It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music

The “quote” which is the title to this blog post (and variations of it) can be attributed to a few people – from Mozart to Debussy to Miles Davis.  I could probably write a whole ‘nuther blog post just on this quote alone (and Davis’ variation: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” Ah, that inspires me to jump up and run to my piano right now!), but that blog post is not for today.  No, actually, this blog post is in reference to an article I read on, of all places, Entrepreneur.com.  You can find it here: The Best Way to Use Breaks to be More Productive.

To summarize, breaks are important.  The article goes on to discuss the balance between how long you work and how much break time to take, and how best to spend a 5, 10, 15 or even 30 minute break at the office.  It’s a really interesting article that you might want to read because you are an adult in my life, but what really strikes me is how this relates to being a musician, and also, how it relates to being a growing musician, like all of the kids I see each week.

Practicing is something that I spend a lot of time talking to my students about.  It’s not just my job to teach your children music, but to teach them the skills to sustain a lifelong love of music – and that includes being able to practice it regularly without the adults in their lives nagging at them about it.  Really – if I teach your child, go on and check out their manuscript book (I’ll wait).  In the last month or two, I’ve probably written not just praise on their improvements, but often general and sometimes incredibly specific strategies for how to practice a piece of music.

What I don’t really touch on in writing (though I guess it’s there if you read between the lines) is the importance of breaks.  For most of my students, we discuss the importance of a regular practice habit, how many times a week, how many minutes each time.  The general rule for most of my students is somewhere from 4-5 days a week (why not 7? because I’m a realist and know that your child also has homework, projects, and a social life, not to mention the possibility of activities like sports and dance.  It’s not my job to set unrealistic and unattainable goals for your kids.  I want them to succeed, after all, and not feel like they are constantly playing catch up.  Anyway). But for any of my older students who can sit for more than 20 minutes at a time, breaks can be incredibly important.  Or maybe, giving students a break can help to inspire them to sit for longer than those 20 minutes.  Twenty multiplied by 2 is 40, and if my kids could practice for 40 minutes 4 times a week instead of 20, well, I don’t need to tell you how great that would be.

At entrepreneur.com, the five minute breaks include preparing a snack, reading an article, giving yourself a hand or neck massage, and trying to solve a Rubrik’s cube.  You can read about the benefits of each in the infographic at the page (plus all the other kinds of breaks you can take), but I think these are the ones that work best for practicing musicians (of all ages), and take the least amount of adapting for younger players.

Prepare a snack. This one is specifically for you parents.  You’re the grocery buyers in the house, and you know what your kids like.  Berries, leafy greens and nuts can boost brain function (Apples and cheese are great, too!).  Sounds like a PB&J break might be just the thing to break up a practice session, or break it down with fresh berries and raw shelled nuts.  I happen to love cashews and pecans, and I’ve almost always got raspberries on hand, so I know what I’ll be reaching for when I go to practice later on.

Reading an article. Your kids might not be avid online readers with their own feedly.com account, but if they do love to read (and I do, too!) let them pick up their latest favorite book to read a few pages or a whole chapter.

Hand or neck massage.  At this point, our kiddos are not really at the place in their musical development where stretching before, during or after practice is really necessary (though if they’re ever playing for 30 minutes or more non-stop it’ll be something we’ll talk about, especially if they stay serious about music in college), but something as simple as getting up for a bathroom break, getting a drink of water, or just stepping away from the piano for a few minutes is a good hand, body and brain break.

The Rubiks cube.  I know a kid who can solve this in under two minutes, or something really ridiculous like that.  You can also find videos of Rubiks cube genuises on youtube.  Your child doesn’t need to be the next Rubiks prodigy, but a simple brain teaser or puzzle is a good way to stay focused and yet take a break all at the same time.

When I was in college, I definitely spent a lot of time in the practice room.  I also spent a lot of time wandering around outside the practice room, too, and I think both of these activities were equally important.  When I took my breaks from practicing, it was to do a lot of things that I mention here – bathroom/water breaks, snack breaks. Sometimes, yes, socializing breaks.  It’s impressive to say you spent two hours practicing a day, but if you spent an hour of that time spacing out or constantly repeating passages without making progress, you haven’t really accomplished much.  The time away from the instrument, when handled correctly, can become just as important as the time you spend looking at and playing music.

