the flip

DottodotIn the spirit of the olympics, I am taking this week to reset, not work a million hours, and prepare for the mindset of a new academic year that begins on August 20th.

This summer I gave my younger students the challenge of tracking their practice minutes by connecting a dot-to-dot page for each minute they practice. The best part is IT HAS 1000 DOTS! A few of my littles have turned them in and it is so inspirational to hear stories of them asking to practice so they can figure out what in the world this picture is supposed to be. Adorable!


Next week I will prep the new practice charts, goal pages, and start planning the epic cello class that starts in September. Oh, and buy new stickers! You can see the beloved sticker bones that students ravaged this week.

See you on the 20th!



holiday break motivation

Me: This is our last lesson for 4 weeks – can you believe it?!
Student: Oohhh. (insert sad face here)

Colored pencilsYep, that was several students’ reactions during lessons this week. No joke.
Aren’t I a lucky gal?! Now, not every musician wakes up in the morning and thinks “I need to practice as soon as possible or the world is over.” (For me it is coffee first, and then practice.) So how to keep those cellists going over this holiday season? Answer: adult coloring pages! Here’s how it works:

Each piece/etude/scale series the student practices equals 1 small area of the coloring page. Practice French Folk Song 10 times in a row? Color 10 spaces!

Even my young adult/adult students were pumped. EVERYONE loves to color.

Here are a couple free pages that are super fun from The One and Only Colouring Book for Adults:

Coloring houses








Coloring waves








I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!

why should i practice?

Practice has 2 important purposes:

  1. To improve
  2. To enjoy

IMPROVING is necessary, and happens if you are practicing daily. When we improve, we ENJOY. Enjoyment also occurs when we feel good about what we’ve done, when we gain confidence in our abilities, and are proud about how we sound.

So, how do we improve while enjoying? Good question. First this…

New academic year


I have created a practice sheet to help my students with this (Though now that I think about it I should re-name it something ridiculously fun like “Improvement Inducer.” Or not — see, this is why I keep my creativity in processes and games, and not in naming things.)

weekly practice chart – full page

weekly practice chart - full pageAs you can see, things are broken down into key areas (listening, review, tone, reading/tech/theory, current pieces, goals) to help students focus on what they should spend their time on. It is vital for us to agree on the goal for the week, otherwise if you come to your next lesson having rocked something else but I asked for a flawless D scale to be executed, then insert crushed dreams here.

I know teachers have many tools they use to help students, and I’m always open to ideas! Maybe I should put staff paper on the back and create some composition/writing assignments…

practice recipe #9: go fish!

Fish1Games are fun – I don’t care how old you are. One of the favorite games I had as a tiny child was the fish game, and I remember never tiring of it. In the last few years I’ve heard of teachers using it in their studios, and I thought I’d give it a go. And…I LOVE it. Like Mr. Potato Head but a smidge more challenging for the student. Here’s how I use the mechanical fish game:

Each color of fish represents a section of our lesson (or could be used for sections of practice at home.) Example:

RED: review
LIGHT GREEN: technique focus (maybe finger dexterity)
YELLOW: theory
DARK GREEN: current piece

This creates a wonderfully quick way to structure home practice for littles! It helps students to see how many things they have left and they tend to forget what the colors mean and keeps the element of surprise! This can be used for older students as well to decide which technique to practice if they are dragging their feet.

So, go fishing (even though it’s January.) Fish2

practice recipe # 22: the mixing bowl

I have wonderful students. Truly! I know every teacher says that but really I do. They give their all during lessons, are game to try silly things I throw qt them, and most of them even practice regularly!

10timesThis year one of my goals for them is to teach them processes, and not just passages. If i can teach them how to monitor/teach themselves then I have given them something greater than sounding good on a sonata. Practice is something we all know we need, some enjoy, but unfortunately execute it with inefficiency or awareness.I can assign a piece that has 4 challenging measures, and students will have various ways of tackling the tricky part.

  1. Student A will play it until they get it right ONE time.
  2. Student B will play it until they get it MORE right than wrong.
  3. Student C will play it 10,000 times right.

Progressively each student does better than the previous, but does even 10,000 times right get us to work out the kinks? I have certainly assigned the 10 times-in-a-row-right with the wipeout rule (they restart from zero if they play something incorrectly.) It certainly makes for a more competitive way to complete repetition, but how did you do the day AFTER you completed it? How about the third day? I can certainly work out a passage and rock it by the end of a practice session, but then I have had times when I try to play the same thing the following day and it feels like I hadn’t worked my fingers to the bone.

Repetition is essential, but it shouldn’t be mindless. Our brains tend to be less functioning if we aren’t introducing something new that challenges it. So the REAL question is how do we make repetition engaging?

UnfocusedThe blog Bulletproof Musician has written a beautiful post about random practice, and I think he may be on to something that we all agree on yet forget to do – use your brain. To do this we must prevent our minds from getting into a mindful rut, which can be helped by changing activities at a faster pace and then coming back to it. Try this for a 20-minute practice session:

  • Major scales – 2 min
  • Practice spot 1 – 2 min
  • Tonalization – 2 min
  • Practice spot 2 – 2 min
  • Minor scales – 2 min
  • Practice spot 1 – 3 min
  • Recital piece – 3 min
  • Mindful review with tech focus- 2 min
  • Run-through a working piece – 2 min

This allows one to work on important things, truly focusing on what needs it, and then eventually coming back to it to ensure mindful practice. I’m not saying this is a fool-proof recipe (or that anyone has truly figured one out at all) but it is certainly worth a try to see if this helps to make the precious moments we spend on our music worth it.

don’t practice, just tune: a study on getting to a practice session

I tell my student to keep their cellos on a cello stand when they are at home so they are more likely to practice – but does that get you over to the practice chair?

Here is a post from the Bulletproof Musician that correlates a study that show if you just START something, you will want to finish it rather than leave it half done.

So the moral of the story is, just play 1 scale or 1 étude or just TUNE. I think you’ll find you want to keep going!20140526-102307-37387451.jpg

Keeping them on their toes

ImageI love to find new motivators in my studio (and life in general.) Sometimes you just need to leave things up to chance and revel in the excitement of not knowing what is coming next, and the “paper fortune teller” is a great way to enjoy that mystery.

This origami-esque paper game allows the student to choose their fate without knowing the consequence. I have used this in my studio this week to help choose our warm-ups and to loosen up not just our bodies but our brains and creativity as well! A beautiful blog of I Still Love You created two to use: one for chores and everyday life, and a blank one to use for your music practice, choosing who gets to sit in the front seat, or what to eat for a snack!

I love the fact that you get to choose, yet the final choice is out of your control. Click HERE to visit Melissa Esplin’s page and download the paper fortune teller.

Does anyone else have a great way to get through the tough choices of our daily practice?