Practice for Proficiency

justinclauserSome people say “Practice makes perfect.” This is incorrect. Practice forms habits. The quality of your habits are determined by the quality of your practice. This can be either good or bad.

Others say “Perfect practice makes perfect.” This unfortunately is also incorrect. The paradox of practice is that we strive for perfection with the understanding that we will fall short. Our ability to continue to endeavor in the face of impossible odds is what allows us to constantly grow as musicians.

I say “Practice makes proficiency.” The following is a description of how I set proficiency goals in practicing.

Rather than focusing on how long a student practices for or how many times they repeat a section, I encourage my students to concentrate on how well they play the material they are practicing. This is a simple concept but to make the most of it, I suggest making a practice circuit that sets specific proficiency goals.

The first step is to evaluate the student’s current proficiency. I have them play the selected material a few times while I listen and watch for sound quality, posture, and technique. Together, the student and I will take note of what they are excelling at and what they are having the most trouble with. The parts that they are playing poorly are merely symptoms of the actual problem. Once the symptoms have been identified, I offer a diagnosis as to what is causing their symptoms and provide a plan to fix the issue.

The way we fix mistakes is by improving our fundamental technique and posture. For example, if a student is consistently missing an F# note in first position of their guitar and I notice their hand is in incorrect posture, I show them how to correct the issue. I show what part of their hand needs to line up with the guitar neck, how far it should be from the neck, and at what angle they should be at. If they cannot get their hand into proper position, we do they same for their sitting posture, their arm posture, and the angles they hold the guitar at.

After the student knows the proper posture, they can practice consciously playing the part with this correction. By focusing on their posture, the student is better able to eliminate their playing mistakes. I ask my students to make their goals around the fundamental they are working on and think of the music they are practicing as merely the vehicle we use to practice this fundamental.

Now that we know what to work on during practice sessions, the student and I can build a practice circuit. I suggest repeating a small section in 3 sets, starting right before and ending right after the the part the student is struggling with. We set a goal such as playing 8 consecutive performances that each are mistake free and use our fundamental (in this case, maintaining proper posture). If the student makes a mistake or does not maintain posture, the count starts back over from the beginning. Once the student reaches 8 consecutive correct performances of the material, they rest for a short period of time anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute. This rest period is important to make sure they have enough concentration to begin another set. Without rest periods, it is easy for a student to become distracted or tired which lowers the quality of their practice. After completing 3 sets of 8 consecutive repeats, the student is ready to either move on to the next problem area or to try performing the entire piece of music.

This method of practicing for proficiency is much more effective than just going to by time or number of repeats. What we care about is how many times we have correctly played each section. We should always focus on the fundamental we are improving.


Voice and Piano Recital and Holiday Prep!

I love this time of year! Love the Halloween music and am looking forward to the Open House when my students will be playing and singing in the Open Mic. I just got back from Mencheys in Hanover where I was on the lookout for new Christmas books and musical theatre music. Had a great time and spent too much money! After the Open House, my students will be working on music for the Fall Recital and I’ll also introduce Christmas music.

Voice Teacher, Amanda, Shares tips on finding a teacher!

Tips on choosing a voice teacher. . .

Voice teachers are as subjective and as varied as the genres we can sing in! When looking for someone to study with, here are some things to be curious about:

Their availability and pricing. If your schedules don’t line up, then you cannot reach your goals with them at this time. Some teachers have a waiting list. If you really like this person, you may wish to wait for an opening. If your needs are more time sensitive, you may wish to look for someone else. This teacher may even be able to suggest other teachers in the area that fit your needs (pricing or otherwise). Don’t be afraid to ask anything!

Their schooling.  There is no one neat little certificate that says a person can teach voice. If there was, I would have it. Their is freedom in this. There is also a danger to this. If you were going to hire a personal trainer, you would check to see what gives them the right to train you.  Do the same for voice.

Their philosophy or teaching style. Continuing the trainer metaphor. . . If you wanted to run a marathon, you would pick someone who has experience training for one. If you wanted to learn how to run a faster 5k, you might choose a different trainer than one who has only run marathons.  Choose a teacher who knows what you want to know and can teach it to you well.

Keep in mind, the best teacher is not always the best performer or vice versa.  One can have all of the credentials in the world and still not be able to convey that knowledge in a way that clicks with you. Go with your gut, and find someone who understands your learning style and your goals. Also, find someone whose teaching style you can understand.

Their Goals.  Be prepared to share what you hope to learn or to do with your voice lessons.  Ask them the same questions.  You can ask how they handle specific vocal issues (belting, changing voices, breathy sound,etc.). You can ask what their goals are for their students after leaving their studio.  Every teacher has a different focus. Find one whose focus can align with yours.

