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Music Notes: A Blog by the Music Academy of Garden City

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Letter to GC News

Below is a letter I wrote in response to an article in the Garden City News. The article spoke about the positive impact of music education, but failed to give any advice on picking a qualified teacher. In my opinion, not caring about the qualifications of your child's music teacher is akin to not caring about the qualifications of their school teachers. It just doesn't make sense, especially as more and more studies show the educational and developmental impact of music on our kids.

 

Positive impact of music

To the Editor:

Regarding the article "Students seeking private music lessons have options" that was featured in the "Back to School" section of last week's issue: As a music teacher I wholeheartedly agree with the author's assertion that music is a fundamental part of a well rounded education. I have seen firsthand the positive impact of a music education but would offer additional advice to parents seeking out music teachers for their children.

Researching the qualifications of potential music teachers is extremely important, especially since many privately run music schools have no mandatory requirements for their teachers or standardized curriculum. It is also important to make sure your child's private lesson will allow him to flourish if he should desire to become involved in an ensemble at school. For example, a student who is studying guicontinued tar privately would need to learn note reading, proper technique and jazz theory if she wanted to audition for jazz ensemble in middle or high school. Similarly, a student studying violin privately must learn proper technique, historical context, music theory and more in order to flourish in her school orchestra and be considered for audition only ensembles.

Garden City has a wonderful and challenging public school music program that offers many ensemble opportunities, so choosing a good teacher becomes even more crucial to ensuring your child's success. Another essential question for a potential private music teacher is whether he or she has experience with NYSSMA preparation. NYSSMA has complex rules that vary for instrument, level and genre, and NYSSMA scores are used to determine which students are selected for All- County and All-State ensembles.

Finally, as with all aspects of education, the best way to ensure your child succeeds in music is by being involved with the process. Get them started young with a qualified teacher, ask questions about their progress, and make sure their teacher is knowledgeable in the areas of notation, theory, technique and more, and holds a degree in music.

Dr. Peter Coco

Peter Coco is founder of the Music Academy of Garden City, an Assistant Professor of Music at Hofstra University, and a professional double bassist.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Our New Website

Welcome to our new, completely redesigned website! Here are some of the new highlights:

• An online Academic Calendar which has all of our closing dates, special programs, and events for the school year laid out. Also, you can actually add our calender events to your device! Just email us and we can send you a link that will enable you to import our calendar events right into your phone's calender app (it works through Google Calendar). 

• A Student Accomplishments Page that showcases some of the wonderful things our students are doing in music.

• A Faculty Accomplishments Page that highlights some recent activities of our teachers.

• A Faculty Music Page where you can check out audio and video of our talented instructors.

• And much, much more!

Please take some time to peruse the website and let us know what you think. We will be regularly adding updates including Student and Faculty Accomplishments and Music, as well as blogs, news, and music.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Embracing Constructive and Destructive Criticism

Criticism is something we tend to avoid, especially in our modern society which seems to thrive on positive reinforcement and high self-esteem, often regardless of accomplishments. But criticism of many kinds can be a valuable tool for the musician and is an integral part of becoming successful in any field. Criticism is indeed necessary if one is to improve at music, and every music teacher knows that he or she must often be critical of a student’s work in order to get them to the next level. In fact, some of my best professors in college were also my biggest critics. These mentors routinely picked apart my playing and sometimes did it quite unmercifully. Why did they do it? Well, surely it was not just to make me feel bad, nor was it in order to make them feel better about themselves. They did it because they cared about my progress as a musician and wanted to see me succeed. So, here are a few tips for the music student who will inevitably deal with criticism.

1. Both kinds of criticism, constructive and “destructive,” should be embraced and put in perspective. If your teacher takes the time to constructively critique your playing, you as a student should embrace what he or she says and take it to heart. Your teachers only have what’s best for you in mind, and have the experience to know what the standards are for musicians in the “real world.”  Learning to embrace their criticism and practice effectively based on that criticism is something that all musicians must do in order to improve. Besides constructive criticism, I can assure you that you will also encounter destructive criticism in your life as a musician (but hopefully not from a teacher). This can also be transformed into something positive, if you learn to put it in perspective. First, look at the source. If it’s someone petty and jealous, then it’s okay to disregard their words. But, if you find that their criticism has some merit, regardless of whether they meant it to help you or not, you should use their criticism as motivation to improve, and to prove them wrong! In my life, some of the most constructive critics have been the ones who meant to be destructive, but I took their words and made sure that I practiced until I could prove them wrong and make them eat their words.

2. You have the potential to be a great musician, regardless of the critics. Criticism becomes much easier to digest when you realize your potential, and believe that you can succeed in music. But, there is a big caveat that people often avoid when taking about our potential as human beings, and that is the essential ingredient of hard work. I can assure you that you can be a great musician, or a great soccer player, or even a world-class architect, if you are willing to work extremely hard! Personally, it took me a very long time to figure out that I could accomplish any of my goals in music, as long as I was willing to put the work in. Having this insight will give criticism of all kinds a completely new perspective, since you will realize that with some diligent practice, you can eventually silence even the most harsh critic!

