Music Mastery Practice Tips Newsletter, Issue 9

January 2010

Welcome to all the new subscribers! The list is growing exponentially, up to about 10 new subscribers a week! 36 new members in the month of January alone! Thank you for your interest!"

This month, the Compositions page got a long overdue facelift and now sports a much more professional and efficient web store. Visitors can now use the share apps to post one of my compositions to any social media network. Please help get the word out about my handiwork!

Recommendation of the Month

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The Creative Director is the innovative teaching method created by seasoned band director Edward Lisk. I took Mr. Lisk's graduate course about five years ago, and it totally redefined my understanding of how to teach instrumental music. If you are a band or orchestra director, a music education student, or a private music instructor, you need to be acquainted with this method.

January Highlights

The following articles were the most widely-read on in the month of January:

Neurology Applied: How Science is Bringing Music Instruction Back to Expressive Development: You have between your ears the most advanced processor ever seen. With the advent of MRI, CaT scans, and now PET scans, neurologists have made amazing discoveries in just how amazing the human brain really is. Their research gives us clearer and clearer pictures of how the human brain assimilates new knowledge, practices that knowledge, and is amazingly flexible and pliable in its application. Read more

10 Tips for Including a Metronome in Students' Practice: Most student musicians and even some more experienced musicians do not realize how inconsistent humans are in terms of their perception of time. Our perception of time changes from moment to moment based on our emotional state. Music played at louder dynamics tends to rush, softer music tends to drag. Even a difference in age of the performers tends to produce differences in perceptions of "how fast time passes." Read more

A Brass Player's Primary Tool for Tone Production - the B.E.R.P.: Any brass player worth their salt knows that the instrument itself is basically a channeler and amplifier for the thing that really produces the instrument's vibration, which happens to be the human lips. A brass player spends the majority of their practice time developing control, range, flexibility, and tone quality of the brass embouchure in much the same way a vocalist works for control and ease of use of the vocal folds. Read more

Pitch Development: Exercising Your "Inner Ear": All music teachers must train students in the ability to audiate. Audiation is a term coined by Howard Gardner to describe the phenomenon of "hearing" sound in the mind only. In order for a musician to perform a piece of music, they must be able to hear the music within and learn the skills to perform it. This function of a musician's mind is so fundamental that it is often taken for granted by music teachers. Ask any self-taught musician and they will tell you "well, if you play it for me first, I can pick it up really quick - but I can't read it." Read more

Today's Practice Tip: Exercise Your Ability to Focus

This tip can apply to any aspect of life as a human being, but the study of music performance provides a direct and measurable result from its application. Consciousness and the human brain is a fascinating topic, and the more one learns about it, the more one can see how our own analytical mind can easily sabotage our efforts in any endeavor. At any given moment, we are able to focus and pay attention to one thing. At the same time, our brain is being bombarded with thousands of stimuli that the brain must interpret and filter. We tend to allow our attention to bounce between focal points in rapid fire succession.

When we choose to focus in on one and only one thing, the brain filters out the majority of the other stimuli. Because we, especially in modern society, do not spend much time focused on only one thing, most people can not go longer than thirty seconds without having their attention pulled off of what they are focusing on. Most of the time, our attention is pulled off by our own internal dialogue - the analytical mind in its incessant weighing, measuring, and judging. While this analytical mind is absolutely necessary and an important part of assessing one's progress on a musical instrument, it has the tendency to run amok. Part of the reason for this phenomena is that our own sense-of-self, or ego, is emotionally attached to our perceptions. The analytical mind not only analyzes what is happening, but it attaches an emotional reaction to the observation based on our prior experiences. The end result is that we tend to pre-judge what we are observing, search for results that give us the emotions we prefer, and avoid stimuli that the sense-of-self finds unpleasing.

In terms of practicing a musical instrument, this translates to a feeling of failure or frustration when we can't get it right, which tends to short-circuit our ability to repeat phrases for a long enough duration to program the neurons to fire the correct fine motor patterns. The simple fact is: if we can stay focused on the task at hand (repeating the musical phrases to build the motor skills needed to perform the music) without allowing the analytical emotional mind to intervene, the effective amount of practicing we can produce is exponentially greater.

Try the following the next time you are practicing:

  1. Choose a probelmatic passage to focus on.
  2. Perform the passage using any practice techniques you choose (rhythm patterns, looping, etc.)
  3. Rather than repeat the passage a set number of successful repetitions, continue to perform the passage indefinitely, modifying the tempo or techniques you are using until the passage becomes consistent and successful at the fastest tempo possible (up to performance tempo).
  4. When the mind steps in with internal dialogue, allow the thought to pass and move directly back into the present moment of simply performing.
  5. Somewhere along the line, you will find yourself "lost in the moment" or "in the zone" and will not be aware of the passage of time. This is the desirable state of present moment awareness you are striving for. Stay in that zone and keep repeating the music for as long as you can sustain.

When that feeling of being "in the moment" or "in the zone" occurs, you have momentarily lost your sense-of-self and nothing exists for you except your mind and body working together to perform the music. This technique can easily be applied to any other task you choose, even something simple as fixing your breakfast in the morning. Present moment awareness is a way of life and a practice in and of itself.

Until next time,


This newsletter (c) 2010 Thomas J. West. If you wish to reprint this article on another website or offline, please contact the copyright holder before using.

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