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"Ins and Outs" of Music Practice: Spring 2010 Survey Results (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this two-part blog article, we presented an overview of the results of our Spring 2010 Survey, in which Hunterdon Academy of the Arts received very high marks from its students and their parents. Although the Survey rated HAA "far better than other music schools," it also revealed a couple of concerns. Among these, a few respondents wondered why this past year we have asked our students to keep track of their daily and weekly practice sessions, and some called for more clarification of the "ins and outs" of music practice.

In previous years, at least one parent a week would visit our office to talk about

guitar lessons flemington

 the difficulties their child experiences with practicing. "My child wants to quit"; "my child hates guitar [piano, flute., etc]"; "I can't fight with him/her about practicing anymore"; "he is not progressing quickly enough" were just a few of the complaints we kept hearing. Some parents also asked us directly for guidance on how to help their child prosper in music lessons. After brain-storming with both faculty and parents, we concluded that for many students to have a more rewarding experience in their lessons, we as teachers needed to help them set realistic goals and develop a systematic practice routine to reach these goals. As an important part of this process, we asked students to keep a detailed account of their practice efforts in their "Practice Record Book," which we handed out for free to each lesson student at the beginning of the school year.

As professional musicians and music educators, we are passionate about making music. But truth be told, even for us there are times when we have to supplement our passion and enthusiasm for music with a healthy dose of discipline in order to progress. It is not unlike exercising or being on a healthy diet: we love the process especially when we see results, but it can be hard work to stick with it until we have reached that magical number on the scale. But how, exactly, to stay disciplined? Fitness experts agree that keeping a "food diary" (where you log in everything you eat) will dramatically increase your chances for success. Too much work? Maybe, but the "food diary" produces tangible results, and makes you account for that giant piece of chocolate cake you ate but somehow tried to forget about.

The "food diary" is quite similar in purpose to the "Practice Record Book" we introduced last year, which asks students to log in their practice days and times. The booklet helps students stay on track in pursuing their goals, by documenting step by step their efforts and accomplishments along the way. It teaches them that more often than not, frustration in a music lesson has nothing to do with the instrument itself but mostly with the effort they have put into learning it. For parents, understanding the results of their child's music lessons is also a financial issue: without some weekly practicing, their child will not be able to move forward in her next lesson. This means that you are paying for essentially the same lesson twice. Still think logging in practice times is a waste of time?

Over the past year, we've kept a close eye on student progress, and we're happy to say that using the "Practice Record Book" has yielded some amazing results! Have you ever seen the sparkle in a child's eye when she performs on stage, accomplishing, almost miraculously, something she never thought she could do? Well, we're confident that you'll see a lot of these sparkles at our year-end recitals this coming Saturday, May 15, at 1 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM at Stanton Reformed Church (1 Stanton Mountain Road, Stanton, NJ 08885)

Come join us; admission if free! 

Get directions to Stanton Reformed church HERE.


Music Lessons and the Family Budget

Though rates for private music lessons may vary between instructors and music schools, they tend to be higher than tuition rates for group classes.  Why?

As with almost anything else, you get what you pay for!  In the case of private lessons, your tuition dollars provide you with the undivided attention of your teacher, who tailors style and content of his or her instruction to meet your individual needs.  For many students, the individual lesson format provides the ideal learning environment to make progress as quickly as possible.  In that sense, a

keyboard lessons young child.jpgprivate lesson teacher is no different from your personal gym trainer, who makes sure that you do your exercises correctly for maximum benefit.

If we stick with the sports analogy for a moment, some of us are not particularly crazy about working one-on-one with a trainer, or working ourselves through all that exercise equipment at the gym, one machine at a time.  That can be tedious and a bit solitary at times.  By contrast, joining an aerobics class or a sports team to play soccer, football, basket ball, and what not, is an entirely different experience.  Although as members of a team, we may not be getting all that individualized attention, we're having fun, working collaboratively, laughing, and sharing victories and losses.  And on top of it, we're still toning those muscles and losing a few pounds!  Not bad at all.

When it comes to music education, it is similarly possible, and enjoyable, to learn within the socially interactive context of group classes.  Young beginners often express a strong preference for music classes not only because of the social interaction involved but because the group format offers them the most developmentally appropriate venue for absorbing information.  Young children may learn as much from observing each other as they learn from their designated teachers.  To be sure, for some kids, the group class format may be too stimulating and distracting.  Kids falling into this category will do better in music lessons under the guidance of an instructor, who focuses their attention and provides a firm structure for the learning process.  Parents should consult with their music teacher in choosing the option most suitable for the learning disposition of their child.

If after careful consideration you have reason to believe that your child may progress more easily through group instruction, why would you sign her up for private lessons?  And why, looking at your bottom line, would you invest the extra dollars on individual instruction before your child is actually ready to enjoy its full range of benefits?  Start young beginners age 4 through 8 in group classes as a high-quality, low-cost alternative to music lessons!  When given sufficient time to mature and learn, children are more likely to develop a life-long appreciation for music.  Isn't that what it's all about?

Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, Flemington 

New Music Teacher Appointments!

