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1. A Decision – Introduction 1

2. Transport – Practise 4

3. Your Map – The Practise Diary 36

4. Navigation – Reflective Learning 54

5. Looking After Yourself – The Inner Critic vs 58

The Inner Musician

6. Fuel – Motivation 63

7. Supplies – Performing and Recording 68

8. Conclusion 75

"One of the commonest mistakes and one of the costliest is thinking that
success is due to some genius, some magic - something or other which
we do not possess. Success is generally due to holding on, and failure to
letting go. You decide to learn a language, study music, take a course of
reading, train yourself physically. Will it be success or failure? It depends
upon how much pluck and perseverance that word "decide" contains. ….
Remember the Chinese proverb, "With time and patience, the mulberry
leaf becomes satin. With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a
silk gown."" Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Learning music is similar to exploring another land. It has its own language,
boarders which need to be crossed, a new culture to offer and experiences which
are sometimes joyous and uplifting and sometimes, just plain difficult. It would make
things much easier if there were a ‘Lonely Planet’ Guide to Music available, just like
there is for all those other countries but there isn’t one. It seems that every person
learning music has to work out the best way for themselves, with many different
resources and teachers. Unfortunately, this can be a long, and sometimes not very
enjoyable process, so its no wonder many travellers just ‘dip their toes in’ and
decide to return home.

However, if you chose to travel to a new country and truly taste the wonders of all it
had to offer, would you just hop into the nearest car or airplane and go, or would you
take some time to prepare? (After all careful preparation does help you to make the
best of the journey.) If you were to prepare, what would you take? Here is my list:

1. Transport
2. A map
3. Knowledge of how to navigate
4. Information about possible pitfalls and how to deal with them (eg, rains and
swollen rivers, seasons, good markets etc)
5. Fuel
6. Supplies (money, water, food, clothes etc).

Music Made Easy is based on this list of items, adapted for the learning of singing or
playing an instrument:

1. Transport = How to Practise.

With effective practise you can get to where you want to go.

2. A Map = The Practise Diary

With this you will be able to see where you have been and where you are

3. Knowledge of how to Navigate = Reflective Learning

Will show you how you learn and help to plan the best way for you to

4. Looking After Yourself = The Inner Critic vs the Inner Musician

This information will show you how you can begin to let yourself create great

5. Fuel = Motivation
Where you can find it so you can keep learning.

6. Supplies = Performing and Recording

What you need to keep yourself happy and comfortable in music so that you
can continue to play.

When travelling you can decide to just ‘scratch the surface’ of the place you are
visiting or you can decide to really spend some time absorbing everything it has to
offer. You only need to follow the ‘tourist trail’ for the former and there are already
many resources available which can help you there. This book is intended for the
latter, for those of you who wish to be intimate with music. It is designed to help
make your exploration and learning of music easier, attainable and fun, providing
you with all the practical guidance that my personal ‘travels’ as a student and
teacher of music has offered me. My hope is that not only newcomers, but also
those of you who are currently ‘stuck’ or uninspired, or those of you, like myself, who
have ‘stop-started’ in music, find this information helps you to continue, in a more
exciting way, to create with sound. I also hope that my fellow teachers of music will
be able to use this book as an aid to help develop the efficiency and enjoyment of
their own teaching practice.

It helps to remember there is no ‘final destination’ in music. Your learning and will to
continue depends upon you being able to appreciate and enjoy your ability at every
stage. If you can manage this while meeting personal challenges, I have no doubt
you will create authentic and expressive music capable of touching others and going
beyond your own expectations.

Creating expressive music, entails only one thing – the exploration and discovery of
your Self, for it is there that great music resides. Here you will find yourself:

• Confronting your Inner Critic - the voice which sometimes tells you to give up
because you’re not good enough;

• Working with sounds that make you uncomfortable and learning how to turn
transform them;

• Reflecting upon personal barriers and realising solutions to overcome them;

• Discovering your weaknesses and your strengths;

• Spending time with Music and being in no hurry to ‘get there’;

• Learning to relax in the knowledge that you have the rest of your life to get
better at what you do and that your learning and progress in music will never
stop as long as you keep playing and developing at your own pace.

Everyone is capable of partaking in the creation of music and I think it is a great

shame if you feel excluded from playing because you believe you “haven’t got
enough talent” or you find learning “too hard” or “boring”. The truth is that with the
right support, information and guidance, you can enjoy learning to sing and/or play
an instrument, including this practice as an everyday activity to enhance your quality
of life.

Finally, I would like you to know that Music Made Easy doesn’t end with these
pages. If you have any questions or need any further information, explanations or
wish to comment, you can contact me via the website
and I will assist you as best I can.

Now, let us begin…..


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The biggest motivation for me writing this book was to help you achieve the best
possible results from your practise time. In my experience as a student, I often
didn’t know what or how to practise. It all made sense in the lesson but when I got
home I just felt defeated. I know I was not the only one to feel this way and it was
the reason I ‘stop started’ in music. Therefore, as a teacher I implement a Practise
Diary to help students learn how to practise and a part of the lesson is always
dedicated to discussing what is going on in the practice room.

Following are some of my ideas on how to learn the basics of music, you may alter
them any way you wish to suit your needs or come up with new ideas but keep in
mind that the ‘basics’ of music are also the foundation of the ability you wish to
cultivate. If your foundations are weak, if you do not really understand these basics
or are not able to undertake tasks like playing with a metronome, your subsequent
learning and playing will be weak. But if your foundations are strong, you will
become a strong musician. Basics are your foundations, take time learning them,
keep practising them throughout your music career and build upon your strengths.



True artistic expression requires honesty and openness. For many, even the well-
accomplished artist, sometimes exposing the true creative self can be difficult and
this explains why someone can learn to play music but may not be able to create
music which touches those who listen. I have attended some performances that
were technically brilliant but failed to engage me. Similarly, I have attended concerts
where technical ability was not a strong point but there existed so much energy in
the music that the performance was electrifying. However, the most memorable
musical experiences I have witnessed have been those artists who are technically
capable and possessed the ability to let music flow from them unhindered.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the technical aspect of your instrument and forget
what it is about music that drew you to it in the first place. Music speaks to us. It
has the ability to soothe, to excite, to unite, and to communicate a complex spectrum

of human emotions to a wide and varied audience. It was my desire to connect and
relate to other people that led me to music, but if I am going to express myself I
need to have something to say, something worth stating so that others will want to

Just like any other aspect of music, expressing yourself freely needs to be practised
with as much dedication as technique or harmony. The first stage of this practice is
being able to sit with your instrument and just play it with a quiet mind. The second
stage is being able to accept, without judgement, every sound you emit, committing
yourself to every note, appreciating its existence and its beauty. Only by practising
acceptance and commitment to the sounds you make, are you able to unlock the
treasure that is your unique creative genius.

There are many exercises you can do in order to quieten your mind. You may find,
as I do, that going through a routine of practising your technique can help to slow
down your thoughts but one of the most useful techniques, based on a type of
meditation, is focusing on the breath. You can use ‘breath focus’ effectively in every
aspect of your music to enhance your performance.

Breath Focus

When beginning your practice session, firstly aim for a state of relaxed focus to
ensure your work is effective and enjoyable. Following are outlines of breath-
focussed exercises for different instruments. You also may be able to come up with
one of your own or adapt one of these exercises to suit your instrument. You may
also wish to find classes on relaxation and meditation as these can be useful for you
in music as well as other areas of your life.

For Piano

This exercise helps you to strengthen your hands and gain more co-ordination
between your fingers. The exercise should take no more than 5 minutes to

• Place five fingers of your right hand on any consecutive five white notes
above middle C and press down all the notes at once. Your left hand should
be relaxed by your side or on your lap.

• Focus on your posture and your breathing, sitting on the edge of your seat
with your feet flat and firmly on the floor, so that your weight is on your feet.

• Relax your wrists and make sure they are in line with your hand and the tips
of the fingers are resting on the notes as the weight of your arms help to
press the notes down. Fingers should be rounded and comfortable.

• Focus on your natural breathing. Mentally check your body for any tension,
purposefully relaxing any muscles in you neck, shoulders, arms, upper and
lower body which may be tense. Continue to do this throughout the exercise.

• When you take a natural breath in, lift up your 5th finger (while all other notes
are held down) about a centimetre off the key and when you naturally breathe
out, press the key down again.

• Repeat this with the same finger two times and in time with your normal
breathing. Make sure you are watching your fingers the whole time and that
no other notes are sneaking up!

• When you have done this, repeat the exercise, this time with the 4 th finger
(this will be difficult at first). Remember the 5th finger should be holding its
note down now too.

• Repeat the exercise through 3rd, 2nd and 1st fingers and then do the same
exercise over again but with your left hand, choosing notes below middle C
and relaxing your right hand in your lap or by your side.

For Wind Instruments

Developing good breathing technique is vital for playing a wind instrument because
it dictates the way notes begin (intonation), the sound quality of the note (tone
quality), how long you can hold notes (sustaining), how loud or soft the notes are
(dynamics) and how you get from one note to another (flexibility).

• Focus on your posture and your breathing. Sit on the edge of your seat with
your feet flat and firmly on the floor, so that your weight is on your feet, and
the palms of your hands resting on your legs. You can also stand, making
sure your feet are at shoulder-width distance apart and you maintain a
relaxed, yet grounded posture.

• Focus upon your natural breathing. While doing this, mentally check your
body for tension and purposefully relax any muscles in you neck, shoulders,
arms, upper and lower body, which may be tense. Continue to do this
throughout the exercise.

• Breathe in through your mouth for two counts and be full of air by the end of
this count then breathe out through your mouth for four counts, being empty
of air by the end of it. When you breathe out make an ‘s’ sound with your
mouth (like a snake). Make sure you push all the air out.

• Repeat this exercise at least ten times.

For Singers

If you are a singer, your whole body is your instrument so in the following exercise
try to be aware of how your body feels in relation to your breathing.

• Focus on your posture and your breathing. Standing, make sure your feet are
at shoulder-width distance apart and you maintain a relaxed and grounded
posture, feeling the support of the floor.

• Place the palms of your hands just under your rib cage so that your fingers
are just touching. Focus on your natural breathing and notice how your
fingers come slightly apart as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, they
come together again.

• While doing this, mentally check your body for any tension and purposefully

relax muscles in you neck, shoulders, arms, upper and lower body which may
be tense.

• On your in-breath, through your nose, count that breath as ‘one’ and release
it naturally, being aware the whole time of relaxing your body and the
movement of your diaphragm. Try to exaggerate the ‘out’ movement of your
stomach, so that the air flows deeper into your lungs. Then let the air out,
making sure you relax and all air is expelled.

• Repeat this exercise ten times saying the counts two, three, four etc up to the
count of ten then repeat if necessary.

Drummers and Percussionists

Tension in the body and breathing are linked. If you are able to focus on your
breath, you will be able to purposefully relax your body. It is important to be able to
relax because tension can interrupt your ability to play when you are attempting new
and more complex rhythms and/or soloing.

• Focus on your posture and your breathing. Sit on the edge of your seat with
your feet flat and firmly on the floor, so that your weight is on your feet, and
the palms of your hands resting on your legs. You can also stand, making
sure your feet are at shoulder-width distance apart and you maintain a
relaxed, yet grounded posture.

• Place the palms of your hands just under your rib cage so that your fingers
are just touching. Focus on your natural breathing and notice how your
fingers come slightly apart as you breathe in and as you breathe out they
come together again.

• While doing this, mentally check your body for any tension and purposefully
relax muscles in you neck, shoulders, arms, upper and lower body which may
be tense.

• On your in-breath, through your nose, count that breath as ‘one’ and release
it naturally, being aware the whole time of relaxing your body and the
movement of your diaphragm.

• As you breathe in, try to exaggerate the ‘out’ movement of your stomach, so
that the air flows deeper into your lungs.

• Repeat this exercise ten times saying the counts two, three, four etc up to the
count of ten then repeat if necessary.

For string instruments – plucked or bowed

• Focus on your posture and your breathing. You should be sitting on the edge
of your seat with your feet flat and firmly on the floor, so that your weight is on
your feet. If you are a violinist or violist stand in the appropriate posture,
holding your instrument but be very aware of the weight of your body going
down through your feet and into the floor.

• Hold your instrument in an open string position.

• Focus on your natural breathing. Mentally check your body for any tension,
purposefully relaxing any muscles in you neck, shoulders, arms, upper and
lower body which may be tense. Continue to do this throughout the exercise.

• Take a normal breath in and on your out breath strum your guitar, or bow the
strings, tuning into the sound you are making, lift off the strings as you
breathe in again.

• Repeat this ten times in time with your normal breath.


“The greatest organist of his day, Johann

Sebastian Bach, was also an accomplished
improviser. Once on a visit to the court of
Frederick the Great, Bach took a theme from this
composer-king and extemporized a full fugue from
it which he later used as one of the highlights of
his A Musical Offering. It was expected of a
keyboard performer that he could play variations
on a theme at will and improvisation was as

common then as it now is in jazz.”

Free improvisation is an exercise to help you accept and enjoy the music you play.
As a teacher, this is probably the one exercise where I experience the most
resistance from my students …initially, but after a while they all grow to love it. First,
I will describe the exercise, which you can apply to any instrument, and then we’ll
talk more about some of its deeper aspects.

How to Practice Free Improvisation

Close your eyes and play your instrument without stopping for at least two minutes.
Every note you play or sing is the right note. Don’t think about trying to play
anything you know, but rather just let your hands or voice flow freely from one note
to the next. You can play loud and soft and let your body move in a relaxed way
while playing, just listening to every sound you make, not judging whether it is good
or bad but simply appreciating sound. You only have to listen. If you have trouble
trying to stay present, focus on your breath and body, identifying any tension and
releasing it.

If you record your improvisation and listen back to it, you will be surprised that most
of the time the music will sound a lot better than you thought. This is an important
observation. accessed 12/02/2008

Music Made Easy
When you are performing, you cannot fairly judge what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Your role
is just to be present and committed to every sound you make.

