Hard to believe it, but the year 2010 draws to a close this evening! It has been an incredibly busy year for MusicEdMajor.net, and I wanted to take this opportunity to recap some of the posts and pages that have been the most popular over the course of the last twelve months: [Read more...]
Apple now has three products that all run apps from it’s incredible App Store (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad). With the store holding well over 185,000 apps for use on these devices, it is inevitable that there are some apps that fit the needs of Music Education majors well. Here is a list of a few of these apps that I have found useful on my iPod Touch. NOTE: The phrase iPhone in this post is intended to refer to any device capable of running apps (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad). App titles are links to the app in the App Store.
- iHomework ($0.99)-This course-management app allows you to easily manage all your assignments and grades. It allows you to categorize assignments by class and category, as well as record grades you receive on those assignments. Some more in-depth features include the ability to use weighted grades by category, list your instructors and their contact information (for easy access to e-mail the instructor), and set schedules for your courses. If you’re looking for a free homework/grade management app, consider MyHomework).
- Calendar (Native, Free)-The native Calendar app on the iPhone will help you keep track of your day-to-day schedule. You can use the app to synchronize your calendar to a Microsoft Exchange server or to Google Calendar. If you take your device with you everywhere you go, you can put your appointments in your calendar as soon as you make them, and you’ll never miss an appointment again.
- Simplenote (Free, $8.99 upgrade)-While the iPhone has a native “Notes” app, I have found myself wanting more out of a note-taking app. Simplenote fills this void by allowing the user to synchronize their notes with their computer (and even to a widget on Mac OS X machines). The font is also easier to read than the handwriting-font of the native app, and there are a few additional options that the native app does not have. Upgrading your subscription for $8.99 (through the Simplenote website) gives you access to automatic backup of your notes, in case you delete something inadvertently.
- Dropbox (Free)-This file-storage solution has been an incredible help to me as a college student. Dropbox allows you to store digital copies of all your files (up to 2GB initially) on their server, for access on any computer, and their app allows you to view any of these files no matter where you are on your iPhone. Additional features include the ability to quickly share a link to the file, or attach it to an email. This is a fantastic service for a college student on-the-go, and makes quickly downloading and printing files in the library a breeze.
- Mail (Native, Free)-The native E-Mail app is the easiest and fastest way to communicate with classmates and professors on the go. The app gives you the ability to add POP3 and IMAP accounts, as well as one Microsoft Exchange account (with the release of iPhone OS 4.0 this summer, the app will support multiple Exchange accounts). The interface is easy to use, and it’s extremely easy to see when you have an unread message, as the number of unread emails is displayed on top of the app icon.
- Facebook (Free)-While Facebook is a great time-waster, it is also an incredible communication tool for you to get in touch with your classmates (or even your professors). Use the app to trade private messages with your classmate about what’s on tomorrow’s exam, or create a group to serve as the hub of communication for that big group project you were just assigned. Just be careful you don’t get stuck reading status updates for an hour!
- Twitter (Free)-Twitter is a fantastic means of communication, networking, and professional development. If you don’t already have the Twitter app for your iPhone, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities for this development. There are literally hundreds of twitter apps available, but “Twitter” is the official app. Other apps include TweetDeck (Free, iPad Supported), Twittelator (Free, iPad Supported), and Twitterrific (Free, iPad Supported).
- LinkedIn (Free)-LinkedIn is a professional networking website that allows you to connect with current, former, and potential coworker, employers, and employees. The app also allows you to connect with a new acquaintance on LinkedIn by touching your Bluetooth-enabled iPhones together. Great for use at conferenes!
- Safari (Native,Free)-The native web browser on the iPhone is a great way to gather information about whatever you need. If you know the URL you’re looking for, you can quickly enter it in the address bar, and you’re off! If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, a Google search is only a tap away. You can also bookmark your favorite websites on your home screen for quick and easy access to them.
