Tag Archives: music

The Practice Routine: A ReBoot

One of my students on TrueFire asked about how to improve his Practice Routine. There are many things we do wrong with our practice time, so I thought my answer to him would be fitting here for other musicians as well.

Here is a portion of his note to me:

“Now that the semester has started, I am thinking I need to get focused on my playing in a more serious way. I would like to keep working on the tunes and improv. I also think that it would be cool to develop an effective practice routine. I do a lot of sub (Substitute Guitarist.) gigs where I have to play some fairly technical stuff, so I have to keep my chops together. My technique practice ends up taking up several hours and puts me in a rush to get my musical work in. I try to cover bending, picking, legato, and hybrid picking every day to maintain my chops. My practice tends to be a ton of exercises for each topic, which may be wasting a bunch of time. I think it would be cool for us to start from scratch and come up with a more effective and time conscious routine, where we cover the topics we need to, but more quickly and focused. As we work on new stuff, we can add it to the routine. Does any of this make sense? ”

Here is my response:

I pulled some phrases from your last communication which I think are most relevant to the subject of your Practice Routine.

They are:

“…Focused on my playing…”
“…More serious way…”
“…Working on tunes and improv…”
“…Effective Practice Routine…”
“…Sub gigs…”
“…Fairly technical stuff…”
“…Keep my chops together…”
“…Technique practice takes several hours…”
“…In a rush to get my musical work in…”
“…Every day to maintain my chops…”
“…Ton of exercises for each topic…”
“…Wasting a bunch of time…”

All of these are the right words, but we need to adopt a different order and priority for them.

Let’s try:
“I need to get my musical work in while being focused on my playing by working on tunes and improv, doing the fairly technical stuff that I need for sub gigs first, every day, by which I will maintain my chops without wasting a bunch of time as my Effective Practice Routine.”

Feel free to print that in a huge font and place it in an easily seen location.

Notice I tossed ‘Serious’ and ‘Several Hours’ and ‘Ton of Exercises’ and ‘Technique Practice’. These are currently useless to you.

Music is fun and we can have ‘Serious’ fun, but do children buckle down and have ‘Serious Play’? No. They just play and learn and develop. We need to do the same.

Why did you want to play guitar? Music. “Technique Practice’ develops skills, but you already have the skill of playing guitar. You only need to practice music, or a specific technique you don’t have for a specific piece of music. The ‘Ton of Exercises’ are now in the music for you.

Nobody learns or develops ‘Several Hours per Day’; we just don’t. It’s too much for our bodies and minds to process. Feel free to spend several hours per day with the guitar, but be aware of what you are doing: Learning Music, Playing Music, or ‘Exercising Guitar’.

In my opinion, if you are exercizing without the concrete goal of developing a specific technique for a specific song, you are wasting time. Sometimes I play through exercise types of books, currently ‘Jazz Guitar School’ by Ike Isaacs, but I just treat it as a musical ‘Snack Time’. Just something light and fun to do while not engaging in the ‘Serious Work’ of learning music.

I hope this helps you and I want you to know that I have struggled with the same issues. It’s too easy for us to ‘Exercise Guitar’ because learning music is actually harder.

Let me know your thoughts.

Thanks!

-Justin

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The Depths of the Unknown, a Post for Teachers

Well, that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?

The Depths of the Unknown is a tenet of my teaching philosophy.  It means that we teachers need to reach the understanding of what, exactly, is not known by the student; that which is preventing futher progress as a player.

I have discovered that most young students practice exactly what they are told and little more. Perhaps young students, (below age 20), are afraid to explore. This would cause them to need ‘Permission’ from teachers and themselves to experiment and explore the instrument and its possibilities. Be sure to give all your students permission to explore their instrument as well as the assigned development work.

Older students, especially those old enough to be parents of the younger students have a strong tendency to have no idea how to learn a new skill; especially a new physical skill. The primary issue of this group is that most of their ‘learning’ is simply a different application of the hard skills already possessed.

For example, if an adult decides to learn the Microsoft Office Suite of applications, they are really just applying skills already posessed in a different format. Adults usually have some writing, math, formulaic, and design skill just from having to function in everyday life. So, in this case, there is no ‘new’ skill being learned, just a new use of current skills.

Learning to play an instrument requires physical repetition and mental development that usually hasn’t happened in a couple decades or more for most adult students. We often need to encourage adult students to be patient with themselves and to understand that learning a musical instrument is often completely different than most of their daily ‘learning’.

I often realize, (When will I get it through MY thick head?), that a student is not progressing because I have not discovered their Depth of the Unknown after weeks, sometimes months of working with them. The problem almost always rests in the time spent with the instrument at the student’s home. I can forgive myself for missing these issues because I am not able see students practice at home each week. The only clue I have to go on is that the student is obviously not progressing and I am half of the equation. It is important to frequently ask questions about a student’s thoughts, feelings, practice habits, etcetera at each session. This is how we (eventually) discover the Depth of the Unknown for each student.