Another great article at entreprenuer.com covers how to spend a lunch break.  With a little creativity, you can adapt these ideas into habits for yourself and your kids, too!

What are some of your non-musical practice tips?  What is your favorite way to take a break from the music?  Leave a comment below!

New Direction

I’ve been neglecting this blog for quite some time, and for that I apologize, but I’m back (with a vengeance)! I’ve been taking some time to research some new things and develop some new things and I’m ready to share it all with you, whether you are ready or not!

Who is the new direction of this blog and this website for? Lots of people. Private music instructors, private music students, parents of private music students. Continuing students who may be studying on their own, like teens and adults. Any teacher or caretaker of children who may want to inject a little more music into their routine. Anyone who has decided that they just don’t feel like growing up, anyone who understands a healthy dose of fun and play can be just as important as research and development, quality control, or good old fashioned elbow grease.

Ill be sharing tips on teaching, learning and practicing, and how parents can help, too. Ill be sharing tips on productivity and creativity. Ill also be sharing fun and/or beautiful things that I find inspirational. And on a more or less completely unrelated note, I will be sharing tidbits on what it’s like to accompany ballet classes on piano. As I’ve previously stated here in this blog, it can be quite stressful and also very awesome, and there is also a bit of a black hole on the Internet when it comes to dance accompanying; I would like to change that.

So stay tuned for music, creativity and missAdventures! It’s going to be a wild ride!

IT’S MUSIC COMPETITION TIME!

First of all, I have to start out by saying that up until about five years ago (or whenever it was that I started sending my kids off to the Mid-Atlantic Music Teachers Guild’s annual Spring Competition), I was pretty much dead set against competitions.  In fact, that first year,  I only sent maybe half of my students, and didn’t even attend the competition myself.

Maybe it’s because I was an only child.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got pretty decent self-esteem.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like getting put on the spot.  Maybe it’s something else entirely.  But the whole concept of a competition just seemed so foreign to me.

And then I attended a competition.

And you know what?  It was chaotic.  And stressful.  And tiring.  There were people everywhere, and some of them were lost.  Kids were tuning instruments in the middle of the hallway.  There was nowhere to sit.  People were running late.  Some of the other students were not so great.  Some of them were amazing.  It was kind of scary, I could see how some of my students might feel kind of intimidated in this environment.  But also… it was completely exhilarating at the same time.  It was amazing.  It was like everything that I try and do with my students all year long, wrapped up into one compact weekend.  IT WAS AN ADVENTURE.

The next year, and every year since, I have encouraged all of my eligible students to attend the Spring Festival, and to participate in as many competitions as they can.  Not because I want to scare the crap out of them, but because it is exciting.  And a little bit scary.

Because events like this focus you in a way that a recital doesn’t.  Events like this push you just a little bit out of your comfort zone, in a way that nothing else does.  I have come to love the Spring Festival so much, I don’t even mind waking up early for it.  It is a great weekend.

So here are the nitty gritty details.

the light fixture in the marriot lobby.. i realize now this picture makes the place scary, but i assure you, there is nothing to be afraid of!

The Spring Festival is hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Music Teachers Guild, a professional teachers’ organization with membership in New York, New Jersey, Connecticutt, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. (What did Dela wear?  Her New Jersey! BWAHAHA I SLAY ME!) Last year and this year (and hopefully many years in the future), the competition is held at the Hanover Marriot on Route 10 in Whippany, which is an absolutely gorgeous hotel.

