,

Commandment 2) THOU SHALT KNOW AND LOVE THY BEAT. Chapter 2

Commandment 2) THOU SHALT KNOW AND LOVE THY BEAT.

The most important thing in music is rhythm, the most important thing to rhythm is the beat, and the most important thing to the beat is its steadiness.

I can play a familiar melody such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, and make it completely unrecognizable by radically changing the rhythm. However, it is still easily recognizable if it is played in a serial tone row, (maintaining the melodic shape while using large leaps and wild chromaticism) but keep the original rhythmic patterns.

There are two components to a secure sense of rhythm. First you must KNOW where in the score the beat falls. The beat can be any note value assigned as the primary rhythmic motive function. You must understand where in the score these beats occur.

The next part is the “Loving”. You must have a physical sense of the beat. There is no guessing allowed in the beat. Clap your hands, stomp your feet, jump up and down, tap a foot, tap a toe, count out loud; do something to physically feel the presence of the beat or pulse.

Now put these together. Know where you belong in the score as these beats you feel come by. No matter what, you must be where you belong! If your playing is controlled by a steady, known beat, with a thorough understanding as to where you belong in the score with the beat, you will have a secure rhythm. Failure will make your playing rhythmically unintelligible.

One of the things which intervallic music reading teaches us is the correlation between the arrangement of notes on the pages and physical act of reproducing the music on the piano. The movements we make in the act of playing are choreographed directly from the score, as the notes go up the page, we play higher on the keyboard and the shapes of chords are expressed by various and uniform hand shapes. There is a parallel understanding available to us in regards to rhythm.

Musical notation indicates proportional values; two of these equal one of those and three of these equal one of those. The most fundamental aspect of good rhythm is maintaining a steady pulse. The note value assigned to that pulse is irrelevant, the only thing which matters is deciding which note value will be assigned the pulse and keeping that pulse steady. The next step would be to understand which rhythmic signs are equal to two (or three) of our pulse and which signs are half the value.

As in note reading, the ability to name the notes has nothing to do with the ability to play the notes; naming is simply for the convenience of communication between people and with ourselves, the mastery of beat numbering and subdivision syllables will never yield effective rhythm. You can say all the right numbers and syllables, but if you speak them without any reference to the beat or pulse, this knowledge will not give you the correct rhythm. And again the numbers and syllables simply provide a means of identification and labeling and nothing else.

Learning to maintain a steady pulse is something which best begins with some type of larger motor gesture than we experience with simple finger movements. Finger movements are poor pulse keepers for many reasons but primarily it is often a different finger moving for each pulse which weakens the relationship between the movement and the pulse. I have often told my students I really didn’t care what they did, tap their foot, jump up and down, shout… just do something very noticeable. You have to feel the pulse to be aware of its steadiness. I understand, taping ones foot can be unsightly in a performance setting, but it is a very effective method for having a physical action, separate from playing, to keep a steady pulse. As the student matures the foot taping will diminish anyways, learning to feel a steady pulse is just too important not to find something for the student to do.

One of the advantages of foot taping is the built in subdivision. The top of the movement represents the half subdivision.

The most complex musical notations (with the exception of some very modern scores) can usually be broken down to simple 2:1 and 3:1 relationships. Even in the presence of 128th notes; they also have a simple 2:1 relationship to 64th notes. If you assigned the pulse to the 4 beamed 64th notes, the 5 beamed 128th notes take on the same rhythmic simplicity as quarter and eighth notes. As comfort and tempos increases it is a simple matter to move the pulse to the next values, the proportional relationships remain the same.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of rhythm is the meter, sometimes strangely called the “time signature”. The typical explanation for the meaning of the two number will often go like this: “X is the number of beats in a measure and Y gets the beat.” That is pretty worthless! Yes, this information may be partly true, but it doesn’t tell us what those two numbers mean. A more succinct and accurate was of express this information would be to say: ” There are X number of Y’s in a measure.” A perfect example of why the first expression is inaccurate can be found in most compound meters notated in 3/8, 6/8 and 9/8. We most commonly count these meters with the dotted quarter receiving the beat which is a value not present in the first explanation, though it seems to imply there should be.

