Beware the fog

As the big MAMTG Competition has finally arrived, I have one last thing to say to my students.

Beware of the fog.

No, not the actual kind of fog you see. The kind of fog you feel. The kind of fog that is all too often ever present, lurking just in the shadows, that only ever really seems to appear at the darkest of times.

Worry. Doubt. Fear. Nervousness. That fog.

Nervous – I don’t mind that one. Nervous means you care. Nervous means you really want to get it right. That one, I’m ok with.

It’s when nervous turns into worry that I start to get concerned. A little bit of nervous energy is great. A whole lot of cloudy worry can be terrible.

So tonight, tomorrow, Sunday, forever, don’t let the fog take you. Don’t let the fog cloud your inner vision. Don’t let the fog lead you astray.

Close your eyes and remember you know the way. You know what to do, what to sing, what to play, how to feel. You’ve got it all inside of you. Don’t let the fog keep you from seeing that.

Shiva Nata Powered Hanon

This may come as a shock to some of my older students and their parents, but I wasn’t always a fan of the book of exercises officially titled “The Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises for the Piano,” composed by Charles-Louis Hanon (which we affectionately refer to as just Hanon).  This was during my difficult teen years, some of which I didn’t even spend taking piano lessons (and look at me now!).  I even resisted Hanon (and the advanced exercises by Czerny) in my first few years of college.

And then I injured my hands one summer, and my doctor told me, first, that I had to take probably about a year off from playing to fully heal (if I could avoid using my hands for, say, a month, maybe that’s as long as it would have taken to get back into the game.  But since you pretty much can’t be a functioning member of society without hands, the recovery time was much longer).  It was actually closer to two years before I started training again on my level (as opposed to playing music at my students’ level), and one of the first things I picked up was my copy of Virtuoso Pianist.  It was around this time that some of my students started progressing to a point where they could handle the exercises themselves, so Hanon became pretty much a few-times-a-week – if not daily – occurrence.

Because I guess a part of me still resists Hanon, I don’t ever practice much further than a few ahead of where my students are in the book.  My most advanced student currently is up to Hanon 10, so I practice to around 12.

Generally speaking, I practice until I start to get frustrated, that is, until all the musical doodles become too much for my fingers or my brain, and I start stumbling over myself at whatever high speed I have chosen to work at (I pretty much play through my exercises at about twice the speed of my students, give or take about 20 bpm).

Up until yesterday.

Because of Christmas-time recitals, I really haven’t touched my Hanon since about mid October, and at that time, I was working steadily up to Hanon 14.  So yesterday, I have to note, was the first time in two and a half months that I even opened the book.  And yesterday I flew through the first, oh, THIRTY exercises. I repeat – the first 30 exercises.  In 2.5 months of not practicing, somehow I got better at 18 new exercises.  As the kids like to ironically say, “no big deal.”

This year, I started to study this wacky form of brain yoga called Shiva Nata.  Shiva Nata is basically eight hand positions that you combine in increasingly complex patterns, the learning and execution of which actually strengthens the (or creates new) neural connections in your brain.  It’s crazy stuff.  It’s crazy hard.  And it’s the only thing that I can figure is the explanation behind powering through 30 exercises (18 of which I have never played before).

That’s kind of big.  Shiva Nata has helped me to realize and understand a lot of things about myself, and I have felt its influence in teeny ways in my piano playing, but it has never been this tangible or measurable.  So I just had to share.  I mean, there may be another, perfectly legitimate reason for this breakthrough in my playing.  But I can’t figure it out, so for now, we’re going with this.

You can read more about Shiva Nata and Me (it sounds like a play, or a cheesy sitcom), at the blog I have devoted to my own practice and my own teaching of it.


It’s Mwish Time!

What’s a mwish?? It’s like, you know, a wish, but better, because there’s music in it! In addition to practicing, I need to think about what I need from my practicing (or my music in general) before I get to the bench. So that when I get there (or wherever else I need to be) I will be better prepared to totally rock it out.

