details and thoughts running through my mind. And, as long as those thoughts are monopolizing my ability to focus, it doesn’t matter how prepared I am, I simply can’t perform!

Obviously the situation I just described is my own issue, one that only I can remedy. I use it only to help to illustrate how crucial focus is to performance. I know that none of us would intentionally do anything to hamper any student’s presentation of their recital piece.  But we can get caught up in the moment and inadvertently do any number of distracting things without even realizing it.

Here are some of the things that we can try to avoid as an audience member, all of which will be easier if we arrive at recitals with a positive mindset. We are all there to support the efforts of all of the performers. Of course, the most important performance is that of our own child(ren) and we recognize that. Since we would not want anyone do anything to compromise our child’s focus we would want to return that favor.

You might think that your whispers or other muted sounds are not an issue. Or that the only concern is cell phone ringers. Unfortunately that is not the case. Talking and/or whispering, walking or running around, opening and closing the door leading out to the lobby, noodling/fidgeting with the instrument in your lap, noisily turning the pages of your book or your music, opening candy wrappers, all create unnecessary distractions.

On the subject of small children, please know that they are always welcome as long as there is someone present to see to their needs. We understand the importance of family togetherness and would not suggest doing anything to compromise that.  Special memories are more meaningful when the whole family is present. It is easy to accept occasional happy baby sounds however an outburst from a young person who simply does not know any better can interrupt a student’s focus. Please know that temporarily removing an upset baby or toddler to the lobby will often be all it takes though do be cognizant of the fact that some louder sounds will travel through the closed doors.

We are well aware of the fact that young preschool aged children, attending the recital of their older sibling(s) might do best with some silent diversion to occupy them. It is our hope that the rest of us can be positive role models by sitting quietly without the need for diversions and giving the youngsters around us something to aspire to.

In publishing this post the intent is really to make the recital experience better for everyone present. All of our lives can be enriched by giving our focused attention to musical performance whether the performers are our children or professional musicians.

 

 

 

It is important to attend live concerts

Attending live concerts has the obvious benefit of supporting the musicians who are performing and helping to assure that they will continue to offer the kind of entertainment we enjoy. However, did you know that there are actual health and educational benefits that can be derived from attending live concerts?

John Logan, a civil war soldier, famously said that music is the medicine of the mind. It is safe to say that he was not referring to recorded music. Unlike recorded music, attending a concert is a communal event that connects you with other concert goers and provides a sense of community that is good for your mental outlook.  We all feel better when we are connected to other like minded people. There is a palpable energy present when you are surrounded by people who share your interests and that can be very invigorating.

Live concerts are good for you because they improve your mood. Medically speaking,  being at a concert decreases your production of stress hormones, and reduces your blood pressure and respiratory rate (Dr. Nirav Mehta, Cardiologist). In addition your brain releases endorphins which then has an analgesic effect, offering pain relief (Dr. Steven Eisenberg, Encologist, “the singing doctor”).

Psychologically speaking, being happy is good for your health and concerts tend to bring people joy. Musicians are often viewed as idols, or role models, and when you get to see them in person the experience can make you feel happy, which is really good for you.

As a student, one of the best ways to learn to become a performer is to attend live concerts and to really study the art of performance. Listening to recorded music and even watching videos cannot come close to the experience of being there in terms of this aspect of your music education.

We’ve talked a great deal about preparing for your recital or other performances. All of the information we have shared is vital to your readiness. However, live performance is an interaction involving you and your audience and a lot can be learned from just watching how it is done.

We know that the performers whose concerts you attend make it all look very easy and very natural. However getting to that point was not effortless. It is important to take a moment to focus on this. Many hours, days, weeks, months, years and often decades were spent getting the performer to the point at which you are enjoying them.

It is important to realize that attending live concerts does not have to be limited to the big name bands. Please consider expanding  your musical horizons and saving a great deal of ticket money by going local for at least some of your musical events. Check out the smaller venues in your town. Regardless of your favorite genres, you might be very pleasantly surprised by what you find.