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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 24 weeks ago

    My tutor is trying to remind me. When it comes to music, fun is essential, but still it's easy to should all over yourself. 

    During a recent long drive I decided to run through my scales in my mind for a few hours. I couldn't do it without visualizing actually playing them at the same time, which in the end made me car sick. After a good 30 minutes of forcing myself to remember a few octaves of the D Major scale, I thought I had it. The next evening my workday-ragged self could not recall it. So I just decided to try to figure out some more traditional jazz tunes instead.

    In wanting to avoid my previous (guitar) mistakes, I forgot to include the fun. Practical tips have their place, but this whole endeavour is nothing without fun! It's why I started it in the first place. 

     

     

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  • Reply to: Marathon swag bags; soap/energy bar mixup; guess the rest   2 years 24 weeks ago

    ...BBC humour!

    Well I guess you've got to smell good for those finish-line hugs. 

    Last time I went into a Lush store (in Bournemouth, UK) I wanted the big blocks of soap to be Devonshire vanilla fudge or giant strawberry marshmallows. I got so hungry looking at all the soap I had to walk up the street for a cornish pasty.

    Well you know, old runners' brains (over the age of fourteen) aren't capable of learning a new language. :-D

     

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 26 weeks ago

    It might seem obvious that mindless practice isn't going to help, and yet that is essentially what I've been doing for the past year, since I have only just now taken the time to analyse why I don't feel my practice is working so well, or why I am not progressing as quickly as I could. 

    Again, from Bulletproofmusician.com, asking how many hours a day you should practice:

    "We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously — not a great formula for success. Recall from this article that you have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. Well, if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out, because you don’t know what instructions to give your brain."

    Yes. This is exactly what happens to me. The stage in my case being a tiny classroom in the local Music and Arts store. 

    I like the tip of keeping a practice notebook and writing down your discoveries during practice. I have kept a very disorganized notebook of learning the clarinet in general, but it could use some focus.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 26 weeks ago

    Here's another very helpful article on the subject of music practice and memorization. This one is by Bulletproofmusician.com, and I think Mr. Proof could've peeked in on one of my practices, or perhaps directly inside my head:

     

    "...when it comes to memorization, simply playing through pieces over and over on autopilot is an inefficient use of time. And, that how we practice lays the groundwork for how we will perform.

    More specifically, that what we think about in practice, will influence what we think about when performing. So if we’ve not created or practiced a mental script in advance, our mind will create one for us – one that is probably much more based in fear and anxiety than related to the nuances and musical elements that would make for a more engaged and compelling (and worry-free) performance."

     
     

     

     

     

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 26 weeks ago

    I came across this article today: Practising Without The Piano by Melanie Spanswick.

    Before I highlight the parts of the article that resonated with me, I'd like to just admit that if the myth that people 'can't learn foreign languages as easily past the age of 14' is true, I'm in complete denial of it. Ok sure, perhaps neuroplasticity does decrease with age, but what's to say a person wasn't fully engaged in their youth but was plenty capable, and still had a decent amount of mental function left forty years later? Should they just give up because they're not what they used to be? I know I'm repeating myself on this but these tired claims don't appear to make young kids hurry up and learn things while they can (any more than they or their parents would have ensured anyway), but they do serve as excuses for adults not to even try any more.

    When you consider what an average 30, 40 or 50 year old person has to keep up with in everyday life just to survive (and often to provide for dependents too), perhaps all their precious plasticity is being spent on occupational & situational noise. They don't have the time or peace to sit around attempting different ways to translate, speak or practice foreign phrases. Did anybody ever release these mentally-declining adults from all of their responsibilities indefinitely, and then study their performance trying to learn a new language? 

    This relates to my clarinet/music endeavors in that I'm not sure why I thought 40 sluggish minutes at the end of each day would be enough for me to gallop ahead on learning to read music. When I was learning my foreign languages during adolescence, I lived and breathed those languages and cultures. It was on my mind constantly. I was translating everything I saw or thought, and what I didn't know, I looked up in the dictionary or asked someone. I was anything but attentive in class but still got high grades on the exams, because I coincidentally built a more rounded education beyond the text books. So whenever people used to say "You have a talent for languages", I just used to think "Naah. I'm just happily obsessed". 

    Stressed out middle aged employees headed for nervous breakdowns can be happily obsessed too.

    Melanie Spanswick's article really hit home for me. She answers the question of 'to memorize, or not to memorize', and suggests transcribing, visualization, being in a good mood (ahem) and starting off practice as stress-free and as relaxed as you can get. That last one might be painfully obvious, but it's a crucial point for many maxed-out adults one step away from completely giving up. 