But neither of these explanations tells us what it means. We should think back to the very origins of music. The original musical instrument was the human voice and we had metered poetry set to simple melodies. The most effective settings were those which fit best with the alternating patterns of accented and unaccented syllables and whose cadences matched the punctuation of the poetry. The meter reflects this poetic patterning. Each meter is made up of accented and unaccented beats, which when text is present, and well set, is reflected in the organization of each measure of music.

So back to our original idea. You must know and love your beat. You must know in the musical score the location of your beat. We can add to this in time the relative importance of that beat to all others based upon the meter of the music. And Love is a feeling, so you must feel your beat; it has to have a physical reality to you.



, ,

1) Thou Shalt Not Kid Thy Self Chapter 1

1) THOU SHALT NOT KID THY SELF.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius gives his son Laertes the advice to above all else to be true to himself. Honesty with one’s self is a lifelong process. In the world of music practice it can begin with the simple step of writing down how much you practice. Even if you never total the time or even give it a second look, you have established a measure from which to judge your efforts.

Goal setting is critical for any endeavor. If the requirement is to have a piece up to tempo by a certain date, you can break down the steps necessary for the accomplishment.  If these intermediary steps are not met, you must be honest with yourself that the larger goal is in danger and likely not to be met unless additional effort is made.  If a secure memory is the goal and little has been committed to memory a week before the deadline, don’t kid yourself, a secure memory is not likely to be the outcome.

We will bear the complete responsibility for our success or failure for the vast majority of our life. While as a student, it is easy to be dependent upon your teachers to order and plan your work and goals.  However, you are a student for only a short time and will have to order and plan your work for decades after your student years.

While it helps to record our activities so we have a written record of what we did, rather than relying upon a faulty memory, we can learn so much more about the practice of practice with just a little thought and planning. If you treat your practice as a scientific experiment in learning, your learning specifically, over time you will make significant gains in the efficacy of your work. I was motivated to learn about cognitive psychology because of my very slow learning and poor progress as a young student.  What I learned allowed me to improve my practicing and learning efficiency by orders of magnitude. I have been a slow learner and a fast learner, being a fast learner is much more fun!

The last thing we want to happen is to become neurotic about our record keeping and cease to enjoy this  journey of discovery, so only keep those records which you find helpful in your understanding of what you did and the results your efforts yielded. However, keep in mind it is easier to have too little information than too much.  Sometimes your data may only point to an interesting observation but because you failed to collect enough information you cannot know for certain. So at first try to collect as much information as you can and after you have a better sense of what you need to know to reach your conclusion you can begin to focus your collection more closely.

Here are a couple of examples of how we can do some very simple experiments, with ourselves as subjects, and our learning styles/habits/procedures as the point of query.

When starting with a brand new piece of music we are immediately faced with the task of figuring out how to approach its unique problems. It is often suggested that you begin by playing through the work. This helps in getting a sense of the structure, common musical patterns, and areas of difficulty. Assuming you have done whatever you feel necessary on this issue, we can begin at the beginning.

With your very first page of music you have several choices as to how to handle the music.  Will you play it from beginning to end before repeating it? Play it half way? Phrase? Line? Measure? How many times will you repeat your chosen unit before moving on? How do you know which combination of all these variables is most appropriate for you today with this particular piece and its unique  problems? While cognitive science can give us some general guidelines as to capacity of our short-term memory, the effects of repetition, recencey, latency, etc. on how we move information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory the application is more art than science. Only with careful self-observation can we become aware of what may be our particular needs at a specific moment.

So try this experiment with a multiple page piece which remains roughly consistent in difficulty throughout.

On the first page, play the first unit of music, whether it is a phrase or line. If it takes longer than about 15 seconds, play a shorter unit. Play it three times without speeding up and observe your progress. Do you feel you are at least familiar with the music now? Play it a fourth and fifth time. Did you make any more significant progress? Continue this process throughout the whole page. With each unit observe at what repetition point  you felt your progress slowed, that is the point further effort started yielding less improvement  compared to earlier efforts.

