Learn Now Music, Inc.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Season

Holiday Season

We are well into our holiday season, this lovely span between Thanksgiving and the Winter Break that our students need and well deserve after their Early Civilizations diorama projects and Algebra II Tests. It’s also a time of higher stress for parents, who shoulder the burden of planning parties, family get-togethers, and making sure holiday traditions are experienced by our youngsters with all the wonder and magic we can muster.

There has been quite the hullabaloo in our area about what name is placed on school calendars for ‘Winter Break’, and how that might affect morale for all involved. Tradition is incredibly important (take it from Tevye of Fiddler fame) for adults and children alike, on that I think we can agree. Tradition, after all, is our way of paying homage to those that came before us, because without them…we wouldn’t be here!

The hullabaloo has engendered some very important discussions with our political leaders (particularly at local levels) and hopefully our neighbors and coworkers, too. Now, civil discourse is an idea that can get lost in the melee of digital photos and online postings, emailed holiday cards and the like. But having healthy conversations about our traditions and our points of view is what makes our world an increasingly wonderful place to live. And let’s be clear: these discussions should have nothing to do with ‘convincing’ someone else that WE are correct – instead, they should be opportunities to empathize, and to understand where others in our world are coming from.

So, this holiday season, let’s have our discussions, and our conversations, and keep them absolutely civil – if not for us, then certainly so that we can ensure that our children see as much magic, beauty and tradition in the holiday season as possible!

Happy Holidays!

Give the gift of music this year!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Return on investment

Cost per use was discussed a couple posts back, now return on investment…what are all of these statistical, mathy terms doing in a music blog? A lot, is the short answer!

Musicians of all sort and manner, professional and amateur alike, are not only performing countless analyses of time and space, dissecting information on the page and turning it into algorithms of sound. They are not just vibrating columns of air at finely tuned intervals to create soundscapes so amazing that listening can bring audiences to tears. They are getting something out of it, too!

Now, normally, return on investment (ROI) is a very simple term that means what you sell a product for minus its cost and then divide by that cost, which gives a percentage return. It’s a simple way of analyzing how good a deal is – how much profit was made on a transaction.

Since most people do not make their living as musicians, a simple monetary ROI is going to look, at first blush, rather paltry (I paid how much for music lessons for my kid!? And what do I have to show for it?!).

But if we get a little creative with our terminology here (and really, who in statistics and finance doesn’t), then it’s pretty easy to see what a great deal learning and playing an instrument (and, gasp! taking music lessons!) really is.

We know that learning an instrument, and being part of a musical group (choir, band, orchestra, what have you), do great things for our brains.

Music helps us think critically, notice and analyze the little details.

Music also helps us think creatively and quickly – you can’t stop and fix something in the middle of a performance!

Music helps us see how our little part fits into the larger part...and isn’t that the whole point? Not just of music, but of everything – of life in general?

So, if we expand our idea of return on investment to be not simply monetary, but humanistic, then it becomes abundantly clear that the return on musical involvement is incredible. And of course, the greater the investment, the greater the return!

Get started on your investment today! The Music Momma

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014-15 School Year

2014-15 School Year

Well, the school year is now upon us. We’ve got new teachers. New students. New schedules, new classes and schools and routes and activities and, and, and.

The beginning of the school year is equal parts exciting and stressful. We’re trying to figure everything out, get everywhere on time, make sure everyone is happy and healthy and not too anxious or frustrated or worried or, or, or.

In the midst of all the hoopla, among the ands and the ors, it can help to take that proverbial step back, and regard what we are actually doing (and why).

Why do we have new teachers? So we can have a new perspective on what we need to learn next.

Why new students? So we can help them learn!

Why new classes? So we can learn more.

Why new activities? So we can learn more in other ways!

