After your first year of undergrad, there is an abundance of time to practice (not). However, there is more allocated time to practice, and efficiently using this time to practice is a skill that is most useful post-grad.

In this week’s entry I will set a baseline for general practicing habits as a college student (from both the perspective of undergraduate and graduate) and then the transition to full time teaching whether that be private lessons or public school.


Collegiate Practice Time

Undergraduate:

As an undergraduate student, there is a fairly inflexible block schedule that your practice time has to fit into. Gen Eds, Core Requirements, Lessons, Ensembles, Electives….

As far as practice time goes, it is more or less built into your schedule as “free time”.

This time gets spent on lesson material (scales, etudes, repertoire), ensemble repertoire and chamber music. There isn’t much time for exploration and playing things outside of school music aside from part-time gigs.

Graduate:

Towards the last year of undergrad, but more so during graduate studies, there is A LOT more “free time”. Classes run into the night – if you are working part or full time that may vary how much time you have allotted to practice. However, this variability leaves a few open ended questions:

  1. How much time do you need to practice? School material? Outside school?
  2. What do you practice? What are you working towards?

Grad school is where you have the freedom to hone whatever skills you prioritize.

One of the secrets of adulting 101 that most graduate students and full-time workers will tell you is that you have to schedule a social life. The same becomes true for practicing. If you don’t make time for it, it can slip through the cracks and before you know it you have missed a week a practicing.

There is not set # of practice hours. Everyone is different: work/school schedules, physical and mental health, upcoming projects, etc. However, being consistent and seeing through that you practice when you tell yourself you are going to practice. As well as having a plan for what you want to get better at each time you play – or if you are playing for fun (set time aside for that as well!) – but those times that you are practicing to journal it and reflect every week or so on the small achievements you’ve made.


Post-Grad – Working Full Time:

When you are teaching, the freedom that you had in graduate school is altered. Life changes, workload, etc. However, the key differences is now you are in the driver’s seat. Without regular lessons, you have the freedom to decide how you practice and maintain your skills.

Preparing and planning lessons – ideally you would be working on the repertoire your students are doing, so any personal projects are put on hold to review and refresh for teaching.

Finding balance between maintaining personal goals versus teach goals can vary; and it is important to model a viable career that blends both teaching and personal growth.


How do you practice? Let me know in the comments below!

This article will be speculative of what’s to come and reflective on the past year including the transition from in person to remote/hybrid lessons, classes, ensembles, and other music making activities.

This has been written with US perspective, in the NY/NJ area where the handling of the current global pandemic may differ from what some readers may have experienced thus far.


Lessons and Classes

Early March 2020 shutdowns ceased the majority of in person music lessons in the US flowing into a period of transition as teachers and their students had to work to figure out unfamiliar terrain such as audio/video recording equipment, video call platforms, internet stability, etc. Most experienced the growing pains of this strange time, and as a result there was a lot of flexibility in the first several months of the pandemic as everyone was navigating new territory.

However, university students had this much more cut and dry. If you were enrolled into a university, lessons are typically mandatory for students, and so they know what to expect. Outside of this formality were students in independently owned music schools, independent studios both locally-based and ones run online.

At their core these groups were impacted similarly to university lessons with the exception of the independent online studios that ran prior to the pandemic. Of course, there were some waves for this latter group with the influx of demand for remote lessons.

Most teachers can agree that teaching students, especially brand new or transfer students, remotely is one major hurdle. The shift from being in the same room as the student: being able to full assess what they are doing (as well as picking up on nonverbal cues), having a sense of control when it comes to distractions/environment, being able to make real time adjustments, and significantly less anxiety (most notably related to technology, especially poor internet connection). To then having to rely on the student having enough support at home to get set up; that the student has a relatively quiet and distraction/anxiety-free place they can work; getting the student’s attention for a significant portion of the lesson while also keeping up student morale; and on top of that being able to see and hear the student well enough to be of any help.

For university students who are self-sufficient or intrinsically motivated this is a less daunting task, but with extrinsically motivated or young or less mature students this being exponentially more challenging.

I’ve seen some teachers do outside or drive-by lessons with young or new students; maintaining social distancing, and sometimes separation by a screen/glass shield. This, of course, was easier during the warmer months, and now with flu-season and generally colder weather this is a less viable option.

Some teachers have tried using online creator’s videos to supplement information for still young, but more motivated students.

