Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making the Most of Music Lessons

With fall just around the corner, our phones are ringing and our email box is full of messages from parents and students looking to get back into music lessons after a summer full of vacations and relaxation. As we all get back into the swing of things, are returning music students prepared to make the most of their lessons?
Some are, but some may not be because they are unclear about their roles as students and lack confidence in their communication skills. To help students excel in their lessons and beyond, this post highlights the attributes of successful students and suggest ways in which everyone can enhance their communication with their teachers.

Attributes of Adept Learners
What’s the primary goal of music lessons? Learning, of course! What, then, is the primary responsibility of a music student? To be an adept learner. (Teachers facilitate learning.) So let’s look at what it means to be good at learning. In a nutshell, adept learners are:
  • Growth-minded. They recognize that skillfulness arises from steady effort; their growth mindset inspires them to set meaningful goals and practice with enthusiasm.
  •  Mastery oriented. Unlike helpless students, intrepid ones take responsibility for their learning. They adhere to high standards, tackle appropriate material, stay within healthy limits, and seek help when needed.
  • Independent and collaborative. They’re resourceful when practicing alone and team-minded when working with others.
  • Persistent. Their mindset and goals give them the strength to persevere in the face of challenges.
  • Professional. Adept learners exhibit professionalism in all of their musical activities – they’re punctual, prepared for lessons, courteous, and honest.
  • Open to new ideas. They thrive on fresh perspectives.
  • Communicative. In lessons, they listen keenly, speak authentically, and question frequently.

Communicating in Lessons
In order to embody that last trait – being communicative – a student needs both a desire to connect and the skills to do so. Nonetheless, communicating can get tricky, more so with some teachers than others. Words and tone of voice can easily, albeit usually unintentionally, be misconstrued. In the end, though, poor communication equals little or no learning.

Given that learning in lessons hinges on communication, here are 7 ways that students can heighten their communication with teachers:
1.    Record your lessons. By listening back and taking notes, you can retain all of the advice you receive.
2.    Query your teacher when something is unclear. Students sometimes shy away from asking for clarifications because they don’t want to seem clueless or imply that their teacher’s explanations are flawed. Believe us: educators want students to understand and ask questions. Always ask if you’re unsure.
3.    Agree on lesson goals. Before you depart from a lesson, ensure that you and your teacher spell out goals for your next meeting – verbalize your aims so that they’re captured on your recorder. Also, periodically discuss your long-range objectives with your teacher so that lesson goals support your interests.
4.    Document questions during practice. Keep a notebook handy as you practice and then bring your questions to lessons.
5.    Ask for feedback. During and at the close of lessons, inquire how well you’re attaining lesson goals and whether there’s anything more you could do to improve your musical or practice skills.
6.    Listen actively. Communication involves articulating one’s thoughts and hearing the thoughts of others. So listen attentively during lessons and paraphrase complex concepts to help your teacher know that you’ve absorbed them.
7.    Be positive. Bring a positive attitude to lessons so that you contribute to creating a productive learning environment. When miscommunication does happen, and from time to time it will, resolve them promptly, and then let go of any negativity.

What if you can’t establish a communicative rapport with a private teacher? For starters, you could solicit advice  from a mentor. Then, if your attempts to communicate still fall short, it might be time to find a new instructor.

Adapted from this article on musiciansway.com.
Photo: McKenna Chaput and her instructor, Jason Latham, at the North Main Music spring 2015 student concert. Photo by Robyn Neville.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tips to make music lessons & practice a breeze this summer

As the weather gets nicer and we head into summer, are you having a hard time getting yourself or your child to stick with music lessons and practice? You already know that consistent weekly lessons--and practice in between--are vital to get you to your musical goals. So how do you beat the summertime blues and start making your musical dreams come true? Two of our top instructors, Shea Ellis and Christie Conticchio, were kind enough to share some of their expert advice for students and parents who need a little help getting into the music lesson and practice groove this summer.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the hardest part of practicing is simply getting yourself to start? Guitar and ukulele instructor Shea Ellis has several great recommendations to help you get started!