- Wikipedia (Free)-Wikipedia has a great web interface for iPhones, but if you prefer a larger feature-set, the Wikipedia app may be for you. Wikipedia, the world’s largest collaborative encyclopedia, has a wealth of information on almost every topic you could imagine! While this information isn’t what your professors would call “scholarly,”
- Google/Bing (Free)-It’s going to be the search question to end all search questions in the 21st century… Google or Bing? Whichever you choose, they both have fantastic iPhone apps to help you take advantage of the best features of each engine. Also, both apps include voice-activated searching for devices with microphones (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch with microphone add-in)
- Wolfram Alpha ($1.99)-Wolfram Alpha is another search engine with an extremely intelligent input area, allowing you to get specific answers to very specific questions with little to no work. Want to compare the unemployment rates of New York City and chicago? Just search for “unemployment rate NYC, Chicago” and you’ll get a chart and a graph. Want to know when the tide will be high in Honolulu? Search “tides Honolulu, Hawaii” and you’ll get your answer. For $1.99, this app is a steal!
- BlackboardLearn/mTouch (Free, $2.99)-Nowadays, most schools use some type of course management system. Blackboard and Moodle are probably the most frequently used, and each system has a corresponding app to allow you to access your content on the go. If your professors use these services often, and you want access to this content quickly, these apps are for you.
- Tempo2 ($1.99)-This is the best metronome I have found on the iTunes app store. Tempo2 allows the user to choose absolutely any time signature and metronome marking they want, as well as add accents, change sounds, change tempos in the middle (great for working on an accelerando!), and much more. The app is $1.99, and a great deal at that price. If you’re looking for a free metronome app, try Metronome.
- iStrobosoft ($9.99)-This is the most expensive app on this list, but also well worth it. iStrobosoft is a strobe tuner, letting you view not only the frequency of your pitch but how centered your tone is as you play, just like a real strobe tuner. You have the options of editing
- Shazam (Free)-Have you ever heard a song or piece of music on the radio and wonder what it’s called? Now, you can use the microphone on your iPhone to listen to a sample of the song, and Shazam will tell you it’s name! Shazam also has a premium app with additional features for $4.99. NOTE: Requires microphone, so iPod touch users will need an external mic.
- NML (Free, Subscription Required)-If you haven’t heard of the Naxos Music Library, it’s time to check it out! A subscription to the NML gets you access to high-quality audio streams of music from the orchestral, wind band, solo, and jazz repertoires. The NML app lets you stream this music directly to your iPhone from your subscription. Check with your school’s library-they may already have an account!
This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of apps that will benefit Music Ed Majors or Music Educators. Do you have a favorite app that was left off this list? Let us know in the comments!
Before you start wondering how I came to that outlandish comment, allow me to explain. If you’re like me and haven’t been to the circus since you were 5, hopefully the picture above should refresh your memory and give you a better idea of what I’m referring to: JUGGLERS! Jugglers are responsible for keeping multiple objects airborne, while at the same time reacting to the object currently closest to crashing to the earth so they can adjust, catch the object, and throw it back into the air. This isn’t so different from what most music education majors experience on a daily basis.
But I Don’t Want to Work at a Circus!
Not to worry! Your future as a music educator is safe. Let’s look at the act of juggling in terms of studying music at the collegiate level:
Jugglers: are responsible for many objects
Music Ed Majors: have many academic and extracurricular obligations
Jugglers: throw these objects in the air each night
Music Ed Majors: throw all their obligations onto their ‘plate’ at the beginning of each semester
Jugglers: react to the object closest to falling, adapt, and throw it back into the air so they can catch the next object
Music Ed Majors: figure out what their most pressing obligation is at a given time, take care of it, and move it aside so they can deal with something else
As you can see, music ed majors really do have a lot in common with jugglers! However, jugglers at circuses are very relaxed about the way they go about their job. Do you think you would be as calm the first time you tried juggling? Not likely. These jugglers are so relaxed because they are extremely prepared and organized in the way they go about their task. Let’s look at some ways we can keep ourselves relaxed as we juggle our different responsibilities as music education students:
Your calendar is one of the resources you will use the most over the course of your time in college, and over your life in general. The first step, of course, to having an organized calendar is to keep a calendar! So many students still “wing it” with their schedule, and undoubtedly find themselves missing deadlines and forgetting appointments. Once you have your calendar set up, here are a few tips for keeping it organized:
- Put EVERYTHING in it! Do you have routine times during the day where you practice? Study? Put them in your calendar! These times are imperative to your success, and you are much more likely to adhere to them if they’re set in stone in your calendar
- Categorize – However you do it, separate and categorize your responsibilities. Some electronic calendars allow you to color-code each event, while others use separate color-coded calendars overlayed on each other. If you use a pen/paper planner, using colored highlighters or pens is helpful. Regardless, categorizing helps you see what basic activities (class, field experience/teaching, meetings, rehearsals) you’ll be taking part in at a glance.
