Three Cs: Practicing without annoying the neighbors

The following post was written by Sally Writes.

When my daughter got her first guitar a little over two years ago, she could not have been more enthusiastic. At the risk of sounding like the typical mother living vicariously through her daughter, I was certain that she would progress beyond the “just about able to play something as long as there are only three chords” level that I had reached, and go on to be the next Chrissie Hynde.

She certainly seemed to pick it up quicker and better than I ever did, too. However, our shared joy of her burgeoning skills soon became a stomach-turning dread. Our condo in the university area of Burlington, VT was built in the 1960s, and the internal walls are not the thickest. Within minutes of my daughter picking up her guitar, the neighbor’s television would be cranked up to a tooth-rattling volume. All the pleasure was at that moment sucked out of her guitar playing for both of us.

I was determined that she would get the chance to continue – it felt like there was too much riding on this for both of us – so I set about investigating how I could create a guitar practice setup that would allow her to develop her skills without causing a war with the neighbors. Here are my top three tips which can be used for any music practice.

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Learn to play like yourself

Irish Session in DurangoTo those who don’t listen to Irish music all that often, listening to a set of tunes may sound like one long song that goes on forever, kind of like what techno sounds like to me. If you listen long enough though, you begin to recognize the unique style of each musician.

If you’ve ever heard Martin Hayes play the Old Bush, you know he doesn’t play that reel quite like anyone else. Once you’ve listened to his version, you’d recognize it again just by the way he slows it down, elongates his notes and plays it with expression instead of at full speed in straight 4/4.

Miles Davis said “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” I’m pretty sure Martin Hayes has been playing for a long time which is why his expression of the music is so unique. Me, on the other hand…I got some miles to go.

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Practice tips for the traditional Irish musician

Lonely FiddleFor the past 5 weeks I’ve been taking an Irish music class with The Vermont School of Traditional Irish Music and learning a new tune each week. It’s been great as not only have I been adding tunes to my repertoire but I’ve been learning some valuable lessons about how to practice. Here are a few:

  • Hop back on the train – One exercise we did in class was to have the whole class playing a tune while someone walked around and tapped us on the shoulder. Once we were tapped we had to immediately stop playing. Once tapped again we had to start again no matter where they were in the tune. (The way you could adapt this to your home practice is to play alongside your favorite tune and drop out randomly and drop back in randomly). This forced us to practice getting back on the train once we got off. Sometimes we make a mistake in a session or in a performance but you can’t really stop and start over, you just have to hop back on the tune.

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Play like you have nothing to lose

Irish Band in Vermont

Green Corduroy playing in a tree-house in Moretown, VT

You just learned a new tune and you play it over and over in your living room when no one is home. Each time you play it, it gets better and better. At some point it sounds so good that you think of quitting your day job and taking it on the road. You envision yourself touring with your favorite band.

The tune is that good. And your playing of it, is that superb.

You then hit the session that week and decide to start that very same tune. You gather up your courage and step up into the silence to play the first note. Suddenly you can’t remember the rest of the tune. That tune you just quit your job for and became a rock star with suddenly is lost in the abyss of your brain and you start to panic.

After the freak-out passes, you eventually do get through the tune though it doesn’t sound anything like the monumental piece you practiced in your living room all week. (Thank God you didn’t really quit your day job).

This does happen to you, right?

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What I learned from my dog about music

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A few months ago I adopted Bloo, a rescue dog from a local shelter. And since we’ve been together I have to admit I have spent more time playing with him than I have been practicing my fiddle (look at that face, can you blame me?).

Today though, I finally got back to it and realized during the last three months I have learned so much about music just from hanging with my dog.

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How practicing is like training for the olympics

by Katrina VanTyne

olympicsI love watching the Olympics. It doesn’t matter who wins the gold, it always brings tears to my eyes when an athlete gets awarded their medal on the podium.

Though I can’t claim to be anything close to an Olympic athlete (though I did mountain bike race in my youth),  I can attest to knowing what goes into the training it takes to be good at something you love.

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