How Much Should You Practice?

The good old practice question. It’s a question that most musicians will ask of themselves or of their teachers at some point. I have thought long and hard about the answer, and there is no right answer.

Killer Harmony | How Much Should You Practice? | Many musicians will admit the dreaded question at least once. How much should I practice? Here I outline what you should consider when practicing.

Your ideal practice routine will depend on a number of factors. A professional pianist will probably need to practice more than a beginner. Brass players, singers, and even woodwind players have physical limitations that string players, pianists, and percussionists don’t.

So, instead of answering this question, I am going to outline a few things you should consider. Each person will have different needs, so consult your past experience or a professional if you are still confused.

Your Level

If you are just beginning a new instrument, you will not be able to play for as long as someone more advanced. You are still getting accustomed to the instrument, and you may not have much music to work on.

For music majors and other serious students, you will need to practice a bit longer than a beginner. Odds are you will have solo pieces, ensemble music, and etudes to work on. You shouldn’t need to practice all day, but make sure you have enough time to make sufficient progress each day.

If you are a professional or pre-professional musician, your needs will probably change frequently. During a gig heavy month, you might have to practice every chance you get, but in the off season, you can get away with less.

No matter your level, always make it a point to keep up with your fundamentals, such as tone, technique, scales, etc.

Your Career Path

As odd as it might sound, not all advanced musicians pursue music professionally. If you are well versed in your instrument yet have not plans of a career in music, practice isn’t as important. You should still practice to improve, but you don’t need to be as serious.

If you hope to make music a career, then you should definitely practice as much as you can. If you are bored, pick up your instrument and practice. Practicing may sound boring, but if music is your career goal, it will benefit you.

Also, your music activities might affect your practice routine. If you have a ton of rehearsals, you may not have the energy that a solo player would to practice for hours. Considering your schedule outside of practicing means you can analyze how much you can practice.

Your Instrument

Pianists and percussionists, as well as string players, have fewer physical limitations to their practice. Brass players can overwork their lips, singers can risk vocal fry, and reed players can become light headed.

If your instrument wears you out after awhile, it is time for a break. Keep this in mind when planning practice sessions. If you have to take breaks, work that into your schedule so that you can get everything done without harming yourself.

Each instrument is different, so a violinist and a clarinetist will have different practice schedules. That is normal and expected.

Your Priorities

This goes off the second point above, but your priorities play a part in your life. If music is your main priority, you can afford to practice more than an amateur. If you want a life outside of music, you shouldn’t worry about not practicing enough.

For students, you will have homework and other activities that require your attention in addition to your instrument. Time management will help you do all you need to do. But school should be your first priority. If music is part of your academics, such as for music majors, then focus on the music that you will be graded on.

If music is purely a fun thing, that is also great. You can practice as much or as little as you wish. No worries about practice requirements or music related stress. It’s up to you.

Your Choice

No matter the role music plays in your life, it’s your choice how much you practice. Certain people will practice more than others, based on their level or their own goals. If you don’t have to practice all day and you don’t want to, don’t force it.

If you are a student, you will probably have requirements for your teacher and ensemble directors, but do you. We all work differently, some faster than others. There’s no shame in how you work or how much you practice your instrument.

So…

Have you set a practice goal for yourself? Do you time your practice? Let me know in the comments!

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What Instrument Should You Play?

It’s a question that every musician has asked at least once: what instrument should I play? There are a few factors that you need to consider before you choose an instrument. Your size, interests, and finances all play a role.

Killer Harmony | What Instrument Should You Play? | Choosing what instrument to play can be hard. In this post, I cover what you should consider when choosing an instrument to play.

I am not here to tell you what instrument to play (though I am partial to the flute). The purpose of this post is simply to give you something to think about when you go pick out that new instrument.

So, without further ado, here are a few things you should think about before starting a musical instrument.

Your Interest in the Instrument

It may sound obvious, but interest plays a huge part in your success on an instrument. You will have a much easier time learning and practicing if you choose an instrument you enjoy. When choosing an instrument, this is probably the biggest thing to consider, because you should like what you are doing.

