Tips & Tricks: When to practice

When to practiceWith the school year just about to start again, my mind has turned to practicing. I know fitting this in is always a struggle for busy people! When should you practice? As we’ve seen in other posts, it is best if you practice every day, but when in the day should you fit it in? The answer to this will vary from person to person…

The best thing to do is to find a time of day and stick to it. If you practice in the morning one day, in the evening another day, and just kind of whenever it fits in, it won’t be a routine, and you are more likely to skip… Something we know for sure that you don’t want to do! It becomes so easy once you skip your first day to then skip a second, maybe a third… and then the whole week has passed with no practice!

Personally, I like to practice in the morning. I have two big reasons for that:

  1. I am a morning person. I focus better in the morning and do my best work then.
  2. I am less likely to skip practicing. If my day gets busy and I run out of time, usually it means that my dishes aren’t done, but my practicing cannot be compromised.

I actually started practicing in the morning when I was in high school. In high school I was in four orchestras and three bands, took private lessons on oboe and violin and was a peer tutor. My after school and evening times were taken up with rehearsals and homework, so morning was the one time that I knew I could have uninterrupted time to practice.

So, my suggestion to you is not necessarily that you practice in the morning, but rather that you find a time of day when you can focus, when you are not too tired, when you can practice uninterrupted, and that can become routine. Once you build this time into your routine it will not feel as much like work as when you are having to try to fit it in among all of the other things you have to do in your busy day.

Happy practicing!

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Reinstating the beer drawer…

Reinstating the beer drawer...A friend of mine recently asked about the “recipe” for my weight loss. I have changed many things in my life over the last two years! One of my big tricks was reinstating the beer drawer… When I first met my husband, he did not keep produce in the vegetable crisper in the fridge. That was his beer drawer. Since it was divided in two, we had his and hers beer drawers while we were dating.

Once we got married we decided that we should buy produce and actually put it in the vegetable crisper. The bad part was that we would forget that it was there, and we would end up throwing a lot of it out when we remembered to look. Because we hate wasting money and food, we stopped buying fresh produce. It seemed like a good solution!

After I decided that I needed to take control of my health, I realized that I really needed to eat more fresh produce. What was the answer for how to not throw so much away? We reinstated the beer drawer! We never forget beer, so there is no fear of it going bad and now all of my veggies are on the bottom shelf of the fridge in sight. When I open the fridge, one of the first things that I see is fresh produce, so I am far more likely to eat it! One of my friends is not a beer drinker, so she has rearranged her fridge with small jars in the vegetable crisper with the same idea. Keep the produce where you can see it!

This is obviously not the only the thing I have changed over the last few years, but it definitely has helped!

Tips & Tricks: Why you shouldn’t try too hard!

Trying Too HardThis past week I was playing a gig and had two adults approach me at the end. One was a former student, and the other a man looking to sell his violin because he had decided he would never learn how to fiddle. The three of us got talking, and the two of them had one thing in common. This is something common to many adult learners… They had been trying too hard!

I think most adults who try to learn the fiddle run into this problem at some time where they are trying so hard that they seem to be getting worse instead of better… I had one student whose bow would bounce for the first 10 minutes of her lesson, and then more she tried to stop it from bouncing, the more it would bounce!

So, why is trying too hard a bad thing? It is good to put effort into learning, right? The problem is that adults understand so much more than they are capable of doing right away. Kids don’t worry about why they are doing something, they just try it. Often with my younger students I have trouble getting the whole explanation in before they are playing, whereas with some of my adult students they want all the theory before they play their first note! Adults are constantly analyzing what is going on, and usually trying to figure out what is going wrong instead of just trying it again, which sometimes is all that you need to do! The other problem is that adults are used to succeeding. You have a job that you do well, you have other skills, so why can’t you master this one right away?

The big issue with trying too hard is that it creates tension in your body, and the more tension there is, the more your bow is going to bounce, the more your violin is going to squeak, the more out of tune you will play… I think you can see where this is leading… Instead of getting better, you are going to sound worse!

