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Banish burnout and rejuvenate your playing!
It happens to all of us. We practice. We have our routine (which is good!). We have our allotted practice time and organized it into a balance diet of exercises and music for an efficient route to progress.
And then after a few months, stagnation sets in. We’re zoning out, tuning out, and feeling generally flat.
What can you do to get you out of this artistic rut?
Take up an artistic hobby that you’ve never formally studied – and don’t intend to! I took up photography several years ago – by accident. I acquire a digital through my school’s technology buying program. At first I used it just to take pictures of my classroom and events but it quickly turned fun. I took pictures of students and instruments at different angles, perspectives, and in black and white. I consciously decided to not take a photography class. I did subscribe to some photo magazines and joined the local photography club which out to be rather dull. But above all, I took lots and lots of pictures. Thousands. And why not? It was digital so I could delete as many as I wanted. I played with all the knobs, buttons and settings. I experimented and took more pictures – and tons of ‘bad’ ones. Who cared? I wasn’t a photographer so all of this was just fun! There was no pressure; just like when I was a teenager in a garage band with no formal musical training. Just a cheap guitar with a Guitar Player or Guitar World magazine. Ah pure, uninhibited creativity! Give it a shot!
I then noticed many parallels to music – the rule of thirds relating to phrasing and the golden mean. Learning what should be the focus and what’s the background. I learned to selectively focus on a subject – or not. My musicianship definitely improved after I picked up that camera.
Another idea is to try playing a genre that you’ve never worked in before. And it doesn’t even have to be a ‘real’ genre. Pickup a jazz real book but play the melody, or try your hand at comping the chord progression. Turn on a heavy metal or alternative music station and play along or try to transcribe a modern rock tune. Sit in on a bluegrass jam – odds are they’ll be happy to have an upright bassist and they generally have lead sheets (but come, use your ears, it’s just I, IV, V!)
Pickup your instrument and doodle, let your fingers wander and play anything. Improvise! Sing along with crazy lyrics or even a commercial. Chill out with your bass. Grab a beer, turn on the TV and try to figure out whatever theme song or jingles are playing.
Play a different style, improvise, transcribe (especially something different!). Bow along to that dusty Bon Jovi album!
Meditate with the bass. One of the things I really enjoy about playing is the tactile aspect of playing. I like how the bass feels. Just sit or stand with your bass and feel the weight of it. Notice the neck and feel the strings and wood. This isn’t something ‘out there’, just another way to connect with your instrument. When I first started playing the bass in high school, I marveled at it. I touched the bridge full of rosin. The neck with its lack of finish just called to be held.
Go ahead and experiment, there are no rules. Just play around.
I think you’ll be amazed at the results – mentally and physically. Hopefully you’ll reconnect with your instrument and discover why you chose the bass.
By Anthony Mazzocchi
How many times have we heard from adults that they wish their parents didn’t allow them to quit their musical instrument when they were younger?
There comes a time in a large percentage of music students’ lives when they want to quit their instrument — and more often than not, parents allow them to do it. But is the child quitting . . . or is the parent?
Ultimately, it is important to understand that when it comes to music education and other transformative activities that require some grit in order to succeed, most children go through a period of time where they must succeed despite themselves. They must be encouraged and supported through the tough times, not given a pass. It is only at a certain point that children — and parents — can make an informed decision to quit their musical instrument, and that point is usually much later, not sooner, than one may think.
Here are a few ways that parents are the ones that quit music instruction, and some thoughts on overcoming the tough times with our children that are bound to occur:
“I can’t bug my child to do one more thing.” I have heard this line so many times as a teacher and administrator. A parent tells the teacher that their child will be discontinuing music because they haven’t had any luck getting their child to practice, and the “child doesn’t want to play anymore.” In addition, the parent says the child “seems to be over-scheduled and is overwhelmed with the demanding school curriculum.”
This parent has clearly given up.
There are many things that children need to do that they do not want to do. They don’t want to bathe, do homework, brush their teeth, or do their chores oftentimes. But we as adults understand that we would be teaching them to be irresponsible if we gave in. We also understand that children are not old or mature enough to make many life decisions — but when it comes to quitting music instruction the rules somehow seem to change. The truth is that we can insist our child do “one more thing,” and if that’s really not humanly possible, a curricular activity such as music should not be at the bottom of that list.