As with so much in life, if we can put our world into perspective, then we can understand and gracefully work through the issues we have no fondness for. We can also more deeply appreciate the great parts of our new schedule – the new route to school that passes by the really cool old building with fantastic architecture; our new teacher’s interesting plan for the class officers; the tortilla pizza dinner that’s not only delicious, but can be prepared in under five minutes!

Here’s to all the big things and all the little things that will make a great, exciting, wonderful (and hopefully only slightly stressful) new school year!

Let's have a Musical Year! The Music Momma

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Cost per use

A friend of mine was looking online at accessories one day – handbags, I believe. She wasn’t looking at anything ultra designer fancy – just a standard department store selection. Her husband saw the average prices, and couldn’t keep from commenting on how expensive that $200 handbag seemed.

My friend started off by pointing out that not only did the handbag represent a cost for raw materials, labor, shipping and storage, but it was a purchase that would last for many months, if not years, of use. What if the bag was used five days a week for a year? The cost per use would then be very low. What if it was used for only two or three days a week, but for a number of years? The cost becomes even lower, and therefore an even better deal.

For a handbag, this is all well and good. How would the cost for a musical instrument stack up to something like that oh-so-necessary handbag?

Now, there are certainly very good, affordable student instruments that every beginning musician should start with (and that many professionals perform with). But, just to make a point, let’s look at another friend’s purchase – a professional level instrument. As professional model instruments go, it was relatively inexpensive at $7000. But $7000 is certainly a lot of money. How does the cost per use, and cost per day, stack up against something as common as a handbag?

Well, my friend’s estimated use out of the instrument to date is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 hours. That puts the cost per hour use at under $.50, and the cost per day at about $1.25 per day. The news gets even better when we know that instruments can last a really long time - Stradivarius violins, for instance, are still in use hundreds of years after their creation!

So, the instrument cost per use is great, and the cost per day is, likewise, very good. Like the handbag, we should see musical instruments as part of our daily lives. Unlike that handbag, though, having (and using, of course) our instruments makes us more analytical, creative, empathetic people. Oh, and it makes us happier, too!

Get started on your musical journey today! The Music Momma

Friday, July 11, 2014

Noticing the music around you

I can’t remember who said it, but someone was making the argument that it’s virtually impossible to go a whole day without hearing music. In our modern lives, this seems essentially true. Between the commute, television, any retail store, maybe some loud neighbors, music is everywhere. Most of the time, we tune it out – it’s just ambient white noise.

It can be an exercise to tune back in, though – what do you hear at the gym? What’s playing in the produce section when you’re picking out strawberries for your fruit salad? How about the dreaded elevator and its oft-maligned, watered-down instrumental versions of our once-favorite pop songs?

This week I’ve heard ‘Pump up the Jam’, ‘What’s love got to do with it’, ‘Love me tender’, and the themes from 2 or 3 video games (not heard while playing those video games), just to name a few. And that’s music that I have happened upon, not the selections I have actively sought.

So, what music has found you this week?

A song you are sick and tired of hearing?

Anything you really, truly loved? (a couple years ago, I heard the Cardigan’s Love Me when out with a friend, and we simultaneously admitted what a guilty pleasure song it was for us)

Was there anything you didn’t recognize, or would want to hear again?

There is always great music out there for us to discover, if we listen in the right places!

Get started making your own music today! Have a musical day! The Music Momma

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Right Kind of Criticism is a Good Thing!

We often see criticism as a negative act or response, and oftentimes, unfortunately, that is the case. Analyzing and commenting on someone’s performance, regardless of subject, is an endeavor best approached with care.

Constructive criticism is a term used to describe criticism that should aid in solving problems, and this is a good start. Constructive criticism is generally interpreted as a work-based, rather than personality/individual-based criticism. In other words, constructive criticism focuses on what someone does, not who they are.