Everything we do takes time to learn. You need to not put pressure on yourself to get to the end point (which in music really doesn’t exist as you can always improve) and enjoy the journey along the way. Here are a couple of pointers for how you can continue to improve without trying too hard:

  1. Adjust your goals. Maybe for this practice session instead of saying that you are going to learn a certain fiddle tune, just plan on working on it for 10 minutes.
  2. Accept the fact that you are not going to improve every day! This is kind of like trying to lose weight… You need to look at your playing over the long term to see the improvements. If you expect to get better every day, or even every week, you will get frustrated, tense, and will start trying really hard to improve!
  3. Make sure that you are breathing. It sounds silly, but a lot of us stop breathing when we are doing something hard. I still do this when I get to performing a piece I am not totally secure with… I make sure that I am breathing a slow, long breath out, and it helps to calm my nerves.
  4. Know that sometimes your violin is going to squeak. Just try it again. If the squeaking persists, then you definitely need to figure out what is going wrong, but try not to over-analyze right away. My violin squeaks every now and then in shows, but I just move on!
  5. Try not to practice when you are already tense. If you have had a long hard day, try to decompress a bit before picking up your violin!
  6. If you enjoy a glass of wine, have a glass of wine before you practice, or maybe while you practice. Be warned though, one glass will help to relax you and make you sound better, too much and you will only think you sound better!

So how about my student whose bow bounced for the first 10 minutes of lesson? We tried to fix it, and only made it worse. In the end, she and I agreed that we would ignore it. I wouldn’t mention it, she wouldn’t worry about it, and after 10 minutes, it would go away. The lessons we tried to fix it, her bow would bounce for the entire lesson. She was not doing anything wrong, she just wanted to play really well, so was trying really hard!

Have fun, enjoy the ride, and don’t try too hard!

The Legacy

Dad playing 4 tubasWell, as many of you know, my father passed away on August 1st, 2011. It has been quite a year since then with all of what I would imagine to be the usual ups and downs…

We’ve been through so many of the firsts that you go through… The first trip to the family camp, the first rehearsal of groups that he used to play with, the first concert without my dad in the audience… So many! We have made it though! We are still here, and we have figured out many of the things that only my dad knew how to do.

So, my dad’s influence can be seen in lots of places in our lives, but there is one really big place that we will all be able to see my dad’s legacy! As you may remember, Mom and I hosted one last TubaFest in memory of Dad. Thankfully two local guys and the UNB Centre for Musical have taken the festival over and are working on the details for next year. They have been lining up some excellent clinicians and I feel confident that it will be a great event!

I am delighted that someone has taken over this unique event and will be continuing it! It was Dad’s passion and his big project both before and after retirement!

All in all, even though there are times through the year that have been hard, it has been a great year, filled with wonderful events that would have made my dad happy. I am sure he would also be delighted to see that TubaFest is continuing! Mark your calendars for May 3rd and 4th, 2013.

Tips & Tricks: The one-minute bow

The one-minute bowWhen playing the fiddle, most of us tend to think about our left hand far more than our right hand. At first glance it would seem that the left has a lot more to do since it is in charge of playing all the different notes. My university violin teacher mentioned to me that the typical split is about 80% thinking about your left hand and only the 20% that is left over for you right hand. His point was that your right had creates the sound, and even if your left hand works perfectly, if your sound is awful, it will not be pleasing to listen to, or for you to play! You need to think at least 50/50, or maybe even more about your right hand!

So, here is a simple exercise that you can do to help your bowing in only minutes a day! You will need a clock with a second hand for this exercise.

Each day, play long bows, making sure that your bow is not bouncing and that your sound is even and not stopping and starting. Play a long bow on the first day, and take note of how long you were able to maintain a clear sound. Let’s say that you took 5 seconds to get from the frog to the tip of the bow. The next day, try to take a longer time to play your bow stroke, say 6 seconds, or maybe even longer. If you find that the sound is starting and stopping as you play, go back to each bow taking a shorter amount of time. Your aim is to work up to taking a full minute to play one bow stroke with even tone. Try not to tense up as you do this exercise as it will cause your bow to bounce!

It will take some time to work up to a whole minute, but the work will be worth it! You will notice a definite improvement in your bow technique!