The overall take away is that the transition from in person to remote (or hybrid) lessons is really about release of control. As the teacher you have no control over the technology or internet stability of your students, you don’t have control of the distractions in their space, and you can’t get their attention as easily as you would be able to if you were in the room with them. Each student will have a varying level of control over their own situation – depending on their age and level of sufficiency. And on both sides there needs to be some empathy, when a large portion of the world isn’t able to experience live music the priority of lessons shouldn’t be music making it should be about the human connection. The music can follow.


Ensembles

Similar to lessons, music ensembles also ceased in early to mid-March. In my own experience, I did not have another ensemble experience until the Fall semester, there was so much chaos that they got pushed to the back burner and this really messed with my mental wellbeing – as someone who relies on that connection with other people to create music.

For some musicians – such as string players – opportunities to play live were much more available than they were for wind players. For obvious reasons, string players are able to wear masks and still play. Of course, I did see a few ensembles with wind players outside, distanced to play together, but these were mostly brass only ensembles (as woodwinds are significantly more fragile/sensitive to the outdoors). My own university used a parking garage to record both the choirs, band, and strings in this past Fall 2020 semester x.

Many people turned to online platforms to replicate the same type of ensembles and/or music that they would otherwise. Commonly (even pre-pandemic) you might see people on social media doing covers of pieces they like using apps like Acapella or just a video editing software and putting all the videos together to make a one-person (or sometimes several people) into a remote ensemble. Or they may use DAWs like Soundtrap, BandLab, or GarageBand to record trap to edit together.

I really have no idea when people will feel safe enough to assemble inside for ensembles. And this poses challenges for public school music ensembles in which the students heavily rely on the rehearsal time in order to prepare their own part and learn about the music as they are still developing the skills to be able to read and interpret music, and have enough maturity to be accountable to do so. For my own track as an educator I would strongly recommend making the music making experience less rigid/formal; set aside the standard of excellence and superiority. I’ve seen some schools forgo any type of concert schedule this year, instead focusing on technique and fundamentals.

I disagree with this decision because I feel that the students (who typically already dislike technique work) are going to EXTRA not like it when they have nothing to counteract it. Think about the students (there’s always a handful) who act out in there other classes, but then come to music class – whether that’s guitar club, music technology or just regular old band – and they get to just escape for however long that block period is. Instead, in this hypothetical situation, this type of student is being giving this gritty, mentally taxing work and we have no context for how their life has shifted since the start of the pandemic: what’s going on at home, is there stress and anxiety? Do they have siblings that are competing for technology, attention, etc? Are they giving care to younger siblings or even older family members? Of course we have standards and objectives that need to be followed for these ensembles, however, the material does not need to so rigid.

I would argue that the most important to skill during this time are the students ears. Perhaps you ask them to cover a song they like – they could do it on their instrument (for the class), an instrument they have at home, or with a DAW/MIDI software and you give guidelines for this type of ‘project’ that align with the standards and objectives you need to meet, but the students have so much more flexibility and will be honing the same skill while feeling like their choice matters.

It becomes very stressful – that same release of control – if we expect 9 and 10 year olds to teach themselves (even with the aid of adults at home) unfamiliar instruments. Teach them the skills they need – the two ears they have will be the best tool they need going forward for whatever musical path life takes them – and don’t worry that ‘they won’t be prepared for next year’ because no one will be. Patience. Flexibility. Prioritize.

Other Remarks

I can not emphasize this enough for the university folk who have been primarily classically trained… that is not the only path. Obviously.

Embrace the unknown, that this time as an informal professional development. What do you students listen to? Video game music? Rap? Movie soundtracks? Pop/J-Pop/K-Pop? Etc? Use this time now to immerse yourself in unfamiliar sounds and learn from them. Ask them to observe and actively listen; especially now with the unlimited access we have to music online you this to your advantage.

Take this time to learn about your students’ musical experiences outside the classroom. Do they make music at home? Do they have people in their house that play music? Community building is also essential – especially in public schools, cultivating and maintaining support for the arts is more important now than ever we need our art form to remain relevant for future generations to continue onwards.


How has the transition from in person to online impacted you this year?

Any additional ideas for lessons, classes, ensembles, etc going forward? Let me know in the comments!

There’s not just one type of student or teacher. Everyone has there own learning styles, needs, and quirks that make up a diverse learning community.

In the instrumental ‘traditional’ symphonic band and orchestra tracks, the expectation is excellence, discipline, and high-achievement – this is a grandfathered system that keeps going, but why? Because it’s comfortable or at the very least familiar? Or because it is what is right for our diverse learners?

