Summer, to the max

Let it be said right off the bat: I am a summer baby. It’s my favorite season- my birthday! cabins and camping! the beach! bicycles! sweet balmy nights with a icy beverage and good friends! I COMPLETELY understand wanting to make the most of summer and not be tied down by responsibilities.

As a professional musician, summers also mean lots of gigs, hopefully, and you can definitely fill up your schedule with outdoor concerts and festivals. That means I get a lot of ‘face time’ on my instrument and need to maintain a routine to stay viable for all those potential gigs.

But for many of my students, busy in the summer means travel, or ACT-prep, or a part-time job, and this can mean that music falls to the side as schedules change constantly. You may not have time for a lesson every week, much less put the horn on your face everyday.

Which means it’s time to think about your routine, and how you schedule it.

I have a student this summer who’s home from her first year of college, and she’s hoping to expand on her musical knowledge so as to return to her band program stronger in the fall. I’m so inspired by this. I took summer lessons one year out of all 6 of my college and graduate school years combined, and the rest of those years I picked my nose and hemmed and hawed about practicing until about August, when I realized placement auditions were fast approaching. But this girl, she’s got it figured out. She’s smart.

Many of my grade school students have already had their placement auditions for the fall, and so musical growth is taking a backseat for the summer. But summer can be a tremendous opportunity to learn things outside of the range of band, pick music you like to play, develop new techniques.

Here are a few simple steps for keeping your summer musically healthy:

1. Find a regular time to practice. 

If your summer job is MTWF 10-4, maybe you practice from 9-945. Or 430-530, before dinner. But it’s always the same. On days off, you can expand your time, but keep the time slot the same.

2. Do your warm-up routine every day.

If this is all you get to- great! You got to it. You stretched your muscles and kept your musical brain strengthened. Next time you can add scales or a part of your etude.

3. Set small goals week-to-week, and one or two big goals for the whole summer.

If you’re taking lessons, I’ve assigned you a few things to focus on, like two or three scales, a technical pattern, a tune in different keys, an etude. These might serve as good weekly goals- “I’ll get C major learned in two octaves,” or “I’ll increase my double-tonguing  speed by 15 clicks.” They should be part of a larger goal for the summer- “Learn all major scales in 2 octaves,” “Multiple tonguing at quarter= 142.” etc.

4. Don’t sweat taking time off for travel. 

You get to take breaks. It’s okay. A week off the horn won’t make you forget how to play- it may make you fresher! It’ll take a few days to feel normal on the horn again, but you may notice that certain things are simpler once you’re back in the game.

5. Make it fun. 

I mean, duh. Music is about enjoyment. It’s a shame it has to be constantly ‘proven’ to be valuable to education programs and overall societal health to be taken seriously. I think it’s okay if music exists because it’s intrinsically valuable, not because it makes you smarter (although it will do that, too). Get your friends together and sight-read chamber music. Or start a band. Buy a book of songs from your favorite movie arranged for your instrument. Play for folks in a park or in front of a store on a sunny day. Think about your instrument and smile- you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else.

Happy practicing!


Weekly Roundup 6/9/15

Oh man! I totally spaced last week and forgot to do a roundup. Not even sure what I was doing. Not blogging. Whatever. I’m back!

Reading: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J Levitin. (still reading)

Arranging: Editing old arrangements for the Satellites. Still doing this, too. Endlessly. Arranging feels like it’s never done.

Practicing: Satellites charts, lip trills, double and triple tonguing, slurs into the trigger register.

Rehearsing: Satellites have their first rehearsal Thursday so those charts better be ready, missy!

Performing: Midnight in Moscow, July 1st at Driftwood Char Bar.

Metro put on a stellar concert last week. Really well-attended and liked. Da Pacem Domine (my arrangement) was a particular hit!

Listening: Best Coast (saw them live last night at First Avenue!), Tame Impala (give me the new record asap)

Teaching: How to manage your summer practice schedule.

Relaxing: Reading outdoors in the sunshine. Drinking iced tea. I love summer.

Weekly Roundup 5/26/15

Reading: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J Levitin.

Arranging: Editing old arrangements for the Satellites.

Practicing: I’m so close to having a real lip slur I can taste it (or maybe that’s blood).

Rehearsing: Midnight in Moscow this week- we have our first gig in over year in July!

Performing: Metro Brass: June 4th Variety Concert! Can’t wait to conduct Da Pacem Domine in the round.

Listening: Surfer Blood. Brahms Piano Quintet. Vampire Weekend.

Teaching: Probably overdue for a series of lessons on good practice habits, what with summer being here and all.

Relaxing: MAD MAX WAS SO GOOD. Tonight, seeing Surfer Blood at 7th Street Entry. Tomorrow I’m getting a MASSAGE and it’s all I can think about.

Weekly Roundup 5/19/15

Reading: n/a this week- still waiting on books from the library! Arranging: Love Letter by Clairy Browne and the soul version of 7 Nation Army by Ben L’Oncle Soul (both for the Satellites). Practicing: Double and triple tonguing needing a review this week. Rehearsing: Metro Brass on Sunday night. We put in some serious effort on Da Pacem Domine and it is going to sound fantastic! Performing: Metro Brass: June 4th. The Satellites: June 13th. Midnight in Moscow: July 12th. Metro Brass: July 23. More information under “Upcoming” on my homepage. Listening: Janelle Monae is my queen. Teaching: Feels like everyone’s stressed out about finals and AP tests and life this week. So I’ve been teaching less instrument-specific things and more about time and stress management- and how music can help! Relaxing: MAD MAX. Tonight. Art-A-Whirl, this past weekend. Feeling like my weekends are planned out with festivals and gigs for the rest of the summer.