Free improvisation will evolve as you progress to reflect changes in your technical
accomplishments. If you enjoy writing music, you will also find this exercise very
useful because you will play some ideas that you can later develop into
compositions. Following are some comments from students about the exercise:

“Free improvisation is my favourite part of any piano

practice. I love being creative, and free improvisation allows
me to experiment with all the interesting sounds a piano can
make. This kind of playful and unselfconscious exercise
instils a musical open-mindedness in the practitioner as well
as being a relaxing and enjoyable addition to a practice
routine. But most importantly I feel that free improvisation
has the special ability of being able to constantly rejuvinate
my passion for playing piano.” - Jo Witt, aged 18

“Free improvisation was the most challenging thing I’ve had

to do because everything else you can practice out of a
book but this is just so spur of the moment and I think to do
it well, you have to express yourself and this is especially
hard when someone else is listening to you. I find it easier
to do now when I’m alone in my room. When I first started I
couldn’t even do that and it took me a while to even
understand what I’m supposed to do. I didn’t like this
exercise at all when I first started but now I enjoy it a lot. –
Kieron White, aged 32

“To me it feels a bit weird doing free improvisation. It

sounds sort of wrong not to play from a piece of music. I
start to feel a bit timid and don’t really like making loud
sounds that I have created. It’s hard to play what you feel
with others around you. When there’s no one around I find
it easy. I know my teacher won’t tell me it sounds wrong or
bad, because it’s not. But I still feel awkward.” Nina Cooke,
aged 12

For Teachers:

Here are some commonly asked questions about Free Improvisation and how I
would answer:

Q I don’t like this exercise. What is the point of doing it when it sounds bad?

A. It is important to be able to let creativity flow freely. It doesn’t matter if you think
the exercise sounds bad – it is not the point of this activity to create good or bad
music but just to play your instrument without feeling restricted. It only takes two
minutes of your practice time and as you grow as a musician I assure you, you
will grow to appreciate it. Your reaction is the same as many of my students,
you just have to trust and persevere with this.

Q Sometimes I find it hard to get started on this exercise. Is there anything I can
do to make it easier?

A. You can try to musically interpret a story or a feeling. One example I use to get
my students started is this. “You are lying on a beach, completely relaxed and
feeling the sun warm your back. The day is a perfect temperature, not too hot
and not too cold and you are just about asleep – very calm. All of a sudden you
feel a couple of raindrops on your back but they quickly multiply and you find
yourself in a storm and have to run home.”

In order to play this story you think about each of the feelings you may have in
the situation. At first playing calmly and smoothly to describe that floating
feeling before sleep, then you might play the sound of a couple of raindrops in
the upper register of your instrument, then move down your instrument, hitting
the keys hard to depict a dark thunder storm and fast runs up and down your
instrument to imply running.


“Everything has rhythm. Everything dances.” - Maya Angelou (American Poet)

Your rhythmic ability is probably the most important aspect of music to develop
because it is the glue holding it together. It is true that some modern experimental
music has tried to eliminate rhythmic pulse, but this music has never been extremely
popular. This may be because music reflects some of our most basic and profound
human experiences, which, for all of us, begins in the womb. Here the sound of
mother’s heartbeat is our first aural experience of rhythm and we are creatures of
pulse in many ways, for example, we usually walk at a regular gate, our hearts pump
blood through our bodies at a constant beat and we respond to the sound of rhythm,
in a song for example, by moving in sync with it. Young children and even babies
will move in time to a beat quite naturally. Rhythm can be soothing or create
excitement as well as many other moods between. Most importantly, when playing
with other musicians, it is the rhythm that needs to be the common ground for all of
you. When you experience playing “in the pocket” as they say, meaning playing
perfectly in time with a pulse, there are few things that can come close to the
satisfying feeling this can create. Therefore, developing your time or sense of
rhythm is of utmost importance when practising and should have your focus
throughout your music career.

Rhythmic patterns are created by dividing the space between a beat or a pulse. A
pulse is a repetitive, single sound that can vary in speed. When you create rhythm,
you create patterns that fit the pulse. You will understand this better as you read on
and try some of the exercises. Make sure you practise these exercises with a
metronome (a device you can pick up from any music shop which keeps a regular
beat for you). Your skill with rhythm will depend upon you cultivating an ability to
subdivide the beat. But before we go on, look at the diagram below showing how
rhythmic values are written.

Diagram 1




A Semibreve or whole note is worth 4 beats on your metronome.

A Minim or half note is worth 2 beats on your metronome.

A Crotchet or quarter note is worth 1 beat on your metronome.

A Quaver or eighth note is worth ½ a beat. (count “1 and 2 and” etc)

When music is written down, it is broken into bars or sections that look like this:

This is the bar

|_________________|___ This is the bar line

Time signatures appear at the beginning of a piece of music and tell us how to count
the pulse in each bar. Here’s how time signatures work:-
The top number: 4 tells us HOW MANY beats are in each bar

The bottom number: 4 tells us what TYPE of beats we are counting.

(in this case it’s crotchets because the ‘4’
represents the number 4 in a quarter ¼).

Don’t worry if this is a little confusing for you now, just know that with this time
signature each bar would have to add up to four beats of your metronome. Your
teacher can explain in more detail how we use time signatures and you will become
familiar with them as you advance in your studies.

Once you understand note values, you can practise reading rhythms. This is a great
exercise for all instrumentalists and singers.

Clapping Rhythms

Clap the following rhythms with your metronome keeping a slow pulse of about 40 -
50 bpm (beats per minute). Remember to always count what you are clapping out
loud. You need to say the note values out loud as it helps your co-ordination with

For example:


Now try the following ones by yourself, get your teacher to help you if necessary:









You can challenge yourself by speeding up the metronome once you have
accomplished all rhythms at a slow speed. You may also want to try to clap rhythms
in a group, either the same exercise in unison or different ones at the same time.

Doing this exercise will help you to read music and develop your sense of time.
There are many good books available to help you practice rhythm. If you have
trouble finding some, you can source them on the internet or look at the drumming
books available in your local music shop.

Reading Music

It’s true that many musicians manage to have a career without the skill of reading
music. However, there is almost always a point where the lack of this skill will hinder
you or cause the loss of an opportunity to broaden your musical horizons. So why
limit yourself? Just like learning to read and write a language, the skill of being able
to read and write music is important because it allows you to communicate and
receive a wider range of ideas as well as connect with more musicians, broadening
your work and playing opportunities.

Some people will develop the skill of reading notated music, (i.e, music written on
the stave) better than others. If you intend to play classical music, being able to
read efficiently and at sight may take a lot more of your practice energy than if you
decided to pursue jazz or popular music, where the skill of improvising over chords
will take more of your time. What is important, however, is to be able to read music
so you can learn all the pieces you like.

For singers, the skill of reading music is very helpful. It means you can take a piece
of sheet music home and work out the melody, perhaps by playing it on the piano or

There are two main aspects to reading music. We have already covered one, which
was how to read rhythm. The other one is how to read pitch. Firstly, you need to
understand that, unlike interpreting chord symbols, reading notated music is exact
and every note you play or sing can be written down so precisely that someone
reading a piece of music on the other side of the world will interpret the notes and
play them exactly the way you play them.

Let’s look at how Western music is organised. (I am specific about the term
“Western” because there are other cultures that organise and communicate their
music in different ways.)

Look at the illustrated keyboard below. Can you see a repetitive pattern of black
and white keys?

Diagram 2

Gb Ab Bb Db Eb Gb Ab Bb Db Eb Gb Ab Bb Db Eb

Music Made Easy
Much of the time music can be seen in patterns. Being able to make sense of
music by interpreting patterns will make learning easier and you will be able to
understand what it is you are trying to do much better. Once you can see how a
pattern works, you can apply it from any starting point (or note).

Each key has a name that is repeated in the next octave. An octave is the name
given to the space between a given note and where it repeats in the next series, for
example, from C to C is an octave.

Western music works on the basis of a “tempered scale” or a scale that divides the
octave into 12 equal semitones. A semitone is the shortest distance between two
notes. For example, from C to C# is a semitone.

A SHARP (#) raises a note by one semitone. Some people call this distance a half-

A FLAT (b) lowers a note by one semitone or half-step.


The black keys on the piano are no less important or any different to the white keys in terms of
how they fit into music. The reason the piano has different coloured and shaped keys is so it
can be played more easily. Imagine if the piano was all white keys… it would be very long and
hard to reach its extremes and it would be difficult to locate the notes. So remember it is only a
matter of design that the piano looks the way it does… and a good design it is too! If you lay
your fingers over the top of the black notes you will see how it easily fits the shape of your hand.

Some notes have two names as you can see in Diagram 2, F sharp (#) is the same
note as G flat (b). These notes will be called one name or the other depending on
their relationship to other notes, just like you may be called by your first name in
some situations with people, or by a nick name when you are with other people….
depending upon your relationship to them. Right now, though you can use either

Notice how semitones don’t only occur between black and white notes but also
some white notes, for example, B and C. Therefore, C can sometimes be called B
sharp and B can sometimes be called C flat!

Name some other semitone distances:

_____ to ____ is a semitone

_____ to ____ is a semitone
_____ to ____ is a semitone
_____ to ____ is a semitone
_____ to ____ is a semitone

A TONE equals two semitones (hence the name semi-tone referring to a half-tone or

C to D is a tone. Name 5 other tones:

_____ to ____ is a tone

_____ to ____ is a tone
_____ to ____ is a tone
_____ to ____ is a tone
_____ to ____ is a tone

How to Read Pitch


This is a staff or stave. We use it for writing the pitch of notes.

This is a treble clef

This is a bass clef

The clefs used for your instrument will indicate where other notes are in relation to
middle C. Although the treble and bass clefs are the most commonly used clefs,
there exist others that better cover the range of their instruments. For example, the
viola will use the alto clef (illustrated below) and compares where middle C is in
relation to the treble and bass clefs.

Here is how we write notes on the stave. I have written them using semibreves, but
you could write them using any of the rhythm types:


__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __


this note is Middle C

Here is a way to remember the notes printed in the Treble Clef.





Here is a to remember Bass Clef notes.





One way you can get better at reading pitch is by doing the “pitch recognition”
exercise. Here, you will notice random notes written on the stave. First, check
which stave you are reading in, treble or bass. Next, ask yourself whether the note
is printed on a line or in a space. The ‘poems’ above are intended to help you
remember the pattern of notes in each clef (you may even like to make up your own
poems to remember them), but they only work for the notes within the stave. For

notes such as middle C and D you will have to remember what they look like or work
them out by counting down or up from notes can work out on the stave.

You can do this exercise by yourself, but make sure you check the answers written
below or do the exercise with a partner.

Pitch Recognition Exercise










Being a musician is like being an athlete in that you are using your body, your motor
skills for co-ordination and dexterity, and muscles for strength and flexibility.
Athletes are constantly training in order to be able to give their best performance
and so must musicians. Warm ups and exercises should be a strong feature of your
practice routine because without technical ability you will be limited in what you can
express in your music.

Think about the great music performances you have seen. What is it about these
performances that inspire you? One of them is bound to be the ease with which the
musicians play their instruments or sing. When music flows effortlessly there is
room for feeling and communication. Sometimes artists make the playing of music
look so easy you could imagine them being able to carry out a number of other tasks
while playing, such as speaking on the phone or watching TV! These artists have
spent many hours becoming familiar with their voices and instruments, routinely
playing through scales and exercises in order to get to know their instrument so
completely that making music for them is as easy as eating or walking is for most of
us (and remember we had to learn that too).

John Coltrane, a famous jazz saxophone player and composer;

“…would practice his horn for many hours each day. In

these periods of acquiring technique, Trane truly found
himself, and found a way to musically express his
experiences and feelings. He was genuinely obsessed with
the basics of his horn, the basics of his sound. A musician
once recounted to me how Coltrane's practice sessions
went (I'm not exactly sure how the musician actually found
this out, since Trane rarely practiced with anyone else, but it
fits Coltrane's personality and musicianship so well that I
tend to believe it). First he played an entire hour of only
whole notes, focusing exclusively on his tone. Then came
another hour of just half notes, then another hour of quarter
notes, working on scales, arpeggios, along with his tone.
Next was an hour of eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and
faster runs, incorporating everything he had done so far with
speed as well. He would then spend a few hours working on
exercise books for other instruments, such as violin and
harp. Finally came time spent on actual songs or
compositions, which would often consume a few more
hours. … He was simply never content with the skill he
achieved, the harmonic knowledge he had, the success of
his work, or simply the sound of his horn. What is most
remarkable was his tireless dedication to the technical
mastery of his craft, not for its own sake (which is what far
too many musicians dedicate themselves to), but for the

sake of expressing himself in ways he hadn't yet found."
Derek Wright (accessed 24 January

The reality for most of us is that we won’t be able to practise as hard or for as long
periods as John Coltrane did but this doesn’t mean music goals can’t be achieved.

Music Made Easy

Try to dedicate at least a third to a half of your practice to technical exercises.
Practise these exercises in time with a metronome so that you can further develop
your rhythmic skills.

Scales, arpeggios and chord inversions for tuned instruments (i.e. piano, guitar,
saxophone, flute etc) are technical exercises you will probably become familiar with.
For drums, percussion and untuned instruments there exist a number of technical
exercises or rudiments on par with these. Such exercises help us to develop the
muscles we need to play, develop a familiarity with the instrument, become familiar
with keys (your teacher will explain what keys are when you are ready) and help us
to become better improvisers.

Practising Scales with Metronome

• For pianists, practise each exercise first with the right hand and then with the
left hand or vice versa. Sometimes it’s better to start with your weaker side.

• Learn your major scales in all twelve keys. This can take up to a year or
more in order to reach a level of ease. If you learn all your major scales, you
pretty much have all your minor scales covered too! If you want to know why,
look up dorian modes and relative minor or natural minor scales.

• If you are a singer, you only need to sing through one or two octaves of the
scale and become familiar with major and minor tonality. In other words, you
don’t need to learn the scales in all keys as long as, given any starting note, you
can sing a major and minor scale from that point.

