When I was a kid, I felt like loneliness was my best friend. It’s not like I wanted to be around him. He just clung to me.
We were the only Asian family in an all-white neighborhood in a suburb of New York City. The typical question was,
“What are you, Chinese or Japanese?”
As if those were the only two options.
“I’m Thai, Chinese and Korean.” I would try to explain.
This answer was usually met with bewildered stares and silence. Mind you, this was long before kimchi tacos, Pad Thai noodles and Sriracha hot sauce were even a blip on the radar of the general public. Heck, most people hadn’t even heard of sushi back then.
My New Best Friend
Somewhere along the way, though, I discovered music, who quickly became my new best friend. It was through music that I began to feel less alien, foreign and an outsider and more like “just one of the gang.” Through the bonds of shared passion for Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, I found new friends.
Music was the social lubricant and the universal language of our tribe.
I was 14 and teaching myself to play guitar. I needed to get better fast! Thus, I began to learn how to learn and how to practice.
With all of my students, I stress the importance of memorizing their pieces, especially for performance at a recital. Here’s some of the reasons why.
Repetition is the Mother of Skill
How many times did Tiger Woods hit a golf ball before ever entering a competition? Apparently he was already golfing at age 2 when he made an appearance on the Merv Griffin show with his Dad. He turned professional at age 21 after winning many competitions along the way. That’s 19 years and probably 30,000 to 40,000 hours of practice! In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses the theory that it takes an applied 10,000 hours of practice to mastery in any field. No wonder Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer that ever lived! He’s simply played 3 or 4 times much as anyone else before he even turned pro!
Now, I’m not demanding 8 hour practice days for my students, but five minutes the day before the lesson is just not going to cut it. It’s unfair to the student who is going to sound awful and not enjoy the wonderful process and sense of accomplishment of learning a song to a masterful level.
As we use our muscles to achieve the production of sound, we need to train them to move in specific ways. Fluidity can only be achieved by repetition. By consciously practicing the repeated motions at the same time being mindful of proper alignment of back, wrists, hands, we can create smooth, fluid motions that create beautiful sounds without repetitive stress injuries.
I’ve started making videos of songs I’m teaching my students as so many of them are visual learners and have the technology to view this at home. This video is not meant to be a step by step instruction but a reinforcement/memory aid for after the lesson when practicing at home.
It was a great recital last Saturday at the Carroll Gardens Library in Brooklyn. With 30 students performing and a house of over 100 guests, we had a lovely time and everyone did their best. Thanks again to all the parents, grandparents, friends and family who came to show their support, love and appreciation of our young performers! And special thanks to Jeff Schwartz and the entire staff of the Carroll Gardens library who graciously let us use their space and even set up the chairs for us!
Apologies for the site being down all of last week. But we’re back! Here’s a quick update and enjoy the week off for Thanksgiving!
As many of you know, in each of my lessons, my aim is to address 3 main areas: repertoire, reading and music theory.
This is building up a collection of pieces that your child can play from memory and perform in public.
It allows us to work on technique and bring music to life whilst giving a great confidence boost and joy in playing. This material I often present using my own color notation which enables your child to learn a piece as quickly as possible and then memorize it. Many of you are using Suzuki material for this repertoire whilst others are working on a combination of Suzuki with jazz, blues, pop and world music.
To learn to read music is truly a great skill. To be musically literate opens a whole door to deeper appreciation. Reading music is not as difficult as it seems, but requires a steady practice diet. I will usually not start this until we’ve been playing a repertoire of about 7 to 10 songs. I use a proprietary method of notation to get them up to speed quickly with simple and then complex pieces.
This is the nuts and bolts of music. We get under the hood and see how music is structured and built through games,
Many of you are struggling with playing cleanly and smoothly. This simple technique can help you to relax your fingers to pay more fluidly. Developed by Glenn Gould’s mentor and longtime teacher Chilean pianist Alberto Guerrero, it aims to retain a relaxed muscle memory. You can learn more about this in the wonderful documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould.
I’ve been teaching how to count rhythm to most of my students using Michiko Yurko’s genius method of naming note values with easy and fun to say words. I highly recommend her book Music Mind Games for all music teachers and home-schoolers and interested parents..
For example, a one beat (quarter note) is called BLUE.
Two eighth notes are called JELLO.
An eighth note triplet, where the three notes are played in one beat is PINEAPPLE.
And four sixteenth notes is HUCKLEBERRY.
This is so much more fun and easier to remember than when I was in school learning, “one -eee- and – ah.”
Practice counting the beats of any song you already know and other new ones as well. It becomes a much easier task to learn a new piece if you have internalized the rhythm already and can then focus on the pitches and fingering.
This past week, I did just that by having several of my students learn “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” by first counting out the song in this Blue Jello way. Then, by teaching the distinct hand signals for each, which adds another level of kinesthetic learning, I played the melody while the student counted out the piece. After 3 or 4 times, the melody and rhythm are so ingrained, that playing it on the instrument becomes just a minor technical matter.
I’ve been talking with many of my students about the importance of not trying to learning in giant gobbles but rather in small bite size pieces or slices of pie. Learning a new piece is like eating pie; you don’t eat it all in one bite. You take slices, and then forkfuls and then chew on each bite a while before moving on to the next.
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki called it “steps.” To match the right step to the child, you need to adjust according to the individual.
So how do we do this? By breaking up the piece into digestible chunks. Often I will use my handy colored translucent tape to mark off a measure or a phrase that we want to concentrate on first. So going from the “red phrase” to the “blue phrase” or whatever. This has been tremendously successful.
If your child has come home with some of my music with a multicolored tape collage on it, have no fear, we’re just learning a new piece – in slices!
This is a wonderful piece that has been published many times. It reflects how I feel about teaching and the wonderful teachers I have had in my life.
That Is Why We Teach Music
Not because we expect you to major in music
Not because we expect you to play or sing all your life
Not so you can relax
Not so you can have fun
so you will be human
so you will recognize beauty
so you will be sensitive
so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
so you will have something to cling to
so you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good–in short, more life
Of what value will it be to make prosperous living unless you knowhow to live?
THAT IS WHY WE TEACH MUSIC.
– Author Unknown
Thank you to the late great Andy Blackett, Pete Brasch, Sal Piccolo, Mark Elf, Dan Converse, Seth Shapiro, Gene Bertoncini, Ron Sadoff, Pat Castle, Rudolph Palmer, Lucy Galliher, Katie Agresta, Conrad Cummings, David Speer, Joe Lovano, Phil Gushee and all the other teachers formal and informal, in my life who have given so much to my life.
Many parents have expressed their frustration at getting their child to practice their musical instrument. Here’s some tips to help.
Re-frame the notion of practice from chore to a fun activity or even a reward. Don’t force them to practice, it will only drive them away from it.
Place the piano in a central part of the home. If a guitar, put it on a stand in the living room, or even hang it on the wall like in the guitar stores. All instruments have some kind of stand you can buy. By having it out and in easy reach, the instrument naturally gets picked up at various times of the day. If the instrument is in a far off corner of the house, it feels like a banishment or punishment.
Make a consistent time of music time everyday. Some people have found 5 minutes in the morning before school is a great thing. Others find right after school or just before bed. By having a regular schedule, it becomes a habit and that makes it easier to have consistent and frequent time at the instrument.
Take interest in your child’s playing (even if it’s awful). By giving attention, the child feels rewarded and they will get better – really, I promise!
Ask them to teach you the lesson (even if you already know it.) By teaching, the child has to be able to organize their thoughts and really know how to communicate the knowledge. They learn by teaching. This may work better with one parent than the other when one is a musician and the other not.