On second page of music double the length of material. If you were playing one line, play two; one phrase, this time do two phrases. Now compare the results with the first page. Do you still have the same sense of “familiarity” as you experienced on the first page? Did the progress in learning increase or decrease? Are beginning to notice a “sweet spot” in the repetition count before your improvement slows?

On the third page, treat the whole page as your unit.

At this point it is probably becoming quite obvious which level of breakdown allowed you to absorb and retain the most information.  So far we have addressed two possible variables in our practice, the length of material and the number of repetitions.  How long of a section we work on and the number of repetitions we find most useful are impacted by  your understanding of music theory, technical demands relative to your technical abilities, and your focus and attention.

Continue working through the whole piece using the unit size you found most advantageous. When you have completed the work one time, put it away for a day, you need some time for this information to be processed and the time will give the slight variations in repetition and attention to become less of an issue for the next part of the experiment.

On the second day, repeat the entire process using the section length you settled upon on the first day. Observe the progress you make per repetition. Has the “sweet spot” moved? You will no doubt find yourself speeding up some now, try to keep this under control. Playing faster by definition will make the music harder, which introduces another variable to our experiment. We are looking to see how quickly we can absorb new music, not how quickly we can speed it up… yet.

So, at this point we are beginning to get a sense of how many repetitions it is worth doing before moving on to the next section at the very earliest stages in the learning process. For your own understanding of the learning process it is a worthwhile exercise to use the rejected breakdowns on two other pieces to better understand why they did not work as well and what their inherent weaknesses were for you. However, just because they were inappropriate at this early stage does not mean they will not be useful later on.

You should make a notation for your records of the following: composer, work, relative difficulty for you (was it below your current ability, comparable to recent works, or harder than what you have been playing), selected working unit length, some  type of note about the density of the music (more dense usually means smaller units), average or range of repetitions which yielded the best results, and also observe if you found that after a certain number you actually got worse.

Since for most of us, our musical aspirations exceed our ready technical equipment, we inevitably spend a fair amount of time working on increasing our tempos, sometimes by very large margins. There is a school of thought which says we should not attempt music which is significantly above our current playing ability. I think the answer to this is very subjective and very dependent upon the personality of the individual. Some people may find challenges which take long hours of effort, with no certainly of success very discouraging.  However, I find life quite boring without multiple skill bending projects going on simultaneously.  This next experiment may prove more useful if you of the later group, but I think even if you are more comfortable with less difficult challenges you may find some useful understanding here.

Now that we have worked through our piece at least twice and as many as four times with the chosen breakdown unit,  we have become quite aware where is the hardest material. Nothing will ruin a piece faster than a difficult couple of dozen measure which always lag behind the rest of the music in performance. So in keeping with Rule #4 of Practicing: hard stuff first.

We first must find a base line tempo, a speed we can play the passage with no less than a 95% success rate. In all likelihood, this will a much slower tempo than you image it needs to be. Record this tempo in your notes. After we find the speed which we are just able to play successfully, we need to find a tempo which is “easy” to play. The primary, if not the only determinate of difficulty is speed. If you played the section at the rate of one note per hour, you would certainly find it easy, no matter how dense the music was. If you had ten minutes to play a note, I dare say it still would be easy. We are essentially looking for a speed which is slow enough that we can think about everything we are doing and yet fast enough we don’t take all day to get through it once.

A funny thing happens when you start looking at some of these numbers in how they relate to other human activities. In weight training a similar procedure can be done. When doing a new lift, athletes  will look for a weight which they can lift only once. Eighty percent of that weight however will yield them a weight which they can lift 7 – 10 times, which is often a repetition number they are also looking for.

Eighty percent of your maximum successful tempo will often yield you a speed which is near that sweet spot of slow enough to study and think and fast enough to repeat often. Your results may vary some, I would only use results slower than 80% though, never faster.

