Music Mastery Practice Tips Newsletter, Issue 18

February-March 2011

February and March have been extremely busy and extremely productive. There are so many great projects going on right now. I literally do not have enough time available to tend to everything, and trying to balance everything and make ample time for quality has been challening. Between writing grants at my school, preparing for our spring concert, writing online lessons for my Digital Music Composition and Remote Access music students, maintaining the CPFA Moodle homepage, class web pages, my own web page, and updating content on THREE different Facebook groups, daily life is busy. On top of all of that, I am planning events in April and July in my role as the Director of Education for The A Cappella Project - Philadelphia. Too bad I don't have enough to do. ;-)

Site Stats: Newsletter membership has climbed to just under 1200. I have seriously cut back on the accessibility of this newsletter list, as I am getting lots of people spamming links on their profile page who aren't really interested in my newsletter content. Despite multiple attempts to address this with my web host, they continue to ignore me. The site had just under 10,000 unique visitors in March, totaling over 5 days of time spent on the site. Thank you to everyone who continues to read and share what I have to offer.

Bandwidth Increase: I had a happy problem in the third week of February - my website exceeded its 5 GB monthly bandwidth allowance, so I had to upgrade the site to the enhanced package. Ah, the price of success!

Partners In Online Learning: On March 28th, Mark Burke, CEO of ViaAcademies, paid a visit to my school, met with school administration, and observed my middle school strings class. Mark and I are acquaintences who met 13 years ago when I replaced him as the band director at my first teaching job. I have been working for ViaAcademies as their contracted instructor for their online Exploring Music with Garage Band and Exploring Music with Mixcraft courses, and now my cyber charter school is partnering with his company to incorporate his current online course offerings for our Remote Access program at the Center for Performing and Fine Arts and to collaborate on designing new courses to add to our offerings. This is a win-win for both institutions, and I look forward to the relationship as it develops.

In-Service Presentation Materials: At the beginning of March, I served as a clinician for PMEA District 3 during their District Jazz Band Festival. The presentation was entitled 21st Century Resources for Music Educators and had 90 minutes of great information. You can view the entire presentation and materials here.

New Clinics Page: With the completion of a guest speaker appearance in January and this most recent in-service presentation in March, I am being contacted to serve as a guest speaker and clinican on a more regular basis. To better serve this demand, I have created a new clinics page that features all of the topics I present and services I render. The topics I present fall under categories such as technology integration, marching band techniques, music pedagogy and practice techniques, and music advocacy and curriculum design. There are thirty topics that can be combined in any way to create a customized presentation. Take a look at the new Clinics page and please recommend me to your colleagues and administrators.

New Podcast Format: My first podcast was back in October of 2010. I took a break from it after that, unsure of the direction I wanted to move with a podcast. At the end of January, I began a new format for the podcasts that will continue now until I change my mind! My goal is to produce two podcasts a month, alternating between a "current events" episode and a guest interview episode. So far, I have interviewed Janet Horvath, musician and author, and David H. Thomas, musician and blogger. Every podcast also features original music composed by yours truly, with links to download free pdf copies of the score and mp3s of the music. Please visit the podcast page to check out the current episodes and subscribe.

New Review - Theta Music Trainer: There is a fantastic new website that opened in October of 2010. Theta Music Trainer features ear training games designed for middle school students and up. These games are engaging and extremely varied in rigor, right up to professional level.  Read the review here. Or, sign up for a free account here.

Projects in the Works: Upcoming reviews of JoyTunes music education gaming software and Value Vocals a cappella arranging service. Additionally, I'll be interviewing folk musician John McCutcheon and Jazz Educator Caleb Chapman for future podcasts.

Recommendation of the Month

Poke the Box by Seth Godin is already #43 on Amazon's book list after only being out 15 days. I discovered Seth Godin about six months ago. He is one of the most widely read bloggers in the English language and is the author of twelve books. I got Godin's most recent previous book, Linchpin, for Christmas this year and could not put it down. Seth has got his finger on the pulse of the emerging economy of the post-industrial era, and he shares that wisdom with the world for practically nothing. Poke the Box is actually selling in hardback right now for $7.25! When was the last time you saw a hardback book for under $10? 




 Pick up a copy here.

