When you sit down…

When you sit down to practise do you have a goal? Or two goals? Even three? Or do you just sit down and play what comes into your head? Do you practise for a set length of time, or do you just keep going until you’re bored? When you sit down to practise do you think about what you practised yesterday, or start anew each day? Do you break down the piece you’re working on or just play it through over and over again? There isn’t always a right or wrong answer to the questions above, but it’s certainly better to think about them than not.

When motivation is low…

My daughter’s violin teacher hosted a Zoom concert for her students last night. A great idea, and a wonderful way to connect people at this time. As a result though, the practice levels in our house went through the roof in the days leading up to the concert. We all have our reasons for playing music, and if we look deeply enough into them we’ll be able to figure out why we got playing this instrument in the first place, what it is that we love about it. And if you’re struggling to practise, this is as good a place as any to start searching in order to relight the fire.

Handpan vs piano

We had a handpan player on the podcast this week. The instrument was only invented in the last 20 years or so, which makes it one of the very few new instruments of the 21st Century so far. In stark contrast to, say, the piano. It’s been round for years. If you’re a piano player and you want to make yourself feel redundant, take a minute and think of all the people who have played piano over the years all around the world, and all the songs, chords and notes they have played. So the chances of you doing anything new with it are, unlike Dan above, slim to say the least. And therefore if it’s true innovation you’re looking for, let’s be honest, you’re fighting a losing battle, and some people I know take the view that as a result there’s no point writing music, because it’s bound to sound like something that has happened at some stage before.

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Scales

When I started out as a piano teacher I didn’t teach students how to play scales. I found them so boring when I learned that I decided what students would lose from not playing them was less than the risk that they would be turned off the piano by playing them. I have heard many thoughts on them since. One piano tutor on the Sligo Jazz Project years ago asked us straight away to play various scales – 4 octaves hands together at speed. He reckoned we shouldn’t be in the class if we couldn’t do that. A singing teacher who I came across a few years back told me that she always spent the first 10 minutes of her lesson on scales. After that her students were free to work on whatever they wanted, but that 10 minutes of scales work was their ticket to do so. A colleague of mine here in Sligo is a great man for

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The impact of your work…

in 2006, Órla Sweeney took over the job of producing the series of Ceol albums. A natural fit for her, it combined the two main loves in her life – music and the Irish language. The task was to convince a who’s who of Irish musicians to record a song as Gaeilge, and as you can see from the selection of artists who performed on just the first one, she succeeded. A tough job – it required an in depth knowledge of music and Irish, persuasive skills, perseverance, and the ability to convince artists to strip their songs bare, translate them into a different language, and build them back up. Not easy. But she did it, and is rightly proud of the job she did. Órla told us this on this week’s podcast. But the really interesting part came when my co-host Rory told Órla of the influence one of the songs had on his life and the secondary school

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Make a practice of your practice.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed I have at times had trouble spelling the different iterations of the word practice/practise. Pardon the pun, but it took a bit of practice for me to get it right. Here’s how I understand it now… When it’s used as a noun, it’s spelt ‘practice’ – e.g. I must sit down to do my piano practice. But when it’s a verb, it’s spelt practise – e.g. I must sit down to practise the piano. I may still be wrong, and please correct me if I am (!) but I’m certainly better than I used to be. Why? Well mainly because I have written lots of blogs about practising and practice and I have practised my spelling of these words and improved. And it’s the same with any other practice you may undertake – the practice of an instrument, the practice of getting fitter, the practice of staying in touch with friends. Whatever

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The circle of generosity

When I was a student in Dublin I bumped into a man I knew from Sligo on a night out. He was probably around the age I am now, and I had got to know him the previous summer while working in a cafe in town. We got on well, and he not only bought me and my friends a round of drinks that night, but also gave me €50 and told me to buy the next round too. I tried to object, saying that he was being too generous, but he stopped me and said the following, which I have remembered since. ‘There’s nothing wrong with accepting generosity, as long as a) you are thankful, and b), when you in turn can afford to be generous, that you are’. I was reminded of this story during our chat with Saw Doctor Leo Moran on In The Lamplight this week. He spoke of their big break – a tour of

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Practising the right thing…

There’s a few elements to this. Practise something at the correct level for you. This is usually something that is difficult enough so that you have to stretch and improve in order to learn it, but not so difficult that it is beyond your reach and you get frustrated trying and failing. **Sometimes of course you should practise something easy, to give yourself a break! Practise something that is beneficial to what you want to achieve. If you really want to play piano so that you can accompany yourself singing, then there’s not much point spending lots of time learning difficult melodies. **Sometimes it might be no harm for a break to try something different, but you need to focus most of your time on what it is you want to be able to do. If you’re not sure about what you’re practising, and whether it is at the correct level or beneficial to you, then ask someone who knows.

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