Practice Challenge Update | Week 20 of 20
In January of this year, I issued a Practice Challenge to my students. "It's a new year. We're stuck in quarantine. Let's make this our year of best growth ever." As anticipated, the students were ready to go, but I wasn't sure who might have the wherewithal to maintain such dedication to a goal. After all, this Challenge was no joke. The goal was to practice for 20 minutes 5 days a week...for 20 weeks. Every week this was accomplished, they received a letter clue to a phrase. In order to succeed, they would not only have to collect all 20 letters, but embrace the objective of any practice challenge I give my students: to see marked improvement and to create the powerful discipline of daily habits.
I made it my personal challenge to document our weekly progress by sharing it in this blog format every week. This was a decision I regretted pretty much every week. I found it laborious to set aside other tasks, sit down and try to fill an empty page with meaning. On particularly lethargic days, my thoughts would whisper to me, "Julie, you know nobody reads these anyway. It doesn't matter if you write one or not." Or "You don't really have anything to say this week. Skip it. Hey, look! Your Pinterest window is still open!" Unfortunately, I had already advertised to my students that I'd be taking on a Challenge alongside them, so not doing it wasn't an option. Checking in with them each week, I knew they were putting in the time. Listening to their progress was so deeply inspiring, so I made myself sit down every week and write about something important to me and this studio.
When the Challenge officially ended and all of the final clue letters dispersed, 78% of the studio had crushed it.
The finishers will be recognized at our mini Award Ceremonies this week, but their rewards for this accomplishment are incredibly long-lasting and transferrable. Their boldness this year has inspired new changes in this studio that I will be unveiling over the next couple of weeks.
The Unlocking My Potential Challenge Winners are: Adalyn, Audrey, Ayannah, Barrett, Becky, Ellis, Ethan, Evelyn, Jack, Jasmine, Liam, Lillyana, Nick, Priyanka, Rachael, Rayne, Riley P., Simrik, Willa, Zach, Zeke and Zoe. Congratulations!!
Practice Challenge Update | Week 19 of 20
Brillante Studio Musicians
Top L to R | Ariana, Derrick, Jasmine, Lindsey, Priyanka, Steven
2nd Row | Audrey, Elle, Keira, Rachael, Thomas
3rd Row | Ayannah, Ellis, La'Naya, Lucy, Riley, Willa
4th Row | Barrett, Evelyn, Liam, Macy, Robert, Zach
5th Row | Becky, Lillyana, Neela, Simrick, Zeke, Bryce
(Not pictured: Zoe, Ethan, Jack, Nicklas, Rayne, Riley P.)
Resilience. This is the word that comes to mind when I think of my students this year. At the beginning of 2021, I challenged them to practice for 100 minutes every week for 20 weeks. (Award winners will be recognized in next week's blog!) They look like perfectly normal people in this photo, but roaring lions definitely live within each one of them. Here is a snapshot of their year:
Ariana | Dedicated her semester to improving her voice and overall confidence. It paid off when she auditioned and landed a spot in her high school's top choral program.
Derrick | Undeterred by technology problems and reading from printed music, he committed to learning his new piece completely by ear and successfully did so.
Jasmine | Always looking for a challenge, Jasmine composed multiple songs this year and performed a soaring rendition of Mozart's "Queen of the Night" for our studio's Halloween concert.
Lindsey | Although a busy wife to her husband and mom to two little boys, Lindsey decided to rekindle her passion for the piano and has progressed mightily in note reading, sight-reading and ear training.
Priyanka | Competitive and committed, Priyanka completed a piano lesson level as well as mastering 14+ new scales and composing her own music.
Steven | Amidst technology issues and new challenges in piano, Steven never gave up and is reaping the benefits of his commitment as he plays some of the world's most recognizable pieces.
Audrey | Moving her piano from the basement to the common area of her home created a new environment of community and accountability. She began singing and playing together in earnest and has had her strongest year of growth yet.
Elle | Tackling high school classes, a musical, new jobs and new pets, Elle was determined to elevate her music expression skills this year. Her daily commitments to this end have significantly brought her to a new level of ability on the keyboard and connection with the music.