Any cancellation policies or other expectations.  Some teachers will let you cancel and not pay for the missed lesson. Others will not.  Investigate this.  Do they have recitals you must perform in?  Will they only work on their repertoire and not coach you for auditions and singing elsewhere?You have a right to ask about anything you can think of.

Remember that this is a service. You can cancel your service anytime. You can seek another’s services after or even at the same time. I have learned something different from each of my voice teachers, and they have all helped to shape me and my voice today.  Stay curious!


Amanda Ainscough is an very active vocal artist and can be heard singing all over Central PA.  She also has a large studio at the Perfect 5th!


George Papoutsis and Max Alves win Battle of the Bands

Guitar students of Justin Clauser, George Papoutsis and Max Alves took first place at the Eagleview Middle School Battle of the Bands. Their 4 piece band, The Bagels, performed an original composition composed by George and Max. We at The Perfect 5th couldn’t be prouder of their hard work and want to thank the Eagleview Middle school for giving them the opportunity to work as bandmates and perform original music! Congratulations George and Max!

Flute foundations: 5 note patterns!

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In the flute studio at P5, on any given day, one is likely to hear about 10 minutes of every 30 minute lesson on 5-note patterns.   5-note patterns are the first five notes of every scale, and students are required to learn them from memory by the time they are finished with Blocki Book 1.  In order to do so, we practice with games that help the student memorize them.

The first step is working on finger changes between 2 notes at a time.  Then, as we focus on memorizing the 5 notes in a row, we play a game where we put the notes out in front of the student, and after playing it successfully 2 times in a row, we turn over a note to the blank side of the card.  The student again tries to play the 5-note pattern in a row and tries to recall what the missing note is.  As they continue this, they eventually have turned over the cards and they are playing from memory.

After the card game, we may place the note cards under rhythm cards and play the five note patterns to different rhythms that the student is soon to be focusing on in their music.  They play their five note patterns to these different rhythms.  To make it even more difficult, we play the patterns in harmony, with the teacher starting on the third note above the students note.  This also means that the teacher is playing a different rhythm from the student, thus reinforcing ensemble and leadership skills.

Another activity that we do with the five note patterns is walking while playing them.  I got this idea from Kathy Blocki, my mentor and KinderFlute trainer.  The students and I  walk outside on good days, or in a circle inside, playing the 5-note patterns over and over.  It is much less boring to practice scales while walking around! The student is to match their feet to the quarter notes that they are playing (one note each foot).  After they master this, then we work on 8th notes ( 2 notes each foot), and then 16th notes (4 notes each foot) and 32nd notes (8 notes each foot).  This activity is beneficial for several reasons. First, it helps students learn to hear the subdivision of the beat and feel it with their bodies.  Second, it is a good way to practice speeding up their five-note patterns.  Lastly, walking and playing scales is a skill that involves more brain power…it is much more difficult to play the scales while walking, therefore, if they are able to do well with this, is demonstrates mastery over the fingers when playing scales.

Sometimes in lessons, I pull out the Jenga game, which has all the 5-note patterns written on the blocks.  They pull out a block, and play the scale that is written on it.  We keep playing until the blocks fall.  I have other board games that I re-designed to become a randomized practice game, as well.  A favorite is the zoo-animal game, that requires the student to pull out random animals from a box and play the scale that is  on the animal.  Students try to make a very large zoo before they leave their lesson!  We also have random M&M days, where I have them play as many 5-note patterns from memory, and students collect M&M’s in their bags which I then hang up on a cork-board for all students to see.  Once a bag is full (and this may take several months), the student can take their bag home and we begin again.

Despite all the fun ways I have to teach scales and 5-note patterns, I work very hard at reminding students why I think scales are important.  I make up a beautiful song and play it for them on my flute. Within that song, I place scales in it and have the students point out when I am playing scales.  I tell them that scales occur in my music all the time, and because I practice my scales, I can learn lots of my music quickly! I show them music that I am personally working on and have them point out the scales in it.  I also tell them that scales are the time to practice lowering their fingers and practice good posture, so that they can play very quickly, eventually!



Jacek has been a piano student of Tracy Wieseman’s for over a year.  He is playing a note identification game with bean bags on the grand staff and has correctly identified all the notes on the treble clef.  Tracy uses this grand staff and floor keyboard in her teaching and also in the Young Music Exporer’s Class which she co-teaches with piano teacher Heather Perry.  We have a lot of fun ways of learning music at The Perfect 5th!  Each student, as an individual, has a unique learning style. Our staff is dedicated to using different methods (such as this hands-on method of learning for Jacek) to make sure each they are receiving the highest quality of instruction possible throughout their lesson or class.