· Have fun with your instrument and try being creative. To spice up your practice routine, write a song. Song writing is easy and fun, if you don’t overthink it, and can open many new doors for your playing.
· Choose to learn songs that you love, songs that pull you to your lessons and drive you to practice each day because you want to hear them!
· Call it playing, not practicing; playing is fun but practicing sounds like work. You never want to lose the element of fun!
· Remind yourself to practice by scheduling reminders on your phone or putting up post-its, whatever works for you.
· Make a practice schedule or calendar and mark the days that you practice.
· Get inspired to play by looking up information about a favorite musician. Even the greatest musicians are human just like you and none of them turned into famous geniuses overnight.

If you’re having trouble committing time to music this summer, voice and piano teacher Christie Conticchio has more great advice for you or your child to stay on track:

· Get involved with an activity or project that uses your instrument, whether it’s joining a band, entering a competition, or covering a favorite song.
· For singers, vocal technique can be applied when you are silent or talking, pretty much any time! You can work on your technique while you are doing other things such as talking to friends, texting, watching TV, riding in the car, on the computer, walking, standing, on a plane, etc.
· Find a way to add practice to your routine. Make it the first thing you do when you get home from camp or play for a few minutes before heading off to the beach or summer job each morning.
· On any instrument, it’s okay to play in short bits of time. Five minutes here and there can add up and even a little bit of practice is better than none at all.
· Make sure you and your kids see live music! Being exposed to music in the real world will inspire you to play, too. Summer is an awesome time to go see live music, as there are so many outdoor venues, from parks to band stands to stadiums.

Hopefully these tips will help you or your child get more from music lessons this summer. And remember, North Main Music has a bunch of summer activities to help you and your child stay motivated this summer, such as the Sizzlin’ Summer Cover Song Contest, North Main Music Night at the Fisher Cats, and our Rock Camp. So turn practice time into play time and watch as musical challenges become easier and easier!

Do you have any other tips for music students this summer? Share them with us in the comments!

Top left photo: Damon and Shea at the Spring 2015 student concert.
Bottom right photo: Christie and Nora at the Spring 2015 student concert.
Photo credits: Robyn Neville.

Adapted from this article on takelessons.com.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What if I forget the words?

We promise, the show will go on--and you’ll live to tell about it

No matter how much you prepare for your moment in the spotlight, anything can happen on stage! This unpredictability makes performing lots of fun, but it can also be scary. However, if you prepare for your performance the right way, you can even forget the words to the song you’re singing and still deliver a top-notch performance. Professional musicians and North Main Music instructors, Lizz Potter and Sibvon Rose, have experienced their share of performance blunders and lived to tell about it. In this article they share some of their experiences and offer advice to musicians who may be worried about making mistakes while performing live.

Tell us about a past performance during which you made a major blunder.

Lizz: I recently had a gig in Boston. It was a 3-hour solo set and it went well overall, but as I was both singing and playing piano, I was trying to read lyrics and chords at the same time, so I screwed up both a couple of times and panicked. However, I recovered as quickly as I could and as strongly as I could.

Sibvon: I can’t recall a specific performance with a major blunder, but I will say that I’ve learned from past mistakes that you have to learn to cover them really well—don’t let the mistake show on your face and in your body language. The audience won’t have a clue that you’ve screwed up unless you show it in your facial expressions and body language.

How do you recover from mistakes during a performance?

Lizz: Finish strong—people won’t remember a flub in the middle of a song if the rest of the performance is solid.

Sibvon: I always tell students to “own the mistake.” In other words, if you do a part wrong, one great way to cover it up is to purposely mess it up again. It’s a way to stay in control of your performance.

What advice would you offer to budding musicians who may be scared about making mistakes when performing live?

