Join us for our spring solo recitals on April 28 at 1p and 2:30p at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park.
Recitals are free and open to the public. We encourage prospective families to come and listen to and enjoy these great student performances! Students between the ages of 4 and 16 will be performing on these recitals. We will hear Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart and more! If you have been considering starting violin or cello lessons with your young child, this is a great way to introduce them to our program. Come and join us for all or part of a recital. We look forward to meeting you!
There are some striking similarities with regards to what is occurring in the brain during toddler and teenage years. One of the main messages heard in this video is: be patient, be kind, and for goodness sake…let them sleep more!! 🙂
We are preparing to power down here at OPSA so we can enjoy some quiet time with our families over the winter break. We hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday time and we look forward to seeing you back in January. Classes resume January 8, 2018. Our first open house of 2018 is scheduled for Tuesday, January 9th from 5:45-6:30p. You may RSVPhere. If you are looking for a winter-themed movie for the whole family over the break, this is one of our favorites. Enjoy!
The following is a repost of this article by Stephen M. Demorest, Professor of Music Education at Northwestern University. It sheds light on the common misconception of “being talented” or not. Enjoy!
A Hungarian film titled “Sing” recently won the Oscar for best short film. “Sing” tells the story of young Zsófi, who joins a renowned children’s choir at her elementary school where “everyone is welcome.” Soon after joining, Zsófi is told by her teacher Erika not to sing, but only mouth the words. On the face of it, she accepts her teacher’s request stoically. But later in the movie, her anguish and pain become obvious, when she reluctantly tells her best friend what happened. The movie goes on to reveal that Zsófi isn’t the only choir member who has been given these hurtful instructions. The choir teacher’s defense is, “If everybody sings we can’t be the best.”
I have been a professor of music education for the past 28 years, and I wish I could say that the story of a music teacher asking a student not to sing is unusual. Unfortunately, I have heard the story many times. In fact, research shows that many adults who think of themselves as “unmusical” were told as children that they couldn’t or shouldn’t sing by teachers and family members.
All children are musical
Children are natural musicians, as they readily sing, dance and play music from the time they are infants. People ask me all the time how they can tell if their child has musical talent. I assure them that their child – indeed every child – has musical ability that can be developed into a satisfying and lifelong relationship with music.
However, as they get older, some children begin to get messages from peers, family members, the media and (unfortunately) music teachers that they may not be very musical – that they don’t have “talent.”
The ‘talent’ mindset
Shows like “American Idol” have promoted the notion that singing is a rare ability reserved for the talented few, and that those without such talent entertain us only by being ridiculed and weeded out.
This “talent mindset” of music runs counter to what psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset” that is considered critical for learning: Students who view their success as a result of hard work will persevere through challenges, while students who believe their success lies with some innate ability – like “talent” – are more likely to give up. My own research found that if children have a negative view of themselves as singers, they are much less likely to participate in music of any kind.
These self-perceptions of a lack of musical talent can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Research shows that adults who dropped out of music as children may lose their singing skills through lack of use and opportunity. Kids who love music but do not think of themselves as musical could miss out on many of the social and cognitive benefits of music participation, on the experience of feeling connected to others through song. These benefits have nothing to do with talent.
Get children singing
How can we send children the message that singing is for everyone? I argue that change could begin both at home and at school.
For example, if you are a parent, you could sing the music you loved growing up and not worry about how good you sound. Having an adult in the home committed to music and singing without shame may be the most powerful influence on a child. You could sing with your kids from the time they are little, sing with the radio, sing in the car or sing at the dinner table.
As for my fellow music teachers, I ask that you encourage all of the children in your classrooms, schools and communities to sing whenever and wherever they get a chance. The sad truth is, when we, the musical experts, discourage a child from singing, it can deliver a fatal blow to the child’s musical self-image.
Music teachers need to teach in a climate of collaboration and participation where all voices are heard and valued – not one of audition and competition where only the best can sing.
The movie “Sing” is actually titled “Mindenki” in Hungarian, which means “Everybody.” That’s the uplifting message that Zsófi and her choir mates teach Miss Erika in the end. Singing is not reserved for the few: Either everybody sings or nobody should.
The following is from a recent article in The Guardian written by Wendy Berliner. We found it particularly interesting and relevant to families involved in Suzuki training. One gem from the article,
“Einstein, the epitome of a genius, clearly had curiosity, character, and determination. He struggled against rejection in early life but was undeterred. Did he think he was a genius or even gifted? No. He once wrote: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” For the full article, click here. Enjoy!
When Maryam Mirzakhani died at the tragically early age of 40 this month, the news stories talked of her as a genius. The only woman to win the Fields Medal – the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel prize – and a Stanford professor since the age of 31, this Iranian-born academic had been on a roll since she started winning gold medals at maths Olympiads in her teens.
But look closer and a different story emerges. Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, one of three siblings in a middle-class family whose father was an engineer. The only part of her childhood that was out of the ordinary was the Iran-Iraq war, which made life hard for the family in her early years. Thankfully it ended around the time she went to secondary school.