This week my mwish is simple.  I mwish to actually practice.  You know how you don’t realize how much you love something until it’s gone?  I am at this point right now.  And it’s not that I forgot how much I love piano, or guitar, or music in general, but music is one of those things that has become such a part of my routine (a very sparkly, wonderful, magical part), that I just grew accustomed to the sense of peace, accomplishment and joy that practicing injected into my everyday life.  Practicing has become both an important part of my life for my work and for my health.  And I miss it.

It’s not that I am having an awful time up here in the mountains, sweating like a waterfall and destroying my feet, discovering new and interesting ways to make my body sore, but I am just not practicing any of my instruments the way I do when I am home, and I miss it.  So this week, I mwish for more practice time.  I’m not even sure how this is going to work out, as I have been trying – mostly unsuccessfully – for two weeks to practice, and if I haven’t figured out how to do it by now I’m not sure if I’m going to get it done ever.

But a girl can mwish, yes?

Audience Participation Time
What are you mwishing for this week?  How is your summer schedule (if it is different from your school year schedule) affecting your practice schedule?

24 Days of Music: Day 3 – Geeking Out

Well, I should mention to begin with that I started my practice day with about 30 minutes of just scales and Hanon exercises, which is almost triple the amount of time I expect my students to spend on those two areas of practice per day.

After that, of course, I took a break, because 30 minutes of straight practicing is pretty much too much for my fingers.  (Something I may or may not have mentioned here before, I have arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome and tendonitis prone hands, so.. I’ve got to be very careful with my practicing.  It’s not a major problem, because I haven’t had a flare up of any of those in over two years, but it’s still something I have to always consider).

And then, when I got back to it, I geeked out.  Geeked out like whoa.  I will be the first person to admit that I am a geek, a nerd, a total dork.  I mean, I majored in music theory in college, after all.  And I liked pirates when I was ten.  And read the Lord of the Rings trilogy before the movies came out. And own two light sabres.

Do you see where this is going?

Yesterday I practiced music from all my favorite movies – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean.  Why?  Because it’s OK for music to put more of a smile on your face than a challenge into your fingers.  In fact, it’s really kind of required.  If you don’t love it, then why do it?  SRSLY.

This happens every where in life.  Vegetables first, then dessert.  We hope to get a job in a field we enjoy.  Actually, those are two really important rules that I go by.  Veggies first.  And also, do what you love.  I tell my students all the time that I am a piano teacher because it’s so much fun, it never ever ever feels like a real job.  OK, sometimes it does.  But the fun points, the high points, the happy times, the play times the goals reached, the challenges met, outweigh all the downright cranky times.

So, yeah, I spent day 3 of my 24 days of music playing nerdy movie music piano arrangements.  I’ll get back to the hard stuff tomorrow. 🙂

Audience Participation Time
What music makes you smile?

24 Days of Music: Days 1 and 2 – getting right into it

In my last post, I wrote about 24 days of practicing over the next two months, as a goal for both my students and for myself.

Last night and this morning, I really got to dive into my own practicing.  I have this great book of ballet music that I have been wanting to play through.  I sight read a few pieces, but I always get stuck on a piece of music, Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber, that I had been working on a few years ago, and had gotten about half way through.

I bring up this particular piece, because I feel that this may be something that my students go through as well.  It frustrates me.  I have to take page 1 slowly.  I mess up a few sections on page 2.  But why??  Why oh why?  I HAD this piece.  I had it down.  I rocked the first three and a half pages, so why am I getting stuck right at the beginning??

It happens, I remind myself.  And it will happen to you, too.  This is one of those instances where the metronome is your friend.  Because you are so familiar with the piece, you think you can just pick it right back up no problem.  But.. you can’t.  If you are disciplined enough, you start the metronome somewhere ridiculously slow, and the metronome holds you back.  The metronome keeps you from charging through a piece at disastrous levels.  The metronome is your friend, and is only there to help you.