Lizz: Even if you’ve practiced a song 1000 times, mistakes can still happen, and that’s ok. Throughout my career, I’ve found that using breathing exercises as a method of relaxation is very helpful and important. Breathing helps me to be less in my head and more in the song. And, remember, have fun with your performance no matter what happens.

Sibvon: Audition for everything you possibly can. The more your audition, the less scary performing live will be. And use that nervous energy to your advantage; harness it and use it to take your performance to the next level.

Lizz and Sibvon teach piano and voice at North Main Music and both have been studying and performing music since childhood. To learn more about their musical backgrounds and teaching philosophies, click here for Lizz and here for Sibvon.

The above article was inspired by and partly adapted from this article on takelessons.com.

Monday, January 26, 2015

So you need a piano: Tips for selecting the right instrument for your needs

A beginning piano student needs a good instrument. Think of it this way: If you wanted your kid to play soccer, would you send him or her out on the field in a pair of cheap flip-flops, or would you make sure your they had a good pair of shoes? Shoes, of course! On the other hand, does your child need professional-quality $100 soccer cleats? Maybe not on the first day.

As a parent, you want to make sure your beginning piano student has a positive experience while learning to play, but you’re probably not ready to go out and buy a baby grand. That’s fine. To help you decide what will be best for your family and your budget, let’s talk about the options.

Acoustic Pianos
A quality acoustic instrument that produces sound from real strings and real wood offers a level of responsiveness and a range of dynamics and tone color than even the nicest electronic keyboard cannot match. The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic instrument with that kind of nuanced musical responsiveness, the better. True, acoustic pianos are expensive. The typical price range for a quality acoustic upright (also called “vertical”) piano is $4000 to $8000, and if you want a grand or baby grand piano, expect to pay even more.  There are some great brands out there, including Yamaha, KawaiBoston, and Schimmel. If you already have a piano, be sure it is in tune and that the keys are in good working order. Tuning a piano typically costs between $150 and $200 and North Main Music would be happy to connect with you with reputable tuning companies in the Nashua area.

Electronic Keyboards
If you’re not ready to spend a few thousand dollars on an instrument, your beginning student can get off to a great start with an electronic keyboard or “digital piano”. Electronic keyboards come in many sizes and prices. For a new piano student, the most important factors will be the number of keys and whether or not the keys are weighted.

Learning on a keyboard with 88 weighted keys gives a student a big advantage. The weighted keys build hand strength and respond more like the keys of an acoustic piano, making it easier for an advancing student to move on. One of our top picks for beginning students in the electronic keyboard category is the Casio Privia PX-150http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=hoffacadofmus-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B0094KNIAG, which has great key action and the same size keyboard, 88 keys, as an acoustic piano. These and other similar keyboards cost between $500 and $700.

Whether you buy a keyboard with weighted keys or not, it’s best to go with a trusted brand such as CasioYamaha, Kawai, or Roland.  When buying an electronic keyboard make sure to also purchase a benchhttp://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=hoffacadofmus-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B000BKY8CU and a standhttp://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=hoffacadofmus-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B0007WPCKE. A keyboard set on a table will probably not be at the correct height for a young student seated in a chair. Ideally, the keyboard and bench should be set at the right height so that the player’s arm from wrist to elbow is parallel to the floor.

There are certain advantages to having an electronic keyboard over an acoustic piano, such as the ability to plug in headphones so that a child can practice without disturbing other members of the family. Electronic keyboards can also be connected to a computer with a midi cable and used with all kinds of educational and music production software. They’re more portable, and, unlike acoustic pianos, electronic keyboards never need to be tuned.

If a beginning student has access to a quality acoustic piano, they will have the opportunity to develop more nuanced musicianship from the first. But students can also get a great start with at an electronic keyboard and move on to an acoustic piano at a later time.

We hope these tips will be helpful to you in your search for the right piano for your currents needs. As always, you’re welcome to contact us if you have any other questions.

Adapted from this article on the Hoffman Academy website.

Photos from the North Main Music fall 2014 student concert courtesy of Robyn Neville.