Music Mastery Practice Tips Newsletter, Issue 13

July 2010

"Exponential" is the word that best describes the activity on %site% this past month! The membership of this newsletter list jumped from 250 to over 400 in just a few weeks! Welcome to all of the new readers. Here's a review of the great things that happened on the website in late June and early July:

Webcam Music Studio: While I was serving as a Beta tester for the fabulous new Music Professional Learning Network, Dr. Joseph Pisano introduced me to yet another great free web 2.0 resource called TinyChat. With it, you can create free chat rooms with excellent features like webcam, whiteboard, and file sharing. Being a web 2.0 app, it is totally embeddable on a web page. Theretowit, I integrated it into my web page and now have a fully functional webcam studio for all my webcam music students. This prevents the issue of students having to download and install Skype if the don't already have it, and it provides me with additional productivity tools that Skype does not have. Check out the studio landing page, complete with walkthrough video here.

Projects in the Works: In addition to making it a goal to have some kind of blog post each day, there are several projects going on behind the scenes right now. I am in the midst of reading Playing (Less)Hurt in preparation for my first video podcast interview with author Janet Horvath. I am also in the midst of a trial of a music product called Quik Callus and will be writing a review soon. In addition, I am working on a special review page that highlights the amazing things we're doing at my school with interdisiplinary curriculum. As if that weren't enough, I am working on an interesting new symphonic band piece (that's winds, cello, and string bass by the European standard) for inclusion in a competition that came to my attention via my website all the way from sunny Spain!

Recommendation of the Month

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Finale: An Easy Guide to Music Notation by Tom Rudolph and Vince Leonard is basically "the book" on how to use Finale to do just about anything. I took Tom's graduate level course on Finale at Villanova one summer and learned things that doubled my productivity with this software. This book was the text we used in class. Highly recommended. Pick up a copy here.

June-July Blog Highlights

Great Performances: The Kings Firecrackers Precision Jump Rope Team:And you thought your high school marching band was disciplined! Read more

The World's First Totally Online Music Ed/Tech Conference!: Leave it to Jim Frankel and SoundTree to be the first on the scene to offer an entire day of music education and music technology professional development conference online for FREE! Read more

Independence Day and Thoughts on Self-Directed Creativity: Today, on U.S. Independence Day, I find myself pondering "independence" and "freedom" and thought I'd share a few thoughts on that. The fact of the matter is, we are born free and we remain free. Freedom is a universal truth, but we create experiences for ourselves that limit our freedom in many ways for many reasons. Read more

Welcome to the Future of Music Education: The Music Professional Learning Network: It's finally here - the website that is the collaborative creation of some of the most innovative and forward-thinking people in the Music Education profession. This is the final two weeks of beta testing for the Music Professional Learning Network - a social network for music teachers, music education undergra... Read more

A Phone Call with Janet Horvath of Playing Less Hurt: It's amazing to me how my attitude stacks the deck in my favor and seredipity is the result. Back at the end of April, Hal Leonard Books was promoting the newest version of Janet Horvath's monumental book Playing (less) Hurt. They had a little contest on their Facebook group... Read more

A Fantastic Article on the Brain and Music Learning: Just a few days ago, the very excellent iSchoolBand Blog published a guest article by Michael D Griffin entitled How to Learn Music Properly. In his article, Griffin draws many of the same conclusions that I have discovered in my own personal research of modern neurology and how it affects music learning. I agree that most performing music programs never teach their students how to practice or how to think meta-cognitively. Read more

Ways of Attracting Attention to Your Website: Occasionally, I post an article about what I've learned through the school of hard knocks about publishing online and website marketing. A recent article full of great tips prompted me to write a new one. Read more

Not Just for Gleeks: 10 Proven Ways that Music Makes You Smarter: This is the first guest post ever hosted at my website! Read more

This Month's Practice Tip: Identifying Over-Practicing

For most students, whether youth or adult, the biggest challenge about practicing is finding a way to make it a regular, effective part of your routine. For professionals and semi-professionals, the opposite problem can be true. Individuals who want to make a living playing a musical instrument are expected to be superhuman by default - never missing a note, always playing or singing with perfect intonation and gorgeous tone, and being able to play anything placed in front of them with minimal to no rehearsal. To achieve this high level of performance consistently, professional music performers must practice several hours a day. Even the most natural and gifted soloist has to train the body to respond consistently. The main way of training the body to respond consistently is to repeat the fine motor movements thousands of times, thereby strengthening the neural networks that fire those sequences of signals.

Even if you are not a professional performer, the amount of repetition needed to simply become proficient on your instrument is very taxing. If you are semi-professional (meaning you occasionally play paying gigs that supplement your other incomes) or you are a hobbyist playing for your own enjoyment, acquiring enough proficiency on the instrument to make your music performance enjoyable is a major investment of time, money, and effort. All of this necessary repetition can easily lead to a problem - overuse injuries.

The human body was never really meant to speciailize in one set of movements for an extended period of time. As we have evolved past simple survival skills and into more refined physical pursuits such as athletics, dance, and music performance, we began to discover that our genetics works against us. Muscles, tendons, and joints that are over-used begin to swell, stiffen, and break down. As most people know, muscle fibers must actually break down to rebuild and strengthen. The same is not true, however, of tendons and ligaments. And today, with computer use on the rise, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and repetititve strain injury (RSI) are getting much more press - musicians have been experiencing these conditions for about as long as the violin has been around.

Defining Over-Practicing

When one practices their instrument for a long enough period of time, or uses excessive force when playing (pressing too hard on keys or strings, straining the vocal folds to hit high notes or sing too loud, etc.), the performer begins to experience physical symptoms of RSI. These can include:

From my own experience, this usually comes in the form of fatigue and pain first. There is some discomfort to be expected - after all, you are building muscle groups to perform the motions necessary to play. You are also in many cases building calluses in order for the body to protect itself. Despite this, you can easily say that you have practiced too long or too hard when the discomfort and fatigue persist even after you stop practicing. As I grow a little older, I notice that my endurance level has suffered a bit, both vocally as a singer and in my forearms as a clarinetist. I definitely have to pace myself more than I used to. I also have noticed that my lung capacity is not what it used to be.

Suggestions for Managing Practice Pace and Intensity

The information above about RSI and the bulleted list both come from Janet Horvath's excellent book Playing (Less) Hurt. In terms of managing practice pace and intensity, she suggests the followng:

Even student musicians of a young age need to be made aware of the potential for injury. I have seen my share of sprains, strains, dislocations, and concussions from my work as a marching band director and drum corps member. I have also seen young students not fitted well for an instrument who did permanent damage to their bodies because of the instrument's size or the student's lack of knowledge about correct posture and supporting equipment (straps, shoulder rests, etc.).

I will be discussing many more topics about musical injury prevention with author Janet Horvath in an upcoming interview for my website. Stay tuned!

Until next time,


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