- Plan in Advance – Before the semester begins, put your classes into your calendar for the entire semester. As soon as you find out you have a commitment somewhere, write it down. This way, if you’re approached about an event far in the future (a gig or a trip, for example), you know right away if you’re available.
E-Mail is becoming an increasingly popular means of communication in the era of technology. Many people send/receive dozens ore more e-mails in a given day, and unsorted or unanswered e-mail can pile up quickly if care isn’t taken. Here are a few suggestions for ways to keep your email organized, so you never fall behind:
- Use Folders – I cannot even count the number of people who I have seen that have over 2,000 emails in their inbox. While search features will help you locate what you’re looking for, keeping emails organized in folders by topic allows you to easily view multiple emails that are related at once. It doesn’t take much time to sort an email once you receive it-take the time and put it in a folder!
- Keep Your Inbox Clean – Once you have folders, keep your inbox clean by using them! There are a few ways to do this. Some people (myself included) use the Inbox only as a “to-do” list. Anything still in the inbox needs to be replied to/dealt with, and then promptly sorted. Others choose to not use the inbox for anything except unread email. Once they read an email, they move it into one of three folders (Follow-Up, Archive, Hold), as described by LifeHacker. From there, they can deal with it when they have time.
- Save Everything – Some people disagree on this point, but I have a few reasons for suggesting you save every email you send/receive. Firstly, in the technology era, many professors ask assignments to be emailed to them. If you’re like me and your computer crashes and you didn’t have a back-up, saving these emails can be a great way to recover important school work that you may want to refer to later. Also, any time you receive an email, especially one regarding a project or event, it’s good to have saved in case you need to refer back to it later for some reason. Most email providers offer enough storage space that this isn’t a problem.
What’s the best way to deal with the large number of different assignments being thrown at you? Here are some ideas for staying organized about your school work:
- Write it Down!! I cannot stress this enough. The mind only has the ability to store so much information, and with the number of stimuli your brain processes in a day, you simply will not remember all your assignments if they are not written down. In addition, make sure you write them down as soon as they are assigned! Waiting until later is also risky-there’s no telling what could come up “later” that would cause you to forget to write the assignment down.
- Keep Your Planner With You – Some people put their homework assignments on their planner/calendar. Others have separate places where they store homework. However you track your school work, it needs to be with you at all times. This way, if you come up with a thought about a project, or need reference what work you have to do, you have it. I use the iHomework app on my iPod Touch to store my assignments. It also lets you track your grades on the assignments you enter.
- Break it Down – If you’re assigned a large project, don’t just write the due date down in your planner and be done with it. That evening, take some time to separate the project into a list of tasks you need to complete, in order, to finish the project. Then, assign a due date for each task! This way, you won’t wind up looking in your planner at your week on Sunday and realizing that you have an assignment due the next day that was assigned three weeks ago. Be sure to stick to your schedule and complete each task on the due date you assigned yourself!
Feeling More Relaxed?
Hopefully these tips should let you “juggle” your responsibilities more easily, while staying more relaxed. Sometimes, though, it’s important to take a step back, and rest! One evening (or even a few hours) of rest and relaxation before getting back to work can leave you re-energized and less stressed when you return. Hey, maybe you could go see a circus!
How do you stay organized? Does one of my tips work well for you? Do you do something different? Do you secretly have the dream to be a circus performer? Whatever your thoughts are, leave them in the comments so we can continue the conversation!
“Maybe you should become a lawyer or something.”
Those words, spoken to me by my applied clarinet teacher during my sophomore year as an undergraduate music ed student at Penn State, were a slap in the face – and I totally deserved them. He made this statement during one of our many sessions that semester when it was obvious to both of us that I had not made much progress on the assigned material from the week before. I didn’t respond to him then, but I’m sure it was obvious to him by my reaction that his words had stung. “I’ll show him!” I thought, and then started practicing.
