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5 reasons to practice

Posted by Jessica Tobacman on

I’ve found that one of the most difficult aspects of continuing to improve as a musician is that, once you reach a goal, complete a performance, compete in a contest, your motivation dries up. Here are some reasons for you to keep moving along the path to improvement and to nailing your next goal, even if you haven’t figured out what it is yet:

1. Routine, routine, routine. It’s part of your life. Making music makes your day better. If you keep it in your life in between performances, you’ll feel better.

2. Surprise, surprise! Performance opportunities can come out of nowhere. Your parent’s friend, who happens to be a musician, is visiting and wants to hear you. Your music teacher wants to show off her best students for a visiting teacher on short notice. You have a rare opportunity, and if you’ve kept up your skills, you’re ready for it. If not, then, Houston, we’ve got a problem.

3. When you show up for people, they show up for you. You want to present your best musical self at each of your lessons. It might be easy to forget this since you see them every week, but your private teacher’s opinion of you matters. If you want them to recommend you for a summer program, a master class, an ensemble they’ve recently heard about, then you benefit by playing/singing your best each week. This way, you’re more likely to get more (and better) opportunities.

4. The same holds true for any ensemble you sing or play in. Conductors can tell whether or not you’ve been practicing in between rehearsals and for chair placements. If you play well each week, rather than only bringing an apple for the teacher on the first day, then you might get opportunities otherwise invisible to the naked eye (i.e. playing/singing in select ensembles, and better audition times for advanced groups). Not to mention that continued practicing makes it easier to succeed when those special opportunities show up.

5. Oh, the places we’ll go…when we have a little extra time. The things we’ll discover when we’re not under pressure. You gain that extra finesse when you play/sing more. You can choose your own repertoire to explore. The pieces you heard when you were a kid that inspired you to become a musician? You can finally dig them out. The extra songs you’ve been meaning to learn that always fall by the wayside when an audition rears its ugly head? You have time, yay! You’re always saying you want to do a duet or trio with friends, and never have time? That time has just arrived! Use the blank space on your calendar to remind yourself why you became a musician, and what continues to make it fun! This “extra” time is yours for the taking…pretend that Facebook and other “social” networks don’t exist for a day or two, and remind yourself what it’s like to make music in person with other musicians.

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7 Pointers for Performance Anxiety

Posted by Jessica Tobacman on

Performance anxiety is somewhat common. Here are some pointers for dealing with this aspect of being a musician:

1. Practice as if you were performing, including starting each piece the best way possible several times in a row.

2. Practice with relaxed concentration. Figure out where you tense up when you perform, and address it when you rehearse. Practice in front of a mirror, and notice whether your shoulders rise. If you’re singing, and you can see your bottom row of teeth, practice squatting and keeping your back straight while singing, to build up back muscles and rid your tongue of tension. Drop your jaw while rubbing the area in front of your ears and sighing on an “ah” to release tension there.

3. To perform at your best, it helps to focus on one element at a time, such as keeping the musical line flowing, or imagining singing each syllable in front of the previous one.

4. If singing, think about the meaning of the text. Speak the text in advance and notice which syllables and words you emphasize, and replicate this as much as possible.

5. Before you begin, mentally rehearse performing a piece with correct rhythms, contrasting dynamics, accents, staccato or legato where indicated.

6. If possible, get at least one positive person in your life to come to your show.

7. Keep in mind that your audience wants you to succeed. They want to be elevated and transported to the world you’re creating with your music.

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Your brain on music

Posted by Jessica Tobacman on

Earlier this year, researchers at MIT came up with a new tool for looking at the brain and discovered that music has its own neural pathways, separate from the ones for speech. “Why do we have music?” Dr. Kanwisher said in an interview. “Why do we enjoy it so much and want to dance when we hear it? How early in development can we see this sensitivity to music, and is it tunable with experience? These are the really cool first-order questions we can begin to address.” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/new-ways-into-the-brains-music-room.html?_r=0

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Playing music helps us process speech

Posted by Jessica Tobacman on

“It goes back to pitch, timing and timbre. Kraus argues that learning music improves the brain’s ability to process all three, which helps kids pick up language, too. Consonants and vowels become clearer, and the brain can make sense of them more quickly.”

For more information, check out this article from NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/09/10/343681493/this-is-your-brain-this-is-your-brain-on-music.