    She writes "Four types of memorisation dominate; auditory or aural (how the music sounds), visual (how it looks on the page), kinesthetic or muscular (the physical sensation of playing), and intellectual memory (the analytical process). Aural and visual memorisation play a vital role in working away from the keyboard, as does the intellectual side of memorisation. It’s possible to incorporate all three during the thinking process."

    What I get from this is that memorization isn't the root of all evil, rather just another way to incorporate more thought processes to help fill in when you lose your concentration. 

    As the article is written for piano students, there's much that doesn't apply to me, such as singing while playing, or watching my hands (cross-eyed). But tonight I tried transcribing this piece of music that I am going to beat into submission once and for all. I've been trying this one for months - although three of those months don't count due to injury - and I won't feel right abandoning it before being able to play it. The act of transcribing helped me think about the music intervallically, which showed me why I was constantly messing up at the same points in spite of pointing to my head, commanding "Think!". I need a bit more time to get used to the bigger jumps in pitch.

    I then set about committing half of it to memory (I'll try the rest of it tomorrow), which was easier than I expected, and afterwards decided to try reading it again. I still messed up on three sections, but I felt a bit more in control of the whole thing, having buoyed my awareness of this piece up a bit. The act of playing from memory helped me visualize the finger placings, which I miss when purely reading the music.

    After my practice today I felt like I had actually accomplished something in the same space of time I usually just take a wild shot at sight reading, and this time I know what I have learned. Playing aimlessly for 45 minutes is good perhaps only for the embouchure. The article discusses practice away from the piano (dryland piano training?) but the study suggestions made a remarkable difference during my actual practice.

    The more mental safety-nets I have in place to catch a lapse in concentration, the better progress I will make. 

    I need to schedule in some air-clarinet breaks during the daytime, using some of these wonderfully detailed techniques to maximize what little time and attention I have to spend on this. 


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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 27 weeks ago

    Yes! That's the other thing I shortchanged myself on with guitar...not performing anywhere ever (thinking I wasn't good enough, which now I know was not true when I see what counted as 'good enough' for some acts), and not really ever playing much with others in an organized or semi-serious capacity. I'm going to admit that I do envy those poor old NOLA guys from the 1920s, since performing music was often their only means of income. There was no Plan B, much less food if they didn't work somehow, at something. Their instruments weren't fancy, either. Nothing to lose!

    Great tip about anchor notes. I do have a few but hadn't realized it. I can extend that up the register. 

    Yes I do still use Every Good Boy Deserves Football, and FACE, plus dealing with the upper and lower ledger lines. I'm impatient to get to the point of not needing those so much. 

    That's a useful tip also to think in terms of rhythm for upcoming notes. I will try that! It might help patch a few holes in my head where music theory & proficiency are waiting to fit. This entire experience reminds me of the Wikipedia globe but with tinier puzzle pieces and way more of them missing.

    Regarding how to practice, my tutor mentioned taking smaller segments and playing those through until I get them. I do that when starting something new, but after I've been able to play the segments separately a few times, I then expect to be able to put them all together perfectly. But it never works out that way! 

    The biggest problem with my practices is doing them while being exhausted and basically good for nothing. Talent & ears aside, I guess we are really only as good as our memory power. Or drugs.

    As long as I'm playing this thing in any way at all, my life is enriched (although perhaps not my neighbors'). 

    Juggling is actually still a struggle since I can't pronate/supinate my left arm 180 degrees yet. I've got about 90, which is better than where I was in January, but I can't turn my hand up to catch a falling ball. While in the cast, I tried juggling 3 in one hand. I looked up the technique and practiced with one, then two, but I can't translate that to 3! And somehow I always manage to throw one of the balls across to whack me right in the left wrist! I can't get my left arm behind my back to protect it! Calamity.

    Thanks for reading the whole thing, Tim! I will update with any breakthroughs or techniques that work for me. 

     

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 27 weeks ago

    Thanks for posting that, Elizabeth! There's lots of interesting stuff to think about in there. My reply would be longer than your post if I tried to write up all the comments that came to mind while reading, but basically I'll just say big congratulations if even for taking that on, let alone for sticking with it this far.