If you don’t care much for the piano, for example, you will never want to practice, and you won’t make any progress. Yes, you might have to learn piano before you learn something like the harpsichord, but overall you should enjoy playing and listening to your instrument.

If you are passionate about the music, it won’t matter how prestigious or popular the instrument is. It won’t matter what others think of your choice. When it comes to interest, you are the only one who matters.

Your Capabilities

Some instruments are harder to start than others. In most cases, you cannot start directly on oboe or French horn. You might have to learn the basics on another instrument like clarinet or trumpet.

It also takes some work to get a sound on the flute, so you should try playing it to see if you can do it. As much as I believe you can play any instrument you want, there are some physical and mental factors that can limit your options.

Another example is the double bass. It is such a large instrument, and it requires larger hands to reach the notes in addition to finger accuracy due to the lack of frets. Don’t let your body limit you, but you should know what you are comfortable with.

Your Budget

In a recent post, I mentioned instruments for every budget. I listed some instruments at different price points, so check that out if your budget is small.

While your budget is worth taking into account, it is not the be all end all of choosing an instrument. In that budget post, I grouped instruments by overall beginner model prices. However, you can usually find an instrument for rent through a music store or second hand through a store or online.

Renting is great for beginners, because many programs are rent-to-own, and there is no obligation to buy. Many of these agreements are month to month, and you can return the instrument and end the contract at any time.

So if buying is out of the question, look at your options, because you may find an instrument for way less than you think.

Your Goals

What do you want from pursuing music? Is it to play in a symphony, start a jazz group, maybe play in a musical theatre pit? Not every instrument has a place in every setting or genre. If you are set on joining an orchestra, saxophone is not your best option. You’d be better off choosing clarinet or bassoon.

If you want to play jazz music, then saxophone, trumpet, and trombone are the big choices. Other instruments can play jazz, but those three plus a rhythm section are standard.

Piano and guitar, as well as singing, are the most versatile, style wise. There is so much classical repertoire for the piano, but you can also play a lot of pop covers and rock songs. Guitar is reverse. It has a ton of popular pieces, and a small selection of classical repertoire.

So…

What all did you consider when choosing your instrument? Let me know in the comments!

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Supplies, Tools, & Essentials for Every Musician

If you are a musician, there are a few tools that are super important to helping you improve, and there are others that just make life easier. Tools like a tuner and metronome to websites for finding sheet music and learning pieces are extremely helpful. Other music supplies will make your life easier.

Killer Harmony | Supplies for Every Musician | When you play an instrument, there are some music supplies that will help you progress and will just make it easier for you to play and enjoy making music.

A lot of these tools can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet, so you don’t have to worry about carrying so much stuff to lessons or gigs. If you are a beginner, you don’t need to have all of these tools right away, but you should plan on getting them as you advance.

There are also certain instrument specific supplies that you will need, such as strings, reeds, or valve oil. For simplicity, I will stick to basic supplies that can apply to any instrument and musician.

An Instrument in Good Repair

This first one seems obvious, but it will really affect you and your playing. You want to have an instrument that will do what you need it to do. If the strings always break or go out of túne, or you have keys that are not aligned correctly, you will struggle more than if those problems weren’t there.

Yes, you make the instrument, it does not make you, but repair issues can significantly hinder your progress.

You can find decent instruments at a local music store or from a reputable dealer. Please avoid buying instruments  are cheap. If you find an instrument that is hundreds of dollars cheaper than every other model, there’s probably a reason for the discrepancy.

If you have an instrument, be sure to take it to a repair person regularly. They know more about how to find and fix problems than you do. Having an instrument in good repair will do wonders for your musical career.

Metronome

When you are learning how to play your instrument for the first time or you are learning a new piece, a metronome is necessary. You can set the tempo to as slow or as fast as you want (usually). A metronome will keep you on track when it comes to your speed.

If you plan to play with others, even just your teacher or a friend, tempo is crucial to the success of your performance. A piece will not sound good if you are not playing together in time.

A metronome will also keep you in time with yourself, and you can use it to slowly work a piece up to tempo. You can buy a physical metronome from your local music store or online, or you can download an app to your phone or tablet.

