Five Minutes a Day Can Grow Your Musicianship

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Five Minute Musicianship

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Musicianship: knowledge, skill, and artistic sensitivity in performing music. (from

It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.  –  J. S. Bach

Musicianship may have been that easy for Bach, but for most of us being a good musician is more than just playing the right notes at the right time. We spend years studying the inner workings of music and developing our reading, hearing and understanding so that we can perform at the highest level possible. When you’re in music school, you have ample opportunity to hone your skills daily.

But what if you’re not ready for music school, or if it’s been years since you thought about ear training or theory? How do you keep sharp the important skills that make you a better musician? And who has the time to take classes and do homework? Here are some quick drills to get you on track that will take less than five minutes a day.

I am a believer in small steps, the kind of small steps that aren’t difficult in themselves, but can take you to a destination however far off when you take them regularly. No crash diets, just skipping a dessert, for instance.

I approach musicianship the same way with my students – in just five minutes a day. I give them a short assignment each week, usually tied to works they are already practicing, that helps them think about the inner workings of music and grow their skills. It’s easy to tailor the assignment to the level and needs of each student. The drill is quick to do and obviously relevant to their practice, so there’s never any problem with anyone “forgetting” to do that part of the weekly assignment. (You may also want to review my post on Telescope Teaching.)

Here are some sample drills:

1. Identify the Major key of a piece you are playing. Sing the scale. Then sing every note above tonic in turn: F-G, F-A, F-B flat, F-C, F-D, F-E and F-F.

2. Number the notes of a scale from 1 (lowest note) to 8 (highest note). Play the scale, then sing the scale.  Next, write numbers 1 to 8 in random order. Sing the notes in order of numbers.

3. Set a metronome to keep a steady beat. Keeping with the metronome, count subdivisions of the beat: 1,2,3,4 and 6 subdivisions. Practice for precision in switching between subdivisions.

4. Set a metronome to keep a steady beat. Count 4 beats. As you count, tap subdivisions of the beat, alternating subdividing by 2 and subdividing by 3. You can alternate 2’s and 3’s every 4 beats, every two beats, or every beat.

5. Using any short melody, label each note by scale degree number (1 to 8, lowest to highest). Play the melody. Sing the melody. Then keeping the scale degree numbers the same, transpose the melody to another key.

Try these yourself or use them with your students. Let me know how they work for you. Remember the goal is to focus attention on the musical principles behind the notes, and a making that focus a habit will lead to understanding, skill and confidence.

You could help me greatly by commenting on this post. Were the drills helpful? Are the directions clear? Would examples help? Would audio or video be helpful? Would you be interested in more like these? Thank you in advance!

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