This week I wrote a little set of exercises for my students that explore the different types of minor scales. The exercises are in the form of five four-bar tunes, that I’ve transposed into all the keys for easy practising.
When we first start playing a wind instrument like the clarinet or the saxophone, we begin learning basic tunes and technique as soon as we can get a sound from the instrument. This initial sound, however, can be thin and squeaky, and usually doesn’t match up to the sound we hear from more experienced players. How often have you felt demotivated because of wobbly notes or an involuntary screech? Good tone is so important on any instrument, not only because it indicates good technical habits but also because it makes playing so much more enjoyable and rewarding. To help you improve the quality of sound on your wind instrument, here are some useful exercises that I often use with my students (with audio examples).
An important part of learning the piano (or learning about many types of music in general) is understanding and recognising chords. The most common types of chords in the Western world are major and minor triads: three-note chords that are built by stacking notes that are a 3rd apart. Chord progressions provide harmony in music, adding colour to melodies by blending different notes together in various combinations. At the bottom of this post is a downloadable PDF I have made of major and minor chord flash cards so that you can print them as a memorisation aid.
A good practice routine will include warm ups of some sort, but sometimes this initial part of the practice can seem boring and disconnected from the central aims of the session. In this post I will suggest some ways to connect the two so that your warm ups are relevant to the rest of the practice rather than an unrelated intro to your main work.
Recently I have been researching a topic that I find very interesting: how our culture perceives and treats ‘talent’.
Before reading some books and articles on the subject, I thought of talent as being akin to a plant you were gifted as a child; everyone was given one, and some people’s may have been bigger or leafier to begin with, but ultimately your ‘talent’ plant will only reach its full growth potential if it is consistently watered and replenished and pruned. If you stop nurturing even the hardiest plant, it will wither. If you tend lovingly to an initially unremarkable plant, it will flourish.
Finally mastering a piece that you’ve been working on for a while can be really rewarding: our fingers seem like they’re moving more effortlessly, we don’t have to think so hard about what’s coming next in the music, and we achieve a flow and fluency that only comes with familiarity and hours of practice. However, we can sometimes be too quick to file away a piece as ‘finished’ in our eagerness to move on to something new, only to find weeks later when we revisit it that we’ve forgotten parts and lost some of that proficiency. (Nobody wants to end up in musical Groundhog Day having to learn the same piece over and over because they’ve forgotten it!)
When it comes to learning and remembering certain concepts in music, a lot of input and repetition is required to allow the information to sink in and begin to make sense. Key signatures are a good example of this – with twelve major and twelve minor keys, it can seem like a daunting task to memorise the correct sharps and flats needed for each scale. A lot of my students like using flash cards for learning this kind of information and testing themselves on their retention.
Although investing a great number of hours into your chosen instrument is crucial, the quality of that practice time is just as important. According to the leading authority in the psychology of expertise, K. Anders Ericsson, it is ‘deliberate’ practice that causes significant improvement, rather than mindlessly going through familiar motions. It is often much more beneficial to do twenty minutes of deliberate practice with a clear intention than it is to play aimlessly for an hour. With that in mind, here are eight practice techniques that I use in every lesson with my students and in my own practice, which will improve the efficiency of your learning and save valuable time.
One often overlooked factor that can make or break the effectiveness of your practice is how you set up your practice space. Most of us probably haven’t given the subject much thought (me included until recently!), but having a space that has been set up thoughtfully can have surprising effects on your musical progress and enjoyment. In this post I’ll look at the benefits of having a good practice set-up, and give some tips for how to make the most out of your music space.