The field of constructive criticism tries to get at a very important idea: timing and delivery are just as important as content. And the only way to get a true sense of the best timing and delivery as the ‘criticizer’ is to understand at a very deep level the individual needing the criticism. How will that person react to a more direct comment? How will they react to a softer touch? What is a good time to bring up which subjects? How can this information be presented as a stepping stone to a goal, rather than what might be interpreted as an absolute definition of that person?

We have all said things that hurt someone else’s feelings. Sometimes, we don’t even know that we have done this until it’s too late, and a degree of damage has already been done.

Constructive criticism isn’t just about the big, important, well-defined ‘talks’. The everyday little stuff counts, too. Whether we are parents, teachers, role models, or passersby on the street, we could all do with a little less out-and-out criticism, and a little more of the constructive variety!

Get started on your musical journey today! The Music Momma

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Teacher/Student Relationship

I remember a student (very talented) who told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to perform in front of people. She had the opportunity to do so, and was very uncertain about committing.

Now, there can be a lot of reasons that a student might prefer not to perform. Some have legitimate fears of being in front of people, or might just prefer to keep their musical experience purely experimental and personal.

This student had not been with me long, but in the few months I had spent with her, my impression was that she was a driven, motivated, extroverted girl. I was aware, however, that her previous music lessons were somewhat traumatic (I’m not exaggerating), and that the relationship she had with her previous teacher was rather damaging.

So, I started asking questions. I never make any judgments one way or the other when it comes to performing or public shows – the choice that the student makes is the one that I support. I do, however, like to make sure that the student is making the choice for the right reasons, and that they understand those reasons.

Are you uncomfortable in front of people?

No, she said.

Are you worried about what the audience might think?

Not really, unless I might make a mistake, she said slowly.

How would they know? I asked.

Well, they might not, but you might yell at me, she told me.

Aha. The fear of performing had nothing to do with the audience, or being uncomfortable on stage. It didn’t really even have anything to do with her making a mistake. She was afraid of what I might say or do because of a potential mistake.

Have I ever yelled at you? I asked, knowingly perfectly well this fear had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her previous music lesson experiences.

No, but you might if I made a mistake in a performance, she said matter-of-factly.

Do you know why I’ve never yelled at you? I asked.

No, she said.

Because this is music we’re talking about. When you come in for your lesson, you’re taking everything you’ve practiced and learned in the past week, and you’re sharing that with me. And I consider that a very special thing. When you go and perform in front of an audience, you’re doing the same thing. If you get up there, and you share your music with the audience the best you can, then you’ve done it - you’ve accomplished your goal. And it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make, as long as you’re trying – you’ve succeeded. And I would never yell at you for that.

What if I fell, or forgot all my notes and had to start over?

What if you did? I responded with a smile.

What if – she started.

I won’t ever yell at you, for anything, I said. If you were mean or lazy or didn’t try, then we would have a discussion about it, certainly. And even if you do an amazing job and your very best, we’ll talk about how you can be even better next time. But there isn’t a scenario under the sun that would make me yell at you.



Okay, then I’ll do it, she said.

And that’s all it took – she just needed assurances from her teacher.

Educators hold an incredible amount of influence over their students, and we must be incredibly careful to always use that influence in positive, constructive ways. These experiences stay with a student forever, and that is something that we have to remember forever, too.

Start a new relationship today! The Music Momma

Friday, June 6, 2014

Summer Learning Loss

It has been unquestionably documented that those lazy summer months result in an unfortunate effect known as Summer Learning Loss. The name is fairly self-explanatory: Every summer, our students lose some of the knowledge they gained over the previous school year. This happens in mathematics and reading for all students, though evidence suggests reading losses are greater for students who come from lower income homes.

Summer is a great time to relax, recharge, prepare for the coming year (mentally and emotionally), and to just enjoy being a kid. That there is a tradeoff to what is often no more than three months of extended playtime is not surprising.

What if there was an incredibly simple way to keep our students’ brains active and engaged during the long videogames-and-summersports months? The answer should come as little surprise - it’s music! Let’s think about this discussion in terms of math/reading and analytical/emotional aspects.