Parents have overcommitted their child. Our children are growing up in a time where the U.S. has turned into a society of “overachievers”. Downtime or activities that are perceived to be “fun” (i.e. music and the arts) are considered wasted time because concrete results are not being measured and money (and a job) is not at the end of the equation. Children have so many choices of ways to “enrich” their lives that quitting has become an easy response to frustration or boredom. Most adults regret many of the things in life that they quit, especially because they could have had stuck it out, reached a good level of proficiency and found that enjoyment that seemed to elude them earlier. Parents need to remember this fact and encourage their children to stick with music instruction for at least two years, if not through middle school.
Clay Shirky is, as he explains below, a “pretty unlikely candidate for Internet censor.”
Shirky is a professor of media studies at New York University, holding a joint appointment as an arts professor at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts, and as a Distinguished Writer in Residence in the journalism institute. He is a leading voice on the effect technology has had on society — and vice versa — and has been writing extensively about the Internet for nearly a decade.
For years Shirky has allowed his students to bring laptops, tablets and phones into class and use them at will. But he just told students to put them away. He explains why below in a piece that first appeared on medium.com.
If emotions are at the core of learning, why do music educators and ensemble directors consistently ignore the student’s emotions? Nearsightedness and for their own emotions. Or perhaps we should be thinking about future emotions.
It is easier to look a month or two down the road. It is easier to view own your road rather than putting yourself in the students place ten years from now. And of course it feels good to win. Bringing home the gold ‘proves’ that you’re a great teacher. Or does it? Is it really about how ‘good’ your ensemble is? Is it about how many gold medals you win? How many competitions you attend? Those are events to experience and targets to shoot for but not the end goal. It’s about the students and their experience. It’s about them having a positive experience. It’s about them walking away with positive emotions. Think about the kid in the back of the section. He’s a mediocre player. Not always in tune and sometimes comes in at the wrong time. Do you cut him or put soap on his bow so he can’t make a sound? Of course not. But down the road, what is really going to matter? Not the fact that the group received a lower rating because of him.
No, what will matter is that he participated. When he looks back, the fact that he was in the group will make the difference and in turn affect how he interacts with people, groups, and situations. What do you remember about your school music experience? I don’t remember what score I received at contests but I can tell you how teachers treated me and what kind of experience I had. I remember my baseball coach not putting me in the game because…well because I sucked at baseball! It was a freshman league and all he cared about was winning. Does it really matter? How do you think I feel about that experience and how does that affect me now? Will your students want to attend a musical event as an adult or will it cause negative emotions to reverberate with them?
Pickup notes / upbeats can be a difficult concept grasp for young musicians. I first ask them if they know / remember what prefix on a word is. Most do know and we’ll go over a few examples. And just as a word can have something added before the main part, so too can a piece of music. This musical prefix is called a pickup note.
We then review a basic musical example and being counted in. I point out the bowing pattern as well.
I then cover up the first measure and use that as our count in.
Now looking back at the first example, what comes before count number 1?
Count number 4. That’s our pickup note – our musical prefix. So instead of the usual ONE TWO READY GO, you would only get ONE READY GO. Along with the counting in I hold up the number of fingers so they can see the number of beats passing with the count in.
We also observe the bowing pattern of the standard DOWN – UP that we are used to. We need to preserve that pattern.
So we start on an up bow. We could also have more than one pickup note.
Again notice that we preserve the bowing pattern.
I also sometimes talk about counting backwards, so that the student understands that 4 comes before 1.
Pull, don’t push. This is something that can be very useful, especially to people in leadership positions but can be used by anyone.
To pull is to invite. To push is to go against.
Much of this has to do with subtle wording of speech but is worth the extra effort. It will eventually become natural and your life can acquire a peaceful flow and balance.
If you want someone to improve or change something it may work better to say “Hey, that’s good. Have you thought about trying this?” Starting with a positive and moving forward from there can often be more effective than starting in the negative and trying to move ahead.
“You need to talk to me” can become “Let’s see if we can communicate more.” Also using a collective we or us instead of pitting the I against you can be effective. Be aware that if used too often this can sound patronizing and not sincere. For example if your boss says let’s see we can pack more widgets on the assembly line but he sits in an office the worker knows there is no “we”. But if the leader is a team leader at a school where she is a teacher and is trying to enhance the effectiveness of other teachers this can work well. It can also work well with conductors and orchestras.
What happens if you physically push someone? They push back. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. You now have two people pushing each other away and farther from each other.
A student asked me if he was good enough for a specific ensemble he saw on television. I said no and he was sort of crushed. So I explained my response.
“It’s not that you couldn’t do it, but on your current path you’re not going to make it. However, you can always change that path – that’s the great part! You can always hop on a new road. But that new road will require more practice, lessons, etc.”
That really helped to change the tone of, “No, you can’t do it.”