• Set your metronome at a low speed, preferably 40 – 50 beats per minute –

‘bpm’. (All examples are in C major)

Activity 1

Your scale in CROTCHETS for two octaves.

Metronome: x x x x x x

You play: | | | | | |

C D E F G A etc

Activity 2

Your scale in QUAVERS for two octaves.

Metronome: x x x x x x

You play: | | | | | | | | | | |
C D E F G A B C D E F etc

Activity 3

Your scale in SEMIQUAVERS or DOUBLES for two octaves.

Metronome: x x x x x x

You play: | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
C C D D E E F F G G A A B B C C D D E E F etc

Activity 4

Your scale in TRIPLETS for three octaves.

Metronome: x x x x x x

You play: | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F etc

For Teachers:

Here are some commonly asked questions about practising scales with metronome
and how I would answer:

Q I find that when I’m playing the scale, it feels too slow. Can I make the
metronome faster as I get better?

A. It is very important that you learn to play slowly. It is much harder than playing
quickly because when many people try to play quickly, they sacrifice rhythm and
technique. If you can play something perfectly slowly, you will be able to play it
perfectly when you speed up the time and develop muscle memory. Remember
that the aim of this exercise is to learn how to divide a beat as well as learn your
scales with the right technique and fingering. As you get better at each activity,
just keep subdividing. I am currently subdividing so that I play 11 notes in each
beat. This is a life-long exercise. Who knows, in another ten years, I may be
able to play 20 notes in each beat!

Q It’s really hard to play in time with the metronome and to divide the beat. What
am I doing wrong?

A You are doing nothing wrong. Developing the skill to play with a metronome can
take a while, but it is a very important skill to acquire. If you want to be a good
musician, you need to develop a good sense of time and this is one way to do it.
The way to start is just to sit and listen to the metronome, feel the beat in your
body and when you can move your body in time to the beat, start to play. If you
are subdividing, say playing quavers (two notes to a beat), clap and/or say the
rhythm first, “one and two and” so on, then start playing. If you lose your beat or
co-ordination, don’t worry, just start again and keep at the exercise for a
maximum of ten minutes.


“Their song was unlike anything I’d ever heard, and the hair
on the back of my neck stood on end, as though Joseph
were tickling me with a stalk of grass…. They sang the
words in unison, yet somehow created a web of sound with
their voices. It was like hearing a piece of fabric woven with
all the colors of a rainbow. I did not know that such beauty
could be formed by the human mouth. I had never heard
harmony before.” The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Just as fabric possesses the ability to form infinite textures, so does harmony. It is a
subject that can sustain your interest in music over a lifetime and is something that
can move our souls on a very deep level.

What is harmony?

• Harmony is a progression of chords throughout a piece of music.

• A chord has two or more notes sounding at the same time (unless the two
notes are an octave apart).

Basic western harmony is derived from scales and is referred to as diatonic

harmony. Following is an explanation of how diatonic harmony is formed from

The notes in a C major scale are C D E F G A B C D E F G etc. If we take every

other note of the scale three notes at a time, for example C, E and G, we can build
chords called triads. The first chord, C E G, is a major chord because it is the first
chord we can make from the C major scale but also it fits the pattern of a major
chord (see below).

Other possibilities would be:

ACE and

The bottom note of these chords is referred to as the ROOT NOTE.

Use a real piano or Diagram 2 to see these triads, taking note of the patterns they
form on the keyboard. Try to find how major and minor chords differ from each
other, eg C major and C minor. Here is what a teacher said about teaching one of
his students harmony:

“… when I was going back through constructing chords I showed
her how you only had to move the third finger a semitone above
or below to get either a minor or major chord. I think finding these
little patterns can make it so much easier.”

Diagram 3

Here is how you can construct major and minor chords from any starting point or any


5th 5th
Count up 3 semitones Count up 4 semitones

Maj 3rd Min 3rd

Count up 4 semitones Count up 3 semitones

Start Root note Start Root note

Here here

For example:

Root note (bottom note) D then F then A Play them together and you have a D
minor triad. It is a minor chord
because it fits the pattern of a minor

Root note (bottom note) E then G then B Play them together and you have an
E minor triad.

Root note (bottom note) F then A then C Play them together and you have an
F major triad.

And we could continue the pattern until we get back to C.

Note: Make sure when you count the semitones you don’t count the first note as
‘one’. Remember a semitone is a distance, so if you are counting from C you
have to make sure your first semitone is C to C#, C# to D your next one and
so on.

What is the difference between major and minor?

A chord creates a sound that makes us feel certain emotions. If you listen to the C
major chord, how does it make you feel? Comfortable? Happy? Sad? Now listen to
a C minor chord. How is that feeling different from the major chord? Some people

say that a major sound is happy and a minor is sad. Some of my students use the
terms comfortable for major, and tense for minor. It is only important that you can
feel a difference in the sounds they create.

When I first started learning classical piano, harmony was explained but it didn’t
make any sense to me. It was just a number of rules I had to learn to use but I didn’t
know why or how it worked. If you want to play jazz or popular music, you need to
know your harmony how’s and why’s and absorb it deeply so you can improvise and
compose. As with everything else in music, it takes time to learn and absorb
harmony, but if you cultivate patience, have good guidance and practice, you will
enjoy it.

The best way to begin learning chords is by playing them through in all their different
inversions, which means playing the notes of the chord in all the possible different
orders. For example, the notes of the C major chord are C E and G and we can play
them in three different positions:

1. C E and G - Called ‘Root Position” because the root note C is on the bottom.

2. E G and C - This is called first inversion, notice the C has now moved to the top,

3. G C and E - or second inversion, now the C is in the middle.

Chord inversions are used so we can move quickly and easily through the chord
changes in a piece of music. When using inversions, the different notes or ‘voices’
weave together to create inner melodies leading smoothly from one chord to the
next. This is called ‘voice leading’ and playing chords in their different positions is
sometimes called ‘voicing’.

All instrumentalists and singers, besides untuned percussion instruments like drums,
can play through the various chord inversions. If you play an instrument where you
can sound the notes together as well, like piano or vibraphone, do this exercise and
follow it by playing through all the positions with the notes sounding together (block

Chord Inversion Exercise

1. Choose a chord you wish to practise. Let’s use C major as an example. If you
play piano, try this hands separately at first but as you get better at it you can
play it through hands together.

2. When you are playing the chords up, use your extreme fingers, e.g. RH 1st
finger (thumb) and LH 5th finger (‘pinkie’). When you are coming down, reverse
the fingers. It doesn’t really matter which fingers you use for other notes as
long as the extreme fingers are used on the first note of each pattern.

3. Play, C then E then G, then E, G, C, then G, C, E and continue playing this

through the octaves. Make sure you are very aware that you are playing a C
major chord the whole time and even say it out loud if you can, eg. “I am
playing C major, this is C major”, so you associate the pattern you are seeing
and feeling with a C major chord and when you see that symbol on a page of
music, your hands will play the right notes automatically.

4. Reverse the exercise coming down through the octaves so playing G, E, C
then E, C, G then C, G, E etc.

5. When you have finished playing through these inversions as arpeggios (broken
chords) play them as block chords, hands separately, if your instrument allows.

6. Make sure you do this exercise in time with the metronome set at a slow

For Teachers:

Here are some commonly asked questions about the chord inversion exercise and
how I would answer:

Q. There are too many chords to play through and I get bored of this exercise.

A. Use maximum timings in your practice session, say 10 minutes, and pick only two
chords per practice session to work on. You may have practised your scale in C
so just work on C major and C minor triads. If you are more advanced in your
studies, apply this exercise to Major 7th chords, Minor 7th chords, Dominant
Chords and Diminished 7th chords and also just do a key per day. Make sure you
set your metronome to a manageable speed, so you can play through the
exercise smoothly, eventually by working methodically, you will cover all your
chords and they will become easy.

Q. It’s fine doing the exercise but I can’t remember the notes when I see the chord

A. In this exercise, it is not important that you use your memory to know the notes,
but you use your muscle memory, that is the memory in your fingers of positions
and the way it feels or how it looks to you. It is very important to be aware of the
chord you are practising. You will find that if you just keep doing the exercise
over and over, in time you will associate the pattern with the chord symbol.


We are unique Beings and therefore need to discover our unique way of practising.
For example, I find I like to do my technical exercises early in the morning and my
creative work later in the day but this does not always fit in with my work schedule or
even the way I feel sometimes, so I need to be able to adapt my practise to ever-
shifting circumstances. The Practise Diary will help you to explore what works best
for you. Discuss with your teacher the challenges of making practise a part of your
life so they can give you some good ideas on how to tackle them. The best time for
you to play your instrument is when you can relax, find some privacy and when you
don’t feel too tired.

Many school children have after school activities making it difficult to find a time to
practise, however, consider the times after school, either just after a snack on
returning home or just before dinner or just after dinner. For parents, practise times to
consider are just before the end of the school day or early in the morning or after
children are in bed.

For many reasons, it may take a while to find the time and space in your life to
practise. Try starting with very short sessions when you first begin learning your
instrument, say, five to fifteen minutes at a time. As you progress, you can lengthen
these sessions, or do several short sessions throughout the day. Consistency is the

A very common problem is the thought that “if I can’t practise for at least half an hour
or an hour it isn’t worth me sitting down to it”. Instead of giving into this thought, grab
five or ten minutes throughout your day and you will feel content that you have
connected with your music and surprised by how much you can actually progress with
these short times.

Music Made Easy

Aim to just touch your instrument every day.


Making your practice space supportive to your work can improve its quality.
Compare your working space to a best friend that is welcoming and there for you at
all times. Try to make it a place where everything you need is easy to access
without having to set up or search for resources and equipment. You don’t need a
whole room for this. It can just be a corner of one room dedicated to the task of
learning your instrument.

Ideally your practise space should have:

• Privacy (and most likely quiet, though you may choose to have music or some
other background noise)

• Your equipment

• A clock or timer

• Pens (to write in your Practise Diary)

• Resources (e.g. reference books, tapes, videos, CDs etc.)

• Practise Diary

• Heating or cooling to a comfortable temperature

• Ornaments which calm, inspire and please your aesthetic taste (e.g. posters,
incense, flowers, books, sayings etc)

• Drinking water


To be present with your activities you need to be able to concentrate so that you can
fully absorb the learning taking place. If other people or animals are in your space
they may cause distraction. Ideally, peace and quiet should be available to you -
both inwardly and outwardly, so if you do find that you have something pressing to
do and you can't quite concentrate because you keep thinking about it (eg, eating,
washing, paying a bill etc) do what you need to do and come back to your session
later, that way the quality and enjoyment of your playing will be better. If there is too
much disturbance in your practice environment, try to find ways of escaping it e.g.
can you use earplugs or headphones or, try coming back to your work later.


Obviously, it is very important to have the equipment you need to learn your
instrument, however, the reality is that when you are beginning to learn, you may not
be sure you will want to continue or you may not have the money to invest in buying
whatever is needed. There are often ways to overcome this and maybe your
teacher can help by lending you some equipment or putting you in touch with
government schemes or other students who are selling theirs. I have known

drummers who have begun to learn co-ordination exercises with phone books and
sticks or pianists who have been able to play the keyboard at their local church or a
friend’s house. Sometimes it can be beneficial to start out without just the basics
because you will find ways to be more creative and inventive.

A clock or timer

It is important to know how long you spend on each exercise and make sure you do
not spend too much time on any one aspect of your music while sacrificing time
spent on another.

Often ten to fifteen minutes and sometimes less is enough time spent on any one
task because you will only improve in this amount of time. If you spend more time,
say on trying to get the fingering right for scales, you may start to actually get worse
at the activity after five minutes. This is an observation I have made from my own
practice and that of my students, i.e. that there is an optimum learning time. For
example, you may improve and start to get what you have set out to do in an
exercise but if you continue for too long, you may start to get worse. I call this a
‘saturation point’ because, like a sponge, we can only absorb so much in any one
sitting. You will know when you have reached a saturation point because you will
start to ‘lose’ what you were able to do a couple of minutes ago and begin to feel
frustrated or even tired. When this happens it is vital you move on to another task.
When you come back to the activity in your next session, you will find an
improvement and you can work on it again.


These will be needed to fill in your Practise Diary and note any questions or
reflections/conclusions which arise when you are learning alone. Note things down
as you experience them because often, if you leave it until after your session, you
will forget important realisations or what you wanted to ask your teacher. Keeping
track of what you have done in each practice session ensures you will not forget to
do the work you have set out to do between your lessons. You may also want to
note down ideas that come to you during your session, even if they are not related to
music. I often find I remember I have to do certain daily chores when I am
practicing. Just note them down in your Diary and you won’t have to worry about
having to remember to do them.


It is always good to have your resources organised and readily available to you. If
you receive handouts during the week from your teacher, keep them in good
condition by using folders and make sure you know how to find them quickly. The
information you receive on how to practise each task must be implemented as
precisely as possible because if you practise something incorrectly, it will take you
double the time to break the habit and relearn to do it the right way – so refer to your
notes. If you don’t understand your resources, you can leave that work for the week
and clarify it with your teacher at a later time.

Practice Diary

Your Practise Diary helps you to keep track of what you are doing and note down
important information to bring to your teacher next lesson so they can better guide

your learning. Keep the Diary in your practice space and use it to your best ability.

A comfortable temperature

If you are uncomfortable, too cold or too hot, it is going to be a lot harder for you to
concentrate and achieve the best mental state required for progress. So, if possible,
regulate the temperature of your environment to suit you.

Ornaments which calm and inspire

Keeping in mind the practice space should be a place you want to be in, you may
like to use sensory objects such as pictures, music or incense which help you to
relax and inspire you. I noticed that when I moved recently, my singing students
were complaining I had no pictures on the wall to look at while they were singing.
They said that looking at the pictures I had before helped them be more present with
their music because their mind didn’t wander.

Drinking water

Playing your instrument or singing can often make you thirsty. Having some water
to hand saves you from breaking the flow of your session by having to go elsewhere
to have a drink. Water is also good for concentration, performance and endurance,
all of which you are using in your as you play.