The magic lies in how much interdisciplinary and cross-functionality music requires of our brains:

There are countless symbols to interpret (that sure sounds like reading), not to mention the fact that there are almost always written instructions on the page that have a very direct impact on the performance of the music.

All musical symbols are placed in very specific spatial relations to each other, and often invoke mathematical concepts. There are time signatures and beats and subdivisions (think fractions and counting), which may require anything from simple addition to analyzing subdivisions of subdivisions (how long do we play 5 notes that are supposed to take the time that 4 notes usually do? What if we then have to play 3 of those notes as a triplet over 2 of the 5??).

To our analytical/emotional brains, we can look at an entire piece of music, and ALL of the symbols combine to create one cohesive work. These need to be analyzed and performed together at precisely the right time, in precisely the right way. And yet, this needs to be done in such a way that the student not only feels the music personally, but works to convey those emotions - through the performance - to the audience.

This analysis does not even touch on the mental-to-physical connections and coordination required to perform an instrument at its fullest potential!

Music has a wealth of material to mull over - more than enough to occupy our students’ brains for a lifetime. There is no reason why we couldn’t use music to help alleviate a little Summer Learning Loss, too!

Set up your Summer Music Lessons Today! The Music Momma

Monday, May 26, 2014

Music that Makes Us Feel

Everyone likes different kinds of music, therefore:

Not everyone likes every kind of music, therefore:

Not everyone likes the kinds of music everyone else does.

I know this seems obvious in some ways. But often, because music is near and dear to most people’s hearts, there is a very personal reaction to music, even when it comes to what others are listening to.

The emotion that we feel, but don’t always articulate, is that there are often non-musical reasons why music is so important to us. How many times has a song taken you back to a time or place or idea that was especially poignant in your personal timeline? Sometimes I hear a song, and a whole scenario pops into my head – where I was when I heard the song, who was there, what the lighting was like, what temperature it was, and on and on. Other times a song just makes me feel bummed out (or really happy) and it’s not even a particularly sad (or joyful) tune.

When other people tell us what kinds of music they like, often our gut instinct is to go, ‘oh, I love that too!’ or to head in the opposite direction – ‘Ugh. Really? You listen to that?’ We might not verbalize those opinions so powerfully, but when it comes to music, most of us will feel them at one time or another.

Since most of us think it’s a good thing to make the world a better place (discounting those intent on world domination a la Pinky and the Brain), let’s do our family, friends, neighbors and strangers a good deed by really listening to the music they like (especially if we don’t), and maybe even doing some gentle sleuthing:

What do they like about the music?

What does it make them think about?

When did they first (or last) hear it?

Was the song special for someone close to them?

The name of the game here is empathy, understanding, and feeling, and that’s kind of the whole musical point, isn’t it? Instead of going with our gut, let’s take a moment to find out what makes the people around us tick, via their musical choices. We could end up learning a lot more about them then we ever thought possible.

Start feeling today! The Music Momma

Tuesday, April 15, 2014



Family Days, Genealogy Camp, Constitution-themed Workshops, and Sleepovers

Washington, DC. . . The National Archives presents special family programming including exhibit-themed Family Days, “Constitution in Action” interactive workshops, the first-ever Archives Genealogy Camp, and two Rotunda sleepovers! These events are free and open to the public, with the exception of the sleepovers, and will be held at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. Attendees should use the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue at 7th Street, NW. Metro accessible on the Yellow and Green lines, Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter station.

Constitution-in-Action Family Learning Labs

Boeing Learning Center

Dates: April 15, July 10, July 23, and July 29

Times: 10 am –noon, or 2-4 pm

Explore history, learn about the National Archives, and discover the Constitution’s impact on our daily lives in this fast-paced, exciting two-hour simulation. Participants will become researchers and archivists tasked with a special mission: to assist the President and his Communications Director in preparing for a very special press conference. Families will work together to locate and analyze documents and their connections to the Constitution. This activity is free, but reservations are required and must be made at least 24 hours before each Lab. Register online

Jazz Family Day

Boeing Learning Center

Date: June 7

Family-focused Jazz activities, including an instrument “petting zoo.”