Mirzakhani, did go to a highly selective girls’ school but maths wasn’t her interest – reading was. She loved novels and would read anything she could lay her hands on; together with her best friend she would prowl the book stores on the way home from school for works to buy and consume.
As for maths, she did rather poorly at it for the first couple of years in her middle school but became interested when her elder brother told her about what he’d learned. He shared a famous maths problem from a magazine that fascinated her – and she was hooked. The rest is mathematical history.
Is her background unusual? Apparently not. Most Nobel laureates were unexceptional in childhood. Einstein was slow to talk and was dubbed the dopey one by the family maid. He failed the general part of the entry test to Zurich Polytechnic – though they let him in because of high physics and maths scores. He struggled at work initially, failing to get academic post and being passed over for promotion at the Swiss Patent Office because he wasn’t good enough at machine technology. But he kept plugging away and eventually rewrote the laws of Newtonian mechanics with his theory of relativity.
Lewis Terman, a pioneering American educational psychologist, set up a study in 1921 following 1,470 Californians, who excelled in the newly available IQ tests, throughout their lives. None ended up as the great thinkers of their age that Terman expected they would. But he did miss two future Nobel prize winners – Luis Alvarez and William Shockley, both physicists – whom he dismissed from the study as their test scores were not high enough.
There is a canon of research on high performance, built over the last century, that suggests it goes way beyond tested intelligence. On top of that, research is clear that brains are malleable, new neural pathways can be forged, and IQ isn’t fixed. Just because you can read Harry Potter at five doesn’t mean you will still be ahead of your contemporaries in your teens.
According to my colleague, Prof Deborah Eyre, with whom I’ve collaborated on the book Great Minds and How to Grow Them, the latest neuroscience and psychological research suggests most people, unless they are cognitively impaired, can reach standards of performance associated in school with the gifted and talented. However, they must be taught the right attitudes and approaches to their learning and develop the attributes of high performers – curiosity, persistence and hard work, for example – an approach Eyre calls “high performance learning”. Critically, they need the right support in developing those approaches at home as well as at school.
So, is there even such a thing as a gifted child? It is a highly contested area. Prof Anders Ericsson, an eminent education psychologist at Florida State University, is the co-author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. After research going back to 1980 into diverse achievements, from music to memory to sport, he doesn’t think unique and innate talents are at the heart of performance. Deliberate practice, that stretches you every step of the way, and around 10,000 hours of it, is what produces the expert. It’s not a magic number – the highest performers move on to doing a whole lot more, of course, and, like Mirzakhani, often find their own unique perspective along the way.
Ericsson’s memory research is particularly interesting because random students, trained in memory techniques for the study, went on to outperform others thought to have innately superior memories – those you might call gifted.
He got into the idea of researching the effects of deliberate practice because of an incident at school, in which he was beaten at chess by someone who used to lose to him. His opponent had clearly practiced.
But it is perhaps the work of Benjamin Bloom, another distinguished American educationist working in the 1980s, that gives the most pause for thought and underscores the idea that family is intrinsically important to the concept of high performance.
Bloom’s team looked at a group of extraordinarily high achieving people in disciplines as varied as ballet, swimming, piano, tennis, maths, sculpture and neurology, and interviewed not only the individuals but their parents, too.
While the jury is out on giftedness being innate and other factors potentially making the difference, what is certain is that the behaviours associated with high levels of performance are replicable and most can be taught – even traits such as curiosity.
Eyre says we know how high performers learn. From that she has developed a high performing learning approach that brings together in one package what she calls the advanced cognitive characteristics, and the values, attitudes, and attributes of high performance. She is working on the package with a group of pioneer schools, both in Britain and abroad.
But the system needs to be adopted by families, too, to ensure widespread success across classes and cultures. Research in Britain shows the difference parents make if they take part in simple activities pre-school in the home, supporting reading for example. That support shows through years later in better A-level results, according to the Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary study, conducted over 15 years by a team from Oxford and London universities.
Eye-opening spin-off research, which looked in detail at 24 of the 3,000 individuals being studied who were succeeding against the odds, found something remarkable about what was going on at home. Half were on free school meals because of poverty, more than half were living with a single parent, and four in five were living in deprived areas.
The interviews uncovered strong evidence of an adult or adults in the child’s life who valued and supported education, either in the immediate or extended family or in the child’s wider community. Children talked about the need to work hard at school and to listen in class and keep trying. They referenced key adults who had encouraged those attitudes.
Einstein, the epitome of a genius, clearly had curiosity, character, and determination. He struggled against rejection in early life but was undeterred. Did he think he was a genius or even gifted? No. He once wrote: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”
And what about Mirzakhani? Her published quotations show someone who was curious and excited by what she did and resilient. One comment sums it up. “Of course, the most rewarding part is the ‘Aha’ moment, the excitement of discovery and enjoyment of understanding something new – the feeling of being on top of a hill and having a clear view. But most of the time, doing mathematics for me is like being on a long hike with no trail and no end in sight.”