Like many music majors, I sat first chair in my high school’s concert band. I attended all the honors band festivals and successfully did seating auditions. I successfully auditioned into the Penn State Marching Blue Band and the School of Music. I did it all with a minimal amount of practicing – riding primarily on my natural abilities. My music teachers never taught me how to practice effectively. Even the private teacher I had in high school, a sweet old man who was a reed doubler and a friend of my band director’s dad, didn’t teach me anything about practicing.
About a month later, after spending an hour in the practice room a couple of times a week, I played the assigned material again for the professor. He gave me a wry smile and asked, “Why did you think you didn’t have to practice?” I told him that, as a music education major, I didn’t really see a connection between being a performer on clarinet and teaching music to students on other instruments besides clarinet. He shook his head in a manner suggesting the phrase “you’ll find out.” He was right – I did.
Disproving an Old Adage
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” The old adage is meant to demean teachers, who do not have enough skill to make a living doing what they teach to others. One of the great truths of being a teacher is that you can only teach to a student that which you yourself have directly learned, experienced, and mastered. You can’t teach a student advanced concepts in instrumental performance if you have not reached that level of performance on at least one instrument yourself. To reach that level of performance as a vocalist, consider taking singing lessons.
Once you have developed to an advanced level of proficiency on one instrument, you can apply that experience to instruction on any other instrument, making it possible for you to instruct students from a beginning to intermediate level of skill. The basic concepts of performance (tone production, tonal literacy, rhythmic literacy, technical development) are similar no matter what the instrument is. Learning the idiosyncrasies of each instrument is just a matter of time and experience once you have a firm foundation in one instrument.
Have a “Raison d’Etre” (Reason to Be) in the Practice Room
The human ego has an important job – it exists to protect the organism from harm and seek out pleasurable experiences. It tends to do its job entirely too well, which keeps us mired in patterns of behavior that prevents us from taking risks and avoiding unpleasant situations that push us outside our comfort zone. People in general are not willing to extend an effort to an end if the perceived result is not “worth it.”
For me as an undergrad, there was little motivation to practice because I could get by without it, and I didn’t understand the value of having a more advanced level of proficiency on the instrument. Once I understood the benefits of being more advanced on my instrument, I had a reason to practice. The first step as an undergrad is to find your own personal reason to invest the time and effort in practicing. It needs to be something that will motivate you when the drudgery of practicing is upon you.
Develop an Efficient and Consistent Routine
Once you have your raison d’etre, the next step is to develop a practice routine and stick to it. Developing a successful practice routine begins with scheduling. How often will you get in the practice room? How long will you spend there when you do? A few things to keep in mind when scheduling practice time:
- Shorter sessions on a more regular basis have a stronger long-term effect than longer sessions with less frequency. Two short sessions per day tends to yield excellent results.
- Scheduled times should be as consistent as possible, as in the same time every day or every other day. Develop a routine that flows with your class schedule, meals, ensemble rehearsals, and meetings.
- Have the same regimen in every practice session. In a basic half-hour practice regimen, I recommend 10 minutes of scales/arpeggios, 15 minutes of repertoire work, and 5 minutes of sight-reading or improvising. Touching on every aspect of your performance (technique work, literature, and musicianship) will keep you improving steadily on everything.
- Cycle through different items in each phase of the practice. For example, you may cycle through major scales in sharp keys one session, flat keys the next, then save day 5 of a weekday cycle for a review of all 12. In repertoire, you will have to break down etudes and sonatas into smaller sections. It is quite easy to spend an entire practice session drilling a technical passage. Alternate between sight reading and improvisation. You don’t have to be a jazz player to improvise a melody. Just pick a scale and try creating a melodic line.
- Depending on the timing during the semester, shift the balance of your practice session to focus on repertoire as needed. When approaching concerts or juries, more time will obviously need to be spent on the material for those performances. Sacrificing time on scales or sight reading during these “crunch time” periods is acceptable.