Making Their Mark Family Days

Boeing Learning Center

Dates: Friday, July 18, and Tuesday, December 30

Time: 10 am – 4 pm

Discover your Signature Style and explore our newest exhibit with family friendly, hands-on activities. “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” features original signatures of many remarkable men and women. It illustrates the many ways people have placed their signatures on history, from developing a signature style to signing groundbreaking policy into law. The stories in these records, of famous and infamous, known and unknown individuals are all part of our nation’s history, all making their marks on the American narrative. The exhibit runs in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery through January 5, 2015. Exhibit highlights include:

A gift of thanks: Iraq’s national football (soccer) team, formerly coached by a relative of Saddam Hussein, signed a team jersey after winning the Asian Cup. This jersey was presented to President Obama in 2009.

A surprising Super Bowl win: The New York Giants gave this autographed football to President Obama in 2012, following the team’s fourth Super Bowl win.

Showtime: This signed L.A. Lakers jersey was given to President Reagan in 1988, when the Lakers had the best NBA record for the 1987-1988 season.

Letter from Frederick Douglass to President Lincoln asking the President to discharge his son, Lewis, from the Army because of illness. Lincoln responded: “Let this boy be discharged.”

Letter from pilot Amelia Earhart: Earhart wrote President Roosevelt in 1936 about her preparations for a flight circumnavigating the globe.

Jackie’s pillbox hat: This pillbox hat worn during her husband’s 1960 campaign for President was one of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s signature looks.

The Autopen: The autopen machine, a modern duplicating device, was developed in the 1930s. The autopen produces a duplicate signature that is almost impossible to distinguish from the original. Visitors can try out the machine and receive their own John Hancock autograph! “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives with the generous support of Lead Sponsor AT&T. Major additional support provided by the Lawrence F. O'Brien Family and members of the Board of the Foundation for the National Archives. Family and educational programming related to "Making Their Mark" is sponsored in part by Fahrney's Pens and Newell Rubbermaid - Parker Pen Company.

First-ever National Archives Genealogy Camp for Kids

Boeing Learning Center

Dates: July 21—25, 2014

Time: 9 am--noon

Ever wondered about your family’s roots and who is on your family tree? Budding genealogists will join our Education Team for five exciting days of Genealogy Camp! Campers will use ship manifests and census records to trace an immigrant family’s arrival in the United States in the early 20th century. Hands-on and interactive experiences each day. The camp is open to kids age 12-16. The camp, which is limited to 15 participants, is free of charge, but registration is required. Please email education@nara.gov for more information and to request the camp application.

Back By Popular Demand – New Dates for National Archives’ Sleepovers!

Dates: Saturday, August 2 and October 18, 2014

Given the huge success of the first-ever Rotunda sleepover earlier this year, the National Archives and the Foundation for the National Archives are partnering to host two additional overnight events for children ages 8 to 12 in the home of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Participants will engage with National Archives documents in fun and exciting ways before rolling out their sleeping bags to spend the night in the historic National Archives Rotunda.

Guests also will be treated to movies in the Archives’ William G. McGowan Theater before turning in for the night, and will enjoy breakfast and more activities the next morning. Registration for both of the ticketed sleepovers will begin later this spring. For more information, visit here. Watch a video from the January 25 sleepover! View photos here. This program is supported by the Foundation for the National Archives.