And I also kind of just love that the competition is in Whippany.  For myself and most of my students, it is just far enough away that you can do it in a day and it’s not to annoying to drive to and yet, you are in the car just long enough to really feel like you are going somewhere different and special.. like on an adventure!  (I will probably use the word “adventure” at least twice more in this post)

The festival takes place the weekend of March 31st – it runs from Friday to Sunday.  The majority of my students (solo piano or guitar students) will be participating in competitions and evaluations (more on that in a minute) on Saturday, and that could be at any point from 9am to about 3pm (though most of it is done in the morning).  Some of my students will hopefully be participating in the talent showcase competition, and that will be taking place on Friday night.

Possible categories that my students can participate in include the competition on their instrument (standard solo in piano and pop solo in guitar).  Students are given a piece of music to learn, and they are scored on their performance.  This is as close to a standardized test as one can get in the music world, I feel.  If an actual competition is too much for a student (say, just a beginner), then there is the evaluation category, which is non-competitive.  Students perform for the judge and they are given both compliments and criticism.  Being able to take a healthy dose of criticism is important for, well, everyone (and because I feel it is important for a student, from time to time, to play for someone who is not actually me, I encourage everyone to do evaluation, in addition to the competition).  Certain students can also participate in the talent showcase category, where they accompany themselves while singing any song of their choosing.  I am going to STRONGLY SUGGEST that students accompany themselves on their own guitar, as this situation involves the least amount of variables.

Students participating in competition categories will receive a huge trophy if they win first, second or third place in their category, or they will receive a medal for fourth or fifth place.  All students who participate in the evaluation category will receive a small trophy (being able to graciously take criticism of both the good and not so good variety deserves an award, don’t you think?).  Winners in the talent showcase category will actually receive a cash prize (DUDE, I WANT TO ENTER!).

On Sunday, winners will be announced at the Awards Concert.  This is the first time they are doing a concert, so I have to admit, I am not quite sure what the event will entail.  It is usually in the afternoon, the performances are from the first place winners of the virtuoso categories, as well as the musical theater categories and battle of the bands competition.  During the ceremony, they do announce every child that wins, and if the student is present, they get to go up and get their award themselves!  It is a great and exhilarating feeling, and it is a great way to wrap up the weekend (and yes, if you stay at the hotel that weekend, either for just one night or the other, or from Friday to Sunday, there is a discounted rate for festival goers).

There is a $5.00 registration fee for all students who enter, and then an additional $30 per competition/evaluation and $35 for talent showcase.  Yes, this means that the minimum you will be paying for your child to participate is $35, and it could be as expensive as $65 (I will not even do the math for multiple children per household).  And yes, I know that is expensive.  When your child is still smiling at the end of the weekend, it will have been worth it.

Because in the end, this weekend is not about getting that trophy (although it is nice!).  It’s not about being the best one in the bunch.  It’s not about showing off to the world.  It’s about showing off to yourself.  It’s about being the best you that you can be.  It’s about setting a goal, working diligently towards it, and then attaining it.  It’s about going outside of your comfort zone, to an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar people, and THRIVING.  I know these are tough economic times, but if you can afford it, I assure you, it is worth it.  It’s not a learning experience, it is a learning adventure, and when we set off on this adventure together, we come back from it different people, stronger people, better people.  And oh yeah, we spent a whole weekend hanging out together, being a little chaotic and crazy together, and showing to ourselves that we can be absolutely awesome musicians.

In the end, it’s really just about being as awesome as you can possibly be, no matter what adventures you take in your life, musical or otherwise.

Whoops.  Said “adventure” three more times, not twice.  Haha!  Do I know myself, or do I know myself??

The Adventure Ducky Strikes Again

I have a student. Well, I have many students. But this one in particular, he is the inspiration for this post today.

He is, what I would call, a stereotypical little boy.  First of all, he, and his two brothers, are just adorable (I happen to teach all three).  They like video games and comic books (and if they don’t, they probably will), and jedi and pirates, etc.  Sometimes they are at each others’ necks, sometimes they are the cutest little trio.  They are the kind of little boys you might expect to come in with a skinned knee, or perhaps a frog in their pocket (their mom will probably read this, she will have to let me know if there’s ever been a frog situation).