The trail took her to the heights of original research into mathematics in a cruelly short life. That sounds like unassailable character. Perhaps that was her gift.
Great Minds and How to Grow Them, by Wendy Berliner & Deborah Eyre.
Noa Kageyama is the author of the blog The Bulletproof Musician. Here, he offers advice to musicians about practicing, managing nerves, and much more. You might find articles written by other musicians, psychologists and neuroscientists studying how we learn, develop focus, work under pressure and more. The following is an article taken from Noa’s blog. Click on over here to see more of his great work.
How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?
2 hours? 4 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours?
How much is enough?
Is there such a thing as practicing too much?
Is there an optimal number of hours that one should practice?
What Do Performers Say?
Some of the great artists of the 20th century have shared their thoughts on these questions. I seem to recall reading an interview with Rubinstein years ago, in which he stated that nobody should have to practice more than four hours a day, explaining that if you needed to practice more than four hours a day, you probably weren’t doing it right.
Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!” He claimed that he practiced no more than three hours per day on average, and that he didn’t practice at all on Sundays. You know, this is not a bad idea – one of my own teachers, Donald Weilerstein, once suggested that I establish a 24-hour period of time every week where I was not allowed to pick up my instrument.
What Do Psychologists Say?
When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain — and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level. Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.
Have you ever listened to someone practice? Have you ever listened to yourself practice, for that matter? Tape yourself practicing for an hour, take a walk through the practice room area at school and eavesdrop on your fellow students, or ask your students to pretend they are at home and watch them practice during a lesson. What do you notice?
You’ll notice that the majority of folks practice rather mindlessly, either engaging in mere repetition (“practice this passage 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes”) or practicing on autopilot (that’s when we play through the piece until we hear something we don’t like, stop, repeat the passage again until it sounds better, and resume playing through the piece until we hear the next thing we aren’t satisfied with, at which point we begin this whole process over again).
There are three major problems with the mindless method of practicing.
1. It is a waste of time
Why? For one, very little productive learning takes place when we practice this way. This is how we can practice a piece for hours, days, or weeks, and still not feel that we’ve improved all that much. Even worse, you are actually digging yourself a hole by practicing this way, because what this model of practicing does do is strengthen undesirable habits and errors, literally making it more likely that you will screw up more consistently in the future. This makes it more difficult to correct these habits in the future — so you are actually adding to the amount of future practice time you will need in order to eliminate these bad habits and tendencies. I once worked with a saxophone professor who was fond of reminding his students that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.”
2. It makes you less confident
In addition, practicing this way actually hurts your confidence, as there is a part of you that realizes you don’t really know how to consistently produce the results you are looking for. Even if you establish a fairly high success rate in the most difficult passages via mindless practice, and find that you can nail it 3 or 4 out of every 5 attempts, your confidence won’t grow much from this. Real on-stage confidence comes from (a) being able to nail it 10 out of 10 tries, (b) knowing that this isn’t a coincidence but that you can do it the correct way on demand, because most importantly (c) you know precisely why you nail it or miss it — i.e. you know exactly what you need to do from a technique standpoint in order to play the passage perfectly every time.
You may not be able to play it perfectly every time at first, but this is what repetition is for — to reinforce the correct habits until they are stronger than the bad habits. It’s a little like trying to grow a nice looking lawn. Instead of fighting a never-ending battle against the weeds, your time is better spent trying to cultivate the grass so that over time the grass crowds out the weeds.
And here’s the biggie. 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.
3. It is tedious and boring
Practicing mindlessly is a chore. Music may be one of the only skill-based activities where practice goals are measured in units of time. We’ve all had teachers who tell us to go home and practice a certain passage x number of times, or to practice x number of hours, right? What we really need are more specific outcome goals — such as, practice this passage until it sounds like _____, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like _____.
After all, it doesn’t really matter how much time we spend practicing something — only that we know how to produce the results we want, and can do so consistently, on demand.
So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.
Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).
Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?
Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?
Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?
Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?
Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how they can correct the error permanently.
How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?
You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.
Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.
5 Keys For More Effective Practice
Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.
Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.
Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.
When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.
4. Smarter, not harder
Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.
I remember struggling with the left-hand pizzicato variation in Paganini’s 24th Caprice. I was getting frustrated and kept trying harder and harder to make the notes speak, but all I got was sore fingers, a couple of which actually started to bleed. I realized that there had to be a smarter, more effective way to accomplish my goal.
Instead of stubbornly keeping at a strategy or technique that wasn’t working for me, I forced myself to stop practicing this section altogether. I tried to brainstorm different solutions to the problem for a day or so, and wrote down ideas to try as they occurred to me. When I felt that I came up with some promising solutions, I just started experimenting. I eventually came up with a solution that I worked on over the next week or so, and when I played the caprice for my teacher, he actually asked me how I made the notes speak so clearly!
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.
After all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and get out.