My students often hear me ask, “How will you get better at this passage by the next lesson?”
The standard answer: “Practice.”
Sometimes the reply is a hesitating question: “Umm, practice?”
I ask them to elaborate. “That seems pretty generic. HOW will you practice?”
That’s where Tools in the Toolbox comes in.*
There are so many practice techniques. Just like tools in a toolbox, some are better for one task than another. For example, one musical passage may benefit from work with a metronome. Another problem could be solved by solid finger placement. Yet another piece would come to life with changes in volume and expressiveness.
As a teacher, I help students understand how to use different practice techniques and accumulate more for their musical toolboxes. Just as a good tool collection has the perfect device for every project, a good musician has multiple practice techniques for every difficult passage.
How many musical tools are in your toolbox?
* Thank you Dr. Rhoden for teaching this valuable analogy during my college years!
When I taught university music history lectures, one of my favorite questions for students was “What is the definition of music?”
After a thoughtful pause, a student would answer, “a series of pitches.” Then others responded with, “a set of rhythms,” and “a piece using instruments and voices.” As the class continued to call out ideas, I wrote each answer on the whiteboard. Eventually the discussion came to a close as they reached a consensus about the meaning of music.
That’s when the fun really began.
Without telling them what I was doing, I started an old sound recording. “What’s that?” one student asked. “Is it a teapot?” another student guessed. In reality, it was the opening to a vocal number in a culture that prized nasal tones. “Is it music?” I asked.
I played recordings from different cultures and time periods, such as a whistle language from South America and the mbira (thumb piano) native to Zimbabwe. “Is this music?”
“Is birdsong considered music? What about horns honking at an intersection in New York City?”
Silence, then heated debate.
“Or a person hitting a trash can, or the sound of rain dripping on a tin rooftop?”
“If you play or sing a song in the vacuum of space, is that music?”
My students were challenged, as musicians across history have been, to further define musical boundaries and broaden their understanding.
What do you think? What is your definition of music?
Two harp festivals in March kick off a season of enrichment and community through workshops, competitions, and performances.
Christopher Newport University Harp Festival
On March 27th harpists will gather virtually and in person to learn from Josh Layne, improvise with Dr. Kimberly Ankney, and watch inspirational performances.
Hangin' with the Harp Fest
A continuation of the Virginia Harp Center's Hangin' with the Harp series, the March 20th festival will feature hour-long workshops with a variety of harpists including Angi Bemiss, Lynne Aspnes, Anne Sullivan, Charles Overton, and many more.
For a list of harp festivals around the world in the coming months, visit the Harp Column's 2021 Guide to Spring Harp Festivals.
Earlier this week as I watched an inspiring Fireside Chat with Rita McGrath, guest Dorie Clark said something that resonated with this time in the music community:
“When it comes to reinvention and trying to pick up the pieces when the thing you wanted to do is no longer a possibility...you want to look for adjacencies, right? You have been aiming at something, you’ve been training for something. The good news is the skills that you have been developing are transferable.”
As traditional live performances in concert halls ground to a halt last year, musicians were forced to get creative. Many of the results have been extraordinary and uplifting.
Special shoutout to my friend Naomi Steckman, who is using her transferable skills as an orchestral musician to launch a new concert series! Beyond the Bounds fills a need for connection and healing by bringing music, nature, and people together virtually, and eventually outdoors. Each concert will be themed around the seasons and focused on connection and decreasing isolation during this challenging time.
Check out the first performance on February 28th, and take a moment to think about your strengths and skills that can propel you to the next stage of your life journey.
Dr. Grace Bauson has always loved music, and has an ever evolving interest in learning about people, nature, intentional living, and who knows what next! Her ponderings on the connections between music and other passions are humbly submitted in this blog.