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26/12/2017

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New Year Resolutions and "How to Keep Them"

New Year is traditionally a time when many people like to make resolutions. Will you be making any MUSICAL New Year Resolutions this time?


New Year is traditionally a time when many people like to make resolutions. Will you be making any MUSICAL New Year Resolutions this time?

The New Year is a time when we like to make a fresh start, maybe do things a little better than last year. In terms of musical resolutions, maybe a good place to begin, would be to look at the mark sheet from your last exam and analyze where your weaknesses are. However a recent survey suggested that only an average 8% of people kept their resolutions. So "How Can We Achieve Our Goals?"

Maybe your goal is, for example, to improve your sight reading. The secret is to start small, give yourself achievable goals. So it would be better to say, "I will do one sight reading exercise a day" than "I will improve my sight reading this year." Don't try to be a perfectionist. If your goal is too high, you will get discouraged and give up.

Secondly - make yourself accountable. Tell someone about your goals. Get them to ask you how you are doing. You could even post your resolution in the comments below, Nothing like telling the world what your plans are to motivate you to stick to them, and if you leave a comment, I will check up on you in a month's time and ask how it's going. Maybe find a "buddy" who has similar goals to yourself from the comments and you can motivate each other.

So go on - do it -  write down your goal now, below this post and make yourself accountable. 

Here at MusicOnline UK, I would like to wish YOU all a Happy New Year where you will achieve all you plan to do.






19/12/2017

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Is it OK to take a break from practicing?

It's nearly Christmas, many people are having time off work or school and generally getting into a more relaxed mode. However, as a musician, should you take time off practice?

Is it OK for Musicians to take a break from practice?

From my teaching experience, many beginner students over the school holidays take a few steps backwards and take a week or two to get back to where they were at the beginning of the new term. On the other hand, you may remember in a previous post "The obsessive nature of a musician."  it was noted that we musicians can be a little OCD. So what is the balance?

Practicing incorrectly can be ineffectual, indeed doing your 3 hours a day whatever may have negative effects. The best practice comes when you have goals and goals in turn come from motivation. Sometimes excessive repetition can turn to drudgery and this will have a negative impact on your motivation. A small break on the other hand can give you a psychological boost, where you are mentally and physically fresh. If we compare this to professional sportsmen, they will often have a rest day once a week for both mental and physical recovery.

Let me give you some personal experience. When I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, I would probably say that my practice schedule was rather OCD. Now, I am a little more laid back. I still try to practice most days, but probably not as many hours as I did then. Surprisingly, I would rate my playing as better than it was then. It is definitely more musical without the pressure of having to compete with the high standard of those around me. I now play for the sheer love of music. If I take a week's holiday, it would take no longer than a day to get back to where I was before.

Please let me know what you think about taking a break from practicing, how often a week do you practice and does that change in holiday season ? I have set up a post on the MusicOnline UK Forum for you to share your thoughts and also see what others think.
http://www.music-online.org.uk/p/forum.html

13/12/2017

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The Examiner's Marksheet - INVESTIGATED

By looking carefully at the comments of the examiner's mark sheet, we can get a good insight into the ABRSM marking criteria  thus helping you to get a better mark in future exams.


Here is one such mark sheet from an exam recently taken by one of my students
By analyzing the examiner's mark sheetwe can get an insight into what they are looking for in the ABRSM marking criteria

Let's analyze it section by section.


Pieces

For those of you who find it difficult to decipher the examiner's handwriting which can at times be like that of a doctor's prescription let me translate:
First piece - A bright and stylish tempo with a good sense of pulse and played with even tone and contrasted dynamics. Briefly "something" (even I cannot decipher this word so if anyone can help please let me know in the comments below) rhythm only.  
You will notice that there is nothing in this comment about playing the correct notes, but rather, how the tempo, tone and dynamics resulted in a bright and stylish performance.

For the second piece there were similar remarks made;
The character was well conveyed at a confident tempo with well controlled and contrasted tone. 
Notice here however he adds, that there was
Just an occasional small slip and stumble
Even so, this piece still got a very high merit mark. If any of you saw to my post from last week, you will remember that I  mentioned how many students come out of the exam remembering just the wrong note or two they may have played and then think that the whole thing was terrible.

For the third piece, which incidentally gained FULL MARKS, again notice what things apart from just getting the right notes gained this excellent mark. He writes

A flowing and well chosen speed for the style. Hands were consistently well balanced and it was fully accurate in notes, with well contrasted dynamics.
So in summary, with regard to pieces, try to NOT just focus on getting the notes correct, but try to learn the piece as a piece of music


Scales


Here again, it's not just getting the right notes, notice how the examiner mentions the speed, musicality and tone. He writes

One slip in the broken chords but otherwise all fluently played with even tone at a musical speed. 
If you want to check the speed for your grade you can do so here

Sight Reading

What many students don't understand is that sight reading is not just a matter of getting all the notes correct, especially at the expense of losing the sense of pulse. Notice in the remark how much the examiner hints at keeping the momentum going
A slightly hesitant ending, but otherwise fully accurate at a musical speed with firm pulse.

May I say that this student used my Sight Reading Trainer to help with this habit of keeping the pulse going  and again, here is a link  for you to practice this yourself 

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRhVgcglVQ9ldTP-U_jVH1P2yhH3Ilfoa


Aural Tests


For this section, notice again how the examiner doesn't just remark on the fact that the answers were correct, he says

All accurate and musical responses

...and may I add that in their marking criteria for Aural tests the ABRSM official guidelines mention that they are looking for confident rather than hesitant responses. You could lose marks, even with the correct answer if you answer hesitantly.

So I hope that was an interesting journey through an examiner's mark sheet. Maybe you would like to dig out  one of your recent ones and let us know in the comments below some of the things mentioned that might give other readers more of a clue what they are looking for and how to get a better mark in a future exam.

Feel free also to use our new FORUM to start any music education related discussion and you can even share with us your recent exam successes there.

06/12/2017

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Getting Your Exam Results VS Your Expectations

After an exam we often focus on the negative but the examiner is also looking for the positive.

Feel free to share your exam successes on our FORUM http://www.music-online.org.uk/p/forum.html
Please share your exam successes on our FORUM 

It's that time of year again when many of my students have recently got their exam results. Maybe you too have had some good news. What has struck me is that immediately after the exam, when I ask them how it went most students will focus on the negative aspects of what might have gone wrong. I also get similar comments on my YouTube videos, like the following
After an exam we often focus on the negative but the examiner is also looking for the positive.

If you analyse this comment you will notice how much there is an emphasis on what went wrong but if you look at the ABRSM's official marking criteria, accuracy of notes is only one small aspect. The examiner will be looking for all of the following:

  • Pitch – accuracy, clarity, reliability of notes and/or intonation.
  • Time – suitability of tempo, stability of pulse, sense of rhythm.
  • Tone – control and projection of sound, sensitivity and awareness in use of tonal qualities.
  • Shape – effectiveness and clarity of musical shaping and detailing.
  • Performance – overall command of the instrument or voice, involvement with the music, musical communication.

Indeed, the above commenter, after I reassured him, said " I'm probably overthinking it".


Your results are then often, pleasant surprises and that is where I want to hear from YOU. I have recently started a FORUM for YOU, my subscribers and I would love it if you would share some of your exam successes there and by the way, feel free to use this FORUM to start a discussion on any topic related to musical education.

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