Category Archives: Education

On Contributing

If you’d like an idea of what I had to put up with every Friday in college:

This is the most important moment right now, which is: We – are about contribution. That’s what our job is. It’s not about impressing people. It’s not about getting the next job. It’s about contributing something. Everyone was clear that you contributed passion to the people in this room, right? Did you do it better than the next violinist? Or did he do it better than another pianist? I don’t know; I don’t care! Because in contribution, there is no better. And that’s all. And what happens is the faces light up.

And that is all…

Metronome practice tips

In response to @HansOngchua regarding how to best use a metronome for efficient practicing, I came up with this list, which was too long to fit into a Twitter message:

Practice

  1. Plan your practice session. Organize which sections of which pieces you need to work on. Figure out how much time it is going to work on each section and to play through an entire piece if that’s part of your plan.
  2. Practice in chunks. Don’t just set the metronome and plow through your music. Mark off the sections that need attention and deal with them separately – working out the kinks – before you try to play the piece all the way through.
  3. Start your metronome at a tempo where you can play the section absolutely flawlessly – everything is in place: technique, rhythm, notes, phrasing, tone, etc. No compromises. Starting anywhere faster and you’re going to be practicing making mistakes.
  4. Take the above tempo and lets assume it takes 4 minutes to get through it at an 8th-note tempo of 60 bpm. Up to the target speed, it takes 1 minute at 120 bpm. If you’ve set aside 10 minutes of your practice schedule to work on this passage, then you should set the metronome for ♪=60, ♪=80, ♪=100, ♪=120.
  5. Don’t set the metronome for faster than you can play it. If the above scenario is unplayable at ♪=120, try a lower target and compress the in-between metronome markings to fit proportionally.
  6. Subdivide. I indicated eighth notes above, but these could just as easily turn into quarter notes, half notes, or whatever. It is not uncommon to start in eighth note subdivisions and wind up later on in quarter note subdivisions.
  7. Make sure the metronome is loud enough. Plug it into speakers or headphones if necessary.
  8. I almost never use a metronome when playing a piece all the way through. The exceptions to this are when I’m learning notes and want to build technique for a work up to a certain point. But after a while, I break it out into separate sections to work on, so that I can keep certain parts open for rubato, phrasing, and pauses.
  9. But the key question @HansOngchua asked was of course how to keep tempo during a performance. Unless the piece is some robotic vivacissimo etude, I think the tempo is likely going to fluctuate a bit based on human interpretation regardless. But in general, I try to keep an internal sense of tempo. When I’m performing a work, I go back to that internal sense of tempo from time to time to get things back on track. I think this has less of a chance of being “off” when the performer is confident and not distracted by nerves.

Create the change you want to see in the world, one environment at a time

Today I came across this article from Peter Bregman on the HarvardBusiness.org site, titled: The Easiest Way to Change People’s Behavior. It’s an excellent read and highly recommended.

What Peter discusses in this article is that one of the most important motivational factors in our lives is environment. If you put the right things in front of you, you’ll tend to use them more. Move them away, and they’ll get used less.

This goes for good things as well as bad things. On the positive side, consider proximity of the things that are beneficial: The gym is only a block away, so you go regularly. If the gym is far, you don’t go. Some examples based on the article:

  • Use a bigger spoon or plate, and you eat more. Use smaller ones and you eat less.
  • Live near a liquor store or a Burger King and people tend to drink more and eat more junk food. Place yourselves farther away from those and you tend not to indulge in such sins.
  • For musicians, keep your instrument and music in an area where you’ll most likely use it. Designate a practice area and have your instrument either out of it’s case or put the case in an easily accessible area. Music on the stand. Metronome on the desk. Ready to go. (I personally have found having a tuner (iStrobeSoft) and metronome (Dr Betotte TC) on my iPhone to be one of the biggest music practice productivity boosts yet. No searching for gadgets…)
  • Want kids to do their homework? Give them a clean, organized place to do it and make sure the homework is there and not floating around the house in some random place. (I know this from experience…)

In a Web 2.0 context, this equates to the usability of your software. Make it easy for your users to get things done, and they’ll do it without a hitch. Throw up roadblocks, and they’ll get stuck. It doesn’t matter how small the roadblock is or whether or not the construct was well intentioned or not – if it impedes usability, then it will impede usability. 😉

In a greater sense, there’s a lesson for the nation or the world: If you want people to change the way they are doing things, make them want to do it. Make it easy for them. Remove any and all barriers to getting things done. You want people to vote? Put voting booths in more neighborhoods or promote the option to vote by mail. Need people to get immunized? Set up neighborhood clinics. Want your employees to be more productive? Find out what is it about your office environment that is getting in the way or not helping promote the results you want to see. For kids, for employees, for citizens, provide the right environment and make it a place they want to be.

Musicians, memory, and learning

Great post over at Scienceblogs.com by Dave Munger titled “Musicians have better memory — not just for music, but words and pictures too

As musicians, we are constantly training ourselves to memorize. We spend hours upon hours memorizing music, and using mnemonic cues such as melodies, song form, harmony, music notation, and so on to help us memorize. Many of us start at a very early age.

Not only that, but practicing music is really doing repetitive calisthenic exercise on the parts of your brain that process technical thinking. We count over and over again (one and a two and a…), those beats are subdivided into fractions and complex mathematical iterations begin to permutate in both rhythm and harmonic elements of music performance.

It gets better: Music composition is really just another flavor of writing code. Musicians who read music are trained to read code from an early age. Musicians make excellent programmers.

So it is clear to me that music instruction is a critical component of education, and should begin consistently and from an early age. This is the best way to develop inherent technical thinking skills, improve memory, and help kids survive in an age where the people who know how to write code, or at least can think in code-like patterns, have a far greater chance of success professionally.

Taking a little break

The past three years have been grueling. Working full time, taking classes towards a masters degree, and being a dad all at the same time was taking a toll. The last few months were especially interesting since I was working on a book project on top of everything.

Well, life has returned to a new kind of normal for the past couple of weeks, and it is good to have a little free time again. The masters degree is done – I am now a graduate of of the University of Denver in computer information systems, with concentration in web design and development. And the book is done – an introductory guide to standards-based web development. More on the book details in a later post…

So it is nice to experience a little rest for a change. I actually have had time to relax a bit and get back in touch with cooking, taking the kids on excursions to places like zoo and the Exploratorium, reading a geek book or two that I actually want to read, and of course practicing.

Hey, perhaps I’ll even have more time to post items here in the ‘ol blog! But don’t hold your breath… 😉