Tuner

Most musicians will need a tuner. If you play piano, you will not need it every day, but it can be helpful to know when you need to call a piano tuner. If you play an instrument that you tune when you play it, a tuner is essential.

You can get a very basic tuning fork, which will sound the note “A,” which you can then match on your own instrument. The most complex tuner you can get allows you to tune to any note, and it will tell you how flat or sharp you are.

If you are playing with others, a tuner is super important. It is one thing to note play in time with another musician, and it is another thing to play in the same key as another person. As with metronomes, you can find them in music stores, online, and even bundled with metronomes.

Recording Device

As you progress as a musician, it is good to record yourself playing so that you can learn from your mistakes. When you listen to a recording of yourself, you can pick our small things that you ignored when you were playing the piece.

You don’t have to record everything, but doing so occasionally allows you to hear what others hear when you play your instrument. You don’t have to worry about editing out all of the problems, because this recording is for you. Eventually, you might want to share your recordings with others, but you don’t have to.

For now, you can get by with a simple audio recorder. You can buy them in stores, online, or use the app on your phone. I use and love an app called MusiciansKit, which comes with an audio recorder, tuner, and metronome in one.

Pencil

Assuming that you still use printed sheet music, a pencil is uber important. You can use a pencil to mark in accidentals, tempo and key changes, and make note of other details. It is better to us a pencil than a pen, because the music is not always yours to keep. Even if it is, you might want to erase those marks in the future.

Also, if you make some changes after trying something out, you can erase the marks to reflect the changes. A pencil is just a lot cleaner than a pen, because you don’t have to scribble out mistakes or changes.

You should probably already own a pencil or two, but you can get a pencil or pencil set almost anywhere. Keep a pencil or two in your case so that you always have one when you need it.

Folder(s)

When you start using individual sheets of music, you want a place to keep it all safe. This is where pocket folders come in. You can use a simple two pocket folder, or you could get a bit fancy and use one with multiple pockets.

Having multiple folders or a folder with multiple sections allows you to keep your music safe and organized. If you play with a few different groups, you don’t want to have to search through three ensembles worth of pieces to find the one you need.

I use a multi pocket folder for my music, and I have pockets for warm ups, current solos, past solos, future solos, and notes. When I had different ensembles, I had a folder for each group so that I didn’t mix up my music. In college, I would often have to turn in my folder after a concert, so having just that ensemble’s music in that folder kept me from forgetting anything.

You can buy folders at almost any place you can buy pencils. I got my multi pocket folder from Target, and it still works after using it for two years.

Music Stand

Unless you have a perfect memory, you will probably have to play with your music on occasion. In those cases, you need a music stand. You can get a cheap wire stand for about ten bucks, or you can spend more on a better quality stand.

Keep in mind that some of the heavier stands are not easy to transport. If you want to play in different places, you want a stand that you can take with you. At the same time, the really cheap wire stands can only hold so much weight before toppling over.

You can find a music stand at most music stores or online. Amazon has some great deals, and they carry a wide range of options. If you don’t know what to buy, ask for advice from a teacher who can point you in the right direction.

Now for some less important but still useful tools.

Instrument Stand

If you will be playing your instrument a lot, or you just don’t want to fuss with the case every time you play it, a stand is super helpful. As tempting as it might be to just leave your instrument on a table or chair or laying on the floor, it will be much safer on a stand.

Instrument stands are built to hold your instrument, so you will have much more peace of mind if you put your instrument on a stand that was built for it. These stands can cost money, but think about how much you will save by avoiding an otherwise unnecessary trip to the repair shop.

You can find instrument stands, as with other music supplies, in music stores and online. You can also ask local dealers of your instrument if they carry stands. Be prepared to invest no matter what stand you get, but it is an investment that is well worth it.

iPad or other Tablet

Now, this is most definitely an investment, but it is worth saving up for. You can use a tablet for many different things. For one, you can use it as a computer on the go. You can look up composer information, find directions to a gig, or even look up and order sheet music.

There are also some awesome websites such as IMSLP, where you can find tons of free sheet music for different instruments. These free pieces are great for daily sight reading practice or to learn in their entirety. You can also use your tablet to look up recordings of the music you are working on.