This one brother, however, is the kind of guy who makes a mountain out of a mole hill.  He has been this way for a long time, and it’s something his mom has told me about, and something he and I have been working on.  He has gotten much better at letting the little mistakes stay little.  We haven’t really had a crisis in the middle of a lesson for awhile.

Yesterday, though, I could see it coming.

It was just the way he scrunched up his face, for just a second.  And then there was a sniffle.  We were on the brink.  One more mistake and we might have had a situation.  So I stopped him immediately, and launched into it.  I wish I could have recorded myself saying it, because I worded it perfectly for him.  And they were important enough words that I wanted to share them with all of my students, and with the world in general.  Here we go.

The Adventure Ducky, at some point I think I named him Jean Claude, or Pierre, I don't know why I give my pirate ducks French namesDude, dude, dude!  Take a breath, dude!  This is not a big deal.  Let me tell you something.  Everybody, every student, every musician, who has ever lived, has been to the place where you are right now.  You are on the edge of the map.  Sometimes this happens a day after you have your first lesson, or a week, or a month, or a year, or ten years.  Everything comes so super easy for you, and then all of a sudden, it doesn’t anymore.  All of a sudden, it’s not fun anymore.  It’s work.  This isn’t a problem, this is just the edge of your comfort zone.

NOW is when you begin your journey as a musician.  Now is when the adventure starts, and the fun begins.  Sometimes the challenges and problems that come up are exactly what make music interesting!  Where would the pirates be if they hadn’t committed mutiny, left Captain Jack on the island, stolen the cursed treasure and became zombies??  THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO MOVIE!  Look at how exciting it was.  Sometimes adventures are tough but they can be crazy exciting, too.

Right now you are just at the edge of the map.  Your adventure is just beginning.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Don’t be afraid of mistakes.  Mistakes just make the day more interesting.  Let’s get the pirate ducky out to remind us of the adventure that we’re on.

And Adventure Ducky sat on top of the piano for the rest of one of the best lessons I taught this week.  I think everyone needs a little visit from the Adventure Ducky every now and again.

Discipline for Beginners

Dear Friends,

So I am right now in upstate New York at Ukrainian dance camp.  I bring this up because the teachers here, among other things, stress the important of discipline in the students’ practice.

I am also right now reading a book called Zen Guitar (which applies the ideals and philosophy behind the Japanese dojo to the study of guitar) (and actually is a really great book that all musicians should read) and one of the principles outlined in the book is also discipline.

I like this congruity.  I like being able to study the same thing in different places.  It helps me to be better at it in general.  And discipline is an important skill to be built for any student of anything, whether it is piano, guitar, or, say, engineering.  Or business.

So what is discipline?  To paraphrase Philip Toshio Sudo (the auther of Zen Guitar), discipline is completing a task to the best of your ability every time you have to do it.  Which is actually a lot harder to do than it sounds, especially once a student has gained some skill in any given subject.

When one of my beginners sits down at the piano, all they can do is be disciplined.  Everything they try is so new that it requires all the focus she or he can muster together.  If a student is practicing on a regular basis without mommy or daddy reminding them, then that student is actually on the path towards becoming a disciplined student of music.

But as a student gains more experience on their instrument, they require more and more discipline to stick with it.  Working on a song for a few weeks at a time does not require much discipline, but reviewing Hanon, Czerny or Schmitt exercises, or running through scales, or other finger exercises as part of your daily practice for weeks, months or even years (like at the stage of the game I am at right now) requires a level of discipline that few students ever develop.

But here is something that is, like, way important.  And this is something that I actually remind my students of on a regular basis.  And it’s what I’d like to leave you all with today.

Discipline does not mean doing it perfectly every time.  EVER.  Discipline means doing your best every time.  I know, sometimes our “best” is nowhere near our idea of what “best” sounds like.  But if you are trying your best every time you sit down to play one note or an entire sonata, then eventually – and probably sooner than we realize – our “best” becomes what we expect it to be.