The National Archives is fully accessible, and Assisted Listening Devices are available in the McGowan Theater upon request. To request a sign language interpreter for a public program, please send an email or call 202-357-5000 at least two weeks prior to the event. To verify dates and times of the programs, call 202-357-5000 or view the Calendar of Events online. To contact the National Archives, call 1-866-272-6272 or 1-86-NARA-NARA (TDD 301-837-0482).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I like all kinds of music

Oh boy, am I tired of this one. I have heard it a million times, and absolutely zero times have I believed it. Zero. I have even gone so far as to find kinds of music that the person wouldn’t like, and it rarely takes 20 questions to succeed in my goal.

Now, I love music, and I do love many different kinds of music, but this statement – ‘I like all kinds of music’ is in answer to a question. And that question is, ‘What kind of music do you like?’

Arguably, the question could be phrased more succinctly, because when we ask someone this, what we really want to know is, ‘What kind of music is the most important to you?’ But we all understand what people are asking when they query us on the ‘music we like’.

I also understand that when we say ‘I like all kinds of music’ that we’re doing a couple things. In no particular order, what we’re really saying is ‘Please don’t judge the music I like’ and ‘I don’t want to offend your musical opinions if they happen to be different from mine’.

This is really a shame, because there is a lot of great music out there that most of us haven’t heard. Especially in this age of inexpensive digital production, really good music can be made without the backing of a large studio, and we lose the chance to hear about it from the people around us when we don’t ask the right question. On the flipside, when we don’t answer that question as truthfully as possible, maybe we’re keeping a gem hidden that should be shown to the world!

Now, I will say that I suggest a lot of music to my family, especially. And they tell that most of the time, they could take it or leave it. But, every once in a while, they let me know that the suggestion was a huge hit, and they can’t believe they’d never heard it before.

So let’s ask the right question – What kind of music is most important to you?

And then let’s give the best answer we can, instead of the one that feels the safest.

Try something new and learn today! The Music Momma

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Event - Coffee with the Curator of the National Archives

Coffee with the Curator of the National Archives

Saturday, March 29, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Boeing Learning Center

Discover Your Signature Style: Making Their Mark Family Day

Come and bring your family to explore the many ways people have placed their signature on history, from developing a signature style to signing groundbreaking policy into law. The day will feature family fun with hands-on activities.

More information on the exhibit

Take the family out to see these historical treats as seen above - "The Real John Hancock" - "Michael Jackson's Patent Application" - and "An Exclusive picture of LBJ in action"

Have a great weekend! The Music Momma

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The power of an apology

I remember pretty much every teacher I’ve ever had. And long before I became a full-time educator, I knew what I thought of every single teacher I studied under. Some of them I liked a lot, some I didn’t like at all, and most of them fell somewhere in the middle, human beings with a hodgepodge of insights and foibles alike.

I’d like to contrast two different conductors I worked with as a student, and the rather disparate approaches each took in regards to that most human of conditions – making a mistake.

Everyone makes mistakes. In theory, no one likes making mistakes, and we all do our best to guard against repeating them – there are enough new mistakes to find, after all! What we do with our mistakes is what defines us as people, as contributors to society. I could come up with a laundry list of great and famous people who have made their share of mistakes and learned from them (or not), but I’m sure that’s not very necessary here.

Instead, I’d like to focus on two conductors, and how each handled personal error.

The first considered himself a conductor of the highest class, and he carried himself with a knowing, omniscient poise. He spoke and conducted with absolute authority, because he was THE CONDUCTOR. As such, he had to be right, because so many people depended on him. Even if something seemed amiss in his performance, surely the percussonists caused some stir-up, or maybe the oboes entered two measures two early. No matter what the case or situation, his imperial authority extended so far that he never allowed a single mistake to be attributed to him, no matter how grave or ridiculous the misstep might have been.

The second conductor I’ll talk about certainly carried himself with less, self-importance, shall we say. He was no less knowledgeable or capable than the first conductor (nor was his professional position any less, though that is rarely the sole arbiter of one’s abilities). His rehearsals were incredibly efficient, and he got the best out of every one of his students - far more, in my opinion, than the first conductor. A large part of his success, I believe, lies in the fact that he was perfectly willing to admit when he made a mistake. It could be as simple as, ‘Let’s start that over, so that I can give you a better entrance.’ Or, ‘Let’s try that again, for me.’