Tablets start at around a couple hundred dollars, so you should know what you want before you go out and buy one. But a tablet is a good investment if you will be playing music on the go or if you don’t have access to a printer.

A Private Teacher

This is less a supply and more of a resource. Private lessons will increase the speed of your progress tremendously, and you will learn more with a teacher than you would on your own. While lessons can be expensive, they can also be flexible.

You can choose the frequency and duration of your lessons, and even who you learn from. With the internet, you have access to thousands of good teachers from the comfort of your own home. Though if you are just starting, you should probably start with an in person teacher.

Lessons are an ongoing expense, and they can cost anywhere from $30-120+ per hour.

So…

Those are some of my essentials for a successful musician. If I missed any of your favorite music supplies, comment below! I do plan on doing instrument specific needs in the future, so stay tuned for that!

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Summer Music Tips

Now that school is out for the summer, you probably have a bit more time to do different hobbies and activities without the pressure of school. Summer is the perfect time to work on your music and your instrument.

Killer Harmony | Summer Music Tips | Summer is a great time to improve your music skills. With the extra time, you can get more work done than during school. Here are specific ways to do that.

There are many things you can do during the summer to keep up with music and even get better at your instrument. Since you have a few months before the school year starts back up, it’s smart to not let your skills fall to the wayside. You don’t have to practice all the time, but do enough to keep up.

If you will be going to music school in the fall, now is the perfect time to really build your skills so that you can get ahead for the next semester. Here are some tips I have to keep up with music during the summer.

Make a Plan.

Whether you plan on practicing for 2 hours each day or only 30 minutes five or six days a week, having a plan ensure that you will stay on track. Sit down for a few minutes and figure out your goals for the summer. From those goals, decide what you need to do to reach those goals.

You don’t have to plan out each day, but you should have an idea of how you want to spend your time. Do you have a solo you want to prepare or maybe scales? If you can, meet with a private teacher who can help assess what you should focus on.

Planning your practice means that you can focus more on the task at hand rather than just that you need to practice. You can also make plans to perform. If there’s a local group or concert series, you could look into participating for the summer to keep you motivated.

Follow that Plan.

It’s oh-so easy to make a plan, but it’s a whole nother story when it comes to actually following that plan. That is why, hopefully, you made a plan that is realistic for you. Do your best to follow the plan you made as closely as you can.

Obviously, things happen and plans change. So be flexible, but your plan means nothing if you don’t follow it. If you have a hard time following your plans, add something to motivate you. Maybe you can treat yourself to some YouTube videos or blog posts after you finish a practice session. At the end of the week, after following through on all of your plans, you could take a trip for ice cream.

If you miss a session of a day, don’t beat yourself up about it. It takes time to get into a new routine. Be sure to keep going, and at the end of it, you will feel so good.

Use Online Resources.

Music and all its components can get expensive. That’s why I love tools and websites that are free. If you want to download sheet music, use IMSLP. They have scores for so many pieces, it’s crazy.

There are also online tuners and metronomes. If you don’t have access to a tuner or metronome, using one online is a good substitute.

You can also find tutorials on different concepts for your instrument. If you are struggling with technique, look up “[instrument] technique tips” on the internet for help. You can also spend a bit of money and study with a private teacher through a video chat program.

Take Breaks.

Since it is summer and time for a break, be sure to take breaks in your practice. It gives you and your fingers a change to rest so that you don’t burn out. Breaks also give your brain a chance to take in all of the progress you make. Your brain can process all of the concepts you have learned, and it will be easier to execute those concepts in the future.

Now that you have more time to practice, you need to use that time well. It is more than okay to take breaks when you need it. Get a drink of water, stretch a little bit, walk around, or do whatever it is that you need to do.

It can seem like you should take advantage of all the time you have to practice, but the truth is that it is possible to practice too much. If you spend all day practicing, you will over work your muscles. That can lead to temporary pain or even a permanent injury.

Regular breaks allow you to keep progressing without the risk of permanently damaging a part of your body.

Listen to Recordings.

