Christmas Message

Santa SurfAnother year is drawing to a close.  The studio will be closed from the 21st December for 3 weeks.  Please feel free to contact me regarding booking for next year.   All the best from us to you for the Christmas Season.

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February Ponderings

In last month’s post about music practise we talked about the mechanical “doing” stuff and motor learning.  This month’s topic is the related abstract “thinking” stuff.

We now know, with strong evidence from neuroscience, that music is a multi-faceted brain activity.  If you bung someone in an MRI machine and have them compose, improvise or play and instrument, lots of areas of the brain are seen to be lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.   Aspects such as counting and rhythm, language if you’re singing, motor activity, audiation, and abstract thinking about form, structure and interpretation are all involved.  This, along with the obvious benefits of social activity and cooperative behaviours, is one of the reasons why music education is so important for children.  A good quality general music education helps other areas of intellectual, emotional and academic development.  I digress.  Off the soapbox and back to the point.

How does this relate to practise?  Well, one of the really nifty things we now know is that mental rehearsal works just as well for musicians as it does for athletes.  Sporty types have used this sort of stuff for ages.  If you put a gymnast through part of a new routine by assisting them to move in space slowly with a two-and-half summersault-twist-half-pike-with-a-dash-of-lemon and then have them stand to one side and rehearse it mentally, chances are they’ll be able to come back and give it a fair go.  This assumes some level of acquired skill obviously.  You can see this in action on the TV with elite athletes psyching themselves up for the big event as they go through the act mentally in advance.

It works because mentally rehearsing a motor activity actually engages the motor cortex.  Pretty amazing when you think about it.  There are some elite musicians, concert pianists for example, who can jump on a plane with a new piece of music to learn, and with a well-developed ability for mental preparation, learn and memorise the piece without actually having played a note.  Yes, we hate these people.

So, relating this back to practise for mere mortals, whether you’re a pianist or a singer, the same strategy can be applied at home.  Once you’ve familiarised yourself with a passage, go over it again in your head.  Imagine yourself playing or singing it.  Try to feel the keys under your fingers, think about the fingering, or recall the sense of ease and freedom in singing the phrase as you last did it so beautifully.  There are lots of advantages in this sort of strategy.  It’s less impact on family and neighbours for one!  Seriously, it can really improve efficiency in your practise and reduce the amount of time to get to the same result.  Give it a try.  What have you got to lose?  At the very least you can always get away with doing absolutely nothing with the excuse of “but I’m practising……really!” 

We’ll talk about inner hearing and audiation next time.  In the meantime, happy music making.

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January Musings

As we begin another year of study, work and leisure pursuits, we often fall into the trap of making resolutions.  We’re as guilty as anyone else in not always sticking to our goals.  There are many reasons for this, some justified and others, well let’s just say the shabby rationalisations file gets a bit of a workout.

How does this relate to music lessons I hear you ask?  Well, one of the biggies as far as resolutions goes, is “I will make more time to practise this year”.  Sound familiar?
So rather than go into all the reasons why we can’t, we thought it might be helpful to discuss ways to help stick to the plan.

Music practise is basically divided up into a few key areas.  There’s the mechanical “doing” stuff, the abstract “thinking” stuff, and the related auditory “hearing” stuff.  This is where it gets interesting.  The “doing” stuff boils down to repeating a set of sequenced neuromuscular co-ordinations to the point of automaticity.  This is motor learning.  We do this when we write, walk, use a knife and fork, or find our way to the bathroom in the dark at night without bumping into stuff.  Unfortunately there aren’t many shortcuts to this other than doing it.  However, we can make the learning more efficient by being task focussed on doing it correctly the same way each time.  If we do it incorrectly or slightly differently each time, we basically set up an intersection of neural pathways in our brain with signs pointing to too many destinations.  We want a one-way street that gets you to the same destination each time.   So the key here is slow down.  Do it correctly slowly.  Only do it while you’re mentally present.  It really won’t take long for the muscle memory to get secure this way and then you can gradually increase the speed if required.  This is easy to see for pianists where the visual and tactile response is more apparent.  But the same thing applies to singers.  We just can’t see the clever stuff that’s happening inside the larynx and articulatory mechanism that are still all composed of muscle, bones, cartilage and blood supply the same as hands and arms are.

The other thing to remember is to do this sort of practise in reasonably short and focussed sessions with breaks in between.  It’s very easy to spend hours at the keyboard or singing endlessly doing it over and over again without necessarily achieving any more than you would if you did it less but better.

We might save the “thinking” stuff to next month’s musings.  Don’t want to give you too many pearls at once!

We hope you have a successful and enjoyable year.

