Monday, June 18, 2007

10 Ways To Get A Fresh Start With Summer Practice Assignments

As the summer is almost upon us, now is the time when I give all my students their summer learning assignment and try to give them a solid nudge towards what they can achieve in the next year. Each student invariably gets their own customized assignment, and here some examples:

1. Next level, please. I steer my piano students toward examinations with RCM Examinations (the National Music Certificate Program [updated 7/2/12] the Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory Achievement Program in the US), and most of them do their exams in June. Their level of preparation reaches a peak in early June, and after their exams are finished I try to give them a head start on the next grade level while they're still hot, rather than wait until September and start from scratch. My RCM-level students traditionally get 3 new pieces, mostly of their choice, to independently learn for September.

2. New style, please. Why work in only one musical style? Learning another can open your musical horizons. In the field of piano alone there are plenty of styles to explore beyond classical, including ragtime, American jazz, Cuban jazz, Brazilian jazz, rock, contemporary, new age, and popular to name only a few. Your journey through a new style can often answer questions and correct problems you might have had in your primary style.

3. Singers--strive for five. Many professional or semi-professional singers work on a large number of arias to build them into their voice. The summer can be an ideal time to perfect those five arias for the coming audition season coming up around the corner.

4. Hit the festival circuit. I'm a big fan of summer music festivals (this summer will be my 14th at the Bowdoin International Music Festival), which combine intensive work with beautiful locales and loads of new friends to create the critical mass for further development.

5. Take a theory course. Learning the fundamentals of musical theory can be a fun and stress-free way to deepen your practice during the year. Knowing how music is put together will go a long way to helping you integrate all aspects of your playing and understand music better.

6. Learn the music of your country. Many of us learn the traditional repertoire without regard to what is being created in our own countries. Take the time to explore the musical output of where you came from and you can go a long way toward finding your identity as well as discovering a lot of interesting music.

7. Learn the music you've been dying to learn all year. Students are often told what is the proper music to learn without regard to what they actually have a desire to learn. Summer is a great time to put your teacher's recommendations aside and do your own exploration for the repertoire that truly resonates for you.

8. Perfect your technique. Without the pressure of upcoming concerts, summer is a fine time to go that extra mile and get a proper handle (Handel?) on your technical facility. Even taking the time to perfect your RCM technical requirements or learn Hanon will show results in the coming season.

9. Learn to sight read. In small doses, take the time to learn how to sight read every single day over the course of several weeks. I recommend Frederick Harris Music's Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests by Boris Berlin and Andrew Markow that integrates with the RCM levels. Each week's sight reading is clearly laid out, and leads to mastery of the ear training and sight reading components of each relevant RCM grade level.

10. Recharge your artistic batteries. So you've had a busy year and did a lot of playing, perhaps too much. Now take time to build the complete artist. Read that great novel, go to a gallery, keep a journal, take an acting course, go on a wine-tasting tour, hike in the wilderness, climb a mountain. These are activities that our artistic self needs in order to work at maximum levels of inspiration!

1 comment:

  1. These are great ideas. I have students playing duets together this summer.