Tag Archives: music

How Often to Practice Music

How Often to Practice Music

As a music school, we get questioned all the time about how often to practice music and for how long. The truth is, it depends on a number of factors, including what level you’re at, how serious you are, what type of music it is, and what musical performances you have coming up. But there are some general rules of thumb that should help you no matter what.

How Often Should I Practice?

High frequency of practice sessions tends to be more effective than long duration of practice sessions. It’s almost always better to practice every day, even for 5-10 minutes, than it is to practice once a week for 70 minutes. Your brain needs time to process the material in between practice sessions, and as with exercise, your body needs to build strength and agility slowly. When it comes to guitar, your fingers need to callous and build up strength, which won’t happen with longer, less frequent practice sessions. When it comes to singing, especially if you’re new, you’ll just wear your voice out if you practice too long and too infrequently. When it comes to piano, your fingers need a chance to build up strength. Often, if you let too much time elapse, you’ll pretty much be back to square 1 when you start up again. So that being said, try for almost every day. If that isn’t realistic, shoot for as many times a week as you can. Be honest with yourself though. If 3-4 times a week is possible, and 7 days a week isn’t, don’t tell yourself it’s 7 days a week or nothing. That’s just a recipe for getting derailed. Anything is better than nothing, especially if you’re consistent.

If you’re practicing every day, giving yourself a day off once in a while can actually be helpful as well. It’ll give your muscles a chance to recover, particularly in some more muscular forms of singing, like belting.

How Long Should I Practice?

As I mentioned, shorter, more frequent sessions are better than longer, less frequent ones. The length of time you spend depends on your level. If you’re just starting to learn an instrument, 15 minutes might be plenty for you. In fact, playing guitar longer than that before your fingers are calloused flat-out hurts. Doing your vocal exercises 10 to 15 minutes a day will also give you a huge leap forward. As you get more advanced and your music gets harder, practice sessions should get gradually longer. If you’re working through a repertoire of advanced Chopin, Mozart, and Bach pieces, 15 minutes probably won’t scratch the surface, and you’re looking at at least an hour to see some real improvement. When it comes to advanced singing, listen to your body. If your voice is getting tired, it’s usually time to wrap up the practice session, or at least start to use the time to mark through music instead of singing full out. If your voice is feeling great, by all means, the more singing the better.

How Should I Practice?

Your music teacher is the best one to help you with this question, but most importantly, you should combine taking apart the hard parts with practicing all the way through a song. If you know you can play a song perfectly except for the 4th measure, don’t keep playing through the song over and over again and making the same mistake on the 4th measure. Just play that measure until you have it down. If you’re singing through a song and can hit every note perfectly except for that last one, give some special attention to that last note instead of just singing the song again and again. But playing or singing through the whole song has its purposes too. Building up the physical and mental stamina to make it through a song is extremely important for your musical growth.

If I Can Leave You With Just One Thing

If I can leave you with just one piece of advice from this entire article, it’s that something is better than nothing. If all you can manage is singing along with your radio in the car every day, I promise, it’s better than nothing, and your voice will benefit from it. You might not be ready for your Broadway audition in the next few weeks, but your voice will still improve over time if you keep it up. If all you can find time for is playing through the guitar chords in a verse of the song you’re learning a few times a week, you’ll eventually have that verse down and be able to move to the chorus. You’ll still be learning chords, developing finger strength, and building up muscle memory. I’ve seen students with very little practice time make remarkable progress over the years by just doing what they can.

How to Make a Monologue Sound Natural

How to Make a Monologue Sound Natural

The following was written by one of our top voice and monologue coaches, Anne.

The hardest thing for a young actor is making the monologue not sound memorized. It is, of course, memorized. That is a requirement for any actor. But the trick is to make it seem not memorized. And that is where the difficulty comes in. How do you make something that is memorized seem to not be memorized? Magic? Possibly. But a more mundane, attainable option is to make sure you are clear about where the beats go.

Beats Aren’t Just Part of Music

Wait! Beats are part of music. Monologues don’t have music. If they did, they would be songs. That is true. But it is also true that all human language has beats. If someone speaks with a lot of long pauses, we read hesitation. If they speak quickly, with words pouring out of their mouth, we read excitement. We are able to read this hesitation or excitement in the speed and timing of human language, just like we do with a song. But since plays and, therefore, monologues have no composer to write the rhythm in for us, it is our job as actors to figure out how to put them in.

Listen to People in Real Life

Pay close attention the next time someone is talking to you. Chances are that they will stop a little bit. They might need time to think of the next thing to say, or might need time to react to what has just been said to them. There might be a moment when they are waiting for someone else to react. Those pauses, when we are referring to monologue preparation, are beats. It is a point in the monologue where you intentionally stop talking. Your character might be taking time to think of something, they might need to remember an event before they can say it. A memory might have knocked them off their feet for a minute, or they are waiting to see if the other character (who may or may not be there) is going to say something. But those pauses are necessary so that we understand what is happening, and understand why the character is reacting the way that they are. We need to read the character the way we read the people that meet every day.

