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Music Education, Practice Tips

Developing Great Practice Habits

Anyone who picks up an instrument probably has some ambitious expectations about what they’re going to play. That is awesome and keeping those big goals in mind can be a good thing. But there are branches off the road to those goals that can lead to discouragement. With that in mind, I want to talk about practice habits and expectations of our practice.

Structure Your Practice Sessions

Most of us don’t have as much time as we’d like to practice. That just means we have to make the most of the time that we do have. Maybe you can only squeeze in 20 minutes of practice a day. Rather than sifting through your notes, playing a little of this and a little of that, having a schedule will help you focus on spending that 20 minutes wisely. For example, 5 minutes warming up with scales, 5 minutes practicing technique, 5 minutes working on your main goal song, and 5 minutes of free play to wind down. Use a timer! It’s amazing how fast 20 minutes flies by and it’s not uncommon to run out of time before you’ve even started!

Don’t Compare Yourself To People On The Internet

I have students who will tell me about someone they saw online playing the song they are currently working on SO FAST or simply WITHOUT A MISTAKE. YouTube is a fantastic resource for tutorials, examples, or just to see what people are capable of achieving. It can be inspiring if you have a “if they can do it, so can I” attitude. But sometimes when we’re struggling with a piece, watching people “show off” can be frustrating. We can’t forget that other people also have to practice and most people aren’t on YouTube showing you how many times they had to play that measure to get it perfect. We don’t all learn at the same pace and if you only have 20 MINUTES a day to practice you can’t hold yourself to the same standard as someone who practices 4 HOURS a day. It’s easy to tell this to ourselves but that alone may not relieve the impulse. Be aware of yourself and take note of what helps and what just bums you out. And that brings us to:

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

You are awesome. You work hard at your craft, always looking for new ways to improve your musical competency because you know that learning never stops. That doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally celebrate the work we’ve done thus far. Go back through your notes, or into a previous lesson book. Find a piece that looks easy now but you remember at the time how intimidating it was. Crush that song. Feel it bend to your whim, swing it where it was never meant to be swung, throw in some embellishments on the repeat because it would be utterly boring if you didn’t. How far you’ve come. This is cake and it’s delicious. And that song you’re working on now? The big one with all those flats? Pretty soon that song will be cake too. It just needs a little more time.

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Florence Beatrice Price photo | Tiny Village Music
Ukulele Performance

Florence Beatrice Price

Continuing the series of ukulele arrangements by Ross Malcolm Boyd for Black History Month, here is the next video.

Florence Beatrice Price was an American composer, born in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 9, 1887. Her mother was a music teacher who helped guide Florence’s early musical education. Her first composition was published at age 11, and only a few years later she was enrolled at the New England Conservatory, majoring in piano and organ.

Due to the attitude toward African-Americans at the time, Price pretended to be Mexican. In 1906 she graduated with honors. After winning first prize in the Wanamaker Foundation Awards in 1932 for her Symphony in E Minor, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the piece in 1933.

This would establish Florence B. Price as the first African-American woman to have a composition played (not to mention premiered!) by a major orchestra.

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Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor, Tiny Village Music
Ukulele Performance

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

In honor of Black History Month, Ross’ weekly ukulele video series (follow Tiny Village Music or Ross Malcolm Boyd on Facebook to keep up with these) features Ross’ arrangements of musical selections by black composers.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer, born in London on August 15, 1875. His father was a physician from Sierra Leone who, unable to pursue a career in Britain presumably due to racial prejudice, returned to West Africa, leaving behind his wife and son.

As a child, Samuel played the violin and sang with the choir of a church in Croydon. He was admitted to the Royal College of Music in 1890. A professor at the college, in teaching Coleridge-Taylor the music of Brahms, suggested that it would be impossible to write a quintet for clarinet and strings without being influenced by Brahms’s composition for that combination of instruments. Coleridge-Taylor took the assertion as a challenge and produced a work that received the respect of his professor and later audiences.

By 1896 he was teaching, conducting, and judging music festivals in addition to composing. His work was very well regarded, the most successful of which was The Hiawatha Trilogy (based on the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra: Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (1898), The Death of Minnehaha (1899), and Hiawatha’s Departure (1900). Europe wasn’t the only place Coleridge-Taylor found success. He was welcomed during his tours of the US between 1904 and 1910. American musicians dubbed him the “Black Mahler.” He was invited to the White House to visit President Theodore Roosevelt.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, only 37 years old, died of pneumonia on September 1, 1912. He was survived by his wife, Jessie Walmisley, his son, Hiawatha, and his daughter, Gwendolyn, known as Avril.