3. Criticism provides us with much-needed humility. Like it or not, we musicians can tend to be a little egocentric. If you think about it, the very act of performing begins with the idea that we have something in us that is so profound, so worthwhile, and so special, that it deserves the attention of an entire audience! The danger of egotism is that we run the risk of getting a swelled head and becoming unteachable, or we can fall into the “big fish, little pond” syndrome, both of which will have a negative impact on our improvement as players. Don’t get me wrong, I am not speaking about confidence, which all musicians must have, but more about arrogance, which has no place in the learning process (some would argue a little arrogance is good for the performance itself, but I am not addressing that here). An arrogant person cannot learn from anyone, since they think they already know it all. The “big fish” syndrome is also a danger, because it let’s the student musician compare himself only to those around him. The danger of this is that a high school or college campus is a limited “pond,” and does not reflect the true standards for musicians in the professional world. To avoid this, it’s best to compare yourself to accomplished players on your instrument, and not to your friends at school. In my case as a bassist, I will routinely listen to the best jazz or classical bassists in the world and see how I stack up against them. Granted, this is not a fun or easy process, but it is essential to improving.

4. Become your own worst critic. Again, don’t confuse being self-critical with being self-hating or walking around miserable or depressed. Trust me, music is not worth all of that! But, it’s important for you to be critical of your own playing in order to see where you need improvement. One great way to do this is by recording yourself and listening back with a critical ear. This is easy to do today with iPhones and iPads, and you will gain valuable insight into your own playing. It’s also important because your own playing or singing sounds one way in your head, but might sound very different in reality. The only way to tell is by listening back to yourself. You will be surprised by what you hear (both good and bad).

5. Catalog where you have been in order to see where you are going. When I first started studying jazz, for some reason I believed that I would never become a great jazz musician. I thought I started too late in life, or that I just didn’t get it, or that I was not talented enough. But, I continued to practice and learn because I truly loved the music. It wasn’t until a few years later that I decided to listen to some old recordings of myself, and I was able to see (or hear) that I had in fact improved greatly! Since then, I have cataloged all of my performances and use them as guideposts to help me see that I am indeed improving, and more times than not, I am encouraged by my progress.

6. Remember, music is meant to be fun! At the end of the day, if I am not having fun playing music, what is the point? If I am constantly miserable about playing the bass, why play it at all? So, next time you sit down to practice, work hard, use the power of criticism, and learn to enjoy the process. If you do this, I guarantee that you will succeed in music.

by Pete Coco

Pete Coco is cofounder of the Music Academy of Garden City and an Adjunct Professor of Music at Hofstra University. For more information on the Music Academy, please call 516-292-2777 or send an email to info@musicacademyofgc.com.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Importance of Setting Goals

As musicians, it is very easy to fall into routines during our practice sessions without consciously thinking about what we want to accomplish. The problem is that without goals, our daily practice routines may not be ideal for molding us into the musicians we want to be. For example, if your goal is to become an orchestral player, it wouldn’t make sense for you to spend the bulk of your practice time playing solo literature. You would be better off devoting a chunk of your daily practice regimen to learning orchestral excerpts. There are more subtle examples than this obvious one. For instance, if your goal is to become a Broadway pit musician, your daily practice should reflect the skills those musicians must possess, like being a great sight-reader.

Musicians can take a cue from the business world when it comes to setting goals. Each business starts out with a Business Plan, a detailed document that serves as a blueprint for what the business wants to accomplish. These plans have short and long term goals, and can encompass what the business wants to do in one year as well three or five years, which means different sets of goals.

So, the first step is to  compile a list of goals. At this point, don’t even worry about whether they are long or short term goals,  just make a list. Although the list will be dependent on the instrument you play and the genres you are learning, here is a sample list that I might come up with as a bassist who studies both jazz and classical music:

1. Refine my bow technique

2. Develop a warmer tone

3. Develop better intonation

4. Become a better sight-reader

5. Learn 50 orchestral excerpts

6. Learn 100 jazz standards and memorize them

7. Join a local orchestra

8. Record a solo album

9. Become a better improvisor

At this point, you can also separate your goals into two columns, one for Short Term Goals and one for Long Term Goals, and refer back to the list periodically to see if you are meeting your goals. It is also important to remember that many of these goals can be seen as both short and long term, like developing better intonation. If I practice scales for ten minutes today, focusing on playing in tune, I will indeed play slightly more in tune. But, if I continue this for a year, my intonation will become much more solid, hence it can be both a short and long term goal.

The next step is to tailor your daily practice routine to fit your list of goals. For example, since one of my goals is to memorize 100 jazz standards, I can now make a plan that has one song per week on a list that I can work from. This way, instead of just randomly picking a song, I now have a plan that is easy to follow, making the task much more manageable since it is now in black and white. As another example, concerning sight-reading, we can now develop a concrete plan to accomplish this goal. Instead of just randomly picking music each day to look at, try making a sight-reading packet for yourself that has new music for each day encompassing one full month. The key is to be specific and set deadlines for yourself for both your long and short term goals and then to work daily towards making them happen.

After you have organized your list of goals, it is time to write everything down and post in your practice room. I cannot stress how important it is to take your list of goals and your new practice routine, and post it on the wall in your practice room. This way, every time you practice, you are reminded of what tasks need to be completed, and what you should be practicing. This will help to eliminate wasted time during practice sessions, and allow you to make the most out of every day.

Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big. Your goal might be to play with the New York Philharmonic, or to tour with a famous band, or become the most in-demand session musician in New York City. Believe me when I tell you, the only person who can stop you from attaining these dreams is you! It took me many years to learn that I can be the biggest obstacle to my own growth as musician and person by setting limitations for myself. Soon I realized that if I worked hard at my craft, and never let others tell me whether I could “make it” or not, I could indeed go places in music that I never dreamed!

by Pete Coco


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