How to Avoid That Pain in the Neck…Some Tips for Saxophonists
“I’m getting headaches when I play for a while.”
“The back of my neck hurts all the time.”
“My upper back and shoulder blades hurt.”
These are some of the complaints that some saxophonists have said at some point in their playing careers. These pains are not exclusive for beginners; some professionals I gig with have said the same things to me. In fact, I didn’t realize my own headaches were coming from my own neck strap until my colleagues spoke about their own situation.
Many beginning students slump in their chairs because they can’t adjust their neck strap to bring the instrument higher. They end up ducking their chin to try to reach the mouthpiece, instead of bringing the mouthpiece to them. They also slump because it is less painful on the neck, especially if their strap has no padding.
I have always known about the importance of having a padded neck strap; one that helps to take a lot of the weight of the instrument off the neck and right thumb. I have always used them and have recommended them for my students (and still do).
So why doesn’t the padded neck strap alleviate this problem? Not every saxophonist has this issue. The first thing to look at is posture. Are you seated or standing up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed, or are you hunched over? When your shoulders move forward, more stress is felt in the upper back and shoulder blades. More weight is felt on the back of the neck as a result. Your shoulders may be back, but are they down and relaxed? Shoulders that are up towards your ears also put undue stress on the neck and upper back, as well as affecting breathing.
Here’s a picture of good seated posture:
The next area to examine is the quality of your neck strap. Many times, when a student rents a saxophone, a stock neck strap is placed in the case. This strap is basically just a strap; there’s no padding at all. This I feel is not sufficient for beginning saxophonists. Read more…
Hello (musical) world!
Welcome to my first post on the MTH blog. I’m looking forward to getting started, and to sharing my thoughts about music with fellow teachers, students, performers, and music lovers.
I’ve spent a lot of time working as a performer, and also an academic researcher, and I love both these pursuits. But it is teaching music that I always come back to, and that I find the most fascinating and surprising. Teaching offers me the wonderful opportunity to pass on my love of and interest in music and music making, and to learn from my students in studio lessons, masterclasses, tutorials, and performances.
Teaching creates a wonderful space in which we can connect the practical making of music with ideas about music as part of our discussions with students who are coming to the different aspects of music for the first time. We can chat about, play through, experiment with, and ponder all that puzzles and moves us about music in all its beauty and complexity as part of a natural learning process. As we all know, teachers can learn as much from their students as their students learn from them, both from students’ questions, and from their comments and musical responses.
Keeping the love alive
One of the most difficult tasks teachers face is keeping the love of music alive for students, whether the students be school-age children, teenagers or adults balancing their musical life with social and family pressures, or university-level performers- and teachers-in-training concerned with maintaining good grades and securing a good position.
Okay, so here’s a quick memory test: can you remember what PRS stood for? No? Yes? Just in case you need reminding; Patterns, Repetition and Stimulus! (Link to part 1)
This month, I would like to focus on using “patterns” to help not only ourselves but our students to deeply embed important learnt information into our long-term memory.
The Big Mental Jigsaw!
The long-term memory works to connect new information to that which was previously learnt. A bit like slotting in a new piece of jigsaw to the sections previously solved. Jumping to a completely abstract concept can be a very challenging leap for both learner and teacher and best avoided. Better teaching is to build on what the student already understands. This is the concept behind grades or levels in music education, providing a gentle and systematic approach to learning based on progressively growing the students knowledge and skills.
When introducing a new idea in a lesson, can we make a comparison to something similar that the pupil already understands?
For example, when teaching the scale of C minor harmonic on the piano, I like to explain that this new scale is very like C major, which they are already familiar with. C minor harmonic has exactly the same fingering but the difference is that the E and A are flat! I get my students to first play C major and then add the flattened E and A. This seems to get quick and smooth results.
Keep It Short & Simple!
Our brains love simplicity and pattern. In fact our minds are constantly looking for explanations to the world around us, trying to make sense of the chaos and building routines. Even the most “free-spirited” of individuals will probably have specific, prearranged places to dump their belongings when they walk in through the door!
When explaining a new concept, speak slowly! Filter out the waffle! Trim off the fat! Use simple words appropriate to their age! And keep sentences “staccato”! Simple diagrams are often effective as the pupil can then visualise the concept. Demonstrate the concept. Give them an example. Get them to try it too. Mnemonics are a great memory retention aid like, uh, KISS (Keep It Short & Simple) for example!
Sometimes a music theory or composition activity can be complex and overwhelming to a student, involving a number of stages that need to be completed in the correct sequence. Producing a simple step by step instruction page can really help a pupil tackle the challenge with increased confidence and also to approach the sequence of tasks in the correct order.
Is the Penny Dropping?
Always watch their facial expressions and body language to check that what you are explaining is registering. A great tip is to ask them to explain it back to you or another pupil. Have they understood properly? Or is there a need for a little further nipping and tucking?
In the next article, I will focus on the next element of PRS; repetition.