Now for the experiment. Play through your passage at this tempo. Make sure the unit is short enough you can get through it in 30 – 45 seconds. It is important that you remember in detail what you did so that you can learn from the experience. After successfully playing through the passage move your metronome up one standard notch. (I will discuss standard metronome numbers vs. smaller increments at a later date.) Continue to move the metronome up with each successful completion. If you start making mistakes, repeat the speed. If the mistakes continue, slow down 2 – 3 notches and continue to move up the tempo once the problems are fixed. Observe what happens as you approach your baseline. Do you find a sudden increase in difficulty or do you roll right past it? Continue raising the tempo until you find the number you can’t move past. You can check this by slowing down a couple notches and trying again. If you continue to fail, you have reached your limit for the day. If you can, continue to move up until you fail again, this will probably mark the end. Record the numbers which you had all of these experiences.  Again put the music away for the day.

The very next day repeat the entire process, however this time the proceeding’s day top speed becomes your new baseline. Again, start at no more than 80% of that number and work your way up the metronome. Observe and record if you experience a sudden increase in difficulty and your final speed.

Do this for several days. After you have 5 – 7 days worth of data what observations can you make? Which days experienced the largest increase in tempo? How much slower was the progress in the later days? If it helps graph the numbers, over time you will start seeing some very predictable results.

The next stage would be to repeat the entire process on some new material, however this time start at 70% below your baseline and observe the results. There is a flaw in this approach however, by starting slower you will be assured of having more repetitions before you reach your baseline… or will you?

As a final stage start at 50% of your baseline. Do this with two different sections. In the first section go up one notch at a time and in the second go up two notches at a time. There can sometimes be very different results, a lot will depend on other factors such as the difficulty of the music.

There are many other experiments which we can do at various stages in the learning process and by applying just a dash of scientific method can teach us a lot about how we learn best. Hosting practice camps during summer months can also give you the opportunity to show your students how to learn how they learn.



Another 15 Ways to Promote your Studio

Another 15 Ways to Promote your Studio

1) Create a niche market. Most people specialize in beginners and then everybody else. How about specializing in duets? I have noticed a significant increase in two piano and piano duo playing in the past few years. Piano ensemble work has a lot of challenges for the performer and teacher. Having been a member of a two piano team for many years I know the value of a third pair of ears.

2) Develop a logo. The purpose of a logo is to create a visual reminder of you. The Nike “swish” has become universally recognized as the symbol for Nike. The best logos are very simple but need to be present everywhere you are present from your business card to your recital programs.

3) T-shirts or sweatshirts with your name and logo on them for your students. Here is a great walking advertisement for your studio!

4) Articles in the local newspaper. Small, local newspapers will often run 300 – 500 word articles about local businesses. The best part is that it doesn’t cost anything. You need to contact the local paper’s editorial depart to see what their procedures are for submitting an article.

5) Develop a school music presentation. Back in the days when I would go on a tour I had developed a program around Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition which I would play at elementary schools in the cities I was playing in. Various pictures were displayed on a screen while I played and gave a running commentary for the children.

6) Offer lessons at places people gather. Your local YMCA is one place not normally associated with music lessons, but they are often looking for other types of programs for their members. I know of two YMCA’s which offered music lessons as part of their programs at one time.

7) Offer music programs designed for young children at after school care facilities and early educational centers such as Montessori schools.

8) Offer lessons at a senior center or a retirement center.

9) Sponsor a team. While Jimmy maybe interested in baseball, his sister Suzy may want to play the piano. It is not just your team who will know about your studio, but the parents of every team they play and the parents whose children are playing before and after your team’s games.

10) Display banners at local sports arenas. My son played years of hockey and I sat with parents of school aged children in many different ice rinks and saw a lot of local businesses’ banners hanging all around the arena. Why not yours? You might be surprised how inexpensive this is to do.

11) Reprint any ads or articles about your studio and pass them out to everybody. Yes, most will be thrown away, but some will be read and maybe passed on to others.

12) Join a civic organization. Become the go to music person for the local Rotary Club or Kiwanis clubs.