February 2010: We are delighted to have appointed three new music teachers: piano teacher.jpgMarisa Arzillo (voice and musical theatre), Alan Rigoletto (guitar), and Richard Woo (piano). Marisa is pursuing a distinguished career as a singer and operatic stage director. She has started teaching voice for us, and will take our Musical Theatre program to the next level. Though well versed in all guitar styles, Alan Rigoletto is coming to HAA with some significant expertise on the jazz guitar, as well as a semester of guitar studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst ("Academy of Music and Performing Arts") in Frankfurt, Germany. Lastly, currently pursuing a Master's degree at Westminster Choir College, Richard Woo is majoring in Piano Pedagogy/Performance and Music Education. In addition to his professional studies, he is also on the piano faculty of Westminster Conservatory of Music.

We warmly welcome Marisa, Alan, and Richard to our music faculty.  They will help us maintain our high standards of education and meet the demands of our growing lesson program!

Why Wouldn't You Sign up for Music Lessons!

Over the past two years, we have been listening carefully to our students and prospective students.  Their input has been invaluable in our efforts to optimize the way Hunterdon Academy of the Arts operates.  Many of our improvements in theguitar student.jpg area of music lessons have focused on making it easier for students to enter the program, and stay in it.  We thought it may be helpful to provide a brief summary of our responses to the most commonly voiced concerns about signing up for music lessons:

1. What if I find out only after signing up that I don't enjoy music lessons? As of February 2010, we have introduced a new lesson registration that is based on short-term commitment. You initially commit to a minimum of 5 weeks, after which you may either drop out or re-register automatically for the next month. But a word of caution: if you aren't a virtuoso after 5 weeks of lessons, do not automatically assume that lessons aren't for you. It takes time to become a master performer! You wouldn't expect to be a professional football, tennis, or baseball player after a month of training either, or would you?

2. What if my teacher and I don't "click"?  Very occasionally, that happens, but it is no problem from our point of view. We try to get it right from the start by offering you a free trial lesson with the teacher we believe to be the best match for you. If things don't quite work out as anticipated, we will be happy to transfer you to another teacher as long as we have spots available; we have a large faculty with multiple instructors in almost every field.

3. What if the time I signed up for isn't going to work with my schedule long-term? As long as we have other slots available, we'll be happy to provide you with more a convenient lesson time.

4. Do I have to buy an instrument if I sign up for lessons? No. But in order to make progress between lessons, you need to have access to an instrument for practice purposes. For your convenience, we provide many instruments for rent, or you can purchase instruments at low cost from our local retail partner, CrossBorder Music. Our teachers will be happy to advise you on your best options.

5. As an adult, is it not too late for me to start lessons? No, it is never too late to start an instrument. We learn as long as we live, and that includes playing an instrument! Actually, adults are sometimes at an advantage in that they can be more focused, organized, and determined than some younger students!

How to help your child with music lessons

Do you have children in music lessons?  Are you wondering about the pace of progress in lessons?  Does your child seem frustrated or want to quit lessons entirely?  If so, we would like to offer some advice on how you as parents can help your child prosper in music lessons

Be Patient: 

When you watch and listen to a good music performance, you may think that playing an instrument is easy.  But first impressions can be deceptive.  The truth is that learning an instrument is a difficult process that involves diligent practice to achieve good results.  Aside from learning what the notes are and how to produce them, learning an instrument requires the development of fine motor skills and in most cases, complex hand-eye coordination and coordination between both hands. If your child is not turning into a master performer within your first month of lessons, please be patient and don't expect the impossible. Give it some time, and you will see tangible results. Ultimately, your child will be very proud of his or her successes along the way!  


Along with this, encourage your child to stick with music lessons, and practice regularly. Even with regular practice, however, some students will progress faster than others. This is normal! We are all individuals going through life at our own pace. Since learning an instrument is tricky, your child needs your soothing guidance when hands and fingers just can't follow yet what the brain is telling them to do. As adults, you do have a better perspective on life; you do know that good things take time. So don't add further stress to the frustration your child may be experiencing in learning that C Major scale. Encourage, but don't force!

Purchase a good-quality instrument:

Too often we see students struggle with their music studies for the wrong reason. Upon closer scrutiny, quite a few of these students are practicing on poor instruments. When purchasing an instrument, please consult your (prospective) teacher for advice. To be sure, there are many great deals on the market, but some of these "deals" will all but guarantee that your child won't be taking lessons for long. If even a professional teacher is struggling to play your instrument well, imagine how frustrating, if not impossible, daily practice must be for your child!

What if my child wants to quit? 

Don't allow your child to quit at the first sign of trouble.  Ask lots of questions to get to the bottom of the problem, and you may be surprised at some of the answers. The solution may be readily available. Sometimes the piano is placed in a room with so much distraction that it is impossible for a child to focus. Moving the piano to another room may fully address the problem. At other times, scheduling a lesson right after school may be too tiring for your child, however conveniently the lesson time may fit into your personal schedule. Needless to say, a combination of fatigue and low blood sugar will not improve the lesson experience! In this case, all you may need to do is reschedule the lesson for another day, and your child's attitude toward music lessons may change radically. In other words, don't just quit without first removing all potential obstacles on the path to happy, creative, and fruitful music lessons.


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