What does it mean to practise well? Mainly it is that you endeavour to cover all
aspects of music such as technique, harmony, creativity and rhythm while ensuring
your practise time is ACE.


This means setting realistic targets for yourself, for the future and present. For
example, if you have just started to learn your instrument, you wouldn’t set a target
of playing a Bach fugue straight away. This would be unrealistic because you have
not yet developed the skills required for it, but you may set a target of learning how
to read music on the stave and working on your scales so that later you will be able
to play the fugue.

Making your practice achievable means knowing how to go about your learning.
Your teacher will help you with this but if you always think about breaking down your
work into small, manageable chunks you will be successful. When it is time to learn
the Bach fugue, it will be easier and quicker to accomplish if you use the following

How to learn a notated piece of music

1. Acquaint yourself with the key of the piece. As a preparatory exercise, you
could practise the scale in that key, making yourself aware of where sharps or
flats occur.

2. Begin with the first note or chord. If you are playing an instrument where co-
ordination between hands is required, include this. Though the technique of
separating right hand and left hand parts before putting them together is
sometimes applicable, it can be quicker and easier to co-ordinate hands as you

3. Proceed from the first to the second notes, repeating until easy, and, then

from the second to the third notes, and so on until you are able to play through
the first bar. Play the bar over and over again until it is easy. Make sure you
settle on fingering that is comfortable and works well in the piece and use this
fingering every time.

Learning music is also about training muscle memory, so teach your fingers the
‘dance’ routine by drilling the movements. As you do this you will also be
learning the sound of the piece and how it feels to play it.

4. Go through the same process to learn the second bar and when you have
done this, play bar one followed by bar two. You may find you have trouble
joining them, so practise going from the last section of bar one to the beginning
section of bar two until it is easy, then play the piece from the beginning again.

5. When you are able to play the first two bars easily, work on bar three in the
same way, however, when you come to joining bar two and three make sure
you work only on this join. Be careful not to always begin the piece from bar
one. This can waste time. You need to pinpoint the areas to work on. Many
times I have heard people play the first four bars of a piece brilliantly while the
rest of it slowly falls apart. This happens because whenever a mistake or
difficulty has occurred, the practitioner has begun the piece from bar one,
played until they hesitated or tripped up and gone back to play from bar one
again. Obviously nothing will get sorted out this way, although your first bars
will be brilliant!

Here is what one piano teacher says about implementing this method of learning;

“We worked a bit more on “St Louis Blues”. Once again I understand
the importance of breaking things down into small sections and
repetition. I could tell that my student was struggling a bit with it but as
soon as we broke it down and repeated it a few times she was able to
get it.” - Leon Sampson

Music Made Easy

Pinpoint the area you wish to work on

Devise an exercise to concentrate on that area

Practise this exercise slowly and concisely

Repeat until you can do it easily

Spend no more than ten to fifteen minutes of your practice session

on the exercise, then move on to something else

If your practice is too easy you will become bored and if it is too hard you may start
to feel incapable. However, you need to be challenged so you are interested and
motivated to keep learning. In order to find the ‘challenge’ in your work, have
something in mind that you strongly desire to do. It could be to learn a piece you
particularly like or want to perform. Work with your teacher and explore how you
can best achieve this goal, firstly by doing exercises relating to this task, then
building upon the exercises until you are able to achieve your goal. If you can relax
and just be present with the process of learning to sing or play your instrument, you
will be able to fully enjoy music.

After some time of teaching a student I will ask them if they can imagine what their
lives would be like without playing or singing. When they say they can’t imagine not
doing their music practise, I know they are on a healthy path because music has
become a life-enhancing pastime and not something in which they are competing to
get to the finish line.

“I am enjoying learning music at a mature age. Firstly, for the first time
in my life I have the time to practise and play, after years of full-time
work and raising a family.

“Lessons are at a steady pace and at a level I can cope with. Each
week the lesson does not progress until you fully understand the
previous lesson.

“Learning music at a mature age is purely on your own terms. You

don’t have to please anyone but yourself. For me it is purely for my
own inner healing. It’s very focussed with a positive outcome and I
can look towards the future knowing I will continually improve.” –
Pauline Lathbury, age 55

Sometimes you may feel pursuing music is all too much. You may feel disheartened
or demotivated and even want to give up. This often happens when you compare
your ability to others and realise how much time and work you need to do in order to
gain a certain skill. But at these times try to remember that there is no end to what
you can achieve and the process just takes as long as it takes. It is better not to put
a time limit on anything you are learning and just aim to get whatever you are doing
to a level of ease.

Music Made Easy

Make sure every musical task you do becomes as easy as riding a bike or driving a
car or eating, no matter how long it takes.

You will get results from all the work you put in, especially if you know how to
practise. Try to keep in mind what you love about music and focus on those good
feelings, whether you are playing a scale or a sonata. Simply by being fully present
and attentive to every task you carry out in music, you will reap rewards.

It is helpful if you can regularly look back and see how far you have come since you
began learning. You could play for several lifetimes and still not exhaust your
musical possibilities. I often wonder if Dracula, who was immortal, may have been
happier pursuing a music career. At least that way he could have become the
greatest musician ever, honing his art over several thousands of years!

(a cartoon of Drac being a musician would be good here… here are some examples
I found on the internet)

For Teachers:

Celebrating Achievements

Celebrating your students’ achievements provides them with markers in the learning
journey. Every three months or so, my students and I stage a public performance at
a local restaurant. Families are invited and everyone enjoys an evening of food and
entertainment. In subsequent lessons we record the pieces and at the end of the
year a CD is released for students to keep. This three-tiered process provides
performance and recording experience while recognising the students’ achievement.
They are then motivated to continue to learn and improve because they can see,
hear and prove the their new skills.

Celebrating students’ achievements can take the form of accepting praise from you
or putting on a small performance for their friends and family, doing some home
recording or attending an exam and gaining a certificate.

The Practise Diary

Music is an emotional, physical and mental activity. So when you are practising an
instrument or singing, you can observe your responses to learning on these levels
and use your insights to formulate the best way for you to progress. The Practise
Diary documents your learning experience and helps you to stay motivated. If you
use the Diary you will be able to create your own learning map and with this you will
be able to navigate your music journey, giving you a greater chance of arriving
safely at your various destinations.

For Teachers:

Creating Your Practise Diary

Following is an example of a blank Practise Diary. I use this format for my keyboard
students. On the cover I put my contact information and the student’s name, as well
as the title of the book (e.g. “Practise Diary”). This is so the resource is easily
identifiable, and my contact details can be accessed without any trouble in case the
student needs to ring me to ask for clarification.

Two pages per week are used. On the left hand side is a calendar-type grid and, on
the right, a list of exercises plus room for reflective work. These pages are the same
every week and they are bound into a book with about 12 weeks’ worth of practise.

When the diary is finished, the student and I read back through past reflections and
practise pages summarising achievements and realisations as well as outlining what
they will do in the next months to continue their learning. This is always a gratifying
experience as many students are often surprised at how much they have learned
during this time, and by reading back through the Diary it also becomes clear what
needs to be done in future. The act of filling out the ‘Practise Outline’ page and
looking at achievements, realisations and future direction gives students more
confidence and motivation.

Music Made Easy
Phone Number, Email:

Practise Diary

Name ________________

Date What I have practised Tutorial Comments
Code Duration Comments/Notes

Total Time

Total Time

Total Time

Total Time

Total Time

Total Time

Total Time
Code Exercise Duration
1 5 Finger (breath-focussed ex) 2–3
TECHNICAL 2 Scales with metronome 10 – 15

8 Free Improvisation 2
CREATIVE 9 Play Along 5 – 10
10 Listening to Music (Doing 10
nothing else!!)
11 Writing a song 10 – 15
12 Transcribing a song 30
15 Chord inversion exercise 5 – 10
HARMONY 16 Reading chordal piece of music 10 – 15
22 Pitch Recognition 5 - 10
READING 23 Learning notated piece of music 10 – 15
(Note which one)
24 Working on a performance 10 – 15
piece (Note which one)
27 Clapping rhythms 10


Reflection Date:
Practise Outline

From to I have achieved: (insert dates of diary period)

My practice aims are:

During this period of practise I have realised:


Calendar Page (left hand side of book)

Column 1 - Knowing times and days of the week you worked can help you see if it is possible to
establish a routine. If you can’t always establish a routine, that’s ok, but at least you can get an
idea of which days and times benefit your practise.

Column 2 ‘Code’ – Here you write the code of the activity carried out. The code descriptions are
on the opposite page. I have given each exercise a number because it saves you having to write
down the exercise name in full every time you do it.

Column 3 ‘Duration’ – Write down how long you spend on each exercise (in minutes) and total the
time after each session. At the end of the week, total these times to see how long you worked on
your music.

Column 4 ‘Comments/Notes’ – This is space to write, for example, in what key you practised your
exercises, any realisations, questions for your teacher, or even a shopping list if you don’t want to
forget anything which occurs to you as you are working. It helps you keep track of what is
happening for you in each session.

Column 5 ‘Tutorial Comments’ – During your lesson your teacher uses this space to note down
any information so that you can practise your music at home with confidence. This means they
may clarify some of your work in the lesson with notes supporting your practise for that week.
Make sure you refer to these because if you learn something incorrectly, it will take you longer to
relearn the correct way.

Practise Guide Page (opposite page)

The first column of this page is a breakdown of the five main aspects of music: technique,
creativity, harmony, reading and rhythm.

The next column titled ‘code’ gives a number for each activity you will be working on. Your teacher
simply circles the number to let you know what you should be practising and in the next column,
the exercise name is written. I have only included the exercises described in the previous chapter
to give you an idea of where they fit into the five aspects of music. I include various other
exercises for my students, but I also leave some blank spaces in each area so that as each
student progresses, different activities can be included according to their strengths and
weaknesses. Exercises will change over time and they can be added or subtracted in the Diary.
The Practise Diary is therefore a flexible resource with the ability to cater to individual skill levels.

The final column headed ‘Duration’ gives you an idea of how long to spend on each exercise. I
call these optimum times, and following them helps to maintain a balanced practise schedule.
With experience you will eventually get to know the feel of an activity and how long is too long or
too short a time to spend on it. The important thing is that you get around to practising everything
circled during the week and not just spend time working on what is easy for you. Remember your
practise needs to be ACE!

At the bottom of the page is space for you to write your weekly reflection. Here are some ideas you
can write about. You don’t have to answer all these questions but you can choose some to prompt
your writing if you are having difficulty.

1. Were you happy with the amount/quality of practise you did? If so, why? If not, why not?

2. What progress do you think you are making? Are you happy with this?

3. What needs more work?

4. Did you see or hear anything to do with music that inspired you?

5. Are there any improvements you can make to your practise of music?

6. Do you have any questions for your tutor?

7. What motivates you?

8. What demotivates you?

9. What obstacles, if any, are you facing?

10. Can you think of any solution to these obstacles?

(Refer to following Chapter, ‘Navigation’, for more ideas)

Practise Outline Page (final page)

This page is filled out by reading back through all reflections and writing down salient points in
each of the categories. Under the ‘achievement’ heading write down what you have learned in the
period of using the Practise Diary. This could be anything from how to read music, to
accomplishing a performance or completing a grade exam (or all three!). You will be surprised
and very happy when you realise what you have been able to achieve in three months.
Recognising achievement is vital for building confidence and a positive attitude toward learning.

Under the heading ‘practise aims’, write down anything that was spoken about or written down in
the Diary which hasn’t yet been achieved. This could be a piece you talked about learning or an
exercise which wasn’t attainable at the time, or ideas about what you would like to do, for example,
joining a band. These aims give you some direction for the next period of time.

The heading ‘realisations’ helps you to remember what has worked for you in the past. You may
have realised that you practise better in the mornings or that you tend to ignore technique and
need to do it more, or that going to concerts or watching music documentaries inspires you. Any
observations made regarding how you relate to music are important to remember.

When you have completed filling in this page, take it out from the back of the Diary and place it at
the front of a new Diary so it can be referred to throughout the next three months in order to help
direct your learning.

Following is an example of a teacher and student’s work using the Practise Diary.
For Teachers:

Using the Practise Diary

“I have many students and the Diary helps me to maintain consistency of

challenge for them as well as a logical flow of lesson ideas. I not only
have a record of what happened in lessons for me but I know what
developments have taken place for the student and how they are feeling
about their studies. The Diary has become an integral part of my teaching
practice.” Donna May, piano teacher

Learning music requires the ability to work independently and this doesn’t come easily to many
people. Indeed, many of us who are still practising today have probably had to work out how to do
this. Personally, I feel I have ‘wasted’ time by not practising effectively and setting realistic goals,
thus I have lost motivation and even given up for long periods of time. How much more progress
could I have made if I had been taught how to deal with lack of motivation, to problem solve and
work on my studies in a way which gives positive results? However, they say “every cloud has a
silver lining” and the silver lining of my learning has been the development of Music Made Easy
which can be used support the students’ independent practise of music. It also aims to help make
teaching more effectively and enhances the relationship with your own music and that of your

The Practise Diary is at the centre of Music Made Easy providing the means with which to
diagnose individual learning requirements of students, track progress and clarify communication
and information between teacher and the student. Most importantly, the Diary helps to cultivate
lifelong learning skills which are essential for the long-term pursuit of music practice and include
the skills of self-evaluation and problem-solving as well as the development of intellect, capability
and confidence.

Students using the Diary become conscious of the active role they take in learning and are
encouraged to explore their likes, dislikes, motivation, goals and achievements with the result that
they gain confidence in their capacity to learn and work independently.

“…A teacher’s prime task is to engage the student in the learning process. What

the student does to learn is more important than what the teacher does to teach.”