13) Offer gift certificates for lessons. This would be a great Christmas present for someone. Put together a package of a month or two of lessons and a book. You will get paid in advance and may gain a new student by the time the gift certificate is used up.

14) Use testimonials in your marketing. A couple of testimonials from either the parents or the children of only a couple dozen words can become a significant marketing tool.

15) Write a newsletter. This is a great way to keep everybody informed about important dates, you can include policy reminders and even more important include informational articles. Always leave your readers a little smarter for having read your newsletter. Give them something of value each time they pick it up and they are much more likely to pick it up again and maybe even share it with someone else.

Andrew Remillard
ANRPiano.com
Andrew@anrpiano.com

 

<script async src=”//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js”></script>
<!– Andrew Remillard –>
<ins class=”adsbygoogle”
style=”display:block”
data-ad-client=”ca-pub-3258422581548247″
data-ad-slot=”7135165219″
data-ad-format=”auto”></ins>
<script>
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
</script>

Some More Wisdom From Sarah: Teaching: A Little Hope and a lot of Endurance

For the last year and some months, I’ve been giving piano lessons to a young boy who is apparently very attention deprived in his everyday life. I came to this conclusion pretty quickly; at his “trial lesson” actually. This little boy had a mind of his own! He’d find everything he could to get himself distracted, he’d make strange squealing and squawking sounds whenever he played a piano key, he’d mock me counting beats, he’d talk back to me, he’d do things he was told not to do just out of spite, when I corrected him he’d say he didn’t do it wrong, and well, that’s just a general overview of all this little boy has done.

Sometimes I sit in lessons and repeat directions for him to get his hands ready to play over and over while he sits there in outward resistance and then 5 minutes later; he finally gives in and gets his hands ready. That should take 5 seconds, not five minutes! Almost every week it is the same thing in one variation or another. I am not sure which is harder; teaching this little boy or doing a triathlon! Certainly, much endurance is needed. Well over a year later, we are still only ¾ of the way through the Faber Piano Adventures Primer Level books. I am sure I have moved him along in them more than he has deserved too! And in case you’re wondering, he is not much better if his mother or babysitter is in the room.

By now, you’re probably asking me why I don’t just give up on this little boy. I have asked myself that same question for a long time… well, since I started teaching him. Something just keeps me going though. Part of me never wants to give up on anybody. I am kind of stubborn like that and I hold a lot of hope and a lot of faith that things will always get better or at least I will learn something great through it all. Part of me says “hey, it’s income!” What teacher doesn’t want a steady student filling a half hour of their week? And yet another part of me wonders if there is some way I could make some kind of difference in his life. This is the most compelling reason I stick with teaching my little misbehaved wonder. There has got to be SOMETHING that I can do for him. Well, I haven’t quite found that something yet, but I have realized that sometimes I just need to settle for the tiny little somethings that pop up once in a blue moon.

One thing I have learned is that my little friend suddenly gets really quiet and focused when he is given theory assignments to do right there in pianos lessons. I quit assigning them to be done at home this past summer because I realized this was what he was mostly interested in and now we do all his theory together right there on the piano bench. These have ended up being the most teachable moments. He still acts a little goofy, but most of his attention gets focused on getting correct answers and following the directions on the page. Oh how I wish he would follow MY directions! We’ll get there though. Baby steps, right?

That one little breakthrough just feeds my hope that more and bigger breakthroughs will come. Until then, call me crazy, but I think I’ll keep teaching this little guy. Maybe someday I’ll be writing an article about what a great scientist or engineer he has become. Maybe I’ll be bragging about something wonderful he’s done with music! Well, I won’t get ahead of myself, but you know what I mean.



Open Letter to my Children #2

The secret to wealth is spending much less than you make.

In “The Millionaire Next Door”, Thomas Stanley and William Danko describe many of the unexpected characteristics of people with a high net worth. The starting point for a financially successful life is first learning to live within your means; spending no more than you earn. After you have mastered living within your means then you need to learn to live on much less than you earn.

