Practicing is hard work! And practicing is not usually fun. So why practice? Because it is the ONLY way to become a better musician. If being a better musician matters to you, practicing is a must! But don’t waste your time when you practice. Be smart about it. Follow these 5 tips for better practice.
Better Practice Tip #1 – FOCUS
You must focus while you are practicing if you want to be a better musician. Eliminate the distractions! Silence your phone, turn off the TV, retreat to a quiet space, and concentrate on practicing. You must be able to listen and think while you practice.
You can accomplish more in a short amount of time when you have a focused objective.
Better Practice Tip #2 – ISOLATE
Isolate the problem spots in your music and intensely work on those spots until you can play them correctly every time. Don’t spend your time just playing through a piece hoping that your errors self-correct. Not going to happen! Find the problem spots, identify the mistakes you are making, and correct them! This is efficient practicing!
Mistakes are . . . immensely useful. . . they show us . . . where we are right now and what we need to do next
Better Practice Tip #3 – RHYTHM
Learn to play all the rhythms in your music correctly. Music is more than just quarter notes and eighth notes. Conquer all those weird and tricky rhythm patterns! How? Mark the places in your music where the rhythm confuses you. Write out the counting if you need to. Clap the rhythm patterns to cement the correct pattern in your mind. Then, practice playing it slowly. Gradually work the passage up to tempo. If you need help, ask someone – your teacher, band director, orchestra conductor, another musician.
Be better than you were yesterday.
Better Practice Tip #4 – SLOW
Spend time practicing slowly! I cannot emphasize this enough. When you play up to tempo, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you are playing everything correctly, especially when you are playing in a group. But when you do slow practice, you can hear every section where you have troubles. Are your eighth notes uneven? Do you skip over some of the notes in a sixteenth note passage? Slow practice will make all those errors obvious – and then you will know exactly what you need to work on. Remember this: If you cannot play a passage well slowly, you will not play it well at a faster tempo. Slow practice points out all your deficiencies so you can correct them.
If you can play it slow, you can play it fast.
Better Practice Tip #5 – MUSICIANSHIP
Playing all the notes correctly and perfectly performing all the rhythm patterns does not make you a good musician. You may be good technically, but musicianship goes far beyond that! A good musician turns the notes on the page into art for the ears and transforms the score’s black and white into beautiful colors that speak to our hearts. So, practice the dynamic changes. Perfect the expressive elements of your music. Give every note a sense of direction. Pour passion into your music by practicing it that way. Give your music some love!
You practice and you get better. It’s very simple.
If you add these 5 smart strategies to your practicing routine, you will make your practice time more efficient, escalate your musical progress, and become a better musician. So, go for it! Go forth and practice!
For more information about practicing see the following articles:
Most music students seem to have a love-hate relationship with their metronomes. What about you? Do you have a metronome? Do you use your metronome? It’s time for you to make friends with your metronome!
What is a Metronome?
A metronome is a small device that produces a steady beat. Originally metronomes were similar to small pendulums with a way to adjust the speed of the pendulum. Today you can still purchase mechanical metronomes, but more likely, musicians will use digital metronomes or even metronome apps on their phones.
Metronomes have been around for centuries! I guess that means that musicians have had issues with tempo and rhythm for centuries as well! (You aren’t the only one!) Historical records exist for a device similar to a metronome as far back as the 800s. The first successful musical metronome appeared in 1696. By the early 1800s, metronomes similar to what we use today were developed and patented. Beethoven was probably the first famous composer to write metronome markings in his music.
Why Should I Use a Metronome?
Use a metronome to practice keeping a steady tempo throughout a piece.
Too often, it seems, students tend to play the easy parts of a piece of music at one speed but then slow down during the hard parts of the music. Are you one of those students? Do you even know if you tend to do that? A metronome will provide unbiased proof of whether you slow down the hard parts or speed up during the easy parts. It is important to keep a steady tempo throughout both the easy and more difficult passages of your music.
Use a metronome to play at the correct tempo.
What does it mean when your music’s tempo marking is adagio? Or allegretto? Or largo? What if your music says mm = 120? What does that mean? MM=120 written in your music means you are supposed to play 120 beats of music in one minute. Your quarter note (usually designated by a written quarter note with the mm marking) should beat 120 times a minute. That is equal to two beats per second. If your metronome marking is 60, that means one beat per second, so a marking of 120 equals two beats per second. A marking of 90 means to play 1-1/2 beats per second. Confusing? It’s all about the math! Set your metronome to the marking listed in your music, and you will know exactly how fast or slow you should play.
And if the markings use words instead of numbers, your metronome has you covered there as well. Most metronomes provide ranges of beats for each tempo word. Largo means about 45-50 beats per minute (BPM). Moderato is 86-97 BPM, and Presto is considered 168-177 BPM. I remember seeing a piece marked “As fast as you can play.” Metronome markings can go up to 208 BPM.
