The work of a musician is to orchestrate coordinated movements of one’s body into fluid artful communication. This requires a combination of control and of embracing the moment. Not unlike athletes, professional musicians must maintain peak physical conditioning and high level skill at their instrument on a consistent basis. As the brilliant pianist Leon Fleischer says,”Musicians are athletes of the small muscles.” Aside from hard work and discipline, we must also acquire mental flexibility in order to turn skill into meaningful art.

Legendary basketball star Kobe Bryant keeps himself in peak physical condition even during off-season. He arrives early to every team practice session to shoot hoops before group practice begins to work well and beyond the other players on his team to afford him the edge he has earned as a top player. He has the wisdom to understand that his fame comes second to his passion for the game; that at the core of his well-repute is his hard work, daily practice and exercise.

Learning to play a musical piece follows the same principles. Did you know that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (3 hours, 5 days weekly for 10 years) to acquire professional- level skill in any field requiring physical prowess? Although we need to love music in order to begin our pursuit, only practice and persistence gets real results in the end.

But how do we approach our daily practice for maximum results? The first step is to break learning down into smaller, manageable portions instead of overwhelming ourselves with too much too soon.  Below is an example of portioning tasks into manageable segments:

– Choose a time and place that affords minimal distractions
– Choose a piece that is reasonably within your scope of learning: challenging but not un-
– Practice two measures at a time
– Practice the right hand of two measures 10-20 times or until mistake-free
– Practice the left hand of the same two measures 10-20 times until mistake-free
– Practice the same two measures hands together 10-20 times until mistake-free
– Start out with a very slow tempo that you can manage
– Increase tempo in tiny increments with 10-20 repetitions at each successive tempo
– Practice each portion with calm focus and thoroughness without thinking ahead to other tasks
– Continue working in increments of 2 measures, then in increments of 4 measures, etc. until an entire section is learned successfully.

The best kept secret about music-making isn’t merely in the achievement of a good performance. The greatest gift of music is in the daily practice itself. Practicing music teaches us self-discipline, delayed gratification, patience, determination, consistency, focus, emotional and aural sensitization, confidence and humility; it offers us daily communion with beauty and philosophy and produces happy and healthy endorphins. The true gift of music is in the emotional and physical satisfaction we gain through long-term practice . So challenge yourself to learn a new piece today and enjoy the gift of daily music practice.

Reduce Performance Anxiety

Did you know that performance anxiety and excitement are linked in our neurology? The Sympathetic Nervous System and the Para-Sympathetic Nervous System are two modes of human functioning involving different brain chemicals that produce different psycho-neurological responses.

Panic and excitement are both results of the Sympathetic Nervous System, the amygdala, the “small” brain, the “fight or flight” mode. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol causing elevated heart rate and blood pressure, increased sweating, cold extremities, muscle tremors, increased muscle tension, dilated pupils, digestive disorders, and shallow chest breathing (among other symptoms). In this mode, we are reactive and act on immediate impulse. These symptoms can either be helpful or problematic when we are performing music depending on their severity.

The Para-Sympathetic Nervous System is the “big” brain mode where the hormones and brain chemicals are normalized, our brain’s pre-frontal cortex is activated, we are breathing fully and calmly. Here we are fully sensing and rational.

The most efficient method of switching from one mode to the other is through our breath. Shallow chest breathing triggers the SNS mode while fuller, slower breathing brings us back into the PSNS mode. Belly or diaphragmatic breathing is a form of breathing that utilizes the full capacity of the lungs and calms our system down so we can function at our best. Try it:

1. Lie down on a comfortable surface.
2. Take a big cleansing breath.
3. Breathing in through the nose, let the belly extend out, then the ribs, then the chest.
4. Exhaling through the nose, let the chest, ribs and belly deflate.
5. Repeating this breathing method, gradually slow the breath down until it is longer and fuller.
6. Repeat 10 times.

Practicing this brief exercise once daily and during times of panic is one key to turning our performance anxiety into a more happy anticipation of and calm control during performances.

Choosing a Good Teacher

Did you know that in learning music, boys tend to use the brain’s left hemisphere more and girls tend to use bilateral brain function?  So in choosing a music teacher for your child, choose one who is sensitive to subtle differences in the disparate functions of each child. A good teacher will be curious and kind and will develop an approach to your child that will maximize their changing learning needs.

Work and Passion

“…and all knowledge is vain save when there is work; and all work is empty save when there is love; and when you WORK WITH LOVE you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to the universe…” Kahlil Gibran’s


Holidays are for Re-Booting

Holidays are a great way to stimulate our creative juices. By spending relaxing time with friends and family, eating special comfort foods, traveling to different places we open a crack in our habitual routines and give ourselves a chance to re-wire and re-set. So enjoy the holidays thoroughly and arrive in a new year with a new outlook.


Music Can Make You More Intelligent

Research has shown that music and the practice of music “embeds itself deeply into the nervous system” as psychologist Dr. Oliver Sacks writes.  Research in cognitive neuroscience has supported this statement by finding that music training causes the following structural and functional changes in the brain:

  • significantly more developed left planum temporales
  • larger anterior corpus callosum
  • increased cerebral cortex and left hemisphere activity
  • increased bilateral activity between the left and right hemispheres
  • greater word memory
  • superior ability for imagery
  • increased cerebral blood flow to the amygdale, frontal and pre-frontal cortex which are
    associated with reward, motivation, and emotion – sometimes called the “chill”s

So YES, music can make you more intelligent!