A Few Other Suggestions
- Know when to quit. The Law of Diminishing Returns states that as fatigue and frustration increase, the amount of productive progress you will make for the effort you put in decreases. Sometimes quitting early and adding the lost time to the next session is a good move. Practicing for hours on end does little to help you improve if it is unfocused and disorganized. It also contributes to overuse injuries.
- Make staying focused and on task a part of your practice. See if you can go 10 to 15 minutes or longer of straight repetitions before taking a break. Focus is the key to success in just about any endeavor.
- Sometimes taking a five minute break yields great results when you return.
- Consider keeping a written practice journal to keep track of what you worked on and how it is progressing. You can detect trends in your routine that are effective or less than effective.
- Occasionally record a performance of an excerpt. Recordings are very unforgiving and point out the smallest of flaws. Listen to them with a grain of salt – human perception is focused, not general like the recorder, so your audience does not hear all of that, either.
Effective practicing is about being consistent and developing a routine that you will stick with. As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” Developing a successful practice routine can be akin to developing a healthier diet – it is a long-term change in habits. But then, what would undergraduates know about healthy eating habits? I certainly didn’t have them.
Music Education students generally have a wide variety of commitments on their plate at a given time. Whether it be an upcoming project, performance, exam, or just a busy day, it is extremely important for us to stay organized and be productive with the time that we have. This series will chronicle different ways to stay productive, even when there are multiple commitments staring you in the face. Check out the other installments of this series: Part 1 – Set Goals and Part 2 – Keep a Calendar
One of the unique aspects of a Music Education Major’s life is the diverse set of different tasks that we have to accomplish on a given day. It can be extremely difficult to accomplish the wide range of different tasks on a given day, especially because of the temptation to try and work on multiple projects a once. So how can we stay focused in our work time and increase efficiency? Here are a few suggestions for maintaining focus and being more productive with the time you have:
Set Goals for Work Time
One reason we tend to lose focus is that we try to work on too many different tasks in a given One way to maintain focus when you have time to work is to create a list of goals (also known as a ‘to-do’ list) just for that specific amount of time you have to work. If you have 45 minutes in between class, sit down in the library and write a list of what you plan to accomplish in that 45-minute block. Prioritize the list, and focus on completing only the tasks on your list, without falling victim to distractions.
Work on One Task At a Time
One of the biggest GTD (getting things done) pitfalls that we tend to have problems with is multitasking. When people have a lot to do, they tend to spread their efforts around, and work on multiple things at once. This causes our brain to not devote all it’s resources to one particular task, which in turn decreases the quality of work on ALL the tasks we are working on. Instead of forcing the brain to split its resources, make an effort to only work on one item on your goals list at a time. Do not move on to the next item on your list until you have completed the previous item, and do not skip ahead in your list. If you took the time to prioritize your list before starting work, you don’t need to spend time deciding what to do next once you started working. Many people have said, “plan your work, then work your plan.” This is an extremely beneficial statement.
Don’t Take On Too Much!
This is a suggestion that many Music Education Majors (including myself) have a difficult time with. There are so many opportunities for extracurricular involvement (band leadership, Greek life, CMENC for example), that we want to be involved in. When the time commitments associated with these activities are combined with those of practicing, classes, and schoolwork, a very busy schedule is developed. Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely important to become involved in your undergraduate years, but be sure that before you take on a responsibility, whatever it be, that you really take the time to consider the time commitment you are considering and whether you will be able to still devote the time and energy necessary to your preexisting obligations.
What About You?
What thoughts do you have for staying focused and productive? Do you have a system for keeping focused during “work time” that works for you? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic!
Music Education students generally have a wide variety of commitments on their plate at a given time. Whether it be an upcoming project, performance, exam, or just a busy day, it is extremely important for us to stay organized and be productive with the time that we have. This series will chronicle different ways to stay productive, even when there are multiple commitments staring you in the face. Check out the other installments of this series: Part 1 – Set Goals and Part 3 – Stay Focused
Music Ed Majors tend to have hectic lives, with many different commitments at once. Between class, rehearsals, performances, meetings, trips, practice time, or anything else you may have on your plate, it can be very easy to forget an appointment if you don’t have an organized way of keeping track of your commitments. Enter tip #2 for staying productive: keep a calendar!