Each week your students fill in the details of their practise. You will be able to see on what days
they worked, what they did and how long they spent on it. You will also get feedback, through their
reflective work, on how they are feeling about their progress and anything needing further
clarification. By looking at the previous weeks’ work, you will know what you did in the last lesson
and how to progress learning from there. You will also be able to deduce motivation levels, work

Teaching Skills in Further & Adult Education, David Minton, City and Guilds of London Institute, 1997
needing revision and how your student is managing practise at home. The information is detailed
and easy for students to communicate to you and the Practise Diary provides a flexible format,
which can be tailored to suit your teaching style and your subject. However, when you design your
Practise Diary you need to include some basic aspects shown in the above example. Let me
explain these further:

1. A list of exercises

I have included some of the exercises I use for my students, however, there are various
others and you will likely have some of your own to include. The exercises, which should
actually be printed in the Diary are ones which will always need to be practised such as
rudiments and scales. These exercises are practised at different levels, for example faster
or with more complex technique, but they are a constant in the routine, no matter how
advanced a student is.

It is useful to put the exercises into one of the five main categories of music but you may
need to change these categories depending on the instrument you are teaching. For
example, if you teach percussion, harmony would not be one of the main aspects your
student needs to learn. By dividing exercises into the main music aspects for your
instrument you are making sure that the learning taking place covers foundations and are
constantly being maintained. Of course, some activities do have the capacity to exercise
more than one area of music at the same time. For example, scales with metronome is not
only a technical exercise, it is also a harmonic and rhythmic exercise, so it is up to you in
which category you wish to place it.

2. Space for individual exercises

To ensure the Diary can cater to individual needs and varying skill levels, each category of
exercises has some blank space where you can write down additional activities depending
on student needs. Having space for this means the Diary is a flexible resource and can be
used from beginner to advanced levels.

3. Tutorial notes

How many times have students said that they would know how to practise after a lesson but
once they got home they were not able to because they forgot how? We forget 70% of all
newly learned information within the first 24 hours (fig 1). That’s why revision is such an
important part of teaching and learning. Using the Diary to make notes from the lesson
gives the student clarification on how to do exercises when they are practising at home.
You can also use this section of the Diary to write the names of other resources or dates of
concerts and any other relevant information your student needs. The fact that these
important notes are kept in one book means you and your student can look back and know
what happened in the last lesson, giving you a better idea of how to continue in the next
4. Reflective journal

Encouraging your students to reflect every week on what is happening for them in music
ensures you are helping them to develop self-evaluation and problem-solving skills. Try to
encourage your students to do this work as deeply as possible. Their reflections give you
insight into what is happening emotionally for them and will aid you in supporting their
learning more effectively. Some students may have difficulty reflecting but you can help
them with this during the lesson by discussing points they have brought up and asking
relevant questions. I think it is also important that students know that they won’t disappoint
you and get ‘in trouble’ if they don’t practise. If you find a student is not practising, try to find
out why and help them set realistic goals which may be just playing for five minutes every

5. Comments/Notes

Often questions arise during the week, which if not written down, may never get asked by
your student. This column provides a convenient space for them to write these down.
Basically, this space in the Diary is for your student to write notes for themselves including
anything from what page they are up to in a textbook, or what key they practised that day to
remembering what to put on their shopping list. Providing them with a space to write these
things means they don’t have to leave their practise and interrupt their concentration to write
anything down, or worry about forgetting something.

6. Practise Outline

This should be filled out approximately every 12 weeks. The discoveries you make here will
give you a clear outline of what has been achieved and where your students are heading.
By reading back through all reflections and notes made in the Diary and summarising what
has been achieved, what has been realised and what hasn’t been completed yet or needs
revisiting, you will be able to see clearly learning which has taken place, where you are
presently and where you need to go in the future. When you have made the appropriate
notes on the Practice Outline, tear out this page and place it at the front of the next Practise
Diary so it can be referred to for direction in future.

This is one reason it is important to encourage students to reflect, because by doing this
work they can become conscious of their achievements and be able to see where they are
heading. Filling out this page often creates a sense of accomplishment and excitement for
the student, providing a powerful motivation.

7. Your practise

"In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me "underground," I

knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them, as it were. I felt not only
violent resistance to this, but a distinct fear. For I was afraid of losing
command of myself and becoming a prey to the fantasies - and as a
psychiatrist I realized only too well what that meant. After prolonged hesitation,
however, I saw that there was no other way out. I had to take the chance, had
to try to gain power over them; for I realized that if I did not do so, I ran the risk
of their gaining power over me. A cogent motive for my making the attempt
was the conviction that I could not expect of my patients something I did not

dare to do myself."

As teachers, we don’t always practise what we preach but I think we should at least practise. I
included this quote from Carl Jung because I think he had made a very important point, which is,
how can we expect our students to work and reflect using the Practise Diary, if we don’t have the
experience of using it ourselves? In order to create and optimise this resource, I urge you to use
the Diary for your own work in order to experience the outcome. You may be happy with it or you
may not, but one thing is for sure, you will learn something about yourself and your relationship to
music. Most likely you will be positively surprised by the outcomes, as I have myself. If you are
not surprised, you will gain confirmation that the work you are doing is leading you where you wish
to go. Either way, the Diary gives you cognition of your processes. If you can truly see what is
happening for you, you have more ability to choose your outcomes and if you can do this for
yourself, you can help your students do it for themselves too.

As teachers, we share our creative individuality and we will all have discovered ways to pass on
music. What is important is that we don’t feel there is only one way to do this. For as much as we
are individual and creative, so are our students, and it is our role to interact and encourage the
exploration of the music within each learner, to have fun with them and let them guide us to their
own achievements as much as we guide them. Implementing the Practise Diary, including the
above suggestions, provides us with an accessible method of encouraging our students to become
independent and active in their learning journey. It means we can be more effective and it makes
teaching music easier for us, and learning easier for them.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, p178
For Students:

“I like using the Practise Diary as with the variety of exercises, practise does
not become repetitive. The exercises are short and stimulating and I like to
keep changing from one to the other. This method of learning feels free and
allows for personal expression.” – Pauline Lathbury, aged 55

“I like the Practise Diary because you can keep track of how much practise
you have done. You don’t have to do all your practise in one go so you can
spread it out throughout the day. I’ve found that I might not feel like doing
practise and I think that I’ve done enough this week but when I look at the
diary I realise I haven’t done that much and it prompts me to do more.” - Nina
Cooke, aged 12

One of the reasons I love learning music now is that my ability and achievement reflects the time
and effort I have dedicated to practise. In the past, this has not been the case and I feel I have
wasted much time because I didn’t really know how to make my practise efficient and effective. I
have had to learn how to do this, resulting in the creation of the Practise Diary, which is the ‘hard
copy’ of a method proven to work for me and my students.

Using the Diary doesn’t take much effort but a certain amount of dedication to doing reflective work
(about 5 -10mins per week) and filling in your practise time and what you practiced so your teacher
can guide your work more effectively is required. The Diary essentially consists of two pages per
week outlining what is to be practised, along with supporting tutorial notes from your lesson. As
you carry out the exercises during the week, note them down along with other information
including the days you practised and the time spent on each exercise (you can even go into detail
about what times during the day you played as this can be useful when working out the times best
suited to work on your music). Every week, write a reflection about your feelings towards music,
your progress and anything that inspires you, motivates you or demotivates you. There is also a
space in the Diary to comment on what you are practising as you go, by writing down questions or
just make small notes for yourself. Every week, your teacher can use this information to guide and
support your learning. It is important to remember that the more information you can provide, the

Here is a more detailed explanation of the Diary and how to fill it out…

1. A list of exercises

You will notice a list of exercises. To begin with, you won’t be doing all of them but your
teacher will circle for you each week the ones which you need to practise, and explain how
to do them. Sometimes your teacher will write down extra exercises, which may change as
you progress.

2. Tutorial notes

In this column your teacher will make notes for you during the lesson to remind you how to
do particular exercises or list resources. It is very important you check these notes to make
sure you are practising correctly. When your teacher writes the notes for you, make sure
you will be able to understand them when you get home.

3. Reflective journal

Writing a reflective journal is the best way for you to discover what works for you and what
doesn’t, what you enjoy and what inspires you. If you become conscious of this, you will
learn how to make your practise effective as well as how you enjoy music. It is also a good
way to communicate your ideas and discoveries with your teacher, and can open up some
very interesting and supportive conversation between you. It is important you really make
the effort to sit down every week before your lesson and write. The next Chapter goes into
Reflective Learning in more detail.

4. Comments/Notes

Often when I am practising I remember that I have to run certain errands or ring someone.
Instead of worrying about forgetting these things I just write them down in this column and
do them when I have finished practising. This way, I can maintain full concentration.
Sometimes you may wish to write notes about what you discover while you are practising or
questions for your teacher.

5. Practise Outline

If you make the effort to do your reflective work, after your first three months you will be
excited to realise how much progress you have made. Apart from that, when you review
your reflections, you will gain a clear understanding of where you want to take your music,
what you enjoy, what works for you and how you can progress. It is always exciting to fill
out your Practise Outline and see what has been happening and what you need to do next.
You will most definitely feel a sense of achievement and be motivated to continue.

By using the Practise Diary to its full capacity from the moment you begin learning your instrument,
you will be acquiring some the most important skills needed for any learning experience – those of
self-evaluation, (which means being able to see what works for you and what doesn’t), and
reflection, (how you feel and what you discover about yourself as you are learning). All you are
required to do is fill out the Diary with honesty (so your teacher can really help you improve your
homework). The Diary is not about impressing anyone with how much practise you do, but about
developing the skills of self-evaluation, problem solving and reflection. Using the Diary does not
require much extra work at all and the more detail you give, the better you will know how to
progress your music for self-directed learning in the future.

In the following case study, you will read two consecutive weekly reflections from Simon, a 20
year-old piano student. After each reflection I will describe what he communicated to me, as a
teacher, and how I have used the information to aid his learning.

Reflection One

“This weeks’ practise wasn’t as good as some of the other weeks. I

need to change my practise around again for a change. I feel that there
is too much repetition and it is becoming a bit boring. I still feel that I’m
not making much progress. I think I need to choose some different
exercises instead of the same lot all the time. I need to work more on
“Infant Eyes” but I tend to avoid it because when I try practising the song
it sounds wrong. This is something I can fix anyway at my next lesson.”

It is obvious Simon is not really enjoying playing this week, sounds like he is in a bit of a rut. As a
teacher, this immediately sets off alarm bells because if Simon is bored, he won’t be as
interested in his playing, he won’t make much progress and could even decide to give up. I
don’t want that, and neither does he. However, Simon has helped me out by letting me know
what some of his problems are, he states “that there is too much repetition [in the practise
routine] and it is becoming a bit boring”. So, in the lesson I gave him some new exercises to
work on and we wrote out three different practise routines which included more creative

Simon has demonstrated good problem solving skills and has come up with a solution to the
dilemma himself – i.e. changing his practise routine and choosing some different exercises to
keep his work interesting. All I had to do as a teacher is demonstrate some of these. Simon’s
self-direction is an extremely positive sign that in the future he will be able to progress himself
without the necessity of a teacher.

In his reflection, Simon also talks about a problem with one of his pieces, which he wishes to fix in
his next lesson. So, apart from redesigning a practise routine, we spent the lesson attending
to this piece.

From this example you can see how Simon and I have worked together to make the lesson
relevant to his interests and sustain his motivation for learning. When a student is involved in
their own learning and communicates their needs and observations, they help me make
lessons relevant and interesting.

Reflection Two (the following week)

“I am happy with the new practise routine this week. I’m having a bit of
trouble with the new ii-V7-I exercise which I will sort out next lesson. The
new Hanon is getting a bit trickier as well, but it is good for a challenge. I
like the sound of “Wade in the Water” and I’m looking forward to how it
will sound at the end. I think I should spend some more time working on
my performance pieces to break the harmony exercises up a bit.”

Simon seems a lot happier this week because some new exercises and pieces challenged his
skills. He is even excited about learning “… looking forward to how [his piece] will sound at the
end.” I didn’t need to give him anything new to practise as he states that the ii-V7-I exercises and
the new Hanon were challenging enough.

Simon also comes up with a way to make his practise more enjoyable, i.e. by playing his
performance pieces in order to break up his harmony routine and do something more creative.

After just two years of learning with me, Simon now has a couple of students himself and is at
university studying composition. Because he is self-directed and able to take care of his music
practice, my role is now mostly in a mentoring capacity. Each week he runs his composition
ideas past me and we talk about what needs to happen for him to stay in touch with his music.
Sometimes we do some home recording and he is learning some challenging classical pieces.
He still keeps his Practise Diary and writes a reflection every week.
Reflective Learning

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“Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

When you look at your reflection in the mirror, do you have any thoughts about what you see?
And if you do, are your thoughts evaluative or judgmental? For example, “I’m too fat or too skinny”,
“I don’t like my hair” or “I like what I see…” Will you act upon these thoughts? Will you change
your clothes, do your hair, do some exercise, or eat more pies? It doesn’t matter what you decide,
the point is that looking at yourself caused you to think about what you saw and maybe even to act
upon those thoughts. This is what Reflective Learning is all about.

By observing your thoughts and feelings toward what you are learning, you will be able to gain
insight into your needs, possess a clearer view of how you are progressing and decide what
should happen in order for you to remain positive. Taking a short amount of time each week to
reflect can help you to navigate your journey through music.

Music Made Easy asks you to write a paragraph each week about your experience of learning.
Even if you haven’t managed to play all week, you will still benefit by writing because it is valuable
for you and your teacher to know how you are feeling. You don’t need to give excuses about why
you haven’t done any practise, but rather consider the following:

• Did you want to play music but couldn’t and therefore felt frustrated? Or did you find that
you didn’t want to play this week and it was good to have a break?

• Did you see or hear any music which inspired you or that you didn’t like? Why didn’t you
like the music or why did it inspire you?

• Were you feeling unmotivated this week? And if so, is this because you are finding your
practice routine too monotonous or not challenging enough? What do you think could be
done about it?

Take time to think about possible solutions to any difficulties you are experiencing and write them
down and/or discuss them with your teacher. If you write a reflection each week you will be able to
help your teacher to guide your learning and, at the same time, cultivate your skills of problem
solving and evaluation which are vital to your future as musician.