March Most Visited Pages

Pennsylvania House Bill 855 Calls For Teacher Furloughs: And so it begins in Pennsylvania. House Bill 855 was put before the education committee on March 1st and will go to vote this coming March 9th. It will allow school boards to suspend teachers' pay for "economic reasons" without requiring them to explore other cost-cutting measures. Read more.


Why An "A" Is Not Enough - A Demonstration Of The Value Of Performing Music: This video features a high school honors band performing a portion of Frank Ticheli's setting of the American folk song "Shenandoah". First, the conductor has the band play the excerpt as it is written on the page, then he has them play it with 90% of the sounds correct (an "A" as far as report cards and tests are concerned). Finally, they play the excerpt as it is written, but with emotional expressiveness that only a live performing ensemble can deliver. View the video.

Airline Travel And New Orleans: At the beginning of January, I took a trip to New Orleans to participate in a panel discussion at the Jazz Education Network Conference. Here are my insights on the current state of airline travel and the sights and sounds of the Big Easy. Read more.


What Is A Good Keyboard To Practice On?: Although keyboards have improved remarkably over the years to match their acoustic counterparts, nothing beats a good old upright or baby grand for developing as far as the weight and feel of the keys. The one big disadvantage, of course, is that acoustics take up a lot of space. You simply can’t take them wherever you go, which can make it difficult to stay in practice.The obvious alternative, of course, are keyboards. The problem is there are so many to choose from and so many of them come attached to price tags a little too steep for non-professionals. Read more.

Guest Conductor Tip: Name Tags For The Ensemble: If you ever find yourself in the position of serving as a guest conductor for an honors band festival, an onstage clinic for an orchestra, or other event where you are working with an ensemble of strangers for an extended period of time, here's a quick tip. Read more.

Teaching Jazz Improvisation to the Absolute Beginner: One of the things that many music teachers struggle with is a way to teach jazz improvisation to beginners. In some cases, this is because the teacher themself has limited experience with jazz improvisation themself. Jazz improvisation, or improvisation of any kind, is an important facet of performing music that should be experienced by every performer. It is not, however, something that a beginner o.... Read more

Online Webcam Music Lessons: As onine learning continues to gain legitimacy in America, my webcam music lessons service continues to attract attention. I offer a free trial lesson to see if online music lessons are right for you. You can also earn a free lesson by referring a student who signs up as a new student. Visit this page for details.

Theta Music Trainer: Free Online Music Ear Training Games: Educational gaming is a relatively new market, and the implications for the ways that young people learn are obvious. In like fashion, Theta Music Trainer provides a body of games that teach basic ear training skills in pitch, rhythm, harmony, and even mixing live audio. These games are engaging, entertaining, and really do get kids to listen closely in graduated levels of difficulty. Read the full review


This Month's Practice Tip: Friday Play-Throughs

For most young students, learning to practice effectively is just as much of a learning process as learning to operate their instrument and reading music notation. The beginning musician typically practices by starting at the beginning of the piece and simply trying to play through the entire work over and over. This is rarely effective, because it does not isolate problematic technical passages and it tends to cause reinforcement of flawed performance - they end up playing the same mistakes over and over, and they get really good at them.

Once a musician has learned how to practice effectively, they tend to spend the majority of their time in that middle phase of performance preparation - the nitty gritty. The majority of music practicing is about isolating and repeating technical passages that your brain has not made the neural connections with fine motor skills to perform accurately. I'd estimate that about 80 to 90 percent of rehearsal time is dedicated to training your body how to correctly operate the machine we call a musical instrument to be capable of performing the music accurately and consistently.

As you become a more experienced performer, it is very easy to get bogged down in this stage of the preparation. You spend so much time on the minutia that you forget to play for consistency through the whole piece. It is a good idea to periodically return to simply just starting at the beginning and playing the entire piece without stopping, as those beginning musicians tend to do.

In the month of March, I made a personal commitment to return to the piano and begin working again in the Alfred Adult Piano Course level 3 book. I have been playing about 20 minutes a day during the week, and have isolated four pieces from the book to focus my time on, including Bach's famous Prelude in C Major from the Well-Temepered Clavier. I reserve every Friday as a "play through" day, where I simply play through all four pieces from front to back, with whatever inaccuracies and errors pop up. It not only is a good quiz to discover how performance-ready you are, it is also a way to remember to enjoy the music in its entirety.

I find that the Friday play-throughs are a nice way to end the week. Mentally, it says "no work today, enjoy" and emotionally it feels good to be performing rather than practicing.

Until next time,



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