I remember very distinctly the effect that his comments had on me. They did not make me think that he was weak or incapable simply because he owned up to his mistakes (they happened quite rarely, to be sure). Instead, they gave him real credibility. We knew that if he heard something that needed to be fixed, he would be completely, wholeheartedly honest about it. We could trust his judgment, because he was as objective as he could possibly be.

The other advantage his honesty conferred was that mistakes were not a personal matter. There was no blame or emotional ‘baggage’ associated with his pronouncements; what he commented on was simply what he heard, and we would try to fix it because it needed fixing. We wouldn’t be badgered into fixing a mistake because we were guilted into it, or bludgeoned (figuratively) to DO BETTER NOW.

I have long employed this philosophy in my own life – not just as an educator, but as an everyday human being in the world. We don’t all need to be perfect, we just need to try our best, and be honest when that doesn’t quite happen. It’s not only children who can be taken aback by honesty – in this age of take-no-blame attitudes, our peers can be pleasantly surprised as well!

The Music Momma

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The conundrum of the Adult Student - Part 3 of 3

Beyond the obvious ‘prepare for a long slog, be patient, and appreciate baby-steps’, what can help us to learn a musical instrument after we have passed through the magical childhood years, where learning anything seems so simple?

The easiest hurdle to tackle is time. While everyone has a different scheduling strategy that works for them, try for a certain amount of time each day and a certain number of days each week to practice. Practicing on more days for less time is much preferable to practicing once a week for three hours. Break it up! Play for a few minutes in the morning and then again for a few minutes at night, right before bed.

The difficulty of learning an instrument and our personal expectations really go hand in hand, so come up with goals that take into account current ability, available time to practice, and desired results (as in, where do you want to be in one, two, five years). It might be helpful to say, ‘I will finish this introductory method book in one year’. Another goal might be to perform a simple holiday tune at the family get-together in a few months.

Don’t be afraid to adjust goals as necessary! If finishing that method book in a year becomes impossible, plan to finish in two. If that holiday tune turns out to be too easy, pick a more difficult one. Remember, music is supposed to be fun and rewarding! Creating circumstances to keep it that way is paramount.

It can be extremely difficult not to judge ourselves too harshly, especially when we have an idea of how we want something to sound, and we can’t quite make it happen. Ever heard, ‘patience is a virtue’? Of course – now repeat that as many times as it takes to be okay with your progress, even if it seems much, much slower than you imagined when you first embarked on your musical adventure.

One final tip for those wanting to improve their musical playing abilities: listen to music. Lots and lots of it! The more music we listen to, the smarter our ears become. The smarter our ears become, the easier it is for us to play our instruments. If you have just picked up the tuba, listen to a lot of tuba music. Try and find the pieces that you are working on, too – this can help greatly, particularly with a brand new piece of music. As you get more comfortable playing your current piece, switch it up and go listen to something else - maybe you’ll find the perfect piece for your next musical adventure!

Get started on your musical journey today!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The conundrum of the ‘Adult Student’ - Part 2 of 3

There are three main hurdles that adult students face when embarking on their musical journey. We laid these out in the previous post, and now we’ll go through some analogies and discuss ideas for mentally dealing with these issues in a healthy way.

Let’s start with difficulty. While listening to a guitarist rock out on his solo, or watching a concert pianist float her fingers effortlessly over the keys, the layperson might be fooled into thinking that music is simple, and as effortless to perform as it can be to watch. When Roger Federer gracefully swings a tennis racket, no one says to themselves, ‘yeah, I could probably do that’. It would be silly to make that kind of assumption, and music is much the same. All of those physical, musical actions have been performed hundreds of thousands of times, which is why they look so simple even when they are incredibly complex.