Confucius, The Confucian Analects, Chinese philosopher & reformer (551 BC - 479 BC)
My experience has shown me that many people find reflective writing challenging but it is a skill
that can be learned. Here are some tips to help you begin:

1. Sit down with your Diary and a pen, make sure you have at least five to ten minutes free to
write and you are in a comfortable space where you can be alone with your thoughts.
Maybe make yourself some tea or coffee and approach this activity with the knowledge that
it will be relaxing and enjoyable.

2. Look over your practise for the past week and think about some of the following questions.
(These can be useful just to get you started but you could write about something completely
different which has influenced your learning. Usually, once you begin writing you will find it
easy to write.)

• How do you feel about what you have or haven’t achieved?

• Are you excited about learning, do you feel demotivated or do you feel you are
moving at a steady pace?
• What activities did you enjoy most this week?
• Which exercises were difficult or frustrating?
• Do you have any questions for your teacher regarding these?
• Are you experiencing any barriers toward playing music?
• If so, are they environmental or emotional or do they have something to do with your
• What could you do to overcome these barriers?

3. If you still find it difficult to write, answer the above questions out loud and write down word
for word exactly what you say.

The act of writing (instead of just thinking) ensures you actually sit down to reflect. More
importantly, it provides a record of your learning which can give you a perspective on your music,
what your achievements are, your goals, and observations of yourself as a learner.

Reflection contains the key to your successful progress because when you think about the impact
of your learning, you observe and question. When you question, you will want to find answers and
when you are searching for answers you will find the best ways to overcome any difficulties you
may have. You will also discover musical activities which best suit your needs and you will be able
to adjust these activities as your needs change.

Acknowledging what is happening for you as you learn, as well as your achievements, is
something you may not normally be able to do without taking time to sit and write. Therefore,
Reflective learning is an activity that will inspire confidence and motivation to keep going. It is your
navigation tool because your observations point out what and how you are learning, where you
would like to go and the best direction for you to take in order to get there. If you do this work, you
become more active in your music and better the communication between you and your teacher.

Here is what Simon had to say about reflective writing.

“The reflective comments that I put into my Practice Diary at the end of each
week I have found are really helpful for discovering important issues, problems,
patterns and achievements that have come up during my practice for the week.
It’s interesting how when I write something down and really think about it, I end
up with a clearer understanding of how I feel about my practice, my piano
playing and just piano itself.

“It also gives me some time to look back at what I’ve been practicing, to see
what exercises and pieces I’ve been concentrating on and what I need to spend
more time on next week and what I like doing and dislike doing. Also it can
highlight factors outside of piano too, which might be affecting my practice
routine i.e. work, mood, time, and situation.

“Sometimes it’s difficult writing reflections because I simply don’t know what to
write about. At times, my practice for the week is very similar to the week
before, which can make it difficult to write something new. Usually if I give it
some thought, I can come up with something. Although at times I find that I’m
just going over what I’ve practiced in my reflections and not really giving much
thought to how I’m feeling, what inspires me, what motivates me, what I enjoy
about piano and what my goals are. These are the things that require a lot more
thought, but I think are really important to helping me with my future learning.
I’m going to try and think about these things more when I do my reflections from
now on.”

For Teachers:

“Implementing reflective learning has felt exciting as the lesson has become
more than just imparting information that I have deemed relevant. It has
become more of a two way process which incorporates feelings as well as
facts.” – Kate Gittins, Percussion, Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone Teacher -
aged 40

It is difficult to appreciate how much reflective work can help to advance learning if you have never
experienced it for yourself. So a good start to using Music Made Easy is to follow the steps
outlined earlier in this Book. If you decide to create your own template for a Practise Diary I would
also recommend doing some reflective work beforehand because you will probably come up with
some unique ideas you would like to try out. I find my Diary design is a constant work in progress,
evolving as I discover better ways to teach and learn for myself and my students. Even if you
never use any other aspects of Music Made Easy, it is worth doing reflective work for a month for
the insight that it can offer you.

Following are a couple of my consecutive reflections which I have included because they
demonstrate how a thought or observation leads to action and progress:

Reflection One

“Feel like am getting back into practise now but need to give it more time and
make it more challenging. Feel my playing is getting better, especially
rhythmically and this is evident when jamming. The project with Jamie is going
well and I have decided to do gig every two weeks’ as I am getting busier now
with the singing group. Maybe an hour a day playing is all I can really manage
for now… anyway, we’ll see.”

Reflection Two

“Although I didn’t do a lot of practise this week, I did a lot of music and enjoyed
all of it. One very important point I realised recently is that I have been
neglecting the act of finding new resources. I was reminded of this because
one of my students bought some great books which I borrowed and they helped
me to begin achieving some of my aims and made my practise more
challenging and interesting. I really needed that! Having relevant and good
resources is essential to gaining skill and motivation for my music. This is
something which I already knew but with time had forgotten to implement for

These two reflections show my desire to make my practise more challenging and my solution to
the problem, inspired by one of my students, ended up being the acquisition of some new
resources. By reflecting, I reminded myself to resource when I feel a lack of motivation and to
implement for myself what I teach to others!

I always begin a lesson by reading my student’s reflective work and from there I can gain a good
idea of how to structure their lesson. For example, whether to revise material, if little practise has
occurred, or whether to progress activities or to change them, depending on their motivation level.
If a student hasn’t done any written work, I still begin the lesson by asking some questions and I
write down their answers in the reflective section of the Diary, which helps to keep track of their
development while demonstrating how reflection is done and how it is relevant to the student.
Often issues are raised which require discussion and support. These can range from what is
happening in a students life that is making them feel a particular way and impacting negatively or
positively on their work, to discussing a film or concert they have seen.

I like to aim for the student leaving a lesson feeling better than they did when they walked in
because it is important to me that music has a positive feeling attached to it, that it is fun, non-
threatening and life-enhancing. This means that sometimes I have to act more as a listener and
mentor for my students. After all, we are human and other areas of life can affect the way we learn
and progress. Reflection and discussion enables me to better support my students because I
have a better understanding of their needs while ensuring my teaching practice is more inclusive
by supporting more than one type of learner.

Reflective work makes teaching easier as it indicates the changing needs and desires of students
and helps a teacher to support these. When students experience support and find their learning
material relevant to their desired outcome, they want to stay with you.
The Inner Critic vs The Inner Musician


“The inner critic can make you feel awful about yourself. With the inner
critic watching, you begin to watch your every step, you become self-

conscious, awkward and ever fearful of making a mistake.”

Imagine you are driving a car, navigating your way through a beautiful landscape called Music.
You are captivated, focused and aware of what is around you and what is in front of you. The
drive is enjoyable and effortless.

Next to you, in the passenger seat, is your Inner Critic. He or she (let’s call her Ms No-No for now)
is talking to you non-stop, warning you of impending disasters, not to mention your shortcomings
as a driver and a person. You turn your head to respond to her and in doing so, lose your
concentration. Now you are not watching the road or the beautiful scenery, you are too busy
engaging with Ms No-No and then…. You crash!

In the rubble of the aftermath, Ms No-No gets up, dusts herself down and says “See, I said you
were no good at this!”

Unfortunately, Ms No-No likes to accompany you on all your beautiful drives (who wouldn’t!). She
is always in the passenger seat, ready to give you advice or judgment and when she opens her
mouth to speak, she is distracting and - don’t tell her this - hardly ever correct in what she says!

Here is how you may experience this story when you are playing music:

You are playing or singing and you strike a note that sounds ‘ugly’ to you. It may not even have
been a bad note but your Critic has spoken and said “it didn’t sound good”. Now you begin to
focus on this judgmental comment. Since you are listening to your Critic instead of the music, she
continues to speak. “You know this music is no good, no one wants to listen to that. You can’t
even do this properly!”. You begin to fear that your Critic is right and, consequently, you doubt the
music, yourself and your capability. Your body becomes full of tension in response to this notion,
and because of the tension, you find it almost impossible to continue playing and eventually you
either stop or your playing becomes stilted and difficult and you end up feeling bruised and
negative. In other words, you crash!, accessed 1 August 2008
Battling with the Inner Critic can severely handicap your ability to just enjoy music and it can even
stop you from pursuing your lifelong dream to play. Some people’s critics are more severe than
others, but just about everyone has one. In order to make playing a much more positive
experience, it is therefore helpful to address this aspect of our personality and understand how it
can hinder our advancement in music making.

Our Critic has been created throughout our life from a number of people who have influenced us
such as parents, family and teachers. Sometimes when situations are similar to past experiences,
voices or comments can ‘play back’ into our thoughts. For example, your father may have told you
as a child to let the adults speak before you do and that you should listen to their opinions because
they are more important than yours, and that adults are right. This comment may have been
helpful for you to be accepted by adults as a child and therefore kept you safe, but when you
become an adult yourself, you may unconsciously still believe that the opinions of others are more
important than yours and that others know more than you do (even when they don’t), with the
result that you don’t like to express yourself in case you are not accepted. When you think about
it, such a belief can have a huge impact on your ability to play music, especially when it is an art
form requiring you to express yourself, often in the company of other people.

We have to learn to live with our Critic but not let it interfere with the act of playing. When we can
do this, we can begin to really enjoy the experience of learning and performing. Simply by
beginning to observe your Critic, you will notice that it won’t get in the way as much. By observing
it, you separate from it and when you separate from it, you can make a choice about how you react
to what it is saying, instead of just letting it make you feel bad.

So in order to enjoy playing music, get to know your Critic. Here’s how:

Exercise 1

When you are playing music, whether it be at home or in a lesson, use your Practise Diary to make
notes of what your Critic is saying to you. This means that when you make a mistake or stop
playing, you need to take a moment to note what went through your head just before it happened.
Some examples of this are thoughts such as:

“You’re going to make a mistake!” or “Are you doing this right?” or even “Oh, my God I can do

You may notice the Critic is stronger in an activity such as free improvisation, here’s when it has a
judgmental quality and may say things like:

“This sounds awful!” or “You’re no good at music.”

Be observant of these statements in whatever activity you are practising. Once you begin to
recognise your Critic’s voice speaking, you can choose to stay with the music, ‘the beautiful
countryside’ instead of being distracted by the voice.

Sometimes, it may be difficult to ‘recover’ when you hear your Critic’s voice, but by refocusing your
attention on your breath (something which you practise in your routine), you will be able to
concentrate on the music again. It may take a little while at first, but you will get better at using
breath to focus your attention.
Exercise 2

After writing down some of what your Critic has to say, you may be able to connect its statements
to people from your past. If your Critic is particularly strong, you could draw a picture of him or her
and stick it in your practise room. When you hear its voice or when it is messing with your work,
simply look at the picture and know that your Critic is not you. What it has to say is not the truth
and its opinion doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you stay relaxed and present with what
you are doing, as practising music is not about engaging in a judgmental discussion.

These activities should give you the power to begin to deal with negative thoughts and feelings
that “can lead to all sorts of problems including low self-esteem, and avoiding situations that

require us to be the centre of attention or to shine… ” . You will also notice that the more
attention you give to the above exercises, the less your Critic will bother you and the more you will
be able to let your Inner Musician take over.

Music Made Easy

Just remember when you play music there really is no space for you to judge whether it is good or
bad. In order to judge, you need to be on the outside, either listening back to a recording or as an
audience member, but when you create music, if you are doing it properly, you should be on the
inside, 100% present with every moment. When your Inner Critic takes control, you give it your
energy and step outside the music, so who is creating? Who is ‘looking at the road’ or engrossed
in ‘the beautiful countryside’? Nobody. What can you share or communicate in music when you
are judging or fearful of making a mistake? Only fear and judgment and this is not something you
or many other people really wish to experience.


In our everyday lives we are usually thinking about the past or the future, but hardly ever the now.
However, it is absolutely necessary to be in the present or the now if you are to create good music.
If we are not used to doing being present in our everyday lives, it is another aspect needing
practise. Some good books have been written on the subject (The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle,
being one of them) and it may be helpful to read these, but meanwhile, here are some practical
suggestions on how to regain or remain present when you are playing., accessed 1 August 2008

If you find your mind wandering off while you are playing, thinking unrelated thoughts or if you
have trouble staying focused, make an effort to listen intently to every note you are playing and
actually feel the vibration of these notes in your body.


It feels good to embody rhythm, it is something we can do quite naturally and it helps us to enjoy
the moment while giving momentum to the music. Let your body engage with rhythm, feel the
pulse and move (even if it is slightly) to it.


Focusing on your breathing is way of coming back to the present if you find you are feeling
nervous or tense. When you bring your attention to your breath, you may discover that you are not
breathing comfortably or naturally or you may be holding it. Once you realise this is happening, try
to let yourself relax and breathe normally. This will make playing easier. Doing breath-focused
practise in your everyday routine will give you the capacity come back to your natural relaxed
breath easily if you find yourself in difficulty.

Lastly, simply try to be present and relaxed in all your everyday exercises, musical and non-
musical. Where is your mind when you are washing up? Thinking about the past, future or the
present? Try to just focus on the peace of the moment you are in. The same goes for practising
scales or any of your other exercises. Ask yourself where you are and bring yourself back to
simple presence and breathing while you play.


“Fear closes all doors to the true self, that brilliant centre where the ecstasy


Once you bring your Critic into the light by observing its voice, its influence and how it can ‘hijack’
your music, you can begin to give yourself over to the Inner Musician. The Inner Musician is not
afraid to take musical ‘risks’ and is totally present when playing, the Inner Musician is authentic
and trusts its ability. When you let your Inner Musician play, you will feel relaxed and connected,
you won’t be thinking about how good or bad your music is, you won’t be thinking about hanging
out the washing, you will be absorbed in the moment and when you finish playing you will feel as if
you are waking from a very pleasant dream. Maybe this is why people play music instead of work
music. How did it feel when you were playing as a child, absorbed in the moment and nothing else
mattered but the game? This is the feeling we are aiming for when we play music.

Kenny Werner, “Effortless Mastery”, p51
Taking risks and making ‘mistakes’

Some of the most famous recordings in the history of music have ‘mistakes’ in them, which have
now become just part of the beauty of that recording. If you don’t believe me, have a listen to
Miles Davis on the recording with Cannonball Adderly. In the introduction of “Autumn Leaves’, you
will hear a ‘mistake’ but he is playing so loud and strong, it really just adds flavour to the piece.

