How to Evaluate Your Performance Readiness

Why Performance Is Different from Practice

Performance ReadinessMany of my students come to their lessons prepared, but do not play very well. They tell me that their last run-through in the practice room went without a hitch, but as soon as they come in for their lesson, they get rattled somehow and never play at their best.

I can think of three possible reasons why a musician can play well by herself, but not in lessons or recitals: Continue reading

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Establishing Good Practice Habits: How Do You Stack Up?

Tuba PracticeIt’s Thursday at 2:00, and it’s time for Jonathan’s lesson. He comes into my studio and sits down and chats with me while getting out his music. He tells me that he is excited to share the work he has done on one of his recital pieces. But when he plays it for me, Continue reading

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How to Become an Expert Musician

freeimage-8865999-webI’ve devoted many years to helping people learn music faster and more reliably, and play music like experts. But what if it turns out that most of the advice I’m giving in this blog doesn’t really work? What if there isn’t really a faster way to become a top performer?

Some studies have suggested that the only way to become an expert is to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, preferably before the age of 20. (Ericsson et al. 1993, Sloboda et al. 1996, Gladwell 2008) But there’s good news: Continue reading

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How to Deal with Performance Anxiety: Channel Your Energy and Conquer the Stage

Performance AnxietyYou’ve put in hundreds of hours of practice on your program, your dress rehearsal went really well, and this is the best preparation you’ve had for any performance in your life. Why, then, ten minutes before walking on stage, are your hands shaking uncontrollably? How are you going to make it through the whole program without succumbing to the nausea?

Just about every musician at some point in their career has had at least some anxiety about performing. For most performers it is a normal, manageable part of show business. But what do you do if it starts to affect your performance? Continue reading

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Practicing: Why Motivation Is an Unreliable Resource

Willpower alone probably won’t get you into the practice room day after day to do the unglamorous dirty work of mastering difficult passagework. Studies have shown that willpower is variable and wears out when we get tired. When learning a new skill, such as how to juggle, or when trying to enact long-term behavioral change, such as sticking to a diet, some days we can overcome the obstacles, but other days our willpower just isn’t strong enough.

Make Practicing as Easy as Possible by Removing Obstacles

Remove ObstaclesIt is therefore important to remove as many obstacles to getting started on the daily work as you can. Continue reading

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Conquer Your Practicing Procrastination: Planning and Scheduling Your Music Learning

Music Practicing PlannerAre you a procrastinator like I am? It’s not that I don’t think ahead or try to make practicing for my next gig a priority. In fact, the more I think about how important it is for me to get to work on learning the music, the less inclined I become to sit down and actually begin the job. I definitely see myself in Robert Benchley’s famous aphorism: “Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.”

How might you go about just getting started so that you can build some momentum toward your musical goals? Having a plan and a schedule will help keep the work happening, even on days when your willpower or motivation droops. But even then it’s still pretty easy to blow off a practicing session. How, then, can you make a practice schedule that you are likely to stick to? Continue reading

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Music Memorization Technique: Staff-Paper Flashcards

music memory tipsIn my previous two articles, I provided you overall strategies for memorizing music and the first of two memorization techniques. Here is the second technique. If you missed either of these posts, make sure to go back and read them so that you can try all of my memory suggestions.

Equipment Required:

  • Staff Paper (I recommend a landscape page for cutting into quarters in step 1)
  • Pencil
  • Scissors or paper trimmer
  • Music to be learned
  • Your instrument

Method:

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How to Memorize Music: The Two-Chair Technique

Equipment required:

  • Memorizing musicYour instrument and normal practice equipment (Regardless of whether you sit or stand to practice, we’ll call this Chair 1.)
  • One extra music stand and one extra chair (We’ll call this Chair 2.) Continue reading
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Why You Should Teach Your Brain the Music Before Your Body

Why bother with memorization?

ElephantIn my previous article, I emphasized the importance of learning the music really well intellectually before beginning to learn the physical aspects of playing the music. If you want to focus your work on the musical shaping, artistry, and the attention to detail that will set you apart as a top performer, then you must have a crystal clear mental picture of the music before you begin. Moreover, memorizing the music even before you begin to try and play it will give you a chance to work with interpretive ideas from the very beginning.

Many musicians such as church organists and collaborative pianists have to learn large amounts of new music rapidly for frequent gigs. In order to have the security necessary for a polished performance, these musicians Continue reading

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Strategic Practicing

100212-Celloclose-longbows1“I’m sooo sorry, Mr. Bach.” I said this under my breath as I walked offstage from a catastrophic performance of the Prelude and Fugue in G Minor from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier. It was just the first piece on the program of my recital at my parents’ church when I was in college, and I had blown it. The prelude had fallen completely apart. The fugue had gone surprisingly well, if a little shaky, after the prelude meltdown. Right then I couldn’t let myself worry about what had caused everything to go horribly wrong, I just had to gather my thoughts and get back out there to play the rest of the challenging program.

Upon more reflection, I realized that my real mistake had been to learn the piece in my habitual fashion, Continue reading

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