In this article, I will be providing an argument for why it is important to seek alternative paths and perspectives that can be married with that familiar “excellence, discipline, and high-achievement”; as well as how these alternatives will help keep our art form alive for there to be another 100+ years rather than gradually lose public funding and favor.


University – Who are you?

When in university you are exposed to a whole new pool of people that – most likely – differ from you and the people from your formative teenage years. You have an immediate choice: do you integrate yourself into as many of these diverse pools as you can? Do you dip your toes into a few pools that either rebel against your former experiences? And/or end up fitting into your former experiences? Or do you completely reject these new perspectives in favor of your own personal experiences?

Identity.

This is something most people begin thinking about around the time they develop social awareness; however, one people are left on their own – without a familiar backdrop of places and people – they are forced to see who they really are.

Hence, why it is paramount to take advantage of the time you have in university to explore these alternative perspectives. Now that doesn’t mean you have to do things that go against your morals or beliefs; but LISTENING to people about why they feel the way they feel does not do any harm to you. It doesn’t suddenly mean you are rebelling against your morals or are doing anything wrong.

One term that has gained popularity with the widespread use of internet forums is “echo chamber”. For those of you unfamiliar, you can read about it here; to summarize, it is usually characterized by people seeking out others who hold the same opinion as they do to further solidify their biases – most of the time this is not malicious and can often be done subconsciously.

With all this in mind, every once in a while take a step back to reflect on the media you are consuming to see if you are exposing yourself to a wide array of ideas or are just listening to what you know you will agree with.


Grandfather Music Education

Like many things in life, there isn’t one way to become a music educator.

Most people may think that you become a music educator through a 4/5 year Bachelors program (which includes clinical experiences, teaching portfolios, and state/nation required exams). The first glaring issue with this is that this is strictly an American perspective. Likewise there is also the bias of time – expecting someone to finish their degree in a set number of years – more or less. As well as assuming that someone HAS to do their Bachelors in Education. And the list can go on….

Here I will be reflecting on Music Education in America because that is where I studied and have the most insight on:

  1. One of the biggest issues is the separation of music in school and out of school. We demand support for the arts (rightly so) yet when it comes to music making we rarely ever create new things, we simply recreate what is expected. On top of that most of the music we perform is not meaningful to the students. Popular instrument, music technology, film score, etc. classes are heavily undermined and not taken seriously by many educators. However, can it be at the fault of all these educators? Or is it really the lack of preparation and training in degree programs to get these educators to make music education more accessible.
  2. Accessibility for special needs. At the end of my Bachelors they tacked on a few special education courses – which they graduate above my year never took and that is worrisome. I graduated with my Bachelors in 2019 and special education was not given a platform to all these educators who may not actively seek ways to support and reach students who really need it.
  3. Poverty – this gets touched on yes, but no one actually knows what to do, most of us are just told to make it up as we go. Not having enough instruments for students, or not enough materials (stands, music, chairs, space) for students is devastating when the engagement is there. However when there is low enrollment or interest, how do we get these students in the door? How do we make an environment that supports them, their learning, and their financial need?
  4. Racial distribution – this was never really discussed in my undergraduate classes (even with my University being on the East coast). Racial diversity doesn’t look one way it is highly dependent on the school you teach in/the district. You CAN NOT have a band of predominantly one racial group and them a sprinkle of other groups in there and call that diverse. There are many interconnected issues within this topic such as: lack of proper healthcare (which can effect proper diagnosis of special needs) and economic inequity.

Those are just a few of the topics that stick out the most (from my perspective). Others may want to call out gender, family/home stability, LBGTQ+ harassment, and more. Those are all valid perspectives that are not covered in this grandfathered music education pyramid.

Expanding Grandfather Music Education: Resources

Here are some resources that I could find address these topics – feel free to share ones you have found:

Roderick Cox – Conductor’s Perspective discusses “A live conversation among four American conductors across generational lines- sharing their unique stories navigating the elusive profession of orchestral conducting, and perspectives on classical music as a unifying art form for the future.”

NAfME: Teaching Lessons to Children with Special Needs

Article: Inner-City Schools Find Music Programs Could Be Key To Happier, Harder-Working Students

@blackgirlmusic_ / @iamcreateorg supporting Black and Latinx female musicians.

BrassChicks

Article: Orchestrated Sex: The Representation of Male and Female Musicians in World-Class Symphony Orchestras

Reddit: Hello r/flute! What are your thoughts on males playing flute?