Miss Anna’s Rules

Over the summer I had these bouts of insomnia. Or maybe it was just one random night. Or maybe I just feel like really outlandish things can only be written while severely sleep deprived. Actually, I may have started to write this in a moment of completely relaxed clarity, while on vacation with my family in North Carolina. Either way, I wrote it, and it’s mine, and it may be a bit outlandish, and maybe you’ll say, I can’t believe you actually sat down and wrote this all down and, well, to that I would respond, “neither can I.”

I am a big NCIS fan. I always catch an episode (or seven) when it’s on USA (which it is… often). I have an NCIS dance. It’s a special dance I only dance to the NCIS theme song. One of these days, someone will tape me doing it, I’m sure, and they will upload it to the ‘net, and I will NOT be embarrassed. Recently, Ziva even popped up in one of my dreams (after I got shot in the leg, clearly she was not on some sort of protection detail).

But this article is not about Ziva. And while it’s not really about Gibbs, it did come about because of him. If you’ve never seen NCIS, I should probably mention that Gibbs is famous for having this whole humongous list of rules. They are rules for investigation and crime fighting, and life in general. Well, I have a list of rules, too. And while I’m not going to share ALL of them with you (no one wants to hear my personal rules on relationships), I am going to share the set that pertains to music. Here we go, because unlike on NCIS, where the rules are learned as you go along, I feel it is better to present them all together, and to talk about them, and maybe even edit or add a few.

11. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
12. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop practicing.
13. Always have a pencil.
14. Only take the gigs you are comfortable with.
15. Own your music, even your mistakes.
16. Listen.
17. Always be prepared to perform one song in its entirety.
18. Only one person should tune at a time.

What? Where are 1 – 10? And why are we stopping at 18? 1 – 10 are reserved for life rules (stuff like respecting your elders, standing up for yourself, etc. etc.). At the moment I only have 8 rules when it comes to music (and yes, I know, 11 and 12 are pretty contradictory).

This section of my list of rules was actually very easy to write. I started writing rule 11 and didn’t really pause until I was done. It’s funny how pretty much before I started writing this list, I never even thought about having a list of rules and yet, when I started writing this list, it’s like it was just sitting there in my brain somewhere, just waiting for me to discover it. Funny how the brain works.

So, what do you think? Did I hit it? Or completely miss the mark? Can we edit, add, take away? Do you have music rules?

Believe in Something

I’m preparing to give a presentation on my recent trip to Ukraine at my church next week. I can’t believe I’ve been home for a month and a half! While I’ve been sitting here, trying to figure out a way to organize my experience and my thoughts into something cohesive and coherent, I’ve also been thinking about what meaning can be taken out of all of this, what lessons can be passed on.

And I think the biggest thing I can tell anyone in relation to my trip here, isn’t about the kids I met, or the consequences of the accident at Chernobyl, or anything at all even related to nuclear power.

It’s the importance of finding something to believe in, and believing in that thing 110%, no matter what, and without fail. Leaving my family and friends, and job and all my students for two weeks was not easy. There were a few times during the trip where I was definitely very, very homesick. There were some sad moments when I wished, as much of a grown up as I was, I could just get a hug from my mother. But in the end, I was witness to some amazing work and yes, if CCPI asked me to document another trip for them, I would say yes.

I’m not saying that everyone should go halfway around the world to volunteer for various charitable organizations. But I am saying that you should not be afraid to believe in something – whether it is a personal goal or a philanthropic pursuit – and believe in it wherever it takes you. My belief in my cause took me to Ukraine. Your beliefs may not take you to a third world country (maybe you’ll luck out and go somewhere glamorous! hah!), they may not even take you out of the country you currently reside in.

But the feeling you get when your dreams become reality is one of the most amazing feelings in the world.

The Built-in Metronome

built in metronome – (noun) a rhythm that is repeated throughout a piece that a student can use to help him or her keep the beat steady.

A metronome is an invaluable tool when learning a piece. But sometimes a student has a hard time working with a metronome (especially if they are a new player). In that case, I look at the particular piece of music to see if there is any kind of repeated pattern in either hand that can also function as a “built in metronome,” something that is repeated at a steady interval.

