Monday, November 16, 2015

100 Ways To Be Your Own Music Teacher

Don't get me wrong. During your life as a musician, it is very, very important to have music teachers you trust, respect, and admire. When you're in a lesson or rehearsal with your music teacher, private lesson instructor, music professor, or ensemble conductor, it's essential to keep an open mind, a great attitude, and a willingness to try anything and everything they ask you to do.  Prepare to the best of your ability, do your best to understand the knowledge being shared with you, and be patient with yourself while you learn to incorporate advice and suggestions.  Absorb all that you can from those that are there to guide you and that have experience you may lack.

However.  It is absolutely essential to realize that, most days of the week (and most hours of the day), YOU are your own best music teacher.  It is up to you to inspire yourself, motivate yourself, and provide yourself with the valuable insights, connections, and hours of practice that will turn you into the musician you were always meant to be.  Don't wait for someone else to "make you better."  Roll up your sleeves, face the musician in the mirror, and dive into some of the most meaningful work you'll ever do!

Here are 100 ways to be your own music teacher.  All of them are great, but even doing one of them could make a difference! 

1.  Watch all kinds of musicians on YouTube and learn from them.

2.  Explore all kinds of free music on IMSLP, find pieces you would like to play, and study the scores of your favorite pieces while listening to great recordings.

3.  Search musician blogs and articles to gain perspective and helpful strategies on practicing and performing.  

4. Go to as many live concerts as you possibly can and follow up on inspiring pieces and musicians by looking them up when you get home. 

5. Listen to classical music on the radio in the car and take care to remember new pieces and performers that you love.  

6. Make connections between music, art, history, dance, and theater.

7. Read about the great musicians and composers of the past for free online.

8. Follow the careers of current musicians and composers for free online.

9.  Learn about the different periods in music history and discover new favorite works from each period. 

10. Branch out of your comfort zone and listen to lots of music and musicians in other genres.

11. Create performance opportunities for yourself.

12.  Find other musicians to form chamber ensembles.

13. Look up competitions to enter, learn the music, have a recording session, and enter!

14. Attend helpful masterclasses and seminars at local universities.  

15. Take lessons from musicians you admire. 

16.  Treat musicians you admire to coffee or lunch and ask them lots of questions!

17.  Create a dream repertoire list and work on new pieces from your list, one by one. 

18. Compose music for yourself and others (from simple exercises to elaborate pieces). 

19. Volunteer to play your instrument at a retirement center or a hospital during the holidays (or any other time!). 

20.  Teach music to anyone who would like to learn from you.

21. Practice every day, allowing enough practice time to complete assignments, explore possibilities, and go above and beyond.

22. Create your own practice games and strategies to help yourself overcome challenges. 

23. Record yourself and listen back often, so that you know how you sound to your teacher and your audience.

24. Look in the mirror and study your body position, embouchure, attitude and facial expression to learn what's working and what's not.

25. Count listening to great recordings of your repertoire as valuable practice time. 

26. Count score study as valuable practice time and use what you've learned when you return to your instrument.

27. Use your notes from lessons and classes to spark practice breakthroughs and give important reminders.

28. Remember that working on fundamentals is often the key to accomplishing great things with your music.

29. Visualize yourself in your lesson, on stage, or in the competition while you're practicing (so that performance time doesn't feel like the first time you've been in that environment).

30. Every day when you practice, work to play music that is not just "correct," but beautiful and pleasing to your ears and the ears of your future audiences. 

31. Take personality and learning style quizzes online to discover more about how your brain works.

32. Notice when practicing or performing goes well (and not so well), so that you can learn what strategies you want to keep and which ones need to go.

33. Pay attention to your endurance, confidence, and motivation levels so you know when you need rest, a boost, or a different strategy.

34. Figure out practice routines that help you to be the most productive and inspired. 

35. Study your performance anxiety symptoms and learn to accept them as part of the grand adventure that is live performance. 

36. Learn about your body and discover the ways you need to breathe and move to bring your music to life. 

37. Notice your inner dialogue and figure out if it is helpful and encouraging, or if you need a different strategy. 

38. Listen to your music while you are playing it and cultivate a healthy obsession with finding the most beautiful sound and interpretations possible.

39. Pay attention to yourself and your practice habits.  Be curious about why you do the things you do and whether or not there are better options. 

40. Dig deep to discover why you love music and how you could use this to enhance the quality of your playing. 

41. Replace fears about your ability with hard work and progress.

42. Replace all or nothing thinking with possibilities and progress.

43. Replace instant gratification mindset with patience and progress.

44. Replace frustration and irritation with self-compassion, curiosity, and baby step style progress.

45. Replace the idea of forcing yourself to practice with looking forward to practicing. 

46. Replace a competitive mindset with a determined mindset.  When you challenge yourself to do the best YOU can, you will go much, much farther than when you are just trying to do better than the person beside you.

