Nieuwkerk Music

Excellence in Performance and Education

Sometimes it might take three or four goes for it to work. That doesn’t mean your pedagogy is wrong.

Three years ago I identified intonation, dexterity and sight-reading independent parts as the main issues with my Symphonic Band. My response to this was to diligently research each of these areas and talk to colleagues. I read papers delivered at the Mid West clinic, did a Kodaly course and did some pretty rigorous self-assessment. From that process I created a series of intonation exercises and a scale sheet which I gave to all my students. In essence, I formulated a pedagogy for teaching band which I thought was had to work. It was backed up by evidence, based on best-practice teaching and it was a logical, sequential process.

Unfortunately, for the first two years that I used it, it didn’t work. There were a number of factors in play which caused it not to work, but I was pretty disappointed. Now, in an education climate where action research and reflective practice are celebrated, it would have made sense to ditch the method and try to develop a new way of teaching. I seriously considered it, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away hours upon hours of work, even though it had not achieved any results.

Eventually, I decided to just commit my pedagogy with more vigour than ever. I posted the rehearsal plans on the school’s Learning Management System (LMS) so that the students knew what was coming up. I made sure that I used the same warm-ups in every class. I taught the exercises slowly and deliberately. After only four rehearsals, I am starting to see results. So, the question becomes why?

Fundamentally, I don’t think I ever comitted to the process. I was always second-guessing myself and didn’t have confidence in my methods. My mind was full of doubts. Sure, they looked good on paper, but did they really stack up? Would they really work at my school? After all, my method was entirely different to every other rehearsal at the school.

The impact that those doubts had was that I rushed my instruction. I was guided by the internal voice “you only have 50 minutes per week to rehearse, don’t spend too long on tuning and scales”. I was so worried that my rehearsals weren’t fun enough, that I neglected good teaching. In doing so, I didn’t treat my students with the respect they deserved. They were there to become better musicians and I treated them as though they were only there to muck around.

So, this year I have turned it around. I have a new bunch of students, eager to learn and I am going to teach them to perform at an incredibly high standard by using the method I have developed. I will get them to sing in three part harmony using sol-fa and I will get them to learn their major scales around the cycle of fourths. I will get them to use just intonation and Macbeth’s balance pyramid. I will trust my system, and as they experience the results, I think the students will trust it too.

Talking Music. Part 2: Notes, Scales and Chords

Once you know how to talk about where notes are in the bar it is also useful to understand the terminology surrounding what the notes are. One of the things I have found whilst teaching students about music theory, aural studies, and improvisation is that it is often difficult to engage with these concepts because of the sheer volume of new vocabulary. Continue reading

Talking Music. Part 1: Rhythm

I’ve had this theory for a while that if you have the words to describe what is happening when you play music (physically, mentally, emotionally) it assists greatly in the development of musicality. My experience has been that having a vocabulary to express what you hear is integral to being able to improve. This is because great musicians are always comparing two things: their ideal concept of what something will sound like and what their playing sounds like in reality. Yet, in the way that we teach, we often tell our students “that’s wrong, it goes like this,” without giving them the tools to be able to express why something doesn’t meet their own aural concept. It’s just as important to do this with the nuts-and-bolts of music (rhythm, articulation, pitch) as well as the more expressive aspects of music. This is because giving students building a musical vocabulary early enables them to understand instruction more quickly and develop self-reflective practising skills.  Continue reading

Yesterday, I started composing my first work using graphic notation

Visual Diary with Pencil Markings
Yesterday, I felt inspired to finally embark upon a creative project I have been thinking about for a while: a location specific work composed with graphic notation. I have recently performed graphic scores for the first time in 10 years and composing one of my own just felt right. So, I went out and bought a visual diary to begin my very first graphic composition. Continue reading

The Benefits of Breaking Down the Mental Processes of Music

When I was at university, in addition to studying music I studied Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. There was a significant focus in that course of study on Semiotics. Semiotics is the study of how one interprets symbols. Semiotics has informed my musical practice by making me aware of the mental processes that I undertake in my daily life. Each time I read music I am instantaneously recognising the pitch of a note, its duration, its articulation, and then linking that to the finger combination that is used to play that note, the tongue action, breathing technique and embouchure that I have to use to play that note realise the music that is on the page. And that process all happens before I try to express anything of my own!

Continue reading

Two Types of Practice: Learning & Maintenance Practice.

Two Types of Practice

As musicians, it is important to recognise that we don’t have a lot of time. Between learning the new tunes for tonight’s corporate gig, memorising the latest song in your artistic project and doing life at the same time, there is not a lot of time to practice. Because of that, it is important to develop a strategies to use our time most effectively. The two types of practice exist so that we firstly maintain our current level of technical facility and musicianship and give ourselves the capacity to learn new things when more time becomes available. Continue reading

How To Practice. 6 tips to get yourself to practice when you don’t want to

Practising can be hard work, but its worth it.

You have homework, sport, family commitments, friends to see, places to be and you have to allow time to eat and travel as well. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to fit in music practice as well. It may be comforting to know that its not just students who feel this way, many professional musicians find it difficult to motivate themselves to practice as well. So I have decided to share with you some of the strategies I use to get myself to practice even when I don’t feel like it. Continue reading

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