If a child can identify visually that something is a repeated pattern, then they will more easily be able to identify aurally that something is a repeated pattern, and they can work from there. The easiest of these patterns to identify is a pattern of all quarter notes, which often happens in the left hand of a piece. Then the left hand becomes a metronome. Since most students are taught note values based on the quarter note equalling one beat, it is very easy for a student to hear that a half note would equal two quarter notes, or a whole note would equal four.

In an example like this, I would work on the student’s left hand first, making sure that they listen carefully as they play. Sometimes I may even make them play the notes as evenly as they can first, then unevenly, playing them in pairs of long and short notes (playing the wrong way sometimes helps a student identify the right way).

Sometimes, I even make them play a repeated pattern of quarter notes while we have a conversation, forcing them to concentrate on keeping the beat steady, and also on something completely different. This is actually a good exercise because it is playing the piano, but still so uniquely different that when/if they make a mistake, it is actually cause for a giggle instead of a frustration. And every so often, which I find very interesting, a student will speed up/slow down to match the rhythm of their speech.

Once they can see, hear (and also feel) that the left hand pattern should remain as steady as possible, we start adding the right hand back in. As they start playing it hands together, I will stop them whenever the left hand starts to be influenced by whatever the right hand is doing, which may still happen in spite of all the work we have just done. I tell the student that it is normal – sometimes a change is not immediately apparent – and that they should continue to practice like that at home.

Sometimes a pattern is not so obvious, or not so useful. The left hand may have all whole notes, but whole notes have four beats each and so they are not the best when trying to compare other notes to it. When I can, I try and find some sort of pattern as a point of reference for a student, to help them make sense of a piece of music.

Zero Gravity

Zero-Gravity Zone (noun) the area immediately surrounding the piano keyboard.

When a kid is young and their fingers are small, many of them will throw their entire hand into playing the piano.  Wrists bounce, sometimes arms flap, and if this is not caught and fixed early, they will struggle to build the finger strength they need to glide over the keys like a master.

To help children visualize the proper technique, I explain to them that the proper way to hold their hands at the keyboard is to hold them like they are floating in a zero-gravity field.  There is absolutely no reason to lean into the keys when they play, that they will not fall off the face of the earth.  The amount of energy they really need in pressing down a key is similar to the amount of energy expended flipping on a light switch.

This visualization should also be recalled when a student is working on playing loudly or softly.

I feel that students are incorrectly taught that a loud sound requires a hard touch, and a soft sound requires a light touch.  This gives the impression that a different amount of pressure needs to be applied.  Playing loud or soft does not involve hard jabs or light brushes on the keys.  What is really needed is a quick pressing down of a key, or a slow pressing down of a key.

If you don’t believe me, witness the student who speeds up through loud passages or slows down through soft passages.  Also check out trying to depress a key without sounding the hammer against the string.  Depending on the sensitivity of the mechanism this process can take actually a few seconds, whereas pressing the key to get a sound is an instantaneous action.

How do I get my students around this?  First with a little bit of my own demonstration.  I set the metronome very low – around 50 – 60 bpm, depending on my mood.  I will play a bunch of notes loudly, and then play a bunch of notes softly.  I instruct the student not to just listen, but to specifically watch my hand.  Moving at such a slow tempo, there is enough time to see that when I play loudly, my finger is quickly hitting the key in an instant.  While I am playing softly, my finger is taking almost the whole beat to move, which is a very obvious gesture.

The next step includes having my student hold out the palm of their hand, where i repeat the gesture. first “loud” tapping, then “soft” tapping.  The point of this part of the exercise is to really have the child realize that when my finger hits the palm of their hand, it feels exactly the same no matter how loud or soft I am playing.  Then, they get to give it a go.

I really stress the importance of a zero-gravity zone, whether or not I even use that exact terminology.  It is very important to work on the proper technique here, as extra pressure leaning your hands or even your whole arm into the keys can lead to not just bad technique, but health problems as well.