Music Made Easy

There is no such thing as a wrong note. If you commit to every note you play, every note will
sound as if it’s meant to be there

Being a good musician is as much about how you deal with a mistake (which, if there are no wrong
notes, is actually just dealing with your Critic) as it is about any other aspect of music. What
matters is what is being created in the now, not the past and not the future.

Here are some ways you can develop your Inner Musician:

• Free improvisation is an excellent way for you to practise acceptance of every note you
play, existing solely in the present.

• Playing with other musicians will also give you the experience of having to continue to play
if you make a ‘mistake’ because you are part of a group and if you stop, everyone suffers!

• Record yourself as much as possible and listen back to it. Try to realise that sometimes
imperfections actually embellish your performance and it is only when you give energy to the
notion of failure that your music will sound bad.

• Performing either at open mike nights, auditions or events organised by you or your teacher
is also beneficial. Try to do this in a safe and supportive environment, especially in the early stages
of your learning.

Sometimes your experiences in music will be uncomfortable but this is simply part of the learning
process. In time, you will get to know that your Inner Musician accepts all sounds and uses every
note to full advantage.


“… an individual is being authentic if they are being completely honest and

participating in the here-and-now…. always being centered with themselves
and others, living in a completely integrated fashion with their own values and

principles, always feeling complete meaning or sense of purpose ….” - accessed 13 August 2008
You are unique – no-one looks the same as you (unless, of course you are an identical twin!) and,
more importantly, no-one will play music like you. When you can stand as you are, without
pretence, and create, when you can be 100 percent honest and truly yourself, your music will be
great and people will love listening to it. This is true even if you are not the world’s most
technically brilliant musician.

As listeners, we know when a performance is authentic as sometimes the hairs on the back of our
neck will stand up, or we’ll be moved to tears or laughter, we can simply feel the artist’s intention.
To deliver music in this way you need to be able to communicate to others how you really feel and
show who you truly are, whether in a musical or social situation. We all know how difficult this can
be, especially if we have a strong Inner Critic, but it is essential to cultivate the ability to express
yourself if you wish to make a meaningful contribution to music.

Trusting your ability

When you can trust your practiced technical skills and don’t have to think about them, you will be
able to lose yourself in the music, enjoy its rhythm and sentiment and let your individual musical
ability shine through. So, although you may begin learning a song by trying to copy what you hear,
including the phrasing and sound quality of a particular artist, it is important to build a solid
foundation of knowledge regarding the music’s technical aspects if you are to make that song your
own. This means breaking down the rhythm, harmony and melody of the song so that you can
begin to master it. For example, singers will often use melodic devices such as slides and trills to
try to cover up the fact that they are not really sure of a particular note’s pitch. They then have
less choice over how they can express the music because they will be preoccupied with trying to
‘get through’ that particular section and cannot be truly in the moment when performing. When
you learn a melody note for note (especially the ‘little’ notes) you always know where you are in
the song and if you wander away from main melody, say in improvisation, you always have a place
(the original melody) to come back to if need be.

Music, therefore, needs to be learned and repeated very mechanically at first, singing or playing
with a strong tone and at a slow tempo with as little use of melodic devices as possible. Once you
can sing or play in this way with confidence and ease, you can begin focusing on the music’s
emotional content. It is then that you will naturally come up with your unique musical interpretation
and be relaxed enough to let your Inner Musician play.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” - Aristotle

Motivation is the fuel, the energy if you like, vital for all learning to take place and just like fuel,
there are different qualities of motivation. If yours is of a higher quality, you will gain more mileage,
travel with a cleaner, healthier vehicle and your chances of success will be greatly improved
because you will be able to last the journey and visit many more destinations!

Practise with activities Motivation Practise

adjusted via reflective

Motivation practise

Practise without
reflection and proper
adjustment of activities
to suit needs De-motivation No

Two main types of motivation exist. They are extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is based
on aspects outside you. For example, you want to learn an instrument to get good exam results,
win awards, be praised or seek fame and fortune. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. For
example, you want to learn an instrument because you enjoy the challenge, love the sound,
because it’s fun and relaxing for you etc. Of these two types of motivation, intrinsic, is the most
powerful, it is the higher-grade fuel and the only type of motivation that guarantees you become
the best musician you can possibly be. This is because the process of learning music is a lifetime
pursuit and many times, the rewards come simply from your own sense of achievement.

So right now, look at your motivation and finish this sentence:

I want to learn to _______________ because ___________________________.

Is your motivation intrinsic or extrinsic?

Just like the fuel gage in your car, you need to be aware of your motivation levels at all times.
Sometimes your level of motivation will be low and you will have to “top up”, sometimes you will be
driving on a full tank without a care in the world. However, if your tank is empty, learning will be
difficult and you may be tempted to give up. Therefore, continual reflection, decision-making and
goal-setting is essential for good practice. If you know a little about motivation theory, you will
understand why.

Motivation theory1 has four major dimensions:

Are you enjoying your practise?

Are the activities moving you satisfaction
toward your goals? Do you feel you are progressing?

Do you have a realistic expectation
of your learning?

As you can see, each of the above aspects has some bearing on another, so only by looking at
what is happening for you in all these areas can you work out how to adjust your practise to ensure
it impacts well upon your motivation. Here is how you might go about this:

1) interest - Are you enjoying your practise?

If not, why not?
Are your activities too hard or too easy? If they are, you will feel you are not getting
anywhere and this will affect your satisfaction.

2) satisfaction - Do you feel you are progressing?

Sometimes you may not feel much progress, even if you are working consistently and well.
This has to do with expectancy. Only with time and experience will you be able to know
how long it takes and how much effort is required to learn certain aspects of music and,
therefore, gain a realistic expectation of your development. By reflecting upon your feelings
of achievement and discussing these with your teacher, you will be able to gain a clearer
insight of what is actually happening for you and be satisfied with the results of your work.

3) expectancy - Do you have a realistic expectation of your learning?

Learning takes as long as it takes and you cannot rush it (just like growing). You must be
patient with your development and keep practising each activity until you master it. If you
are not sure what this means, ask yourself “Is this activity as easy as, for example, using a
fork, opening a door or walking?” If you can answer ‘yes’, you have mastered it.
Sometimes mastering something can take many years which is why your motivation needs
to be intrinsic - you have to be able to enjoy the slow development of certain skills and be
Motivational Theory,, accessed feb 2004
aware of their relevance.

4) relevance - Are the activities moving you toward your goals?

Do you know why and how the activities you practise relate to achieving your goals? If you
do not, you may feel your practise pointless, which affects your interest. Ask your teacher
to help apply what you are practising to a piece you are learning, try to realise the practical
outcomes of your work through creative activities such as improvisation, play-along and
aural work.

We have already looked at how to make practise more enjoyable - by making sure you have the
right mixture of activities, practising to suit your mood, spending the right amount of time on each
of your activities and checking the four aspects of motivation for yourself - but there are other
aspects you may wish to consider which will also affect your motivation. The following chart
summarises these:



Consequences Use supportive and understanding language

to encourage practise. Explain to students QuickTimeª
are needed toand
(Uncompressed) decomp
how their decision to practise or not, or to use
the Diary or not, is affecting their outcomes
and let them take responsibility for these.

Pleasure If you enjoy practising and music lessons, you

will want to keep doing it. As we have seen QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
from previous chapters, practise environment,
your mood and outside life pressures, etc, can
affect how you practise music. Try to assess
and reflect upon the impact these are having.

Goals Setting goals will help you to direct your

learning and make your practice relevant. QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
Although goals may change or modify, you
and your teacher should never lose sight of
them once they are known. In this way, your
practice will be endowed with meaning and
satisfaction as your goals are achieved.

Try to remember that goals need to be flexible

because as you pursue them, you may realise
your needs change or you would like to
pursue another direction. Your goals should
also be ACE (Achievable, Challenging and

It is important to set goals. Either as practise

aims for the week or longer-term goals such
as a performance, a recording or the ability to
jam with other musicians. A lack of direction
can certainly lead to motivational problems.
Assess goals in terms of relevance and
achievement as often as possible, even every

For teachers with younger students, some

suggested goals are making a music-related
poster, writing a song or learning a nursery

Encourage students to be active in voicing

their likes or dislikes of activities and aim to
engage the student in their learning direction.

Detailed instruction Make sure students know what and how to

practise. I always have detailed instructions of QuickTimeª
are needed toand
(Uncompressed) decomp
how to carry out exercises outlined in a
workbook given to all students, or I write these
instructions in the tutorial column of the
Practise Diary. Also, I tell students to contact
me if they are not sure of how to practise
anything. This way, students feel supported
and know exactly what they need to be doing
in order to get results.

Belongingness Music Made Easy provides more than private

lessons. I run a singing group once a week QuickTimeª
are needed toand
(Uncompressed) decomp
for my students and anyone from the general
public who wishes to join in. I also organise a
performance every three months for my
singers and pianists at a restaurant, so they
can meet other students and experience each
others’ progress. Friends and family are
invited to enjoy the students’ work in a relaxed
atmosphere. As these people get to know one
another, it encourages friendships and
supports the process of becoming a musician
as they share their development.

Recognising It is so important to be conscious of what you

achievement have achieved. Keeping the Diary helps you QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
see this because you will summarise your
achievements every three months. But
teachers should also be aware that pointing
out improvement from week to week and
offering praise for a student’s effort will
positively affect motivation levels.

Creativity Think about different ways to achieve goals

and approach exercises and activities. Be QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand

Constructive Criticism that explains where or why a student

Criticism may be going wrong helps them to learn and QuickTimeª
are needed toand
(Uncompressed) decomp
improve upon their efforts. Criticism that
makes a student feel stupid or bad doesn’t
help them achieve their goals and can cause
much damage to their confidence and
enjoyment of music.

Raise the bar Keep your work challenging. Once you are
able to do a certain exercise, aim to advance QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
it. For example, you may be able to do your
inversion exercise for all major and minor
chords, so now do major and minor sevenths,
later, do major, minor, dominant, diminished
and augmented sevenths, then do them at a
faster pace with metronome. If you have
learned a piece, aim to make it even better by
recording or performing it.

Create This may mean musical soirees, regular

Opportunities playing with others, getting a regular gig or QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
forming a band, auditioning or recording an
album. Once you are able to, you need to
create a place for your music to go. Your
teacher can help you, but this is something
you will eventually need to learn to do

Communication As mentioned, communicating well with your

teacher and/or reflecting for yourself ensures QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
you can foresee problems and work to prevent
them getting the better of you.

Stimulation Mix it up! Don’t follow the same routine all the
time. Create a stimulating environment by QuickTimeª
are needed QuickTimeª
TIFF needed toand
listening to music, going to gigs, being
involved with group efforts etc. Begin practise
with your strengths, things that make you
happy and as you do this, notice your
weaknesses and work on them until they too
become strengths.
Performing and Recording

“ I feel proud when I’ve finished a performance.” Danielle, age 18

“I like playing with other people because it’s fun and it sounds better with
everyone else. Playing in the school band makes me practise piano more
because I’m using the piano a lot at school and I want to be able to play
well with other people.” Jake, age 9 (turning 10)

It’s entirely up to you whether you take your music to a performance level and there is a lot to be
gained if you decide to do so. However, if you decide never to share your music with others either
in a jam, recording or performance situation you may eventually run out of motivation to keep
playing. This is why I have compared Performing and Recording to “Supplies”, because these acts
will provide you with more energy and drive for music. They are beneficial because they crystallise
many aspects of musicianship such as:

• the Inner Critic;

• accepting ‘mistakes’ and incorporating them into the live music performance;
• improvising;
• being present and authentic with music;
• reflecting upon progress; and
• celebrating achievement.

Finally, it’s fulfilling (and a good reminder of progress) to be able to go back and listen to past
recordings and actually hear the difference in your ability at different stages, or to do a number of
performances and compare how you feel about performing now to your first performances. It’s
especially fun to play with others because you get to experience communication, spontaneity and
creativity on a level which everyday activities do not provide. The ‘high’ this creates in some
people is the reason they become professional musicians (even if the lifestyle and financial
rewards are sometimes not that great). It is simply a wonderful feeling to share the creation of
music from a personal space of authentic expression in a collective experience.

An audience provides you with an opportunity to concretely see the efforts of your work through
other people’s responses. Often, we can be far too critical of our own work but when you are able
to let people hear your music, you can experience your creativity as something else, which is,
more often than not, a source of joy to others.
“I personally could just play at home forever. It doesn’t really bother me if I
perform or not but I like the reactions on people’s faces when I do perform.
It’s fun to watch because they’re usually smiling..” Jade, age 13


“I think performing is important in learning music because it gives you

experience in front of other people. I don’t think you have to do performing
or recording but it should be a part of learning because you get to express
your feelings in front of other people and this is an important part of music.”
Gracie, age 10 (turning 11)

“Having to work toward performance makes you more motivated and

practise better. I think its important to do something with your music,
otherwise there’s no point to it. When you play with people it helps you
come up with new stuff. I enjoy performing.” Torrie, age 16

If you do decide to do any kind of performance, how should you approach it and what should you

Firstly, it is important to be prepared. This means:

• knowing your material inside out,

• feeling comfortable in your surroundings,
• knowing who the other musicians involved (if any) will be,
• understanding and being familiar with the equipment you are using,
• warming up before the event and mentally preparing yourself.

Before the performance

Following are some suggestions on how to minimise your experience of anxiety so that you can
enjoy a more positive performance experience.

1. Know your material. This is the most important aspect of your performance. Any cracks
you have in your knowledge and ability will potentially show in performance because there
are so many other distractions. You need to know the material and have muscle memory
in place so that you can rely on your body to automatically do what you have trained it to do,
giving you the opportunity to focus on expression and interpretation, the elements that make
a performance truly come to life. If you get nervous, you can rely on your body to
automatically do what you have trained it to do through good practise.

