Tips & Tricks: Making it easy to practice!

Making it easy to practice!Often the parents of my students ask me how to get their children to practice more. One parent once said to me “My daughter always plays the piano when she walks by, but rarely picks up her violin unless she is reminded.” One of the best ways to encouraging practice is to make it easy and to make sure your child’s violin is visible. This works for adults too!
I recently read an article about making the habit of starting, an idea that works well with practicing. The article is a great read, and the gist of it is that you should focus on getting started with whatever it is you want to do. If you want to run a half marathon, focus on tying your shoes and getting out the door… This idea works really well for practicing! I know from personal experience that sometimes you have the time, it is just the inclination to practice that is missing.

So why is that? Sometimes you are comfortable and happily occupied, and sometimes it just seems like too much effort to get your instrument ready. What is the solution? There is no easy solution to the first other than just getting started. For the second, you can try to make it as easy as possible. I like to leave my violin out on a violin stand so that I don’t have to open my case, put my shoulder rest on and get out my bow. I know that it doesn’t sound like much to do, but sometimes it can be enough of an excuse for you not to practice.

Do you remember the mother I mentioned earlier? Well, the piano was in the dining room, so her daughter saw it all the time when she walked through the room. Her violin was stored in its case under her bed. That meant that she did not see it, so didn’t think of playing it, and when she was reminded she had to go through the effort of getting it out.

The use of violin stands is somewhat controversial because you can regulate the humidity in your case. Ideally you want your violin to remain in a consistent environment. My suggestion though is to make sure that the room where you have your violin stored is not too dry.

My challenge to you is to practice 5 minutes every day for a week. Don’t worry about practicing for 20 minutes, for an hour… Just get started every day! You may very well find out that once you get started you want to keep on going. Please comment below and let me know how this goes!

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Salad to go

Salad in a JarA couple weeks ago I talked about wanting to eat more veggies and reinstating the beer drawer. Step two of this whole system (now that my veggies are visible) is actually using them! Living the busy life of an independent musician, I am rarely home at mealtime!

This creates a great challenge with my desire to eat better! I have become a big salad-eater, but salads are not necessarily what you would imagine packing in your lunch. If you put the dressing on before you leave home, you are left with soggy lettuce, but it is inconvenient to bring along the whole bottle! What is a girl to do?

While surfing on Pinterest (I really hate to admit that since I am right in the demographic that uses Pinterest most!) I saw a post about “salad in a jar” and thought that it looked like a great idea. I have taken the idea and made my own salad.

In an effort to eat healthier food I have been trying out oil free salad dressings. I have also been obsessed with maple vinaigrettes ever since my cousin’s wedding, the first place I ever tasted such a thing. This salad dressing is based on a recipe from Forks Over Knives but has been altered substantially.

Dressing:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon mustard (I use honey mustard)
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Salad:
Makes 3 salads
30 thin slices of cucumber
1 diced red pepper
6 sliced small button mushrooms
1⁄2 small red onion, sliced thinly
several handfuls of lettuce
1/3 cup nuts or craisins (optional)

To make the salads, I like to use a liter mason jar. The recipe above will make three salads. I like to layer the ingredients from bottom to top as follows:

Dressing (2 Tablespoons per salad)
Cucumber
Red pepper
Onion
Lettuce
Nuts or craisins

The trick is to make sure that you keep the dressing is separated from the lettuce so you don’t end up with a soggy salad! I like to put the cucumber next to the dressing because I find the vinegar actually pickles the cucumber a little bit. This means that instead of being soggy, the cucumber is actually nice and crisp when you eat it! Other items to put next to the dressing are anything that you don’t mind marinating a bit.

There are many blogs about salads in a jar, and most suggest putting the nuts (if you want to include them) just below the lettuce layer. I tried this, and found that the nuts were soggy when I went to eat them (although that salad also included tomatoes and mandarin oranges), so I have moved them to the top. The nuts will push the lettuce down a bit and also can fall around the edges at times, but generally I have been happy with the results.
According to other blogs I have read, these salads stay pretty fresh for about four days. Honestly, I don’t think I have had one last that long. I like to make them three to four at a time, but between my husband and me, we go through the salads pretty quickly!

As far as eating the salad goes, shake up the jar so the dressing cotes the veggies evenly. You can eat the salad right out of the jar, but I find it very inconvenient, so I like to take a bowl with me.

Do you have any suggestions for great ways to eat well on the run? Please leave a comment!

“Time” to practice

"Time" to practiceLike many of my students, I took some time off over the summer. I was playing a lot of gigs, but was not focusing on practicing. It has been nice to get back into a routine! I have been reading about business and time management and have run into the same idea repeatedly. I have decided to apply it to my practicing so I am now using a timer!

So, what is the advantage of using a timer? I come up with a plan for my practice session before I start and then stick to it. For example if I were going to practice for an hour I might make the following plan:

  • 5 minutes: 1 minute bow exercise (link back to my 1 minute blog)
  • 10 minutes: scales
  • 10 minutes: technique exercise
  • 15 minutes: reviewing old fiddle tunes
  • 20 minutes: learning new material

I then set my timer, and start practicing. When the timer rings, no matter where I am, I move on to the next part of my practice session.

So far I am really pleased with how well this technique is going. I see three major advantages:

  1. I know that there is a finite amount of time that I am going to spend on learning or improving a technique or piece. I am not trying to perfect it today, just improve on it.
  2. I am able to focus much better. I now don’t feel like I am practicing and having to focus for a full hour because it is now broken down into smaller, manageable chunks.
  3. I actually work on everything that I was planning on practicing. I have had many practice sessions where I have gotten focused on one thing and run out of time to work on other material.

Do you have any tricks that help you practice more efficiently?

Enjoying the simple pleasures in life

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As any of you who know me personally are aware, I am happiest when I am busy!  Likely that is why I have chosen the lifestyle of a self-employed musician!  I accomplish more, stay more focused, eat better, and just generally enjoy life when I am busy!

Having said all of that, the past couple of weeks have served as a reminder to me to enjoy the slower times and the simple pleasures in life as well!  I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, both for business and for pleasure.  I enjoy my time in front of the screen, but it is always good to be torn away from it too!

During the past couple of weeks I have gone on vacation to a family owned camp on a lake in Maine (with no electricity), camping and whale watching on Grand Manan Island, to Campobello Island for a performance, blackberry picking with my mother, and on vacation to our family camp on the Bay of Fundy (again with no electricity).  All of these activities have reminded me about the simple pleasures in life!  When I was at my family camp in Maine I was able to start each day by canoeing on the lake.  What a wonderful way to start a day!  The time spent near, on, or in the water, the sound of the wind in the leaves, the sound of the water lapping on the shore, the sound of the birds, and even the sound of the insects flying around…  Time spent outdoors is always a great stress reliever (except for the hornets…  they causes stress in my life!) and a great reminder about the wonders of the world!  We had many cookouts during the past couple of weeks so many of my evenings were spent around a campfire outdoors.  What a great way to end the day!  Everything always tastes better when it is cooked on a fire, and no matter how old I get, I still love to roast s’mores!

I hope that you are all remembering to take some time off to enjoy the summer weather!  I am enjoying a final few days before we get back into the school year!