Trumpet Headquarters – Black Female Brass Players

NAfME: How to Teach Commercial and Popular Music in Schools

Forum: Students with Divorced Parents

Article: The ‘shadow education system’: How wealthier students benefit from art, music, and theater over the summer while poor kids miss out

Article: Teaching Music in Inner City Schools


Is it that easy?

No it’s an ongoing battle. Especially for the groups that can not just walk away from it. If you are able to turn it off and walk away you NEED to acknowledge your privilege. We (especially those with privilege) need to complicate our lives to make any sort of impact in the way music education is taught and experienced.

Especially with this pandemic that is rolling into its tenth month: people are either going into poverty or deeper in to poverty; the gaps in educational achievement are widening; people are stressed and emotionally unwell; and there is still so much instability in the world.

As a future educator my one message to you is: that people come first. Ease your students into lessons – how was your day/week? What did you have for breakfast/lunch? Who’s that on your shirt? What have you been listening to?

Make them feel seen and that they matter because they might not be getting that support elsewhere. The music can come later.


Share any resources you like in the comments!

This fall I completed the first book in the Suzuki flute method, as a classically trained flutist I had some tools in my belt prior to taking this course. After taking the course, I recognized some of the limitations in engaging young students, such as the younger siblings (anywhere from 3+) of students in beginning band (generally ages 9-10) . In this post I will be sharing a combination of methods that can be used to support new flute students of any age.


Spitting Rice

Starting with a Suzuki method technique…

This is a relatively inexpensive tool since one bag of rice can go a long way. The largest benefit of this method is that the student is directing the instruction: you don’t need to lecture them or walk them through the hows and whys. Simply modeling and having them copy you is enough to get them started.

Furthermore, this tool can be build on for the students as the advance: making a game out of spitting rice at a target/picture will inadvertently teach the students how to direct their air without a long explanation. Plus, the students get to navigate what works for them with minimal exposition from the teacher,

Mimicking Sounds (“mm” “pah” “poo”)

Sounds that engage the lips particularly using fricatives which are a hard constant sound (for example, a common choir warmup is singing with a “ffffff” or “zzzz” or “vvvvvv” sound).

You can find a variety of online content that reference about their preferred sounds; some work better depending on the individual – generally the “mmm” like M&M, “pah” with an emphasis on the pop ‘h’ at the end of the sound, and “poo” with an emphasis on the ‘ew’ ending sound are successful for forming the flute embouchure shape.

Breathing; Organizing Air

For early wind students learning how to organize and control their air is most likely a completely new concept. Isolating this skill before introducing the instrument can help avoid headaches and bad habits later on when the students have to worry about assembling and holding their instrument, forming the embouchure, and having enough air to play.

The system used for teaching breathing really depend on the student’s level – regardless of age. Some students are ready for an exposition on understanding inhaling and exhaling, while other students would just rather observe and copy, another group work better in a natural, less pressured environment, etc.

The most important take away is that you isolate the skill of breathing before adding the flute; and then you can play games to build on that foundation.

For young students using bubble wands or balloons, to see how long they can exhale, what they notice about needed to in take more air, and how that results in forming a bigger a bubble or balloon.

Visual Tools

Not all students have the same learning style, some students benefit from seeing what they need to do and building on that some of these students prefer to teach themselves.

Two tools you can provide these students to enable their learning style are coffee straws and a mirror. The coffee straw can be placed between the top/bottom lip, no more than 1 centimeter in the mouth, at a diagonal where the higher point is pointed towards the roof of the mouth. This tool allows the students to see how large the aperture (or the shape between the top and bottom lip) should be. The mirror allows for self-assessment, with or without a coffee straw, the student can see their own lips and observe what they are doing with guided questions to help them notice what to look for.

Eliminating Variables/Distractions

Rarely would you teach a young student to do several things at once. As a general rule, you would want to establish small foundational steps that you continue to build on as they develop. While it is important to hold students to a high standard, allowing them the space to succeed with realistic goals and expectations is paramount.

When introducing the producing first sounds on head joint (after successfully forming the embouchure and exploring air organization), bringing the head joint to the student and asking them to just focus on breathing and forming the sound/articulation will provide the least distractions and eliminate any potential bad habits. By bringing the head joint to the student, they don’t need to adjust their body, move their head, etc – remind the student to let the flute come to them. Early on this could be a game in group lessons where the students “deliver” the flute to another student.


What do you do for getting the first sound on the flute? Have you seen any Suzuki flute teaching incorporated into the classroom before?