47. Replace ignorance with knowledge.  Listen to at least 3 recordings of any piece you would like to learn (over and over again!) so you can be aware of performance traditions and ways in which you can express individual interpretations. 

48. Replace denial with bravery.  By recording yourself and listening back in the role of the teacher, you can identify countless areas of improvement and get to work on them one at a time.

49. Replace feeling overwhelmed with feeling excited.  Did you know that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?

50. Replace learned helplessness with belief in yourself.  Bring all the gifts you have from other areas of your life to your practicing and be amazed at all the connections you can make!

51. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I make this music more beautiful?"

52. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I make this music more clear?"

53. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I make this music more interesting (dramatic, effective, etc.)?"

54. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I help my muscle memory feel more reliable?"

55. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I make this passage feel more effortless?"

56. Constantly ask yourself, "How can feel more energy when I play this music?"

57. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I be more aware of my body while I play this music?"

58. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I be more aware of the audience experience as I play this music?"

59. Constantly ask yourself, "How can I listen in a more meaningful way?"

60. Constantly ask yourself, "Are there questions I need to be asking myself that I'm not asking, yet?"

61. Can you play every passage 10 out of 10 times in a row beautifully and accurately?

62. Can you perform your piece from beginning to end with feeling, flow, and accuracy?

63. Can you play the tempos you would like to play in a convincing manner?

64. Can you play your music up to your highest standards in less than comfortable surroundings (when you're tired, hungry, stressed, etc.)?

65. Can you play with your most beautiful sound throughout your entire piece? 

66. Can you play long, beautiful phrases without any awkwardness?

67. Can you play your piece in a way that feels fun (exciting, dramatic, meaningful, etc.) to you and your audience?

68. Can you play your piece (at least one small piece at a time) from memory?

69. Can you play your music in a way that feels easy, reliable, and "in the zone?"

70. Can you play your music in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself?

71. Is your tone not just clear, but also singing, expressive, and beautiful?

72. Is your rhythm not just accurate, but also clearly communicated and energized?

73. Is your articulation not just accurate, but also clear and in character?

74. Is your tempo not just correct, but also the perfect flow for the character and style of your music (as well as your comfort level)?

75. Is your phrasing not just logical, but also inspiring?

76. Is your vibrato not just "good," but like a great singer's?

77. Is your technique not just "good," but really and truly solid, effortless, and reliable?

78. Is your intonation not just correct, but also beautiful and in context?

79. Is your body engagement not just functional, but also comfortable and energized?

80. Is your connection to the piece not just superficial, but truly meaningful to you?

81. Keep excellent notes for every lesson and masterclass you attend.

82. Keep track of important performance, practice, and recording deadlines (with plenty of extra time for unexpected circumstances).

83. Keep a list of questions you want answered and skills you'd like to improve.

84. Keep an updated repertoire list as well as an updated "dream repertoire" list.

85. Set goals for yourself each day, week, month, semester, and year and keep track of your progress.

86. Use creative charts, lists, mind maps, etc. to keep track of your journey toward ideal tempos and other practice projects.

87. Keep good notes when you listen back to recordings of your performances and use them as guidance when you practice.

88. Write effective markings in your music and erase markings that no longer serve you.

89. Create and update helpful playlists of your current repertoire, dream repertoire, and other inspirational music.

90. Keep your instrument bag and practice space clean, organized, and stocked with all the things you'll need while you practice.

91. Notice your progress and remember specific improvements (not just the flaws!).

92. Enjoy the results of slow practice when you can play the faster tempos!

93. Savor every thank you, good job, smile, and hug after performances and remember that your music means something to others.

94. When a teacher does NOT comment on a lack of skill, be happy!  That means that particular skill is going well!

95. On days that you invest in patient and productive practice, hold your head high, knowing that you are on your way to being a better musician.

96. When your start to lose motivation, journal about why you loved music in the first place.

97. When you feel like you can't keep working hard, look up an inspirational quote by someone who has achieved great things.

98. Read inspiring books to gain knowledge, perspective, and practical tools to help when things get difficult.

99. Be kind and encouraging to yourself, remembering that love and support will help you to grow.

100. Never, never, never give up.

Happy Practicing!

Terri Sánchez

P.S. Want to read more about how to teach and inspire yourself? Browse past The Self-Inspired Flutist blog posts to find something helpful to read!