December Newsletter


10 Easy Ways To Optimize Your Music Practice

by Anastasia Tsioulcas

1. Find somewhere quiet.

This seems too obvious for words, but not only will you be far less likely to succumb to all sorts of distractions, but entering a special practice area will help prepare you mentally. Mindful intention is everything, and having the ritual of going to the same place every time can help set that intention.

2. Have your supplies nearby.

I really love cellist David Finckel’s “Cello Talks” 100-video series on YouTube; you don’t have to play cello to get a lot out of them. Part of his advice is to keep a pencil sharpener , a clean eraser and a pencil within arm’s reach to mark up your music. Simple, right? But if you have to go searching for them, it adds up to a big waste of time.

3. Technology can be an amazing aid

As long as you don’t spend too much time futzing with it. Three free or low-cost apps I have on my phone and iPad: a metronome, a tuner and a timer, which are all essential tools for practicing.

4. Begin with the end in mind: Have a goal for each practice session

Just playing through your music isn’t the same thing as practicing. Before you start, think: What do I want to accomplish today? If you’re not sure what you need to focus on, ask your teacher for a few concrete goals to work toward and write them down so that you can refer to them during your practice sessions.

5. Map a practice session out like a workout.

Lots of musicians start with a few actual stretches and breathing exercises before they pick up their instruments. Even if you don’t go quite that far start with scales as a warm-up, to loosen up your muscles and get your brain thinking about technique; move on to the “working” part where you analyze and try to solve problems; then cool down by improvising or revisiting some music you already know well.

6. Practice smarter, not necessarily longer.

You’ll accomplish more in a short amount of time if you have a focused objective. Set your timer for five or 10 minutes, and then work just on one problem in different ways — break it down into smaller and more manageable bits, go super slow, try to play the passage backwards, change the rhythm, whatever. If that trouble spot is still giving you agita, then make a mental note to come back to that section tomorrow. Chances are it will be much easier the next time around.

7. Don’t always start at the beginning every time.

Remember what I said about maximizing your time and your willpower? This. It can feel really good to hear yourself playing the beginning of a piece beautifully, but you may wind up wasting the limited time and energy you have. (Also, it leads to performances that start strong and then, well, wilt.)

8. Challenge yourself — physically.

Especially if you’re trying to wrestle down problematic element, researchers say that if you add a physical challenge to the difficult task, such as playing that part while standing on one leg or while walking, your brain is likely to carve out new neural pathways — and the original task will be easier when you return to just doing that.

9. Practice away from your instrument.

Many musicians use visualization in the same way that athletes do: They run through their music without touching their instruments. Try bringing your music along with you when you have some downtime and read through the piece silently.

10. Reward hard work — in positive ways

Help your brain automate good habits. That sounds like out-and-out bribery, but again, science! Finding something that your brain likes helps it remember the “habit loop,” writes Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.

Spotlight: Teacher of the Month


Benjamin Krause – Piano

Benjamin Krause is a composer and classical/jazz pianist from Carlsbad, California. He received a Bachelor’s of Music in piano performance from Valparaiso University and a Master of Music in composition from the University of Oregon, where he studied with Robert Kyr and David Crumb and was awarded Outstanding Graduate Scholar in Composition. As a pianist, he has premiered and performed over forty new works, playing as soloist and with the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (Eugene), Classical Revolution PDX (Portland), and 20/21 Ensemble (Rice University). He recently performed Pierre Jalbert’s The Invention of the Saxophone with PRISM Sax Quartet member Tim McAllister. As a jazz pianist, he performs widely in the Houston area and has recorded and performed with the Paul Ingram Quartet (San Diego), Da Camera of Houston, and the Valparaiso University Jazz Ensemble. His past composition teachers include Dennis Friesen-Carper, Kevin Puts, Robert Aldridge, and Allain Gaussin, and his works have been performed at the Music Today Festival (Eugene, OR), Brevard Music Festival (Brevard, NC), the Stamford International Music Festival (Stamford, UK) and at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, where he was awarded the Prix Marion Tournon Branly. He was a 2011-2012 Young Artist of Da Camera of Houston and was the recipient of a 2012 Presser Award. He recently wrote the score for Timothy Lanzone’s film Travelling Salesman (2011), which was a featured film at the 2012 New York International Film Festival, won Best Picture at the 2012 Silicon Valley Film Festival, and is currently showing in Germany, Korea, England, and other places across the globe. Recent commissions include those by Da Camera, Musiqa, pianist Peter Gach, and violinist Sonja Harasim. Mr. Krause is currently a doctoral student in music composition at Rice University where he has studied with Pierre Jalbert, Anthony Brandt, and Richard Lavenda, with additional piano studies with Brian Connelly. His music is highly rhythmic, propulsive, and harmonically-driven, reflecting his love of jazz and the varied approaches and styles within the classical tradition. An enthusiastic teacher, he has taught music theory and aural skills at two universities and has taught piano, composition, and theory to all ages for the past nine years.

Upcoming Events

VMA Winter Recital

Saturday December 7th, 2 pm
Dowling Music Center
2615 Southwest Freeway #220
Houston, Texas 77098

Kindermusik Jingle Jangle Playdate

December 20th and 21st
at the Academy

Winter Recess

December 23rd – January 2nd
Vivaldi Music Academy will be closed.
Classes and lessons will resume Friday January 3rd.

Ask About our Kindermusik Gift Certificates Today!

Looking for the perfect present this holiday season? Know someone who would be interested in giving a gift that truly “keeps on giving”? As you know, the benefits of Kindermusik not only last a few months or a few years—they last a lifetime. With this gift, your family members can support a local business and invest directly in our community and your children.

Get your last minute holiday shopping done while we entertain the kids!

Friday December 20th, 6-9 pm
Saturday December 21st, 6-9 pm

Our Kindermusik Jingle Jangle Playdate will let you complete your holiday shopping, enjoy a meal or catch up with friends while the kids have a blast with their favorite Kindermusik activities, snacks, crafts, and a holiday movie! For ages 3 and above, $20 per child and only an additional $5 for siblings. Open to all Academy students. Call 713-858-9617 or sign up at the front desk. Space is limited so sign up today!