As before, please have a think about the issues relating to repetition as a memory aid in your music lessons and feel free to add your thoughts as comments under this blog, as I would love to incorporate your ideas into ether of the next two articles. Below are a selection of comments that you kindly shared last month (some of the comments I’m saving for the next months). Many thanks in advance for your contributions…
“During teaching I try to teach new concepts at least 3 times in 3 different ways. Some ideas: simply explaining the concept, drawing on the book underlining etc., engaging the student – having them read out-loud while I underline the key ideas, playing the piece for the student, having them play parts and showing patterns, pulling up more information on a piece than what is in the book, showing you-tube videos of pieces being performed on different instruments and other arrangements of the same piece, and whenever I have a story to tell I do as that does engage the student. Finally, afterward asking if they understand.”
Brian Jenkins wrote:
“I’ve always been fascinated with memory. As a pianist it is of upmost importance. One of my favourite books on the subject is: Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve It
The most interesting thing to me is short term memory and how to improve it. Studies show that with very few exceptions people can hold around 7 items in their short term memories. Savants and others that seem to have the fabled yet misnomer “Photographic Memory” almost without exception have the same short term memory capacity as anyone else. Apparently it depends on what 7 items means to each person. To an experienced musician a chromatic scale going up two octaves is really only one or two items to remember. The note the scale starts on and the note the scale ends on perhaps. Although there 24+ notes, we can identify a pattern and notice it is a scale. This is how musicians like Gieseking were able to memorise an entire concerto away from the piano in just a day. It’s because he had such a deep understanding of music, and was able to see patterns on first glance that would take even very experienced musicians hours of analysing to reveal.
Another fantastic book on the subject is Gieseking’s book about Piano Technique. Don’t be confused by the title he actually spends quite a long time talking about memory: Piano Technique
I try to teach my students that theory and looking for patterns in small sections and repeating them over and over is the best way to learn a new piece, as well as become better at fitting more things into our 7 items.”
December 5th, 2013 by Guest Author
Guest Post by George Ramsay
Every serious guitarist inevitably comes across modes as they hone their improvisational chops. Unfortunately, they often confuse and in turn aren’t used very much because they aren’t understood. The goal of part 1 of this posting is to simplify the Dorian mode, eliminating confusion while providing a few practice tips. Part 2 will explain why we use Dorian, and what chord progressions lead to Dorian being applicable.
First, notice the end of the previous paragraph. I referred to the Dorian mode as a scale. Why? Partly because I am already getting tired of typing D-o-r-i-a-n, but also because for us to use it when we improvise, we should think of it as just another scale—much like the major scale, and even more like the minor scale.
In fact, all Dorian really is at the most basic level is a minor scale with one “altered” note. In other words, we play a minor scale with one note raised—the 6th, by a half-step—and we have Dorian.
For example, if we play an A Minor scale, our notes would be A-B-C-D-E-F-G (exactly the same as C major, except starting on an A). To make this Dorian, just raise the 6th note by a half step: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G.
How do we use this in our playing? I will offer two suggestions, the latter being my mode of choice. Pun intended. Read more…
There’s been a buzz in the press about research showing the benefits of music study. The gist: it’s been found that music is closely tied to intelligence and other desirable traits. In other words, “it’s good for you.” There’s also been talk that there is lack of substantial evidence to back up these claims. And then there’s talk amongst musicians, many of whom are dismayed by the fact that these side benefits are being touted when really music stands alone as its own subject, one beyond compare and undeniably the highest art form.
Although I understand those idealistic arguments of fellow musicians, I pose these questions:
1) Why should we be ashamed of the scientific findings surrounding music study when they provide free advertising, maybe somewhat false advertising but still FREE and offer greater exposure in the press?
2) Why do we seem to hang out in our own little corner of the world, self-righteous, worn out, under paid and frustrated that the world seems to undervalue our profession?
3) How is it that even though we are experts in this universal language we still find it hard to communicate the importance of music study when music clearly permeates about every thing and every part of society on this planet?
All these questions got me thinking about milk. Mmmm…quite the strange segue, I know, but pause for a momentand think about milk. It stands alone as the one beverage that satisfied ALL of us when we first entered the world as babes. However, this life-giving liquid began to lose popularity as soda, tea, coffee and sport drinks became the drinks of choice. Did the dairy association hang out moping and wondering why they just couldn’t compete with their competitors? NO! They rejected their failing “good for you” marketing strategy and headed for a new campaign focusing on milk’s co-dependence upon other foods and the consequences of milk deprivation. Read more…
Life-after-music for teachers might be full of family, work, caregiving, education, etc. For stressful times I recommend a bare-to-the-bones group (master) class rather than anything prep-intensive. I couldn’t have been more pleased with my latest. I use these classes partly to prepare students for a recital, partly to take advantage of teaching in a different setting, and partly to allow them to spend time with others in private instruction (let them know they’re not alone J).
Ahead of Time:
I searched for possible games and found or invented four.