Keira | Never one to shy away from challenges, Keira embraced her quarantine and not only advanced through a piano level book, but brought marked improvement to her sight-reading and performing skills.
Adalyn | This young woman's passion for music could not be quelled by quarantine. Adalyn's daily practice deposits have made her a musician specifically rich in technique and expression.
Rachael | Starting with an end goal in mind, Rachael entered the arena of the brave to start something new and unexplored. Her persistent drive to improve each week have found her going toe to toe with demanding music and accompanying for herself.
Thomas | With no lack of creativity and talent, Thomas' follow through skills saw an album release to Spotify and a continued commitment to his art.
Ayannah | This fun-loving spirit started new this year and started strong. She developed a rhythm for her daily practice and has seen tremendous progress in pitch matching and diction.
Ellis | Another new musician off the blocks, Ellis began her piano journey with eagerness and curiosity. Despite the learning curve every new musician encounters and despite the challenges of virtual lessons, Ellis is sight-reading independently and playing music that she loves.
La'Naya | Though naturally musical, La'Naya worked through difficult new concepts vocally and on the piano, excitedly sharing them with her family. She also loved learning many new songs by ear this year.
Lucy | Navigating a new high school and virtual lessons only strengthened this young woman's confidence in her voice and story-telling abilities. Her vocal tone, flexibility and breathing skills have also gained momentum.
Riley L. | A skilled athlete, Riley is no stranger to hard work and proved through his attentiveness to practice time that he came to play this year. Riley's sight-reading skills and technique on the keyboard have seen a dramatic improvement.
Willa | Willa's focus and love of music are evident as she has developed her voice and music knowledge. Virtual concerts have seen her expressing her investment in the story of the songs in fun and engaging ways.
Barrett | This young man never allowed the pandemic to rock his established daily practice goals. His tenacity and resolution to his art has been unwavering and deeply inspiring.
Evelyn | Although the musical in which she had the lead role only got to perform twice before shutting down, Evelyn managed to not only stay positive, but kept connected to the music in meaningful ways by experimenting with new repertoire and fine-tuning her skills through auditions.
Liam | A true explorer, Liam discovered YouTube piano tutorials during quarantine. Using his skills from lessons, he began teaching himself to play music that he loves and hasn't slowed down since.
Macy | This young musician found her sight-reading skills and musical ear strengthened due to virtual lessons. Macy's level of preparedness for performances decreased her nerves, giving her confidence before and during recitals and has even translated to her other activity areas.
Robert | Delving into the Hanon Finger Technique exercises with fervor this year, Robert has enjoyed the benefits of increased hand and finger coordination. His obvious note reading growth has him always on the hunt for more musical challenges.
Zach | A competitive spirit has served Zach well as his practice habits sky rocketed bringing his overall skill to a new level this year. His imaginative approach to music has allowed him to pursue many new endeavors.
Becky | A college flutist, Becky jumped into piano lessons this year determined to dust off her musical chops. Her daily dedication on the ivories have polished her note identification, technique and expression. Already completing a book level, Becky's time in quarantine has been anything but dull.
Lillyana | A naturally hard worker, Lillyana's skills as a musician have continued climbing. Having formerly eschewed performing, this courageous spirit took a leap and played with brilliance in not just one, but multiple recitals this year.
Neela | Discovery of the range of skills that can benefit a faithful musician buoyed Neela's belief in her own musical capabilities. Neela's ability to work with and lead others musically have been expressed in fun and creative new ways.
Simrik | A bold musician, Simrik adapted quickly to virtual lessons and never stopped pushing herself and actively seeking motivation and accountability. Her pursuit toward these endeavors has delivered an overall musical competency consistent during each week's lesson time.
Zeke | Zeke's perpetual positivity has influenced his approach to music which continues to be fueled by curiosity and creativity. His independence at the piano strengthened his technique and Zeke mastered the challenging skill of playing full octave scales with both right and left hands.
Zoe | A strong ear for melodies and a new chording prowess emerged for Zoe this school year. She has continued to define music in her own creative ways and bring her expressive abilities to each new challenge.
Ethan | Ethan's ability to game-ify every new task defined his success in music this year. An impressive new level of sight-reading gave him successful completion of the technique exercises known as A Dozen a Day.