We often get caught up in the trappings of conspicuous consumption, we admire the brand new $60,000 car, we are jealous of the vacations to Hawaii our friends take, and we wish we lived in a bigger, newer house. However, that new car probably represents a big hit to someone’s savings or worse, they charged the down payment on a high interest credit card and they have a $600 monthly payment for years before they fully own this depreciating asset. After 5 years their $60,000 expense and $10,000+ of interest payments is worth less than half that amount. They have lost $40,000 in a few short years. Not a very effective way to build net worth.

In today’s world it is very easy to spend tomorrow’s income on today’s life style; just put it on the plastic. Hopefully, you have paid it off by the time you throw it away. The costs of the debt can very easily double the price you pay for an item.

There are two kinds of debt. The worst kind is life style debt. Borrowing to pay for a new television or new furniture, in other words items which rapidly depreciate, will leave you forever broke. If you need a new television, first be sure this is a need and not a want. Getting a bigger set just because it is so much better than what you have, and it is so embarrassing to have anything but the latest model is not a reason to go into debt. If your television has broken and you don’t have the cash for a new one, cancel the cable, and start saving. The same could be said about cars or game counsels. Your life style should be based upon only what you are able to earn today not what you will earn tomorrow. Remember that if you are spending tomorrow’s income, you are going to have a much lower life style tomorrow than you enjoy today with tomorrow’s income.

While supporting your life style is a horrible reason for debt, there are some very powerful reasons to take on debt, even very large amounts of debt. Good debt is used to leverage savings, skills, talents, and ideas into opportunities for greater return. But even here you must start with your own saving which you have accumulated by living on less than you earned. Borrowing to begin or expand a business is the best type of debt you can have. You still need to be careful that the income generated by this debt is sufficient to service the debt and the terms are manageable within the context of your business.

As far as borrowing for a home goes, this can be almost as bad as borrowing for life style. It is very easy to purchase more home than you really need and end up with a mortgage which destroys your credit for years to come. If you do buy a house, remember it is very expensive to sell it and if you don’t plan on living there for at least 10 years don’t do it! If the real estate market turns on you, you may not be able to sell it at all (just ask your neighbors). If you need move to relocate to a better job market you would be out of luck. In addition to the risk of owning a house you also have the lost opportunities that your down payment represents. What else could you do with that money which would be a better idea than buying a house with that money?

Your mother and father have learned these lessons from personal experience and from watching the outcomes of our friend’s decisions. Life is much simpler without debt so be very careful before you take the plunge.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com




15 More Ways to Promote Your Music Studio

1) Take your students to nursing homes to entertain the residents. Remember, the staff often has children or grand children who may be looking for a teacher.
2) Buy an ad in a play bill with a local arts organization.
3) Tell your students that you would happy to teach their friends.
4) Teach one or two days at a music school. You gain a lot of exposure by being part of a larger musical educational setting.
5) Distribute pens with your name on them.
6) Put an ad in the local newspaper. Believe it or not, the local papers are still read and their classified ads are usually available on line so you gain by the additional exposure.
7) Teach a secondary instrument or a different genre of music.
8) Write a blog. This takes time but after you have written extensively you begin to be viewed as an expert and gain a lot of credibility in the community.
9) Give a recital of your own.
10) Promote your students everywhere you go. Don’t brag about how good they are, but do tell of their accomplishments. Take pictures of their performances and put them up in your studio and post them on line (with their permission of course.)
11) Get to know the area elementary and secondary music teachers. Get on their lists of area teachers.
12) Accompany solo and ensemble contests.
13) Participate in an ensemble.
14) Do a fund raising concert for your favorite charity.
15) Promote, Promote, and then Promote some more everywhere you go.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



Finding New Students

Recently I have had the opportunity to help several teachers develop marketing material in an attempt to attract new students. A common error they all made was to start their efforts from the perspective of why they were such good and qualified teachers. They wanted to list all of their professional qualifications and certifications. One even wanted to list all of the orchestras she had played with. I hated to break it to them but, for most of their prospective students, these things were completely irrelevant.

