SETTING UP FOR SUCCESS

Hello Everybody,

Welcome to www.BurlingameMusicLessons.com. Whether you are a parent, a student or a music teacher I hope you find the information on this site valuable and inspiring. Today's post will help parents set up an area at home that will allow their young musician to be successful in private lessons. Please keep in mind that this is just a little blog to help parents set-up a home practice area and not a master's dissertation on posture, metronome use and intonation.  :)

The Home Practice Starter Kit:

Lesson House Stand:  Notice the deep shelf, metronome, tray for pencil, reeds, rosin, valve oil, and the colorful beads that help younger students stay on track when performing a selection ten times in a row.

  1. A quiet area away from the commotion of daily household activities
  2. Posture promoting chair for music practice
  3. Nice, sturdy music stand
  4. Tray for supplies that attaches to the music stand
  5. Metronome & Tuner
  6. Pencil

1.  A QUIET, DESIGNATED PRACTICE AREA

Playing a musical instrument takes incredible amounts of concentration. It is not easy for young players to coordinate their minds, fingers, bodies and embouchures as they do their best to interpret new symbols and abstract musical concepts. It is darn near impossible to practice in the family room while siblings watch TV or come in and out heading off to soccer practice with the dog running around and Mom and Dad trying to coordinate the evening's schedule while preparing a meal and helping with homework. Find an area in the house, even if it is the corner of a calm common area, where your music student can go to each evening and experience an uninterrupted period of musical concentration. Don't be surprised if after a while, you notice your musician retreating to the practice area and pulling out his instrument without you having to tell him to. Practicing an instrument can be relaxing and cathartic and is filled with innumerable moments of intrinsic reward. Help your student find a happy place by providing a designated practice area.

2.  POSTURE-PROMOTING CHAIR FOR MUSIC PRACTICE 

This is picture of a chair. LOL

This is picture of a chair. LOL

Once you have designated the practice area, mark the territory with a posture-promoting chair. I remember being a kid and sitting on the couch or on my bed and trying to play my trumpet. It just doesn't work! The stomach, back and torso muscles are all critical in helping to support the body and expel the air in a controlled, efficient manner. It doesn't matter the instrument–woodwind, brass, strings, guitar, piano, you name it–a sturdy chair helps the student sit up properly and develop good habits. Students who have a decent practice chair will carry their posture-perfect habits forward into school rehearsals and other extracurricular musical groups. I can't tell you how often the band director has to remind the class, "Everybody sit up straight!" Don't let the band director aim this command at your student. Instead, help set an example by providing a nice, functional chair designated for daily musical practice. The chair pictured is great because it can be folded and stored behind a bedroom door.  

3.  NICE, STURDY MUSIC STAND 

Best Music Stand for Home Practice

Chances are you have seen your kid do this or you did it yourself when you were in school music. Picture it: kid gets a new band piece and is totally excited to take a crack at it at home. Opens up case and puts together instrument. Spends next ten seconds attempting to balance a single sheet of music in the open case only to have it fold over after playing only a few notes. Stop playing. Fix music. Repeat.  

While this stand is great for gigs and rehearsals where the musician must bring a stand, there are much better options for home practice.

While this stand is great for gigs and rehearsals where the musician must bring a stand, there are much better options for home practice.

When I finally got my first nice music stand, my practice sessions improved immediately. I spent my time actually practicing rather than fussing with my music every minute. Parents, please get a nice stand with a deep shelf that will allow your student to place books, single sheets of music, a metronome, a tuner, pencil, etc. on the stand. I do not suggest the wire metal folding stands pictured. The shelf is not very deep or level and the music falls to the ground constantly. It also lacks a solid back, so the metronome will inevitably fall backwards and the battery will fall out. Sound familiar? If you are a musician this has definitely happened to you.

I've also heard students say they place their music on the piano as they practice. This is not ideal as it forces the player to adjust his playing position to the location of the music. Ideally, the student should sit in the proper position and adjust the music and stand accordingly.  The piano is a musical instrument, not an incredibly heavy and expensive music stand. 

Get a nice, solid, stay-at-home music stand and erect it in front of your posture-promoting music chair in your quiet, designated practice area.  Manhasset is the industry standard found in nearly every band room in the country.  A nice stand will help your student make the most out of the music education being provided.  Guaranteed!

4.  TRAY FOR SUPPLIES THAT ATTACHES TO MUSIC STAND

Musicians often have supplies that are necessary for quality music making. Valve oil, reeds, rosin, tuner, metronome, etc. Most music stores sell little trays that attach, via a clamp, to the music stand. This will allow your musician to keep all of his musical belongings in one tidy area. Think of the music stand as the musician's office desk. When I play in the orchestra pit of a musical, nearly every musician in the ensemble has a little tray attached to the stand. You don't need to be a pro to pick one up and let it change your life for the better!

5. METRONOME & TUNER

While the iPhone has plenty of metronomes available I am not in support of metronome and tuning apps. The last thing I want students doing while they practice is to have yet ANOTHER reason to interface with their phones. Please get a metronome and tuner from a local music store and place it on the stand.

I recently saw a show on PBS highlighting the talent in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.  At one point they showed a few seconds of a flute player practicing at home. I had to laugh when I heard the metronome ticking away in the background.

It cannot be stressed enough how important the metronome is to the music making process. Approximately 80% of each private lesson is played with a metronome. I then write tempo markings on every musical selection and exercise for home practice. By executing musical muscles at the exact same speed repeatedly, the mind is asking the body to process complex information at precisely the same interval per attempt.  Eventually, this will make things much easier as the musician is dialing in how to perform the exact same task successfully, rather than having to expel needless energy and concentration adjusting for variables.

Needless to say, a metronome also helps musicians develop an innate sense of time and rhythm which is crucial for quality music making. It is said that the majority of disqualifications during auditions for symphonies are due to imperfections in rhythm. I could go on and on and on about the importance of a metronome.  

The tiniest change in embouchure or posture can greatly affect the pitch of a given note. It is paramount that students learn to play in tune at an early stage in their music making. I have found that developing players are able to see the light reacting to their pitch much more clearly than they can hear the minute differences in intonation. With time, however, students learn to hear what they are seeing. The tuner is an essential tool and all students must check their pitch throughout home practice sessions.  

6.  PENCIL

Example of student work by an 8th grade sax player.

Make sure your student has a pencil handy so he can capture his imagination during home practice! Musical notation is complex and quite often musicians need to jot down notes and reminders on the music. Sharps, flats, fingerings, tempos and rhythms are all things that we must make notes about from time to time. When I practice I often think of things that would never cross my mind otherwise and like to have a pencil handy to jot them down. 

Students are required to write out musical selections each week as part of their at home development.  As students become comfortable with musical nomenclature they inevitably will want to preserve their own musical ideas when inspiration strikes.  Help your young musician succeed by making sure a pencil is handy.  So simple, yet so essential! 

 

That's it for now.  Thanks for reading.  Feel free to comment, share, like, reprint or repost as you wish!

Best,

-Brian Switzer