Jack | An active comprehension of the musical language was evident for this devoted musician as he not only recognized, but can define the qualities of the music composed for video games and multi-media.
Nicklas | While still a budding musician, daily practice and exposure to overcoming hard things have seen Nick growing in a confident, creative pioneer at the keyboard.
Rayne | With quiet resilience, Rayne pressed through his lessons and his daily practices with an unflappable determination. His note-reading skills markedly improved as he also showed off some new expressive playing.
Riley P. | A significant boost in note-reading abilities allowed Riley to advance his recognition of the notes above and below the staff this year. His weekly time at the piano brought him new levels of musicianship.
Bryce | This talented guitarist and established musician took the step to continuing shaping his music by discovering his unique vocal sound. Courageously exploring his range, tone and breathing, Bryce's only direction is forward.
Practice Challenge Update | Week 18 of 20
In three weeks, we will wrap up a tumultuous and historic 2020/2021 school year! While many future blogs will seek to capture the essence of the year, these next few weeks I am distilling my reflections down to three "R's": Reason, Resilience and Rewards.
After my daughter was born, I was looking for some help getting into shape. I was drawn to Noom, a fairly new weight loss app on the market. One of their advertising videos showed a close up shot of a small bowl containing a perfectly rounded scoop of vanilla ice cream. A container off screen pours a thick, melted chocolate over the top of the scoop that temptingly slides down the ice cream hill. Unhurriedly, the text appears. "We say...have the ice cream." Despite recognizing the exploitative use of sugar to future dieters, I still paid for a subscription. I was happy to discover that while their advertising is a bit misleading, Noom's nuts and bolts philosophy focuses completely on intrinsic motivation. The daily articles encourage exploring your relationship with food as well as food "myths" you have likely ascribed to for years. Above all, the program writers continually ask "Why? What is your motivation for being healthy?" How I answered that question was then reflected in every daily habit and choice.
I have talked and written about finding your "why" frequently as I believe it is the strongest way to begin-or continue-any endeavor. At the beginning of this year, I challenged my students to make this year their strongest year of growth. Working under challenging learning circumstances meant that students would need to discover an inner "why" to bring this to fruition. I can't wait to give you our final Practice Challenge reports and some stories of these students.
Outside of a pure passion for music, the why's and reasons I've dedicated my career to music education are plentiful. The Tedx Talk from educator, Anita Collins particularly resonated with me as she surmises about the long term and community implications of young people engaging in music education. Teaching as many students as I can how to "speak the language of music" certainly directs the daily choices I make as a teacher and a studio owner.
Defining your Big Reason is imperative for success in big AND small endeavors. Communicating those reasons to others and bringing them along will always make the journey a lot more enjoyable.
Practice Challenge Update | Weeks 16 & 17 of 20
'Cause when I was low you was there for me/and never left me alone, because you cared for me/and I could see you comin' home after work late/you're in the kitchen, tryin' to fix us a hot plate.
Lyrics from the 1995 song "Dear Mama", reflect Tupac's gratitude for his imperfect, but caring mother and are relatable to most of us. Our Mother's Day compositions this week did not share the strength of poetry of Tupac's raps, but the sentiment of appreciation was intact. It was interesting to discover that many students struggled with filling in the next sentence from the prompt, "My mom is great because..." Even now as I ask myself that question, it is difficult to distill the depths of a woman into one measure of music. After much thought, 90% of the musicians had a variation of "because she cares about me."
Care. Without pressure or influence, these young people have identified that what makes someone really great is caring. I have seen this watchful, serious attention in my student's mothers as well as students who are mothers themselves. Caring about something is recognizable through a variety of ways, like being reminded to brush one's teeth, make one's bed and practice one's musical instrument or sending the household outside so they can practice the instrument.
In her book, "Dare to Lead", author and researcher, Brene Brown says that "trust is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening and gestures of genuine care and connection." If the young people in my studio are recognizing these hallmarks of greatness in their moms and care-givers continue instilling this powerful value into the people around them, then there is much hope for our future generations.
Happy Mother's Day!
|Brillante Music Studio||