We all get satisfaction from receiving recognition from our peers and peer organizations, however the average person doesn’t know these groups exist, what their various alphabet soup designations mean, or most importantly, care about any of it.

Instead of starting with your qualifications, start with your student’s/customer’s needs. It doesn’t matter that you received the highest whatever in anything. If you do not meet the needs of your students they will find someone who will meet their needs in a teacher.

Professional marketers will break the needs of the consumer into several categories: convenience, price, and quality are usually the top three. The consumer will balance their relative needs in these three areas. If their highest priority is price, then they will be willing to sacrifice some convenience in exchange for a lower price. If their priority is convenience then they may be will to pay more even if the quality is lower.

The other critical consideration you must make when trying to attract students is the fact that there are more available customers at the lower end (beginning players) of the spectrum of demand in the areas of price and quality than at the higher end of these categories. If you want only those willing to pay the highest price and demand only the most qualified instructors, you will have a very small group of potential students. Sam Walton figured this out decades ago. The great majority of people want a low price and great convenience more than the highest quality.

So as you design your marketing material, think of what your prospective students might actually want in a teacher and offer that to them.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



A Word about Learning and Memorizing…

Here is a new way to look at understanding human memory: the memory unit. I consider the basic functional memory unit to be the amount of material which can be played or studied six times and then played by memory the seventh.

This is based upon the limitations of the short term memory. These limitations are 10 – 15 seconds and 5 – 7 “chunks”. A chunk is a single idea which can be made of many individual bits of information. A one octave C major scale can be looked at as either 8 chunks, where each note requires a new idea. Or a single chunk, the entire scale being conceived as a single idea which contains all of the note and fingering information.

The short term memory only lasts about 10 – 15 seconds before information is dumped. If the memory is re-heard (read: rehearsal) within this time limitation and the content can begin to be moved intact into the long term memory.

This is a critical point. I once had a student tell me that they always got lost in a particular passage in the middle of a rather long phrase. They had attempted to memorize this passage working in sections which exceeded the capacity of their short term memory and the information was not moved intact to the long term memory. They simply had no idea of what was in the middle of the phrase.

I know this sounds rather technical and mechanical, however, our brains are chemical machines and consequently do have a predictable pattern of behavior at a certain level. Try this experiment: Select one measure of music, play it 6 times, close the music and play it again. If you are successful, you stayed within the contents of the short term memory. If not, either you played really slow, taking longer than 15 seconds, or didn’t group the notes into any chunk or pattern. Next expand to a two measure passage, and then three and four measures. At some point you will reach your limit; that is your memory unit.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com



The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given #2 by Sarah Flanagan

This is the second installment of Sarah’s wonderful words of wisdom.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
(Or… What Every Potential Music Major Should Know)
By Sarah Flanagan

“Majoring in music is a marathon – not a sprint!”

This isn’t rocket science, but when Andrew told me this, it geared me up for the years of majoring in music that I was about to face back in 2002. Before college I felt like I could do just about anything with only a little bit of work. Once I started though, I felt like I couldn’t do ANYTHING without a LOT of work. My how perceptions change when you are in the heat of the battle, but remembering that it is a marathon and not a sprint gave me the gumption to suck up the difficulties and hold out for the end. Few runners run a marathon to come in first place, because there is only one first place to be given out. But all marathoners run to finish the race and finishing such a great distance makes you a marathoner. Not finishing just makes you a runner. I was so happy to finish my musical marathon and thankful for this wonderful piece of advice.

My freshman class started the year with over 50 music majors. By the end of 4 years of college, I believe only 30 were left. I was proud to be one of them.

“Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time!”

I think this is actually a proverb of some sort that Andrew likes to pass on to students. Without actually looking it up, I might guess it was originally from Africa or someplace exotic like that. I can just imagine sticking a fork into the tough hide of an elephant and imagine how long it would take to just chew one piece of elephant, let alone eat the whole beast. What an overwhelming task without even considering how it might taste!

