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We’re asked this question frequently. Though I’d prefer not to use this phrase, the answer is, “it depends”--on many different variables. Let me elaborate by bringing up a familiar comparison. Studying a musical instrument is very much like learning a new language, an experience all of us had at one point or another in our lives. Both involve learning how to read and write symbols on a page, understand the deeper meaning of these symbols and how to use these symbols in practice, i.e., when communicating with others.
Critical to both also is our (time) commitment to the study process. Is it every day all day long? Toddlers learn a language this way, as do students having a “full immersion” experience in another country. At the other end of the spectrum, is it 30 minutes a week? Of course, results will vary dramatically, depending on your answers to these questions.
Another crucial factor is the quality of instruction: is your teacher barely proficient, or are you thriving under the tutelage of a language teacher who is a native speaker, or a musician with significant professional accomplishments on her instrument?
But the parallels between music and language studies go even further. There is no denying that speaking any language on a high level takes great effort, just as playing any musical instrument to professional standards requires years, and sometimes decades, of study. In the language and music teaching communities, there is also agreement that some languages are harder to master than others--think of Chinese as a particularly daunting example--just as certain musical instruments produce at least basic learning results more quickly than others. As a case in point, consider violin vs. drum.
So when we’re asked how long it takes to learn a musical instrument, the questions from our perspective are: what would you like to accomplish with your music studies? Impress with quick results? Explore a possible career opportunity in the arts? Play music for stress relief, and as a hobby? Or would you like your child to take on music studies as a means to develop disciplined work habits, goal setting and project management skills, and encourage competitive achievement? Your answers to these questions guide us in setting realistic expectations and advising you on your most suitable options.
We are delighted to welcome Jordan P. Smith, a distinguished young artist, to thewoodwind faculty of Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Jordan is a New York based saxophonist and conductor. His teachers have included Dr. Paul Cohen, Dr. John Sampen and Kathleen Mitchell (saxophone), and Dr. William Silvester (conducting).
Later this month Jordan is graduating with a Master of Music degree in Saxophone Performance from Manhattan School of Music. He previously completed a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from The College of New Jersey, and as of this coming fall semester will be a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Classical Saxophone Performance at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, where he is studying with Dr. Paul Cohen. Jordan is currently on faculty at the French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts, teaching theory, conducting the saxophone ensemble, and saxophone lessons.
Jordan has extensive performance experience. In the summer of 2007, Jordan traveled to Corfu, Greece where he gave several performances of solo and chamber works, and premiered Evolutions by Marilyn Shrude for the Corfu Festival Saxophone Ensemble. He was winner of the 2006-2007 TCNJ Concerto Competition and later performed Tomasi's Ballade for Saxophone and Orchestra with the TCNJ Orchestra. Jordan was also a selected soloist for the 2008 NYSMF recital series and a featured soloist with the NYSMF saxophone ensemble. Recently he has performed multiple times with The New World Symphony, the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, the Brooklyn College Orchestra, and the French Woods Orchestra. Recent performance venues have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Peters Citigroup Center in NYC, Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center, the Professional Children's School, Yale University, and the 2009 North American Saxophone Alliance Region 8 conference at West Virginia University. As an orchestral player he has performed works by Prokofiev, Copland, Bernstein, Gershwin, and more under such conductors as Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Spano, and H. Robert Reynolds. Jordan has also been active as a chamber musician in New York City, having premiered works by composers such as Hayes Biggs, Remy Le Boeuf, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, and Matthew Hough. He recently premiered the Sonata for Tenor Saxophone and Piano by Steve Cohen written for Jordan himself, a saxophone quartet work entitled PollyPiano by Tamara Cashour, and a work for tenor saxophone entitled Reverie, Interrupted written for Jordan himself by composer/pianist James Adler. Jordan will soon be heard on Carrier Records for the premiere recording of Inhyun Kim's Saxophone Quartet.
In previous years, at least one parent a week would visit our office to talk about
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.
Looking for Professional Piano Lessons in Flemington? Study with Dr. Lynda Saponara, the latest addition to our piano program! Dr. Saponara, who received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Rutgers University, joins eight other piano instructors to meet the rising demands for piano and keyboard instruction at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Having previously held several university appointments, including at Rutgers, The College of New Jersey, New Jersey City University, and Wagner College, Dr. Saponara brings considerable knowledge and professional expertise to this community.
Why should you take piano lessons? The National Piano Foundation cites several university studies documenting the benefits of piano studies. Research conducted at McGill University in Montreal shows that "children who took piano lessons for three years scored higher than their peers on tests of general and spatial cognitive development - the very faculties needed for performance in math and engineering and other pursuits." Similarly, according to the University of California at Irvine, "students who took piano lessons along with computer puzzle-solving did better in math." For older students, too, piano studies can be very beneficial since they may reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. (For more information, visit The National Piano Foundation.)
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 the 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!
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.
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.