Hello world! I've been up to an intense week of painting and crafting. I'm not usually one who does much crafting, but earlier this week, I took to doing a few DIY projects with a close friend of mine. We started the day off with decorating glass bottles with some colored gems. These bottles can be used as containers or for decoration or in my case, a little holders for a tea light. Somehow, I managed to squeeze a tiny little tea light into my glass bottle. My friend and I hot-glued the colored gems onto the glass (Note: This is easier said than done). It looks great in my opinion and that's what matters!
The next project we embarked on was taking an old and very large T-shirt and redoing it so it A) fit and B) looked nicer. Basically, we cut the side seams of the shirt and, then trimmed it so it won't be so "boxy." Once the side seams were gone, we cut several thin, little strips on each side of the shirt, and then took the strips and knotted them together to hold the shirt back together. Just so you know, if you can sew, it would be certainly easier to do that than knot every little strip of fabric. The knotting process took us approximately two hours...and that's with us both working on a single shirt. Anyhow, we cut off the sleeves to make it a tank top and we also clipped off the extra fabric at the bottom of the shirt (since the shirt was way too long). The shirt fit and it looked pretty good in our opinions!
I took on my own little crafty project by making a picture to hang in my dorm room. To make this, I took old sheet music and stained it with tea to give it an old look. I also took a quote about music, wrote it out on a piece of copy paper, and then tea stained that. I pieced various pieces of music to make a collage and then placed the quotation on an area of the background that I figured was kind of bare. Once I had that, I decided to paint a violin on a piece of copy paper. For me, painting on copy paper was significantly more difficult than painting on canvas. I used my own violin as a model and painted it the way that I wanted it to look. Finally when the paint dried, I cut out the violin, pasted it on the background, and framed the entire piece of artwork! Crafty?
My final art project for the summer will not be finished until either tomorrow or Monday. This is literally the LARGEST painting project I've ever undertaken on my own. Stay tuned to my blog posts to hear about this enormous painting project.
I've worked with a good number of young instrumentalists who struggle with practicing. They often find it frustrating and annoying...thus, they give up the notion entirely to save what's left their sanity as well as their parents' sanity. Practice sessions can be rendered unsuccessful for one of three reasons: practicing the piece too fast, learning too large of a chunk of music at one time, or perhaps the instrument is broken and it won't play right. The last option is a bit tougher to address and fix, but the other issues can easily be remedied if you know how to practice well. Here are some tips I've learned along my musical journey:
1) Always start up your practice session with warming up. This piece of advice is aimed toward wind players, not strings players. Long tones are a great way to start up your practice sessions; it'll get the air moving and get your brain focused on listening to your tone. Don't rush through the warm up process. Warming up should take more than half of your practice session. As you play through your long tones, think about your tone. Is it airy? Strained? Unfocused? Judge your tone and improve it whenever you can.
2) Practice in front of a mirror. Check your position all of the time. For flute players, look at your hand position and check to see if your fingers are curved and if your fingertips are on the keys, not the middle of your fingers. If you have this issue and you can correct it, you'll be able to play faster and more accurate. Also check to make sure your fingers aren't flying off the keys too high. If you keep your fingers closer to the key, you'll be able to play faster. For violinists, I recommend watching your bow in the mirror and constantly checking if it's straight. This is an issue for several beginner string players. Note: If your elbow is going behind you as you play the violin, then your bow is probably not straight. Also while you're looking in the mirror, check your left hand position and make sure that you're keeping the heel of your hand off the neck of the violin.
3) Take some time and work on scales, scalar patterns, and arpeggios. These are the meat to tons of musical literature. Learn all your major scales first and then move onto minor scales and then all forms of the minor and so forth.
4) As you practice, continue to think about your tone and ask yourself, "Is my tone consistent throughout a piece of music?" Make that call and fix it.
5) Practice with a metronome! It'll become your best friend and you'll use it throughout your musical life. This brings me to another point.
6) Practice SLOWLY and then gradually speed it up after time. If a piece of music is giving you a lot of grief, practice with a metronome at a ridiculously slow tempo to ensure you're playing all of the correct notes and correct rhythms. Once you're completely comfortable with it at a slower tempo, speed it up a few clicks of the metronome. Assume you practice it at tempo 60 and it needs to be at tempo 80. Speed it up to 63 when you're ready and then move on to 66 and so forth. Before you know it, you'll be at performance tempo, and you'll hopefully be playing everything correctly if you've followed my advice so far. If you're having trouble getting the rhythm correct, try putting the instrument down and clapping the rhythm. Sometimes, if we take away the pitches and the mechanics of playing the instrument, the musician can focus on just the rhythm. It also helps me to try singing the rhythm.
7) Learn some technical etudes. Every instrument has a book of great etudes to play through. Right now on the flute, I'm working on Berbiguier etudes and on the violin, I'm working on Wohlfahrt etudes. Your skill level will dictate what book of etudes you'll be working on.
8) Sometimes singing the music out loud helps with getting the style and articulation right. Try it out. While you're singing also think about dynamics.
9) If you have a particularly difficult passage of music to learn, don't try to conquer the entire piece in one run-through. Try chunking the music into pieces and learn a couple measures at a time. Breaking the composition down into bite sized pieces will make life feel loads easier than trying to swallow the entire thing whole. It's often recommended to figure out where the most difficult measures of music are and then start learning them first.
10) If you make a mistake, fix it. Don't keep playing it wrong day after day. Remember: practice makes permanent. The way you practice is the way you'll perform.
11) Take breaks every now and then in your practice session. Let your hands and fingers rest before woodshedding another segment of music. Should you ever get truly frustrated in your practice session, please do take a break. Nothing is worse than practicing when you're mad at your instrument or your fingers.
12) Practice means a lot of repetition, so don't be annoyed by having to play material over and over again. When you practice, don't just practice until you get it right; practice until you can't get it wrong.
Good luck to anyone who is inspired to start practicing after reading this! I hope this helps!
Kendall Driscoll is an accomplished writer/ musician/ artist/ academic scholar.