Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Take a Break? Resist the Temptation!

Pink … of course!
Summertime, and the living is easy. We hope.

This ought to help … I'm taking the summer off!

It's been a challenge to fit everyone in for "one more" lesson before the end of this week. The plan is to resume teaching after Labor Day. I'm clearing the schedule to make way for our first grandchild, Sweet Baby Girl, officially due June 26. Plus, I have a garden to tend, family and friends to visit, places to go, things to do. Did I mention a baby to hold?

Turns out my students are busy this summer, too. They need a break. Still, many wonder how they will get along without the structure of regularly scheduled lessons. It thrills my heart that some have actually asked for guidance in how to practice this summer. While it is difficult for me to spell out specifics that will work for every person, I can make some general suggestions.

First of all, resist the temptation to "take a break" from music. While it's true that I am taking the summer off from teaching, I am NOT giving up on playing and practicing the instrument. My students do get a break from their lessons … but we've all been working too hard to risk losing ground … which surely will happen if you don't touch your instrument for weeks on end. Play (and practice) regularly, if only for short periods of time.

Now that we have established that, the most important thing you can do is consciously set goals and write them down. Decide what you'd like to learn this summer. These should be specific goals that are achievable within the given time frame … between today and Labor Day. Think about two categories:

  1. Tunes
  2. Skills/Techniques

Refer to my blogpost A Plan for Your Summer Practice (07/03/13) for help in making goals.

While most of you will have plenty of tunes to choose from when making your "tunes" list, you may have more difficulty coming up with "skill / technique" goals. It's always a good idea to let the tunes you're learning inform your technique / skills practice. The best exercises are derived from weaknesses discovered in the attempt to master a new tune. Having trouble with hand separation? Noticing that your valley rolls have become a bit sloppy? That's where to put your focus. Or maybe there's something you've been meaning to get to, such as … finally understand the difference between dorian and aeolian modes, or figure out all those 7 chords. There's no time like the present!

If you're still at a loss, here's a list to get the brainstorming started. It is not all-inclusive, mind you. I'm sure you will think of other skills that need improvement!

Back to Basics

  • Hammer Strokes - single strokes; double strokes; tremolos, rolled chords, octaves, valley rolls (flams), etc
  • Scales - major, minor, chromatic; multiple octaves; starting from left and right hands
  • Arpeggios - left and right hand patterns; multiple octaves
  • Hand Separation - ascending / descending bass lines

Music Theory

  • Study music theory. Learn more about chords. Understand modes.
  • Learn to find chords all over the instrument. Root chords. Chord inversions.
  • Learn to play back up. Use arrangements that have been worked out by others. Create your own back up for a melody you already know and play well.

General Music Stuff

  • Learn to read music.
  • Train your ears. There are plenty of apps designed for this purpose!
  • Learn to use the metronome. Play with a steady rhythm. Play tunes at tempo.

Take it to the Next Level

  • Add to your jam tune repertoire. Make a list of your favorite jam tunes. Keep the list in your instrument case so you'll always be ready when it's your turn to call a tune. Get those jam tunes up to speed. Work out a back up arrangement for your absolute favorites.
  • Find your own style. Develop your own arrangement of a favorite tune.
  • Create a gig for yourself. Make a tune list. Get those tunes performance ready. Do it!
Need a little more pressure and help with accountability? Send me your goals. I'll check in with you at the end of the summer. Keep hammering and good luck!

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