I tell that to my students time and time again, and it’s funny, that I find I have to remind myself the exact same things.  It’s like there is still the student voice inside of me along with the teacher voice, and every so often, they are at odds.  I know I’ll get Invitation to where it once was, and then some, but until then, I have to remember that no matter how well I knew the piece then… this is now.

Audience Participation Time
How is your own practice going?  Is there any one piece you are stuck on that you feel you shouldn’t be?

24 Days of Practice

For most kids, summer begins the millisecond they burst from the doors of their school.  For music students (and their teachers), the school year ends somewhat hazily at some point in May, June or even July.  Sure school ends, but there are still end of year recitals that, if they are related to school, happen sometime before the last day, and if they are related to their private lessons, they could happen on any beautiful afternoon in May or June.  Until the recital, they are still hard at work on final preparations for their last performance of the year.

And then, even though the summer begins on June 21, students who don’t continue with lessons “for the summer” still finish out the month of June.  So for a teacher, and for many students, summer begins, legitimately and officially on July 1.

Hey, that’s today!

Welcome to summer everyone!

A lot of my students have taken off for the summer – which is cool.  I’m glad that they are going out and enjoying the weather and the sights and sounds of the season.  But we allllllllll have to remember (even myself!), to keep up with our practice, practice, practice!

For anyone who is taking off the summer, here is my suggestion:

24 days of practice.

24 is a random number, I know.  But I, again, wanted to give my students a little leeway for those that may be taking out of state (or even out of country) vacations.  Out of 8 weeks between July and August, I would like them to practice for what comes out to be 4 days a week, six weeks out of the two months.

There are a few different ways to accomplish this.

1) Practice every single day from now until all 24 sessions are completed.

2) Back track from your first lesson of the new school year, and practice all of those 24 days.

3) Designate days/weeks throughout the two months when you plan on practicing.

For my students who may be spreading their practice times throughout the two months, or who may be attempting to get all of their practicing in at the beginning of the summer, I suggest leaving the last week of practicing for the last week before lessons start up again.  But for anyone else – get creative!  Just be sure you get to practicing!

I’ll be attempting this as well, and of course, documenting my own 24 days here.  We’ll see how this goes – I haven’t really mentioned it on the blog yet, but I’ll be gone for pretty much an entire month at dance camp in upstate NY.  Last time I was there, the piano in their hall gave me carpel tunnel syndrome, which was pretty much not a fun time at all. But now that all my recitals are done, I am inspired – by my super awesome students – to practice in a way that I haven’t in such a very long time.  I am eager to jump back on this wave and see where it takes me.

Audience Participation Time
Where might 24 days of practicing take you this summer?

Mwish No. 2: Staying Focused

What’s a mwish?? It’s like, you know, a wish, but better, because there’s music in it! In addition to practicing, I need to think about what I need from my practicing (or my music in general) before I get to the bench. So that when I get there (or wherever else I need to be) I will be better prepared to totally rock it out.

This week, Miss Anna needs some focus!  I am even having a hard time focusing on writing this mwish out!

Why do I need focus this week?  We have one more recital coming up on Sunday.  Not only do my students have to perform, but I’ll be performing, too!  I’m really excited, for both them and myself.  But since this is our last week before the recital, and for my students to be focused and ready as we enter the home stretch,  I have to be focused and ready.  Super focused and ready, actually.

Although right now, the focus is not coming.  Perhaps will do some shiva nata, or just EAT SOMETHING (hmm, yes, I’m definitely hungry now that I’m thinking about it, isn’t i funny to not realize how hungry you are?), and hopefully the focus will come.

Audience Participation Time
What are you mwishing for this week?  Or at the very least, what are you regular, everyday shade of wishes for the week?  It’s a nice thing to think about on a Sunday night – the promise of all the things you can get done in the following six days!