During your breaks, or you know when you’re up late at night, you can listen to recordings. You can find recordings on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, and musicians websites. Look for recordings of pieces you are working on so that you can hear what they sound like. This is also good if you don’t have access to an accompanist, so you can listen to the backgrounds.

If you are comfortable, you can also listen to recordings of yourself. All it takes is a smartphone with a voice recorder app to get started. Recording and listening to yourself is a great learning tool. As a listener, you will be able to hear small details that you missed when you played the piece.

Recordings are truly a musician’s best friend. Well, besides a tuner and a metronome.

Take it Outside.

Now, this next tip won’t work for everyone; pianos need to be moved by professionals. If you can, though, take your instrument outside. Take advantage of the great weather that comes with the season, and play some music outdoors.

You can bring your music or play from memory, and you can play scales or your repertoire. Playing outside is a good way to get used to different playing environments as well as provide your neighborhood with some nice music.

Obviously, don’t play outside too early or late in the day. Unless you live on a large plot of land, your neighbors won’t appreciate being woken up or kept awake by music.

So…

What are your summer music plans? Do you have any more tips to add? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

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Classical Music in the Modern World

Note: In this post, any reference to classical music will encompass music of the classical western tradition, typically from Baroque to contemporary classical music.

In the age of popular music, it can be easy to forget the art of classical music. This form has all but gone away from mainstream culture. There is a small group of classical music fans, but most of its admirers are musicians.

Killer Harmony | Classical Music Today | Classical music has lost popularity over time. So called popular music has taken its place. But there are ways that you can support classical music today.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I am definitely not saying that we should ignore popular music, but I believe that classical music should also have a place on the radio and in mainstream media.

There is at least one thing you can do to propel the development of classical music, no matter your musical background (or lack thereof).

See the Local Symphony

One easy way to support classical music is to go see your local symphony orchestra. Most major cities have them, and so do a few smaller towns. You can find information on area orchestras online. Look through the website of your town for information. Or find a university symphony.

Going to concerts is a simple way to support the arts. You don’t have to be a musicians yourself to do this. You can make it a family event or a date, or whatever you choose. Many symphonies have a varied season of concerts that will appeal to everyone.

You should be able to find something.

Buy Recordings…

And play them! Purchasing music from today’s classical music will allow these artists to continue their careers and spread the love of classical music. And don’t forget to play those recordings. Classical music is great to have on in the background when working, cooking, or just hanging out.

If you or your child wants to play an instrument, listening to music will help raise interest and motivation. Buy recordings of instruments that you like. Then you can get a glimpse at the possibilities of playing music.

You can purchase CDs or even digital recordings from iTunes or a musician’s website. These recordings are an amazing way to support independent artists, too.

I plan on recording some music in the near future, and I plan on releasing it here!

Read About Classical Music/Musicians

Many biographies and autobiographies have been written about classical musicians and their craft. Reading their stories can inspire you to go and listen or make classical music. It is also a great way to figure out what about music interests you.

Reading the stories of great classical musicians allows you to learn more about how music can change lives.

Also, find some other books on music. I love the book Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. It talks about how music affects the brain. It is truly an amazing book. If you want to sing or play a Wind instrument, The Singer’s Companion by Brent Monahan is also a must read.

Donate to Organizations that Support Music

If your budget allows, add some music organizations to your list of places to donate. Groups such as the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) that support music and music education are especially important. With the new administration’s lack of support for arts and arts education, our support is all the more necessary.

Some students would not attend school if it weren’t for music. Music literally saves lives, and we need all the help we can get to continue teaching generations of musicians.

Start Playing Music Yourself

If you are interested and have the resources, try your hand at an instrument (or voice). You can start on a student model instrument and even rent your first one. Then you won’t have to commit to purchasing or continuing with the instrument if it doesn’t work out.

Be sure to test a couple different instrument (such as flute vs clarinet) to see which is more natural for you. Obviously, it will be easier to keep up with something you like, but give other instruments a try. You never know what might come of it.

You can learn from books or take lessons from a private teacher to help you through your studies. It will take awhile before you can break out the Bach sonatas or Mozart concertos, and that’s okay. Simply learning an instrument will benefit you as much as it will benefit the music world.

So…

What are you going to do to support classical music in the modern world? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!