What Andrew was referring to were the elephants in our piano practice though. Our elephants can be difficult passages, extremely long and involved pieces, our struggle to make ends meet, or anything we feel overwhelmed with at any given time. We all have elephants we need to get past and if we don’t realize the right way to get past them, we might just find ourselves trampled by them.

I have learned that big and difficult things take time, effort and patience, but they are well worth it in the end. The elephant is not impossible to eat! If I take a bite at a time and take those bites regularly, I know I can overcome it. The added benefit is that much patience and perseverance is learned in doing so.

“…Wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Prov. 13:10

What words of wisdom were given to you along your musician’s journey? Which wise words remain important parts of your life even today? I can think of so many more wise words from so many other people in my life. I’m thankful I have them and I am thankful now as a teacher I can pass them along.



The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given by Sarah Flanagan

Today’s and tommorow’s posts are from guest blogger Sarah Flanagan. I have known Sarah for about 10 years. Her success as a musician, teacher, and most importantly a person has made me very proud to play a small part in her life.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
(Or… What Every Potential Music Major Should Know)
By Sarah Flanagan

My name is Sarah Flanagan and I am a former student of Andrew’s.
I took piano lessons from him during the summers revolving around the beginning of my college career. Actually, I came to Andrew to bring me up to speed right before college and then whenever I was home from college I continued with lessons. The summer before freshmen year my new college teacher gave me an assignment to start a Chopin prelude, a Debussy prelude a Beethoven sonata, and a Bach prelude and fugue. I was psyched about the pieces but totally trembling inside too. I needed to be whipped into shape in order to survive my freshmen year and Andrew gave me the tools and advice needed to make it through.

Fast forward almost 11 years and I am now a certified piano teacher with a degree in Keyboard Pedagogy from Cedarville University in Ohio (2006). I keep myself busy with a full studio of piano students, accompanying for the Village Voices choir, accompanying soloists, and playing piano for church. I have just recently finished my term being Secretary of the Downers Grove Music Club. Previously, I had been Vice President of the Downers Grove Music Club and Membership Chairperson for ISMTA Naperville Chapter. Aside from music, I also enjoy gardening, exercising, cooking, organizing women’s meetings for church, and taking care of my husband and dog.

I sometimes think about all of these things I do and positions I have held and wonder what they all really mean. I am certainly not as decorated as many of the teachers out there. Though I do what I can, I very much understand that there are higher degrees to be obtained and loftier positions to be held. When I think deeper into the places I find myself in life though, I think back to the people who have helped me get there. I haven’t achieved the highest degree, but the degree I DO have would be deficient if I had never taken the little golden nuggets of wisdom that many teachers and supporters have given along the way. I could hold more prestigious positions, but the positions I have held mean nothing if I haven’t learned something from the people I deal with in the various organizations I’ve been a part of. I could have twice as many students, but the students I have now would learn nothing if I hadn’t learned some things myself.

All along the way I have been given pieces of advice and pieces of encouragement that have stuck with me and have kept me patient, sane, grounded, calm, and steadfast in my musician’s journey. I’d like to share a couple simple pieces of advice that my former teacher shared with me several years back that have helped me along my way (which includes college and beyond). You may even want to pass these along to your own students who are making their way to college this year.

“Learn to say ‘No’ because many opportunities will arise and you can’t do everything, but you need to be able to choose what things are most important to you and go with them.”

Andrew told me this the summer before I went off to college. I attribute it to my success as a music major. He was right! I couldn’t do everything that presented itself to me. My piano professor expected me to practice daily at least 2 hours BEFORE I did my regular homework. I was left with very little free time at the end of the day, and so I ended up saying “no” to a lot of things in order to focus on doing the things I wanted to do the most. Admittedly, a lot of times I ended up using that free time to relax and enjoy time with friends. And that was ok. I could do the things I wanted to do because I learned to say “no.”

Required reading in one of my pedagogy classes junior year ended up being a book called “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud. I highly recommend this book as it speaks more in depth on this subject. It’s a good read for musician or non-musician alike.