This process often takes a while because most people don’t know what I need to know about these aspects of themselves and I just haven’t come upon the right question to receive the needed answer.

However, once the problem is discovered, the solution usually just a few steps away. There is a very simple formula to playing music, and that is: Play the right notes in the right order at the right time.

Funny enough, most people are very sensitive to timing and tempo, especially tempo. What I hear from nearly every student when I ask them how their playing of a section of a tune compares to mine is: “I’m not playing fast enough.” Rarely am I told: “Well, I played the first note three times because it didn’t sound like I wanted it to sound. I skipped the fifth and seventh notes. I played everything with only a downstroke. I cut off every note the moment I played it in my rush to the next, not realizing that unless there is a rest, each note I play should BECOME the next without a gap of silence.”, etcetera.

In the reading of language, we use a technique called ‘Clumping’. When clumping, we are accepting the visual of three or four words at a time, then grasping the next three or four words while processing the first ‘clump’. When we learn to read, and subsequently when we learn to play specific music, clumping is not possible to do accurately. If you have heard a child learning to read, you probably noticed that they work through it one word at a time.

Most beginning students of an instrument have already been reading for years. This will cause them to attempt to use their clumping skill when learning an instrument, but they do not have the technical facility nor experience as a music reader or player to do this effectively, and as such, will play phrases full of mistakes. For this reason, as does a child learning to read, the beginning student of a musical instrument must work through a piece one note at a time.

I encourage students to break songs into many phrases which can then be repeated to a certain level of proficiency before moving to the next. It is easier to be patient enough to work through a short phrase one note at a time rather than an entire tune or A, B, or C section of a song. This technique seems to give a frequent sense of accomplishment quickly followed by another opportunity to repeat the process.

Simply put, the student must look at the note, play the note, and then be cognizant that what was seen and then played match each other before moving to the next note. While slow, plodding, meticulous, tedious, mind-numbing, or whichever adjective you prefer, it is a guaranteed, fast-track way to develop a clear understanding of the music at hand.

If hours are spent allowing mistakes to occur, there will be subsequent hours spent untying the mind and fingers to produce the right notes, in the right order, at the right time. This time can be saved and put to better use if we adopt the attitude of: “Let’s aim to be right the first time.”.

Believe me, this will transform your students’ progress; possibly your own as well.

-Justin

Being a Guitar Teacher (The Experienced Learner)

I saw a quote recently: “It is not that the teacher teaches; it is that the student learns”

I thought about this for quite a while.

A survey that I created and sent to all of my current and former students a few weeks ago has given me some interesting feedback. I have always been under the impression that my perception of our lesson time is likely to be different in some ways compared to the student’s experience. I created the survey to learn some of these differences and which were most prevalent.

Question: “What could your teacher do better?”

Survey Said: “Push me harder.” This was the #1 answer.

If one plays music as a hobby, as most people do, I am not quite sure how much pressure I should apply to students. I think it is best if students find their own true motivation. Perhaps I need to create ‘mirrors’ for each student to view their progress.

I do have one idea brewing that may stimulate motivation for most students.

I have would like to make videos of each lesson for each student. I can make each video viewable on YouTube by only me and the student in it. Of course, students may forward the links of their videos to anyone they wish.

Are there any volunteers to test some sessions?

Until next time…

-Justin

http://guitarlessonslynchburg.com/

The Point

Whatever the point may be is different for all of us. Some of us want to help others with a particular issue or set of issues. Some of us want to help ourselves to a certain desire or accumulation of successes or experiences.

Recently, I discovered that I was making myself unavailable for a work circumstance that I have been asked about on a few occasions. The reason I was making myself unavailable was that I believed that what was required of others was more than they were willing to offer in return.

What I have learned is that we should take the time to explore what we are willing to offer in exchange for whatever we are trying to achieve. Someone somewhere is likely to find what we offer and the level of exchange for which we offer it to be attractive enough for each of us to achieve our desire.

Considering all of the musicians I have met and worked with, one might imagine that some of us could work together frequently enough to keep us all busy. However, I have found just two people to be willing to be involved in my odd projects without adding what I consider to be undue requirements.

Interesting to me is that the willingness of these two musicians is less about the music or the money, but more about their attitude regarding the balance between their desires and mine. Their questions about each project are usually: Where is the gig, when is the gig, how long is the gig, what is the song-list and pay-scale.

What these musicians want, I am guessing, is a low conflict musical situation that meets their desires regarding time and income, while offering a quality interaction between us as we perform. They are also quite willing to rehearse, which is quite a rare quality in the musicians that I often meet.