In the age of technology, there are tons of great electronic ways to maintain a calendar. Here are a few tips for staying organized using an electronic calendar:
- Use Categories – One of the standard features of many electronic calendars is the ability to categorize appointments. These categories can usually be color-coded, and make a great way to visually see the different types of activities that you will be taking place in. As you can see below, my Outlook calendar is like a rainbow. Some of the categories I use include: practice, rehearsal, concert, class, and band events.
- Use Multiple Calendars – Another great feature of electronic calendars is the ability to have multiple calendars overlayed on top of each other. This is another way to separate different types of commitments, but for a more general set of topics. For example, it may be helpful to have separate calendars for work, school, and personal commitments, so it is easy to see only one set of appointments at a time. Google Calendars is great for this, because with one click you can choose which calendars are displayed and which are hidden.
- Take It With You – The one downside to having an electronic calendar is the fact that without preparation, it can be difficult to update this calendar if you commit to an appointment while away from your computer. There are, however, a few ways to solve this problem. If you are fortunate enough to have a “smart phone” (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) or another type of PDA (iPod Touch, Palm Pilot, etc.), make sure the calendar you keep is in a format that allows you to sync from your computer to this device. Otherwise, print a copy of your calendar out before you leave your computer, so that you can jot down any appointments you make in the proper place and then make the electronic update yourself when you return. For me, printing out my calendar in weekly view worked best; I would print about 6 pages (with one week per page), and keep them in my bag at all times, so I could see a minute-by-minute breakdown, while still having a wide range of dates available to see.
Here is a list of just a few of the many e-calendar options that are available:
- Outlook Calendar-Lets you sync to a Microsoft Exchange server if your school provides one
- Google Calendar-Web-based application that has both an online and offline mode, provides multi-calendar overlay and email notifications
- iCal-Mac OS application for managing calendars with sync capability
- Yahoo Calendar-If you use My Yahoo as your start page, this can be a great option for managing your calendar
There are many people for whom pen and paper is still the best way to keep track of things. For those people who prefer to keep their calendar on paper, here are a few tips for keeping a written calendar:
- Get a High-Quality Calendar – The best thing anyone can do to set themselves up for success with a written calendar is have a good starting point-a high-quality day planner or assignment notebook will do wonders for your calendar’s organization. Many schools have their own “branded” assignment book, which includes school events and holidays already. If this isn’t something you need, be sure to get a datebook that leaves enough room for you to not only write school assignments, but also to keep track of personal commitments. Also, make sure the planner has ample space to write on weekend days; just because there is no homework assigned on these days doesn’t mean you won’t have many commitments and appointments to take care of.
- Separate Different Types of Commitments – It can be a helpful strategy to split each day on the planner in half with a vertical line down the middle. Use the left side for school-related assignments, or more “standard” commitments, and the right side for additional commitments that come up, and less formal events (study groups, movie nights, etc.). This way, you will have an easier time locating the information you need.
- Color Code – This strategy can be just as effective on paper as it is on a computer. Use different colored pens (or highlighters) for different types of commitments, so when you sit down to study, your eye is able to catch on quickly to the homework assignments you need to complete as opposed to seeing the date you have planned for later that night.
- Take It With You – The same principle as above applies here, and once again there are different ways to keep track of this. If your planner is portable, as many will be, make it a habit of taking it with you wherever you go, so you always have it as a reference. If you choose to not take it to classes with you, jot down the homework and any other important dates in your lecture notes, and then transfer them to your planner when you get home. This strategy has the advantage of serving two purposes, as it will also give you an opportunity to review the notes you took.
Which Way to Go?
So do I keep an electronic calendar, or get a day planner and keep track of my commitments by hand? The answer to this question is simple: do what works for you! As someone who is almost always glued to some type of electronics (be it laptop, iPod Touch, or phone), the electronic calendar was the logical way to go. If you’re a more tactile person, or don’t generally bring a computer with you when you go somewhere, keep a day planner instead. The only way you’ll know, for sure, however, is to try, so pick a method, and start keeping your life organized today!
What About You?
Do you already have a method for organizing your calendar? What tips have worked well for you to keep track of you appointments and commitments? What is your favorite calendar application? Share your thoughts in a comment, and maybe someone else will gain from it!