Printed out or gathered materials for games.
Purchased ingredients for snacks and put them together (cookie frosted snowmen and crackers & cream cheese snowmen).
Wrote a list of my goals for the class.
Entered the group/master class into the MTH calendar.
What I Brought:
Four games contained in Ziplock bags (we had time for only two of them, but it’s best to be prepared).
Snack bags for each student (again, I made four extra just in case).
What We Did:
1. Brief discussion of recital etiquette.
I asked for an example of bad etiquette, and my cell phone rang.
Unplanned. Sure, it was funny. But as it turns out, my mother had fallen and
broken a vertebra. My husband was calling from ER. A neighbor had shown up
as my students were arriving, to tell me about her fall. That’s when I turned on
the phone. It turned out to be a great teaching moment—when is it acceptable to
have a cell phone on?
2. How to bow.
A couple of students demonstrated a simple bow. Then we had a few examples of outrageously bad bows.
Each student played a piece for the others, and they made positive, specific comments about each performance. One student faltered pretty badly, and someone highlighted what a great bow he’d done!
**Did you notice that up to this time there were no props? Only the piano, which was already in the room.
4. Two group games.
One game to practice reading rhythms, the other to practice naming keys (Most
of those who came were young beginners). They had a blast!
How it Ended:
I handed out the snack bags. The students not only thanked me for them and for the class, but most told me they’d pray for my mom. How sweet.
How Long the Class Took:
1 hour, 5 minutes.
This is when I became really grateful for the simplicity of the event…
I put game materials back in baggies, grabbed my purse and coat.
Closed the piano lid, turned off the piano light.
Turned down the thermostat.
Turned off lights and locked up.
Drove to the hospital.
Mom had an MRI. We’ll see the surgeon later, so all I can report now is that we are thankful for the care she’s receiving at the hospital.
I’m grateful that I didn’t serve snacks and beverages in the fellowship hall afterward. No vacuuming, no washing floor, dishes and tables, no dozen trips back and forth to load up the car.
Keep It Simple, Sweetie! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
November 26th, 2013 by Sandy Lundberg
I can’t even imagine starting a new student without using Bernard Shaak’s Piano Partners series. This set of three books helps me lay a solid foundation for everything that is to come.
The Piano Partners books were initially developed in the studio of master teachers Bernard and Carolyn Shaak, in Denver, Colorado, as they team-taught for many years until Bernard died unexpectedly. Carolyn would teach the children, while Bernie would teach the parent the same lesson in an adjoining studio, enabling the parent to continue the lessons throughout the week at home, thus truly becoming “piano partners.” The wo nderful parent/child duets throughout the books made this an exciting experience.
Right from the start, book one, the “pink” book, interests the student in the geography of the keyboard. They learn very quickly how to navigate around the black key groups. Peter, Peter on the black keys sends them home from their very first lesson with a real song under their fingers. Soon they are learning verses to I Love Coffee and they are hooked on piano!
Nine rhythm patterns throughout the first book give students not only the opportunity to get these rhythms in their head and fingers, but also provide the perfect opportunity to Read more…
Guest Post by Elena Cobb
Over a hundred years ago musical pioneers created a phenomenally popular musical style – jazz! Exciting, rhythmic, harmonious, colourful, toe-tapping and ear-catching, jazz had it all – and people loved it! It was a massive shaking up of the musical world. And, as well, it had something new; something that classical music had never had – it had a swing!
However, this new creation had come from the poor and disinherited in the world; people who had lost much in their lives and had little; people who understood loss, disinheritance, loneliness, isolation – and for many, the associations of these people who had nothing and had lost an enormous amount (even, in the case of slaves, their freedom) meant that the normal music-loving populace could not give the new musical invention its due. Improvisation was not willingly added to the classical musical scene and it is not an element that exists in our current musical exams. But – why not? Besides watching how excited pupils become playing jazz tunes and how fast they learn to play them, would it be a stretch too far to say they would also be happy to include improvisation in their musical learning?
Judging by the number of children entering the classical exams each year, it’s clear that children can be interested in whatever kind of music their teachers recommend. But, however malleable the pupils might be, teachers tend to believe that you need to be a specialist to teach jazz. They think that children who are eager to focus on it, need to learn sophisticated bass lines and intentional dissonances under the watchful eye of an expert and it isn’t considered to be something that an untutored teacher can offer – disappointing news for the average child.
Of course, classically trained teachers do have the advantage that they can tell pupils how to play each piece appropriately for the chosen composition style to make sure no marks are lost, and this works well for how current exams are structured, but what about the one, very important element of jazz which is different from the elements of classical music – improvisation? Read more…
Posted in Teaching Tips
But isn’t it frustrating when we keep forgetting things that we want to remember and yet we can’t forget unimportant matters from our past.
So why do our brains forget? And more importantly, how can we teach our minds and the minds of our music students to remember the important things? Read more…
Posted in Teaching Tips