Practicing with Technology

"I'm not a fan of this video homework stuff Ms Joy. This gives you two opportunities a week to tell me I suck and I am only paying you for one...." 
- Belle (15 yr old cello student studying with me 6 years. If in my cello studio witticisms were a John Wayne film, she would be the fastest gun in the West)

This past semester I decided to start assigning my young cellists video homework. Each week they take home an assignment that must be recorded on their phones/iPads and emailed or texted to mine. Although this has not been my most popular ingenious idea, it has been one of my most effective. Musicians spend a whole lot of time with their instruments each day, and this makes it very easy to press the cruise control button (or autopilot setting if you will) when you have scheduled blocks of time for practice sessions. Using video to record their playing, and then critiquing it, helps the student and even the professional set specific goals for their practice so that precious minutes and hours are not wasted. I find that in my own practicing, making use of this technology has not only improved my cello playing, but it has significantly sped up the rate in which I learn new music and increased the length of time in which I can stay 100% concentrated. Now despite what my students might imagine, I do not assign them recording homework so that I can listen to their beautiful playing on my Sunday afternoons ;) My goal is that they watch themselves throughout the week and learn to be their own teachers, perfecting every measure and every note. I find that this can also have the added benefit of dealing with performance anxiety. When students watch themselves on recorded tape play a certain difficult passage several times throughout the week, it gives them the added assurance that they can be successful the next time they tackle it: whether it is in front of an audience or just a very picky cello teacher. 


Statistical Practice

I have always heard it said that musicians tend to be great at math. In my own case I have not found that to be true. Math was not a subject that I struggled with in school, but neither did I enjoy it or excel in that department. However, recently I had an epiphany about applying statistics to my own practicing and encouraging my students to do the same. As a musician, it is just not adequate to practice a passage until it is perfect. My reasoning is that if you have played and replayed a passage say 10 times, and on the tenth time you ace it, then that means those other 9 times have set you up for an approximate 90% chance of error on the next run through. The more we improve as musicians, the more we need to flip that ratio. For my students I ask that they walk into their performances with their most difficult passages ready to go with a 90% or higher chance of success. Again, if that means that if they play two measures on loop 100 times, that 90 of those times they nailed it. Having just completed our spring recitals at the Grace Notes School of Music, I've seen a huge change in the confidence and accuracy of their performances. Statistics has given them something solid to hang their hats on.