Mwish No. 1: Just some time, please!

What’s a mwish??  It’s like, you know, a wish, but better, because there’s music in it!  In addition to practicing, I need to think about what I need from my practicing (or my music in general) before I get to the bench.  So that when I get there (or wherever else I need to be) I will be better prepared to totally rock it out.

This week I am mwishing for more time to practice!  While I do have a crazy schedule, I know that the time exists in it somewhere for me to get more practicing in!  I have to practice for the weekly open mic (so that’s guitar), a fun jam on Saturday (that’s guitar), and a gig on Father’s Day (that’s guitar, too!).

So that is a lot of guitar.  My poor little left hand fingers.

Here I am making a mental note of needing to get ink cartridges for my printer. Just in case I need to print out any new lead sheets.

Additionally, I have been slacking on the piano practicing lately.  I’ve been focusing too much on my students.  A good thing, yes?  But I can’t forget my own playing.  So there’s that to get back into.

That’s a lot of practicing I’m mwishing for this week.  Think I’ll get it done this week?

Audience Participation Time
What are you mwishing for this week?  Or at the very least, what are you regular, everyday shade of wishes for the week?  It’s a nice thing to think about on a Sunday night – the promise of all the things you can get done in the following six days!

The Good and the Interesting No. 1: Chords

It’s Friday, and Friday is as good a day as any to stop and evaluate all the Good, the Interesting, and sometimes, even the Bad.  If you notice something particularly funky while you are thinking about it today, why not spend tomorrow focusing just on that?

Good Things
I blogged!  You might be thinking this is old hat for me by now, but really, I sometimes find it really hard to get motivated to blog.  I have tried many different techniques to get myself to blog, and most of them failed.  This week, I didn’t.  What worked?  No clue.  Maybe that’s part of the fun.

Something else that’s actually pretty awesome this week is I got a new album by one of my fave bands, World/Inferno Friendship Society.  PARENTS YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.  It is a pretty amazing album, as far as their albums go, and I sat down and figured out not one, but TWO of their songs.  “Thirteen Years Without Peter King” and also “The Politics of Passing Out.”  They weren’t actually too difficult for me to figure out, but a search on (both my favorite place to find chords and the bane of my very existence sometimes) returns nothing on either of these songs.  So I guess what I consider “challenging” has shifted since the last time I actually tried to figure out a song on my own.  Which is actually kind of cool.  I got better. I have spent so much time teaching and making other people better, I didn’t realize my ears were getting better at stuff pretty much all on their own.

Other neat thing this week – I spent two days babysitting the kids.  And by that I mean, I was working at Pianos Plus in Raritan.  It’s one of the cooler jobs I’ve ever had.  Where else do I get to hang out with 20 assorted pianos and keyboards??  Seriously!  One of the neat things is practicing the same thing on each piano.  You stop paying attention to what you’re putting into the piano and you really start paying attention to the subtle differences of what is coming out of each piano.  It’s fascinating, and an opportunity few rarely get.

Interesting Things
What does Miss Anna find interesting anyway?  What constitutes “interesting?”  What is this “interesting” of which you speak?  One of my students YEARS ago came to the conclusion.  I never say something sounds bad.  It’s always, “That was iiinnnteresting.”  Which is pretty true.

Much to my surprise, nothing really interesting happened this week.  Hooray!

Bad Things
None of that happened this week.. musically.  Personally, not so much.  But we’re trying to remain positive here, in general, yes?  So we are going to be thankful that at least nothing bad happened musically, and we are going to move on.


Audience Participation Time
What did you do this week?   Discover anything interesting about yourself?  Did any bit of your playing take a leap or bound forward this week?  And don’t worry, if it didn’t happen this week or hasn’t happened lately, it will happen at some point.  It happens to everyone!  you wake up one morning and BING, you’re so much better at this one thing than you were before you went to bad last night.  It’s actually kind of neat.