2. Visualise. This is a great tool that can help you to rehearse in the comfort of your own bed!
If you can see yourself, in your mind’s eye, successfully completing a performance and
enjoying it, you will likely be able to achieve this in reality. When you do this exercise try to
see and feel the performance in as much detail as possible, what you are wearing, where
you are standing etc. Remember that visualisation and imagination are the first steps to
any of our desires being born to physical reality.

3. Who to invite. It is worth thinking about who you should invite to your performance,
especially if it’s your first. I often suggest to my adult learners that if they feel nervous, it
may be better to invite only a few guests or none, while children will often enjoy the support
of their families. In the end it’s a personal decision worth considering. A good way to
decide is to use the activity of visualisation to know how you would feel performing in front
of the people you want to invite. Visualise the situation and if it feels good, go ahead. If it
doesn’t, you can do the performance by yourself and invite more people next time when you
feel more confident.

4. Breathing. One of the reasons breath-focussed exercises are included in regular practise
is that being able to do this easily is extremely useful for performing. If you are tense before
the performance, I suggest you do these exercises, and if you become tense during the
performance, again focus on your breathing, becoming aware of where you are holding the
tension in your body and use the breath to let go of it. You will get better at doing this
especially if you practise it regularly.

During the performance

Every performing experience is different because it is created spontaneously in the present.

Therefore, you need to be spontaneous and present in order to deliver the goods. Of course, this
is often easier said than done. Following are some suggestions to help you achieve this state.

1. The Inner Critic. Hopefully, by the time you are ready to perform, you will have gotten to
know your Inner Critic. Often performing will bring his or her voice to the fore, so it’s very
important you make a decision to engage one hundred percent with the music and not your
Critic’s voice (you don’t want to end up in the ‘car crash’!). Your aim should be to just enjoy
the music.

2. Do Not Assume. Performing is about communicating from your authentic self; it is not
about what other people think of you. Nor is it about whether your music is ugly or beautiful,
good or bad. Your job is only to be yourself and give something of yourself to others
through music. Try not to assume you know what an audience member is thinking about
you by interpreting a look on their face or their body language. More often than not your
assumption will be wrong and you will lose your focus.

3. “Mistakes”. Just about every live performance will include one or more ‘mistakes’. Many
times these go unnoticed because they are incorporated into the flow of the music and often
they even enhance the music if the performer can embrace them and make something of
them. This is why it is very helpful to practise improvisation and especially free
improvisation because it will help you to be comfortable, spontaneous, lively and present in
music. Accomplished performers are able to incorporate ‘mistakes’ and ‘wrong notes’
without people noticing.

“The idea of a mistake is beside the point, for once anything happens it
authentically is.” - John Cage, Composer

“If you hit a wrong note, then make it right by what you play afterwards.” -
Joe Pass, Guitarist
After the performance

1. Reflect upon progress. A performance will always give you a good indication of how far
you have come and where you are heading. Take time to reflect upon this. You can write
in your Diary, talk to others who were there and discuss your experience with your teacher.
Use your performing experience to identify areas needing more attention as well as the
strong points of your music.

2. Celebrate achievement. Every performance marks an achievement. It doesn’t matter

what happened, you have done it and that act in itself is worthy of praise. When you reflect
upon how your performance went, for every negative you feel, think of a positive as well. If
it was a total washout, think about what you did or didn’t do which contributed to this
outcome and if your performance was enjoyable and fun, think about what you did to
achieve this outcome.

Performance Anxiety

Even with the best preparation, many people still experience performance anxiety, so it’s useful to
know something about the nature of this and how you can best deal with it.

People experience performance anxiety in varying degrees, some don’t feel it at all, while others,
when asked to perform, may have a response similar to being asked to jump off a cliff! Of course,
we know we won’t die from performing but our bodies can still react as if we are going to. This is
linked to an inbuilt and ancient human survival mechanism known as the ‘fight or flight reaction’.
When we are faced with a threatening situation, such as a wild animal or dangerous person, the
body releases a chemical called adrenalin which gives us extra strength so we can run faster or
fight harder than usual. In these situations, this reaction is very useful to us but in a performance
situation we are not running or fighting, so the release of adrenalin doesn’t really help. In fact, it
can hinder us, causing our bodies to shake, sweat, feel nauseous and/or hyperventilate.

Anxiety can be brought on by lack of preparation, negative internal judgement of yourself and your
ability, assigning too much importance to the task and/or assuming to know what others think or
feel about you and your performance.

Because of anxiety, the very mention of performing in front of others is one of the scariest notions
imaginable for some people. So, it is important to approach this activity gently, with preparation
and support in order to create a more positive experience. You may come to music without the
desire to perform at all and that’s fine, however, with time, you will likely feel your music needs to
build somehow, or that you feel a bit lost or demotivated. This is when you need to think about
either preparing for a performance or joining a group of singers or instrumentalists or participating
in jam sessions. It is better not to participate in anything which makes you feel too uncomfortable
but do take some risks and challenge yourself. You will be rewarded.


Nerada came to singing lessons because she wished to gain confidence as well as learn to sing.
This was her secret dream. She found her first lessons extremely frightening and confronting but
she had decided to put herself in an uncomfortable situation and try anyway. She managed to
sing in front of the teacher and left the lesson feeling very happy because she had accomplished
something she’d wanted to do for a long time but never imagined she could. Nerada took a risk
and it paid off.

As time went on, Nerada became comfortable singing in her lessons because she became used to
the environment and situation. Then her teacher suggested she come and join the weekly singing
group. Again, this suggestion brought up much fear and procrastination for Nerada, so the teacher
told her she could come and just watch and see if she felt comfortable. She didn’t have to join in
or sing in front of others if she didn’t want to. Nerada agreed, and when she came to the group
she ended up joining in because she saw that it was not as scary as she thought it would be and
everyone was having fun just singing and being themselves. Nerada also saw that the other
singers had similar feelings and experiences to her, which they shared through jokes and

After a few sessions, the teacher gave each group member a line of a song to sing solo. Nerada
managed to do this and now had the experience of singing in front of others. The experience
wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. In fact, she even enjoyed it! After a while, singing solo
in the group was not such a big deal and, because of this, Nerada and her teacher were able to
work towards her singing a song at the next public performance of the teacher’s pupils.

For Teachers:

This case study illustrates how effective you can be by creating a safe and friendly learning
environment. Many students, adults and children, have fears around learning because of past
experiences or pressure they may feel to be the best or succeed instantly. It is always helpful if
you can grasp how much anxiety your student is feeling by asking questions, discussion and/or
interpreting body language, and supporting them accordingly.

Nerada arrived at her first lesson feeling anxious but left feeling good about herself. No doubt this
is because the teacher was sensitive towards her needs and helped her feel comfortable, allaying
her fears. Later, the teacher offered Nerada support by suggesting she come to the singing group
but giving her the option of not having to participate, this took the pressure off Nerada, who may
not have attended if she thought she would be made to sing in front of others. By doing this, the
teacher still got the desired result and helped Nerada toward her goal of gaining more confidence.

Nerada gradually became used to taking risks and became aware that she could achieve her
‘secret dream’. With the support of her teacher, who provided her with safe learning environments
and opportunities, Nerada was able to participate in music making.

For Students:

When you go to your lessons, take note of how you feel before and after the lesson. Sometimes
you will feel anxious or excited beforehand which is fine. When you leave the lesson, I think it is
important to feel happy and inspired in order to continue your studies in a positive frame of mind.
Nerada would have been quite anxious before her first lesson but her teacher made her feel
comfortable and she left the lesson in a positive mood.
Nerada admits she was under-confident and perhaps a bit shy but she really wanted to do
something about that as well as learn to sing. She took risks throughout her learning and was
eventually able to sing in front of people. Her teacher was instrumental in her achieving her goals
by helping Nerada feel safe and supported in each new step. First, in her lessons, then the
singing group and finally working toward a public performance.

This case study illustrates the importance of taking risks but also making sure you feel comfortable
with them. If something feels too dangerous or scary, don’t do it but try to find a way to work
toward conquering your fears.


“Recording is the ultimate way to sit back, once the moment has passed,
and assess how real or vivid your performance was. It becomes obvious
when you listen back to your work. If you were actually being in the
moment on an authentic level, the song will always be good because it is
from the heart. At the same time, you can definitely hear the second
guessing and the try hard moments that take you out of the authenticity.”
Kim, aged 33

One of my favourite things to do when I was young was to make tape recordings of my friends and
pretending to present radio shows. When I began learning to sing, I would tape myself on a very
low-quality tape player, listen back and re-record until I liked what I heard. In that way I was able
to learn how to produce a sound I wanted to hear. When I needed to get my first gigs, I went to a
recording studio and made a demo tape of three songs, recorded on four inch analogue tape. It
was something I had to save up for at the time and it meant a lot to me. Later in my career, there
were more recording studios, this time with a live band set up and digital recording by an engineer
who knew how to use the studio and the computer program. Now I am back at home, recording
myself again. I have my own computer and, although I own a professional “Pro-Tools” package, I
find myself using “Garage Band” a lot of the time, a computer program that comes included with
the Mac computer, which I found instantly easy to use. (There are also many other recording
programs that you can investigate.) I guess using “Garage Band” now is comparable to using that
first tape machine in this day and age.

Recording myself singing or playing piano has always been a big part of my development as a
musician and has helped me to:

• have fun and be creative;

• truly assess myself and learn technique;
• make demos in order to get gigs and earn money from music.

Having fun and being creative

Recording can be enjoyable on many levels. The computer programs offered these days are
readily accessible and come with many samples and good quality instrumental sounds, so writing
your own music and even producing your own album has never been easier, more instantaneous
and affordable.

Writing music and being creative with different sounds teaches you how your instrument fits in with
other instruments. A bass line, for example, complements the drum or percussion rhythm, as well
as the harmony of the piece by accentuating the root notes. Its job is to ‘ground’ the composition
and it doesn’t need to be as decorative as, say, a vocal or saxophone part, which sits in the higher
register of music. Every melodic line and every instrument has its place in a composition and you,
as the creator and listener, can manipulate and play with sounds, learning where they fit best for
your ears while creating original music. It’s very satisfying to do this exercise and surprise yourself
with the discovery of what you are capable of creating.

Making a true assessment of your music and improving your technique

Recording can help dispel the judgement of your Inner Critic because it gives you the capacity to
hear your music objectively. We have discussed how the Inner Critic can get in the way when you
are playing music and the main problem with our Critic is that it is sharing its opinions while we are
in the act of creating. This does not work because we can’t do both jobs at once. If you wish to
make valid criticisms of your music, it is necessary to do it when you can truly sit comfortably in the
‘judgement’ seat. The only way you can do this is to record yourself, listen back, identify the points
of playing which are acceptable or not acceptable to you and work on them as you wish. In this
case, recording yourself is a useful learning technique because you can hear what needs further

Making a demo(nstration) recording in order to get work or sell your music

There may come a time when you have done enough jam sessions and one-off performances, a
time when you want to have a whole gig for yourself simply for challenge and experience of it as
well as for financial reward. In this situation, you will need to identify a venue you will be
comfortable performing in, understand its needs and what you can offer, then present yourself and
your music to the person responsible for booking and let them see that you can provide what they
need. This may also be the case if you wish to approach a record label, manager or producer. In
all the above cases, you will need a good quality demo recording and you may need to do this in a
professional recording studio.

Professional recording studios provide you with quality equipment such as microphones, mixing
desks and effect units that give you the best possible sound. Trained engineers set all equipment
up for you and make sure your sound levels are at optimum intensity. Sometimes they will even
offer suggestions to help you with your performance, especially if you don’t have much experience
in the studio.

I suggest recording three songs that are contrasting and illustrate the full scope of your capability,
without compromising your authenticity and once you have them recorded, the engineer will help
you to create a mix. This means making sure the instruments blend together at volumes that
compliment the song and give the greatest effect, then recording that mix onto a single stereo
track. When you have mixed the songs you may then wish to master the recording.

“Mastering is the process of adding compression and equalization to the final

stage of a project to make it loud enough to be broadcast quality while making
the project more pleasing to the ear… After you have compression and EQ
taken care of you should add silence to the intro and outro of all songs if this

wasn't done in the original song.” accessed 8 December 2009
Mastering a recording is a process that usually takes place with professionals dedicated to this
process at another location and should be done in conjunction with the recording artist. Again, it
will cost money, so if you have a good mix, that should be enough for a demo recording but if you
plan on releasing a full album of songs, you will need to have the recording mastered.

Tips for the recording studio

Firstly, remember that time in the studio is quite literally money. (You will definitely be aware of
this point if you are the one financing the recording, because studio time is expensive.) Therefore,
make sure you:

1. are very well rehearsed. Just like a performance, know your material inside out.
2. be specific. Make sure you let the Engineer know exactly what you are looking for and what
you want from the recording.
3. be patient. Setting up and getting the right sound from instruments can take some time and
you may experience some problems with electronic equipment too. This is to be expected.

When you are recording:

1. don’t be afraid to ask. Make sure you communicate well with the Engineer, letting them
know what levels you want to hear in your headphones when you are recording. If you want
to hear yourself louder in the mix, ask for this and don’t compromise, get the headphone
mix exactly how you want to hear it for your recording.
2. it’s ok to stop. Once you start recording, you may make a mistake. Don’t be afraid to stop
and begin again. Often this will save time and money because it can take a lot of fiddling
around to fix the mistake. Better you stop recording, instead of finishing the song and doing
it all again.
3. be aware of your distance from the microphone, especially for vocalists. Sometimes you
will have to do a ‘drop in’ or finish a recording the next day. Your distance from the
microphone affects the tone quality. If you know how far away from the microphone you are
standing and match this, you have a better chance of matching the sound.

Recording is like taking photographs, reminding you of past moments. Advancing technology has
meant recording music has become a lot easier and accessible, so why not take advantage of it
and add another dimension of joy and experience to your learning. There is a great sense of
achievement in being able to hold your recording in your hand and let others listen to it, or invite
your family and friends to watch you perform, or jam with other musicians. When you are able to
share your music, you will feel rewarded and proud.