What Are Beats So Important

Why else are the beats so important? Because they are what help us not sound like we are simply reciting something memorized. They are what allow us to get that organic flow of words that is the bridge between recitation and acting. It is a time to silently develop the character, to allow them to be a little bit more real and human to the audience. Another thing that makes the beats important is that they help us slow down. We are filled with adrenaline when we audition and perform, and that makes us speed up, which can cause us to lose some of the emotional impact. Paying attention to the spacing allows us to not only create an organic, emotive monologue, but also to maintain it when it truly matters.

How to Put Beats In

If you are unsure how to put beats in, start simple. Read through your monologue. Put in two beats (count one, two in your head if that helps) after each comma, and one beat (count one) after each comma. That alone will begin to slow down the monologue and make it feel less rushed. Practice like that for a while; get a feeling for what it feels like to go slowly. Then begin to take apart the monologue a little bit, what I like to think of as “going over it with a fine-tooth comb.” We are looking for the details to make the big picture bigger. Does your character have to think of a reason why something is, or have to come up with a list off the top of their head? If they do, you’ll want to put in some more spacing. If someone asked you to list ten birds, it might take you some time to think of them, even if you know them all. Unless, of course, your character has been practicing a list of ten birds, and they show off that skill in the monologue. Then the beats will be different. Understanding your character, and why they are saying what they are saying, will help you figure out timing for the monologue. Spend some time with who you think the character might be, and you might just find that the beats fall naturally.

Tips for Learning to Play Guitar

Four Tips for Learning the Guitar

The following is a post written by guest blogger Mark from Know Your Instrument.

So you want to learn how to play guitar. How hard can it be?

It all depends on what skill level you’re looking to achieve. If you want to be a virtuoso, you have a long road ahead of you. It takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to achieve that level of mastery for anything. Up to the task? No? That’s okay.

Almost anyone can learn to play their favorite songs on the guitar, solos included. All it takes is some basic eye-hand coordination and the ability to read tablature. Let’s begin with that.

1. Print Out a Tab of a Song You Like

Tablature consists of one line per string of the instrument you’re playing along with numbers representing notes. The numbers correspond to places on the fretboard. There is a simple key to go along with it for things like palm muting and pinch harmonics. Learn the finger positions and notes first, and then try to play along with the track.

2. Practice Often Enough to Get Calluses

At first, you won’t be able to play for long. Your fingertips will hurt too much. This is normal and gets better with time. If you have nylon strings, it’s not as much of an issue. But it’s safe to assume most of you are playing on steel strings. You have to keep going until you develop calluses on all four fingertips. Then you won’t even notice it, no matter how long you practice for. And if you’re not playing often enough to develop calluses, you certainly won’t be developing your skills, either.

Listen to Music–a Lot

Part of how I learned was by listening to my favorite songs so much that I could hear the melody and notes in my head. Then it was just a matter of learning where they were on the fretboard and playing them in proper timing. As mentioned, be sure to play along with the song once you figure out the basics, to make sure your timing is on point. A metronome can be of assistance as well.

Learn Basic Guitar Chords

Get a poster that shows all of the most common guitar chords. It looks overwhelming at first. Just focus on the basic ones at first. A, C, D, E, and G along with their minor keys are the most common ones that almost every song you have ever heard includes some variation of. There are a few others as well.

These four actions will get you started. Remember, the best way to improve at anything is to practice with someone more advanced. When I was learning, I played with a few people who were in bands. Quantum leaps of my comprehension ensued. If you learn chord basics, listen to music often, attempt re-creating that music by utilizing tablature, and develop calluses on your fingers along the way, you will be on the right track.

The Tempest at South Coast Repertory Theatre: Merging Magic and Music

Last week, I had the opportunity to see The Tempest at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa. From beginning to end, the show was a delightful intermingling of breathtaking staging, able acting, impressive magic tricks, and of course, timeless Shakespearean text. But as usual, it was the production’s use of music that struck me the most.

The music, written by Tom Waits and his wife and collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, isn’t just a backdrop to the play—it’s a central force that helps drive the action. In fact, the program credits the musicians (who are all on stage playing a variety of odd and beautiful instruments) as the characters “Rough Magic,” named after Prospero’s famous lines, “But this rough magic I here abjure, and, when I have required/Some heavenly music, which even now I do/To work mine end upon their senses…” This production makes good use of the text’s suggestion that there’s a relation between magic and music.

The Tom Waits music perfectly captures the existential, but still darkly celebratory mood that permeates the play. Little is needed to give the famous Prospero soliloquies that end The Tempest more emotional oomph than they already have, but some of the Waits songs, like “No One Knows I’m Gone” somehow manage to gut-punch Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare enthusiasts alike.

Symbolically, the musicians disappear at the end of the play as Prospero’s magic wanes, maintaining the music-magic unity.

I wish I could find a clip of music from the play, but in its place, here’s a Tom Waits song that appears in the production.

For tickets, visit the SCR site here.