Many people are aware that carpel tunnel syndrome arises when the nerve in the wrist is pinched over a period of time.  It can happen because of the way you are bending at the wrist or at the elbow, which is basically a pinching of the nerve due to your actual movement.  It’s a very obvious thing.  The nerve can be pinched by the muscles as well, which can sometimes be not so obvious.  If you are using your wrists to play, or are leaning your body into the keys, the muscles in your arms need to flex, which will include the muscles in your forearm and wrist.  Too much pressure over time may cause carpel tunnel syndrom to develop.

Maybe I am being a little paranoid here because of my own run ins with carpel tunnel.  When I play for myself, I play hard.  I enjoy passionate and loud music (especially if I am playing some of those Ukrainian folk tunes I and my friends enjoy hearing, or straight up pop music by Tori Amos or Fiona Apple).  I know for a fact I lean into the keys more than I should.  I have been to specialists and at the time I was told that my CTS was coming more from my muscles pinching the nerve than from the bones pinching it, but also, that my pain was so faint (yet persistent) that it could have also been a form of tendonitis (which is an inflammation of the tendons, which, again, may have been pressing on that nerve).  It was so hard to pinpoint my pain, and yet, my pain was so manageable, and more importantly, not life-changing, that tests to get to the bottom of the matter may have just ended up being too painful, too expensive, and still, possibly inconclusive.

Since then, I have altered the way I play, and taken a much different approach to my practice regimen.  I am hardly on painkillers. I am very thankful that my symptoms are manageable when they do flare up, and that also, I can recognize a flare up very early, and react accordingly (take pain meds, restrict my movements).

I do not wish this on any of my students.  I know that I am lucky, but not everyone is.

Besides health implications, playing in a zero-gravity zone has other, fun benefits.  For example, a student will start to make more mistakes.

What?

Playing with poor technique is like playing with shackles on your fingers.  You are limited in movement, and your movement can be clumsy.  Once you remove your restrictions (your restrictions being the weight of your arms), it is like as huge expansivive field has opened up before you.  And what else could you want to do besides run through it?  so.  Your fingers speed up, you start making mistakes and you don’t even know why.  It’s important to have a metronome out at this point so that while you are focusing on your new technique, you can use the metronome to keep you grounded… which is an interesting choice of words, I suppose, when talking about floating over the keyboard!

Silly Mistakes

Silly mistake  (noun) – a mistake that is immediately identified as a mistake, which the student self-corrects.

I’m not sure where I first came up with the term ‘silly mistake.’ It’s possible that this is something I picked up from my mother, a third grade teacher but active with music and performance at her school.

We are taught to learn from our mistakes, but mistakes are a little bit different in music.  You make a mistake because of a miscommunication between your fingers, brain and ears.  Most times, a mistake is a clue that you need to slooooow down. Especially a silly mistake.

Silly mistakes happen at that point where you almost know a piece, and your confidence level may be just exceeding your knowledge and comfort level. When you become overconfident, you relax, mentally, and speed up, physically,  and every so often, there is a disjoint between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing.  And that’s where it happens – a silly mistake.

As SOON as you make a silly mistake, you come to the immediate realization of, “Hey!  That’s not right!”  And you self-correct.  The silly part comes when you realize it’s a mistake.  If you knew it was a mistake, why was it made in the first place?

How do you fix a silly mistake?  That immediate self-correction is NOT a fixed silly mistake.  It is the end of the silly mistake.  To fix such a mistake, you need to go over first the small section of the passage where the mistake was made, raelly zero in on it.  Once you can confidently and securely get through the silly mistake, then you zoom out a little and work on the section from a few measures before to a few measures after the silly mistake, because you have to practice getting in and out of the section.

Once you can do this smoothly, then you can go back to running through the whole piece.  The whole process of fixing a silly mistake is a short one, if the student is focused.  It may take anywhere from 5 minutes to maybe even a whole hour or, well, who really knows, depending on the mistake and on the student.  BUTTTTTTTTT.  The alternative, simply continuing on and playing the entire piece from start to finish until all mistakes are fixed, is quite a longer process, and could take days, if it is successful at all.