Hear Ross’ ukulele arrangement of a selection from Coleridge-Taylor here.

#ukulele #ukulelesunday #blackcomposers#blackhistorymonth #samuelcoleridgetaylor#willowsong

Ukulele Performance

Joseph Boulogne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges

In honor of Black History Month, Ross’ weekly ukulele video series (follow Tiny Village Music or Ross Malcolm Boyd on Facebook to keep up with these) features Ross’ arrangements of musical selections by black composers.

Joseph Boulogne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a virtuoso violinist, composer and conductor. However, his skills were not limited to music; he was a champion fencer, a colonel of the first all-black regiment in Europe during the French Revolution, and an activist fighting for racial equality in France and England.

Born on December 25, 1745 in Guadeloupe, Joseph was the illegitimate son of plantation owner George Boulogne and Nanon, a teenaged house slave from Senegal. In defiance of the Code Noir, a royal decree defining the conditions of slavery among French colonies, Joseph was treated as a member of George’s family. In 1759, George Boulogne, his wife Elizabeth, Joseph and Nanon moved to Paris. Young Saint-George would go on to receive an education in the art of fencing (under the tutelage of famous swordsman named La Boëssière), literature, science, and music. He held the position of first violin under François-Joseph Gossec’s orchestra Le Concert des Amateurs, later taking the director’s seat when Gossec moved on to a new conducting post. He went on to conduct the first performances of Franz Joseph Haydn’s six “Paris Symphonies” in 1787.

While Saint-George accrued success, his heritage was not something much of French society could look past. Religious leaders (and King Louis XVI himself) opposed the practice of slavery but interracial marriages were illegal and the belief of genetic inferiority of Africans was ever present. Saint-George’s fame was widespread and growing and racial controversy was always close behind. He would form an anti-slavery group called the Société des amis des noirs (Society of the Friends of Black People) to the ire of British slave dealers, prompting an attack by five men with pistols. He would escape without serious injury after fighting them off with a walking-stick (an encounter not unusual throughout his life.)

After Saint-George’s death in 1799, commemorative editions of his music appeared, but his legacy would soon be stifled. Though slavery had been abolished in 1794, it was reimposed under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, who also removed the music of Saint-George from orchestra repertoires. It would be 200 years before there was a significant resurgence of the works of Le Chevalier de Saint-George.

To hear a one-minute excerpt of Ross’ arrangement of Saint-George’s Symphony No. 2 Op. 11 Andante, head over to Facebook!

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Finding the Time to Practice

It’s a busy world we live in, isn’t it? So many of us run from one activity to the next, whether it’s work or school, sports, music lessons, an art class or a night visiting friends. In the midst of our busy lives, it can be tough to carve out time to practice. Here are a few reasons to make the time for it this month.

Practice Makes Perfect

Well, that’s the saying, right? The reality is that perfection might sound nice, but even concert pianists will tell you they never have a perfect performance! Nevertheless, the more we practice, the more we can reliably perform our song well. With each repetition, we’re more likely to play the notes and get our rhythms correct. That frees us up to think about our interpretation, our phrasing, our dynamics…you know, the fun stuff!

Practice Makes You Less Nervous

Believe it or not, the more you practice, the easier it is to get up in front of someone else and perform. That’s because the more you can reliably play a piece for yourself, the more likely you will be to reproduce it when you’ve got performance jitters. Will an audience make you play it worse? There’s a good chance of that. But as you perform more often (i.e. as you practice performing), you can work on channeling the audience’s excitement, and your own excitement, into a stronger performance.

Practice Develops Discipline

Want to develop better habits? Whether you’d like to eat healthier, exercise daily or get enough sleep, all of these things are easier when we make our healthy choices into healthy habits. Likewise, if we teach ourselves to practice for five minutes every day, we develop the discipline required to commit to anything! This is a great lesson for children, but it’s a lesson we can use as adults too.

Why do you find the time to practice? If you don’t, did this give you any ideas on how to develop a practice habit?