Use a metronome to practice hard passages with lots of notes.
One effective way to use a metronome is when practicing a passage of music with lots of notes – 16th notes, 32nd notes, etc. The tendency for students is to slow down to play all the notes. Another tendency is to “cheat” your way through the passage – play all the notes but unevenly, or play the notes that come out and skip the rest. However, a good musician will work until he can play every note evenly and up to tempo.
Use your metronome to help you accomplish this. Start slowly, setting your metronome to beat for every 16th note. Then, when you can play the passage well slowly, little by little, increase the tempo. Then set your metronome to beat 8th notes. Again, little by little, increase the tempo. Set your metronome to beat quarter notes, and again, gradually increase your tempo with your metronome settings. You will “soon” (or eventually) master the passage and be able to play it well and up to tempo – without any “cheating!”
Use a metronome to challenge yourself to practice some things faster.
Some things = scales and arpeggios, for starters. I hope you have figured out that much of your music comes from different scales and arpeggios. So, if you routinely practice those, when you come across them in your music, your fingers will know what to do! Playing scales and arpeggios should become almost automatic for you. Your director says to play a D Major scale – your brain and fingers should know exactly what to do without much thinking at all.
Use your metronome to help you get better and faster at playing scales and arpeggios. First, be sure you can play a scale correctly and evenly at a slow tempo, like a quarter note = mm 90. Then increase the tempo to 120. After mastering that, go back to a setting of 90 and practice your scale in 8th notes, then triplets, then 16th notes. Then increase the tempo settings again and go through the process once more. You get the idea. Gradually increase your tempo until you can play the scale well at increasing speed. Sound boring? Maybe so, but it will pay off in the long run. The better you can play all your scales and arpeggios, the better you will play your music.
But what if I want to play rubato, or take some liberties with the rhythm?
Remember this – Your metronome is a tool, not a master. Use this tool to practice steady rhythm, conquer tricky rhythm, to master even playing. And then, set your metronome aside and play with musicality and feeling, with musicianship. Your metronome is a training tool to master the rhythm technique. Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? You probably started with training wheels on your bike. After you mastered riding with training wheels, someone took them off, and you learned to ride your bike on your own. Think of your metronome as like training wheels. You can remove the training tool and rely on the skills you already learned at a certain point.
Where Do I Find a Metronome?
You can find metronomes at most music stores, or you can easily order them online. Pendulum-type metronomes can be cool to have sitting on your piano or in the room where you practice. Small digital metronomes are much easier to carry with you, however. Or you can skip the physical metronomes and get a digital one as an app on your phone. Which kind of metronome you have doesn’t matter much. What matters is that you use one!
So, make friends with your metronome. Your band or orchestra directors will thank you; your fellow musicians will be eternally grateful, and your accompanist will eternally bless you. Even your music teacher will be thrilled with your new rhythm capabilities. And your overall musicianship will improve, which should make even you happy!
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Do you ever wonder about the stories behind our favorite Christmas carols or where they come from? What their backstories are? Or, who wrote them and why? Read on to learn about three favorite Christmas carols and why they were written.
“The Little Drummer Boy”
The Writer of the Lyrics
The woman who wrote “The Little Drummer Boy” was well-known for her songwriting abilities long before composing this Christmas carol. Twenty years earlier, Katherine David wrote the words for one of my favorite Thanksgiving hymns, “Let All Things Now Living,” set to the traditional Welsh tune, “Ash Grove.”
Katherine Davis wrote her first song when she was 15 years old. She continued to study music through her college years. Later, she then taught music for several years. Many of her musical compositions were written for choirs in the schools where she taught.
The Story behind the Christmas Carol
Although the history of “The Little Drummer Boy,” also known as “Carol of the Drums,” claims that the song came from an old Czech Christmas carol, in reality, however, there is very little evidence to support that claim. Katherine Davis wrote “The Little Drummer Boy” in 1941. The text tells the story of a poor young boy who wanted to visit the baby Jesus but had no gift to bring to honor the newborn King. Instead, in place of bringing a tangible gift, the young child offered the Christ-child the gift of his time and talents.
With the baby’s mother’s permission, the little drummer boy played his drum for the newborn King – and he played to the very best of his ability. So, this should be a lesson for all of us. Even though we may not have much to offer to God or others, when we freely and cheerfully offer our time and talents, we can be a great blessing to those around us.
This Christmas carol was first recorded by the Von Trapp Family singers in 1955, shortly before they retired. Since then, the song has been recorded hundreds of times, demonstrating its lasting popularity.