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The Godfrey News December 2012

Congratulations to all our clients for another successful year.  There have been many successful results from Eisteddfodau, other competitions, exams and auditions.  Bravi tutti!!  It’s daunting stuff but worth the effort.  We have current and former clients now singing with Opera Qld & Opera Australia Chorus, including one who recently did an arena concert of classical singing at an International Arts Festival in Taiwan.  Others have been treading the boards in local amateur productions or have prepared for auditions and been accepted for Tertiary courses around the country.  Recent news of another former client winning a major National Cabaret Festival competition is very gratifying, but perhaps the pinnacle of achievement is the news that one former client is one of the new Wiggles!  It’s going to be hard to top that.  To those who front up each week for lessons just because it gives them joy, our thanks for letting us in on your journey. 

My wife Deb and I take a keen interest in both the musical and personal development of the young folk entrusted to our care so we rejoice in their successes both large and small.  It’s also our continuing privilege to be able to mentor some fine young studio and classroom teachers and see them develop as both fine pedagogues and outstanding young men and women.  There are also some excellent role models among our more mature clients, who are all still curious and engaged with learning how to maintain their vintage instruments.  Keep using them, that’s the secret!

In other news, my work teaching voice in the Bachelor of Music, Musical Theatre degree at the Qld Conservatorium this year has continued to be very satisfying.  Competition for places in the course is fierce so the students are all very motivated and keen, proving that it is indeed possible to sing, dance and act all at the same time.  Performances throughout the year from the 1st & 2nd year cohort have been greeted with critical acclaim.  The course starts its 3rd intake of 1st year students in 2013.  

After a break from adjudicating Eisteddfods in 2011, I got back on the horse and did the Beenleigh Eisteddfod and the Enoggera Eisteddfod in 2012.  It’s always a pleasure to be able to give something back to the arts community and to see what’s happening from other studios around town.  I always try to couch my language in positive terms to foster and encourage singing and the joy of performing in the community.  I continue examining singing with the AMEB and this also keeps me in touch with the fine work of colleagues around Qld.  I look forward to being on the panel of adjudicators for the Qld Piano Competition in 2013.

After 10 years serving on the Qld committee of ANATS and 3 years on the National Council, I gave notice of my resignation at the recent AGM.  The Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing is an association that provides support and professional development to teachers of singing.  It also supports and encourages networking among researchers in the field of voice pedagogy and related voice sciences. I leave these positions in the knowledge that I’ve handed over to very capable and competent colleagues who have continuing stewardship of the association. 

The International Congress of Voice Teachers (ICVT) to be held here in Brisbane in 2013 will be a great opportunity for local and interstate teachers to engage in professional development and for International guests to see what we have to offer them.  We expect between 300 – 400 delegates and my work on the organising committee for ICVT continues into 2013.  Check the website www.icvt2013.com/ for more details.

We are always grateful for your enquiries into Deb’s wellbeing.  Deb has MS and is the most courageous and inspiring person I know.  She’s now a bit over a year into a new drug treatment that has given her a much better quality of life.  If you happen upon her on your way to the studio, do say hello, unless it’s hot outside.  Then watch the land speed record on foot from the car to the inside air-conditioning!  (Heat stress and MS don’t mix)

In September this year we mounted a charity fundraising concert for the MS Society of Qld.  Spring Back To Life: Supporting MS raised $2500 for the society.  We’re very grateful for the support of all our clients, family and friends who made this a successful event.  Particular thanks to our studio families who volunteered their expertise and time and to the Hon Mr Wayne Swan MP for his patronage of the event.  We hope to continue this sort of fundraising concert in coming years and are “in negotiations” with various organisations regarding sponsorship and a venue for the next one.  We’ll keep you posted.

There will be an increase in tuition fees of $1.00 per half hour from the 1st of January 2013.  (Please see the fees page of this website for details) This fee structure we believe reflects the standard of service and expertise our practice offers and sits well within the scope of fees charged among colleagues of similar standing in Brisbane. 

School Term dates for the studio for the first Semester 2013 are:

Term 1 – 9 weeks

Tuesday Jan 29 – Thursday March 28th.  (The studio will be open from Monday Jan 21st)

Term 2 – 10 weeks

Monday April 15th – Saturday June 22nd.  (The studio will be open until Saturday June 29th)

Thank you to all who have presented us with cards and gifts this Christmas.  I will have to really step up the exercise programme to work off all that wine and chocolate!  Well, it would be rude not to eat and drink it.  We wish you and your loved ones the very best for the Christmas and New Year break and hope that 2013 brings you good health and happiness.

Sincerely,

Geoff & Deb Ashenden

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Seasons Greetings

Santa SurfAnother year is drawing to a close.  The studio will be closed from the 22nd December for 4 weeks.  Please feel free to contact me regarding booking for next year.   All the best from us to you for the Christmas Season.

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