Weekly Roundup 5/12/15

Reading: Requested a few books on musical acoustics from the library. Thumbing through my old ear-training texts.

Arranging: In the editing stages of charts for the Satellites. We have a gig! June 27th. Details to follow. A few changes to make to Da Pacem Domine before Metro’s concert on June 4th.

Practicing: Metro Brass charts, lip trills, and a review of alto clef because I am rusty!

Rehearsing: Midnight in Moscow met last week and we had a productive rehearsal revamping some of our favorite charts. Our next gig on the books is July 12th!

Performing: Metro Brass: June 4th. The Satellites: June 27th. Midnight in Moscow: July 12th. Metro Brass: July 23. More information under “Upcoming” on my homepage.

Listening: Brandi Carlile, a little bit, but mostly silence has been nice this week.

Teaching: Two students are trying out for Minnesota Junior Winds, so I’ve been prepping them for that and helping them record. Other students are diving into learning tunes by ear, and working with the Intonation Helper.

Relaxing: Spent lots of time at Eloise Butler this weekend, volunteering. It’s so gorgeous there, you guys. Go check it out.

Weekly Roundup 5/5/15

Reading: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks

Arranging: Sam Smith’s I’m Not The Only One is done for The Satellites. I’m out of things to arrange- unless I finally get around to that instrumental version of David Bowie’s Fame that I’ve always wanted to do…

Practicing: Red Dragonfly, Annie Laurie, Elegy for Mippy II (to keep up with a student who will perform it for his MYS audition next month).

Rehearsing: Metro on Sunday had a long rehearsal in preparation for our June 4th concert. We dove into Da Pacem, which I arranged for the group a few weeks ago.

Performing: No gigs currently booked until end of May.

Listening: A friend invited me to see Lady Lamb the Beekeeper tonight at 7th Street Entry, so I’ve been rocking out to her smart, heavy lyrics.

Teaching: I may have finally found my metaphor for airflow- at least, it’s worked with a few students so far! I want air to ‘flow’ like water, I’ve talked about putting your foot on the gas pedal, I’ve asked students to move their air like a solid brick of sound. The other day I reversed the concept of control, and asked a student to imagine I was pulling the air/sound out of him, like a string. It worked immediately. And it worked again with another student. Teaching. Win.

Relaxing: Avengers: Age of Ultron! Minneapolis MayDay festivities. Long hikes along the Minnesota River. Bike rides. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love spring.

on routines

About once or twice a season I fall into a little funk. It’s nothing as serious as depression, but it’s definitely a listlessness, a desire to be lazy and do the bare minimum. Being self-employed and making my own schedule, this can seem mighty tempting. What would it matter if I took a Thursday afternoon to watch TV instead of getting some arranging done or approaching my second practice session? Can’t I just get back to it tomorrow when my brain’s rested?

And sometimes I give in, and take a nap on the couch with my kitties.

And sometimes I fight it. And I’ve been fighting it more and more lately, as I get better at routines.

In January of this year, I officially become solely self-employed. I had been working a part-time office assistant job, mostly from home, that took up about 3-4 hours on weekday afternoons. When that ended, I found myself facing whole days with seemingly nothing to do until my lessons in the evening. I know from years of experience that unlimited free time is a killer for me, and that I need to have some sort of a schedule to keep myself on task.

So I made a routine. Mornings after breakfast, I set aside an hour/hour and a half to warm-up and practice my trombone. On Tuesdays I would blog, regardless of whether I had much to say or not. Somedays I would read or do research on a musical topic, or do lesson preparation, other days I would arrange. I had it blocked off, but over time what I chose to do each day became more fluid and dependent on what was needed next. In the afternoon another hour of practice.

After 5pm, if there are no lessons to be taught, I allow myself to fully ‘clock out’ and relax.

And Friday and Saturday constitute my ‘weekend’.

Last week was tough. I really didn’t want to do much on trombone besides get through my warm-up, and sometimes even that was hard. I had things to arrange that have been on the master list for a long time, but instead I conjured up an entirely different project, and that consumed most of my week. There’s nothing wrong with mixing up the routine from time to time, but for me it can make it a lot difficult to get back on track.

This week feels different. Practicing this morning felt fresh and productive. I’ve arranged a tune, finished my other project, blogged, networked, done studio housekeeping. I’m not judging myself for my week of ‘meh’, but I am glad I pushed myself to keep to a routine throughout it, even if it was just the bare minimum.

Your routine might look different. The only thread that connects your days might be that you make your bed in the morning. Or you might do the same task or go to the same classes everyday. If you’re in my studio, I might ask that you do the same exercise everyday. I might be trying to get you to establish a routine, or I might genuinely want to see what a week of daily work on an exercise will do for you. I’m learning some of these things too, especially what makes my teaching effective over time. Start to think about what you do that anchors your days, and how it helps you improve musically.

It doesn’t have to be boring.

It could be totally freeing.