Those hundreds of thousands of repetitions take TIME. Of course they do! Making anything appear effortless and easy is the result of a ‘rinse and repeat’ model, and the more complex the task, the more repetitions are needed. Adults do have responsibilities that take up much of their time, and often hobbies are lucky to get half an hour a day. That is all right – music is not an all-or-nothing game. Learning slowly is better than not learning at all, because this is not a race. Music is a journey. There is no finish line. Just ask Pierre Boulez, who is still conducting at 88!

Finally, we come to the toughest challenge of all: expectations. It is relatively easy to wrap our heads around the idea that music is difficult – it’s demanding mentally, emotionally, and physically (if I gave you a trombone, do you think you could comfortably hold it upright for six hours a day, much less operate it dextrously?). It makes sense that time would be a factor in learning to play an instrument. But expectations are the trickiest, simply because we are adults, and that means we have been listening to music for a long, long time. We understand music – we sense how sounds are put together in complex, intricate ways that school-age kids mostly do not. We know when a song is good and when it’s bad. We know when a song makes sense and when it doesn’t. We might not be able to analyze what we are hearing in technical terms, but our impressions still inform the way we approach learning to play a piece of music that we have heard before (or even pieces we haven’t heard, but still share a set of familiar musical elements).

When we try to learn a new piece of music, we try to recreate the sounds that we have already heard. Even with a piece that we haven’t listened to before, we have expectations that the sounds coming from our piano or guitar (or what have you) will be as rich and full and impressive as that recording we just heard on the stereo. It is very difficult to reconcile the huge distance between what we hear and what our amateur technical skills are able to produce; usually the only thing that fills the void is frustration, and frustration is the number-one vanquisher of well-meaning adult students.

Understanding the serious time involvement, the technical and mental challenges, and seeing our expectations for what they are is a great step towards being devoted, happy amateur musicians. In the next post, we’ll look at some ‘best practices’ for the adult student, and how these can help put into context the great adventure of musical learning for a lifetime!

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The conundrum of the ‘Adult Student’

Part 1 of 3

I have had a number of exceptional adult students over the years. They have been thoughtful, engaging, dedicated people who took music and learning seriously, and made incredible progress towards their artistic goals. What makes this group of successful ‘adult students’ all the more special is that they either did not fall into, or worked their way out of, challenging traps that many of our adults encounter when they try and pick up an instrument as an adult, either for the first time or as a way to hearken back to their elementary school days of musical exploration.

This first installment will address the main pitfalls associated with learning music as an adult.

Time: adults do not have the flexible schedules that children do (although, these days, children don’t even have the flexible schedules that children do!) Learning an instrument takes time, and adults don’t often have a lot of that laying around.

Difficulty: learning an instrument is challenging, and it’s not guaranteed that the skills learned on the way to adulthood will in any way transfer to easily and quickly learning music. Every instrument has its own unique physical requirements, and these skills can take a while to develop.

Expectations: if an adult hasn’t been a musician before, or maybe only played a few years as a youngster, we need to be clear: the life of a professional musician is probably not on the horizon. No one deciding to pick up chess in their thirties or forties expects to become a grandmaster in 18 months – dusting off that cello and rosin-ing up a new bow is not going to put anyone in league with Yo-Yo Ma by their next birthday, as nice as that idea might be. A fair level of musical proficiency is always possible, but it is important to realize that the greatest musicians not only play for hours a day now, they have done so for most of their lives. Read: they have a 20,000 hour (that’s a really low estimate) ‘head start’ on the aspiring amateur beginning in adulthood.

That was all the sobering, ‘bad’ news. The good news is this: each of these issues can be dealt with once they are understood, and adult students can gain a true love and enjoyment out of their musical experiences, just as much (and maybe more!) than any youngster. We’ll address these in the next post!

Looking for fun lessons @ home to fit into your busy schedule? Check out these great music educators!