(Update: the musicpracticetips.com website is no longer up and running. However, as this review compares web and print media approaches for teaching practice skills, you might find the info below useful for evaluating learning resources.)
When I started this blog, I initially had this idea of a web resource for music practice advice.
Providing such a service, I thought, would help remedy a recurrent problem in music education. That is: despite the abundance of educational/mentorship options available to budding musicians today, useful resources on the topic of practice strategies and tactics – whatever the instrument – still seemed to be lacking.
To be sure, many music education publishing companies have published materials on the topic of music practice strategies (Homespun Tapes, Berklee Press, Hal Leonard, and others). And in any given urban area, musicians have access to a wide range of teachers and educational opportunities.
But in my own experience, I found that only a very few teachers have taken the trouble to systematize their tacit teaching knowledge into a set of principles, strategies, tools, etc. On the other hand, many published resources do just this, but they obvious can’t provide the personalized attention that teachers and mentors can, which is often needed for long-term learning projects.
My point: specialized music schools notwithstanding, there didn’t seem to be a real and/or virtual PLACE you could go to which would provide just such “integrated” support. So starting a blog based on giving practice tools, tips and advice would allow me, at the very least, to seek out such resources and organize them for a readership.
Well, that’s not where THIS blog went.
The reason? I realized this approach wasn’t really my strength. Turns out my talents and passions are better manifested in the creative treatment of educational ideas, and the analysis of new culture/communications trends. The “amateur musicians” part is simply the perspective from which I wanted to write and research my topics, the emerging “pro-am” movement.
So my original idea of an online guide for music practice tools and techniques went on ice.
oh when the saints, come marching in…
That said, I’m happy to tell you there’s a new practice tips and techniques aficionado on the block(osphere), and his name is Ben Clapton.
Ben Clapton is here to help you practice your instrument. That’s the name of his blog: Music Practice Tips. His mission:
How often does your teacher tell you to practice more, but doesn’t actually tell you how to approach it?
How many times have you practiced the same thing over and over, only to see it get worse in your lesson?
How many days have you not practiced, not because you don’t want to, but because you don’t feel inspired?
This site is devoted to these issues, giving you a resource that you can come to find inspiration, practice methods, and ways of effective practice and self-learning.
Looking through the articles, I’m impressed with the quality of content Clapton makes available for readers. New concepts and strategies are introduced and explained to help students re-think their approach, and integrate them into their (hopefully) daily practice routine. As well, the often-overlooked “attitudinal issues” – such as setting realistic goals and and practicing for performance-readiness – are given special attention on Music Practice Tips.
And it’s a well-organized blog, with a clear audience in mind. From the title page, a reader can see the latest article briefs (clickable, for full post access), a site mission summary to the right, and categories and popular posts to the left. The categories are well-chosen and relevant, mindful of problems and issues that typically arise from a music practice lifestyle.
how resourceful are your resources?
And more? I notice the curious “Practiceopedia” link in the Music Practice Tips blogroll, and click through, expecting to stumble upon some Ã¼ber-online resource or portal for musicians looking for “best practice”-type learning advice.
The Practiceopedia page reveals just such a resource.
Which brings me to the next point I wanted to make in this review: in a world where blogs and books are fighting it out for our attention, what makes a learning resource truly useful and valuable?
From what I can gather in the video overview, Practiceopedia is indeed one whopper of a resource. In a nutshell, the Practiceopedia value-added approach to learning music combines pedagogical theory with practical advice, into a set of logically organized sections navigable by learners, according to their needs.
Only thing: it is a book. In our case, this means a caveat: Practiceopedia’s greatest strength – from the point of view of its intended readership of young music students – may also be its greatest weakness.
For example, in Practiceopedia learning techniques are, from the user’s point of view, the means of navigating through the volume. As useful as this may be, it generally assumes that learners – and young learners in particular – are rational, purpose-driven, “best practice” seekers looking to optimize their learning process for best results.
In other words, in my view, the instructional design of Practiceopedia serves a somewhat-idealized reader: someone who is reflexive about their learning process, or at least will become so in his or her use the book over time.
In an instructional setting, who are the experienced learners? Music teachers.
So are students using the book as recommended? Is it producing good results? I’m not saying that the assumptions Practiceopedia makes about its readership are wrong, only that as a format it may not “hit the mark” with its intended audience, and rather may end up being a more useful resource for music teachers.
have hacks will travel
Since we are concerned about usefulness to the widest possible category of learners, I’ll contrast this “learning heuristics” approach to the “hacks” approach favored by Clapton on his blog.
Why the “hacks” format? For one, its sheer practical bent seems well suited to the hyper-fragmented attention world of the modern multi-media landscape. Indeed, many successful internet businesses owe their success in part to this format for content: Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Publishing has already reflected on the meaning of the success of his technology Hack Series. And if there’s one blog that is doing well in the blogosphere, it’s Lifehacker.com.
Simply put, the hacks approach is successful in providing focused answers to specific problems. Hacks can be simple, or they can be complex. In terms of advice, good hacks are mindful of the attitude of creative focus that learners have when they set their minds on solving a problem. Always a specific problem, mind you. 😉
So here’s where the Music Practice Tips blog is, in my view, an improvement on book resources like Practiceopedia: beyond providing learners with a useful battery of learning techniques (no small feat!), it provides them with problem-solving tips that are easy to integrate into daily life, and does so in a timely manner.
Bottom line, here’s what Practiceopedia can’t do as a resource that Music Practice Tips can:
- Practiceopedia is, again, a book. As useful and brilliantly designed as it may be, until it also turns into a blog (preferably with video and audio content), it risks suffering the fate that befalls books these days: Attention Deficit Disorder. Especially in the hands of young learners! That is, it may soon find itself at the bottom of a pile of other useful resources, on that dusty and neglected “serious stuff” desk, next to school homework. If it’s not part of their day-to-day culture…
- Practiceopedia’s single-volume comprehensiveness also runs the risk of inducing in its users a passive psychology of “having all the bases covered”. In other words: it may ironically end up not being used as often as it should because “it has all the answers”.
- Unlike on-line resources, Practiceopedia cannot evolve with its audience, nor create a community around the resources it offers. if there are any lessons we should have learned by now with regards to new media: design your information for knowledge capture, conversation… and tribes!
So there you have it. In the final analysis, if Music Practice Tips turns out to be a blog tribute – even extension – of Practiceopedia, then maybe this issue is all for naught and I can simply rest my case: we are getting the best of both worlds. To be sure, many of the concepts and techniques featured in posts on Music Practice Tips seem to be adaptations of concepts originating in Practiceopedia (…and if that’s the case, I’d recommend Mr. Clapton take Practiceopedia out of the Music Practice Tips Blogroll, and get an affiliate marketing deal going with the publishers of the book!).
For the moment, I’ve chosen to look at Music Practice Tips as an experiment in bringing ‘updated’ traditional music pedagogy out of the instructional setting, to the new natural environment of self-directed and passionate learners: the Internet and the blogosphere.
An experiment which I wholeheartedly endorse. Certainly, blogs that start off on the right foot deserve our full attention and support.