I receive a great deal of reward working with these two musicians. The greatest reward is open communication. I can tell them what is important to me in our rehearsals and performances and what is not important. They are also willing to tell me what they think will improve our performances. They each have played many gigs in many different styles of music and know their instruments and its role in different musical circumstances.

So I am finding myself becoming more willing with each passing performance a growing desire to return to the original point of my work: to teach AND perform music.

-Justin

http://guitarlessonslynchburg.com/

Music Quotes

The other day I sorted through some music related quotes of various people.  I am interested to know which of these resonate with you.

I have put my favorites in bold.

-Justin

A painter paints pictures on canvas.  But musicians paint their pictures on silence.  ~Leopold Stokowski

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.  ~Berthold Auerbach

Without music life would be a mistake.  ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

 

Music is what feelings sound like.  ~Author Unknown

If in the after life there is not music, we will have to import it.  ~Doménico Cieri Estrada

Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.  ~Ludwig van Beethoven

My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.  ~Edward Elgar

 

Alas for those that never sing,

But die with all their music in them!

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.  ~Charlie Parker

 

Life can’t be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years.  ~William F. Buckley, Jr.

Play the music, not the instrument.  ~Author Unknown

Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.  ~Robert Fripp

You are the music while the music lasts.  ~T.S. Eliot

Music is the universal language of mankind.  ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Outre-Mer

Music rots when it gets too far from the dance.  Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.  ~Ezra Pound

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.  ~Victor Hugo

Music is one of the best ways to enjoy the present.  It’s not much fun to look forward to hearing music or to remember what a song sounded like last week, but music right now absorbs you and places you in the present moment.  ~Sonnett Branche

The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial.  ~Leonard Bernstein

Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.  ~Paul Simon

A jazz musician is a juggler who uses harmonies instead of oranges.  ~Benny Green

The notes I handle no better than many pianists.  But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides!  ~Artur Schnabel

The pause is as important as the note.  ~Truman Fisher

 

Silence is the fabric upon which the notes are woven.  ~Lawrence Duncan

 

An artist, in giving a concert, should not demand an entrance fee but should ask the public to pay, just before leaving as much as they like.  From the sum he would be able to judge what the world thinks of him – and we would have fewer mediocre concerts.  ~Kit Coleman, Kit Coleman: Queen of Hearts

It is incontestable that music induces in us a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of the invisible.  ~Victor de LaPrade

Music is a friend of labor for it lightens the task by refreshing the nerves and spirit of the worker.  ~William Green

Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music ~Sergei Rachmaninov

http://guitarlessonslynchburg.com/

Headbanging…against a wall!

I think I have finally solved an issue that has been driving me nuts for the past two years.

I decided in 2007 that I should experiment with making lesson videos.  The idea being an extension of a Yahoo! Group that I created about three years ago as a way for me to develop week-long support for my students.

The Yahoo! Group allowed me to post audio files so students could hear me playing sections of songs at a slower tempo.  Many of which are still available at my SoundClick page.  We could also discuss any subject related to music and learning guitar on the discussion board.

The point now is that I should soon be able to provide week-long lesson support on video.

Here’s to the progress of a snail.  Cheers!

-Justin

http://guitarlessonslynchburg.com/

Argue with Your Teacher…and see what happens

Greetings,

Earlier today I had a student that presents a challenge each week to my ability to explain music concepts without resorting to sarcasm. This is a young person, so I am sure that the student is being sincere with their comments and ‘challenges’.

Adults exhibit some of the same behavioral traits and when we meet at the crossroads I respond with ‘OK’, and say nothing more. I know that adults have better memories of those little moments and eventually the adult student will get big eyes and say; ” So, that’s what we were stuck on when…”

Children, on the other hand, need to be ‘bonked on the head’, so to speak.

Today’s challenge was: ‘I can’t play at 60bpm, it’s too slow’ in response to my suggestion that the student played better at 60bpm instead of the 70bpm that we had just attempted. This is how we determine a player’s personal speed limit. A personal speed limit is the highest speed at which we can play something without mistakes.

Knowing this child’s tendency to need proof, I then set the metronome at the ‘Final’ tempo to be achieved, 122bpm, and directed the student to count off.

FAIL!

Since Mr. I. B. Fast quickly came to the conclusion that his personal speed limit was under 122bpm, I then proceeded to demonstrate my personal speed limit for our song.

I moved the metronome to 150bpm and played the section of the tune flawlessly.

Then I played the section at 180bpm just as flawlessly.

Pressing onward, I moved the metronome to 200bpm whereupon one could notice that my wonderfulness was wearing down and I did not play quite as well as 180bpm. (Frankly, I was surprised I made it as high as 180bpm.)

So, while I am certainly faster than this student, I too have a personal speed limit and I think things were much more clear on a few levels after this demonstration.

By the way, the song was “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and we were working on the Intro. Give it a try at 180bpm one day. It sounds quite silly.

-Justin

http://guitarlessonslynchburg.com/