To lay before the king Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum
So to honor him Pa rum pum pum pum When we come
Little baby Pa rum pum pum pum I am a poor boy too Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring Pa rum pum pum pum That’s fit to give our king Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you Pa rum pum pum pum Mary nodded Pa rum pum pum pum The ox and lamb kept time Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for him Pa rum pum pum pum I played my best for him Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum
Then he smiled at me Pa rum pum pum pum Me and my drum
Come they told me Pa rum pum pum pum A new born king to see Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum Me and my drum Me and my drum Me and my drum Rum pum pum pum
“Once in Royal David’s City”
In 1919 the organist at King’s College in Cambridge introduced a new processional hymn for the special Christmas service of Lessons and Carols. This new processional, “Once in Royal David’s City,” has been used as the processional for this service every year since then.
Although this Christmas carol may not be the most well-known carol, it is definitely a beautiful Christmas hymn, reminding us once again of the Christmas story and the Savior born in Bethlehem. So, let’s take a look at the story behind this Christmas carol.
The Writer of the Carol
Cecil Frances Alexander, who lived during the 1800s, wrote the words to this Christmas carol. She began writing poetry at a young age; several of the poems she wrote became hymns published in the Church of Ireland’s hymnbook. In addition to “Once in Royal David’s City,” another hymn credited to Mrs. Alexander is “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
Lyrics for Teaching Truth
Several of the hymns Mrs. Alexander wrote were intended to help children learn and remember The Apostle’s Creed’s catechism and teachings. She was concerned by the shallow teachings in many of the children’s songs and, subsequently, desired to teach truth and doctrine through music. This particular Christmas carol, “Once in Royal David’s City,” was first published in 1848.
Even though the words for “Once in Royal David’s City” emphasize the lowly and humble birth of the Christ, they also remind us that this Christ would become the Savior of the world. The text helps us realize that Christ understands our sufferings and struggles because of his humble origins and life.
A Great Melody Is Added
By 1868 this Christmas carol was paired with the melody most commonly heard today. This melody, called IRBY, was written by Henry John Gauntlett, an Englishman trained in law and music. Although Gauntlett wrote over 10,000 hymn tunes, the melody paired with “Once in Royal David’s City” is the one for which he is remembered.
Listen Here (This recording is very quiet at the beginning. Don’t give up on it, though, just be patient.)
Once in Royal David’s city Stood a lowly cattle shed, Where a mother laid her Baby In a manger for His bed: Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little Child.
He came down to earth from heaven, Who is God and Lord of all, And His shelter was a stable, And His cradle was a stall; With the poor, and mean, and lowly, Lived on earth our Saviour holy.
And through all His wondrous childhood He would honour and obey, Love and watch the lowly maiden, In whose gentle arms He lay: Christian children all must be Mild, obedient, good as He.
For he is our childhood’s pattern; Day by day, like us He grew; He was little, weak and helpless, Tears and smiles like us He knew; And He feeleth for our sadness, And He shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him, Through His own redeeming love; For that Child so dear and gentle Is our Lord in heaven above, And He leads His children on To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable, With the oxen standing by, We shall see Him; but in heaven, Set at God’s right hand on high; Where like stars His children crowned All in white shall wait around.
“O Come All Ye Faithful”
Latin Language a Hidden Spy Code?
Could this Christmas carol have really been a spy’s secret coded message? Rumors exist to that effect, but they are probably not true. A Roman Catholic originally wrote the carol during the Jacobite rebellion in 1745. In case you need to brush up on your European/British history, the Jacobite rebellion was a failed attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to retake control of Scotland. The story behind this Christmas carol is a bit less dramatic.
“O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally written in Latin, thus leading to the rumors of secret codes. You may be familiar with its Latin name – “Adeste Fidelis.” John Francis Wade, a refugee from that Jacobite Rebellion, wrote the song, probably in 1743. Wade was either French or British; his history is a bit vague, so we don’t know for sure.
The lyrics of the carol tell the story of the birth of Christ and also encourage us to come and rejoice with the angels over the Christ child and his birth in Bethlehem. The song invites us to not only be joyful but also to worship and adore the newborn King.
Translation and Revision
Several years later, Frederick Oakley and William Brooke translated the Christmas carol into English. The melody and lyrics are credited to the original composer, John Francis Wade, with the translation and modifications by Oakley and Brooke.
Although this carol, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” is sung worldwide, it was once known as the “Portuguese Hymn.” Why was that? What did this song have to do with Portugal? Since the carol was regularly sung in the Chapel of the Portuguese Embassy in London, it acquired the nickname of “Portuguese Hymn.”
This Christmas carol is one of the most widely recognized and popular of all our Christmas carols. Over time, even though some of the words have changed and stanzas have been added or eliminated, the joyful and celebratory spirit of the song has remained the same.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of Angels O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
God of God, Light of Light Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb Very God Begotten, not created O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above! Glory to God All glory in the highest O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning Jesus, to Thee be glory given Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him O come, let us adore Him Christ the Lord!
Often, we find that the stories behind the Christmas carols are quite interesting. Learning these stories can give us a better understanding of their meanings and intents. So, what is your favorite Christmas Carol? Let me know in the comments!
Interested in more Christmas carol history? Check out the following posts: