Practice, practice, practice!

 

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With my class at the Moncton Music Festival, c. 1998 (3rd from the left!)

Last month, I wrote about the life-changing power of music education. This month, I’m going to talk about the topic on everyone’s mind. It’s that thing that rhymes with “cactus”….PRACTICE! Commonly known as the best route to get to Carnegie Hall (“Practice, practice, practice”….everyone’s heard that joke by now, right?), practicing an instrument can be a total drag, or lots and lots of fun, if you approach it in the right way. Today we talk about the benefits of keeping practice charts, practicing smart, not hard, and we’ll end off with some “Violinspiration!”

Many people complain about not having time to practice. However, this is almost never the case, if you’re keeping activities to a manageable level of busy. Remember that learning music should be seen as educational enrichment, not simply an extra-curricular activity. By learning music, you are actually making your brain stronger because it works so many areas of it at once. It is worth part of your time every day!

One way to help prioritize practice is by keeping track of practice hours. I’ve given all my students practice charts this year, because I want everyone to see that good practice = good progress. I’d like everyone to try to out-do their former selves by a bit more every week. Even if you’re not practicing more or less, but simply in a more focused way, that’s an improvement!

 

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An old practice chart of mine, c. 2000 (including all time spent on my instrument, ie jams, fiddle doo’s, gospel band rehearsals, etc)

I am not a teacher that takes a disciplinary approach when people don’t practice for their lessons, because I don’t think it’s effective. Instead, I try to gently guide my students toward realizing for themselves that they do have to practice to get better. If they’re stuck at a certain level and can’t seem to improve, seeing the low numbers on the practice charts can help them get to that realization sooner. It can often be an uncomfortable, but ultimately empowering moment, when you look at your practice chart and realize that you have complete power over your own progress, and have had all along. Trust me, I’ve been there!

But is it enough to log all kinds of hours on our instruments? One of the many wise things my teacher, Paul Kantor, used to say to me, was that “Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” Whether it helps us get better or not, what we do in our practice will stay in our brain and in our muscles. For example, if I practice the same line of music over and over for an hour, but I play it out of tune the whole time, it will likely be out of tune the next time I play it too. We have so much to think about when we’re playing the violin, that we really owe it to ourselves to make sure we are wide awake, focused, and feeling good, so that we can practice well. Personally, I’d rather my students practice for a quality 30 minutes per day, than a distracted 3-4 hours per day.

We are all kept so busy and in such a hurry all the time….practicing an acoustic instrument like the violin can be a healthy, fun way to leave all of it behind. I like to think of the practice room as part laboratory and part meditation space. Music is a science, an art, and a spiritual practice all bundled into one activity. How lucky we are, to be able to grow our brains and our very humanity so efficiently!

Last, and perhaps most importantly, it is so important to stay inspired! Go to concerts, watch YouTube videos of great performers, go to workshops and jam sessions, play in festivals….it’s all so important! I’ll leave you with two favourites of mine: the great violinist Itzhak Perlman, and the wonderful fiddler Patti Kusturok! I encourage you to learn more about these artists, and why they’ve been important people in the music scene!

 

Some events happening this month:

October 8, 10am-4pm: Woodbridge Fair Fiddle Contest (& jam)! Visit https://www.woodbridgefair.ca/fiddle-contest/ for more information.

October 12-14: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets in Concert (with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, no less), visit http://www.sonycentre.ca/calendar-event-details/?id=286 for more information.

October 22, 7:30pm: “Rhythm ‘n Step” – A night of fiddle tunes and fancy footwork featuring Tom Fitzgerald, Joelle Crigger and Colleen Jenish! Visit http://www.gallery345.com/performances.php for more information.

October 31st, 8pm: For anyone not going trick-or-treating this year, this TSO concert featuring violinist Blake Pouliot will certainly be something to see! Visit https://www.tso.ca/concert/all-beethoven-0#performance-1691 for more information.