    After watching The Wrecking Crew several times, something that stuck with me (besides Carol Kaye's awesome hairdos, I mean) was how soon after picking up an instrument most of them said they started play to more-or-less professionally. Some of that might be because they were really, really musically talented--they made a movie about them after all!--but also, they were probably of the last generation to start playing when recordings didn't compete with live music. If you could play even a little, you could get paid for playing; maybe not much but it was probably enough to pay for your next meal, and also enough to make you think about how getting better and getting more and better work and getting paid more.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that your musical heroes had a lot more immediate motivation to practice and improve, and far more chances to learn on the job by playing out, without the incredibly high barrier that exists now. If you play in a house band for singers who come through every week accompanied maybe by a pianist/accompanist and a stack of music books, and you're expected to sightread these arrangements cold, you'll get very good at reading music very quickly.

    I remember you telling me about practicing juggling 5 balls so that 3 would seem really easy. And as I said then, I learned to juggle by practicing "juggling" one ball--just throwing it up, trying to get it the same height every time and catch it without having to move the other hand. Because if I couldn't juggle 3 balls at all, what was I going to do with 5? Working out the mechanics of tossing a single ball first helped a lot and I was able to work up to two and then three. And when I learned to read for guitar, and mandolin and banjo after that, I'm pretty sure I paid special attention to the open strings first. With those four, five, or six well-spaced anchors down, I could always figure out the other notes by working up or down from the ones I knew better, until eventually they were all familiar. The graphical layout of notes on a fretboard or piano keyboard probably makes that easier, along wiht the ability to lay chords shapes across them and recognize intervals based on knowing those, but I wonder if there are certain notes on a clarinet, maybe the ones with only a key or two down, that could work like that as anchors.

    And don't underestimate "Every good boy does fine" (deserves favour, digs football, develops film, despises fungus, whatever suits ya...) and "F-A-C-E" for the lines and space. People keep using them because they work.

    As for the reading vs. memorizing thing, you sure do see comments that "if you learn to play by ear, you'll never be a good reader," and also, "if you learn to read music, it'll hurt you as an improviser." I couldn't say if there's any truth to either of them but players do tend to fall on one side or another. I think at least that developing a good ear for memorizing music makes it hard to practice reading, just because you remember how it goes after a couple of times through and then it's hard to make yourself look at the notation.

    "Reading ahead": What I've noticed at times when I'm doing a lot of reading and getting back in the swing of it is that I pick up--more or less "hear"--the rhythms of groups of notes that are coming up. I don't know about reading measures ahead, but at least as far ahead as I would plan a phrase when I'm improvising, if it helps to think about it that way.

     

    I had a chuckle at your description of practicing in the closet. I like your teacher's suggestion to go ahead and play and see if anyone complains. How bothered is anyone likely to get about the nice lady next door who likes to practice her clarinet?

    It sounds like you're doing well at thinking about your practice routine and schedule. It struck me a while ago that I started taking guitar lessons when I was 8 years old, and never then or in the intervening decades did any teacher or other responsible adult tell me anything about practicing or how to do it, except maybe, "Why don't you do it more?" In retrospect It seems remarkable, and way beyond optimistic, to expect a preteen to figure that out on his or her own. These days, on the other hand, I seem to come up with a new practice plan every month or two. I don't know whether that means I've gotten a handle on it or not.

    I could go on but better not. Please do keep posting. And I'm looking forward to hearing you play somewhere down the road.

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  • Reply to: Road-Skates from the 19th Century   2 years 28 weeks ago

    I'm going to have to watch that. Great to know they're still doing it!

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  • Reply to: Road-Skates from the 19th Century   2 years 28 weeks ago

    Spotted in the right-hand column:

    http://www.ely-news.co.uk/Cambridge-Filmworks-produce-new-documentary/st...

    Chasing Ice: The Fen Skating Story was produced with assistance from the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP), the Fen Skating Association and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

    Barrie White, editor at Cambridge Filmworks, said: "It was a pleasure to put this film together, going through interviews and old archive, piecing together this uniquely Fenland story.

    "Told through the testimony of actual participants, these engaging storytellers communicate the addictive nature of their somewhat random sport.

    "Though they may skate on frozen Fenland only once every few years, the twinkle in their eyes as they talk of fresh ice is intriguing and charming."

    Coincidence, I'm guessing...

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  • Reply to: Exercise! Sedentary Lifestyle More to Blame for Decline With Age Than Aging   2 years 28 weeks ago

    I'm going to assume that you remember my suggestion for what to do if you aren't skating. I won't repeat it but it hasn't changed!

    And as for the mainstream recommendation, I guess they can set the goalposts wherever they want. I'm sure there's always some metric they could pick that would show benefit from even the most minimal activity. But people will typically fall short no matter how little is recommended, because "I walked a lot in the grocery store, and I go to the mailbox and back every day, so if you count that..." Might as well aim high...

    But if you feel moved to blog about any of those things you mention, please do. I'd enjoy reading that.

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