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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vibrato: Pig Nose and Wibble Wobbles

In previous posts I have introduced the vibrato concept. I have offered my suggestions for preparing the student to begin learning vibrato. I have discussed what vibrato is and how I approach the subject with my students, along with some beginning exercises to strengthen the student’s vibrato muscles and movement. This is the point at which I introduce the “pig nose” and “wibble wobble” vibrato exercises.

I have taught for many years and observed many teachers instructing in lessons and master classes. I am like a sponge when it comes to absorbing new ideas to teach familiar concepts. I am never content to sit easy with how I teach something. The minute I find myself complacent about my teaching method for a particular skill is the day before I meet the one student who cannot understand how to do that skill with my method. This is the point at which I become a real teacher, when I am faced with a problem and I do not have the answer. This is the point when I discover just how good a teacher I can be.

I have picked up many new ideas from other teachers. Unfortunately, I do not recall all the teachers that I got my ideas from. I know that I rely on vibrato ideas I have picked up from Teaching from the Balance Point by Ed Kreitman, but I have also picked up ideas from Enid Cleary and other teachers whose names I do not recall. Still in other instances, I have meshed many ideas from other sources together into my own style of doing things. This sort of blend is truly my own uniqueness, as is the case with other teachers.

If I introduce an idea, and you recognize yourself as the source of the idea, please feel free to add a comment and take credit. I would be happy to thank you for planting these seeds in my teaching garden.

Pig Nose

The “pig nose” is nothing more than two dots drawn on the ring finger. The dots resemble a pig’s nose. Here is what I mean:


I put a short piece of colored tape under the A and E strings where the 6th position begins (“G” on the A String, “D” on the E string). For purposes of this exercise, the student will be practicing this vibrato exercise on the A string.
  • The E string presents too many temptations for the student to worry about. I want the student set up for the optimum execution of the exercise and not also worrying about whether the left hand is high enough for the E string, how funny it feels to hold the hand up on the E string, and so forth.
  • The A string allows the student to relax a bit more as compared to lower strings. The left hand is already up, and there is less danger of the hand slipping down under the fingerboard too much.

I ask the student to rest the wrist and heel of the left hand against the shoulder of the violin. I instruct the student to let the wrist “rest” there and touch against violin throughout the entire exercise. This resting wrist also allows the student to relax.

Note that my language of instruction generally uses language that encourages rest or relaxation. Vibrato is difficult enough to execute without having to fight through tension as well. Students naturally “try” to vibrate and add tension and tightness to their muscles when they work to do vibrato. Vibrato will not work under these circumstances, so we need to guide the student into letting the tension go and letting the hand naturally relax into the vibrato movement.

I ask the student to place the ring finger “pig nose” on the A string on the color tape (this would be the 4th position note “G”). After checking that the student has the left hand at the correct height and the wrist resting against the instrument, I ask the student to let the hand fall backwards toward the scroll (and along the fingerboard) until the pig nose is revealed. Then the student lets the hand roll back into its starting position and squashing the pig nose.

I may have to revisit the discussion about how the finger does not participate in the active part of vibrato but is just the passive passenger along for the ride. Some students try to create the vibrato motion by using the fingertip. I have to guide the student to use the hand to pull and roll the finger on its tip.

Wibble Wobbles

Once the student has the pig nose motion going with the hand alone, we add the bow to it. At first a student might practice the pig nose vibrato exercise for a week or two. I find that the length of time on this exercise depends on the student. Younger students may work on the exercise for a few weeks. If a student seems to get it, then I add the bow to the exercise.

The purpose of the pig nose marking was to teach the student how much range of motion is necessary to produce the correct vibrato sound. Vibrato should oscillate pitch by a half-step interval. Therefore, in my pig nose exercise above, the student will perform the vibrato oscillation between G and F#. Now we add the bow to the mix and listen to see if the student is getting the half-step interval. If the student performs the pig nose exercise correctly, we will hear the half step.

Wibble wobbles should be performed at the metronome speed of 60. I have also shown students how to use the second hand of a clock to determine the speed of 60. Each wibble wobble should be performed per click.

I ask the student to start doing “Wibble Wobbles” and aim for four of them in a down-bow and four in an up-bow. Mr. Kreitman refers to this as one round. The student may take a week or two to get comfortable doing this. My goal is to have the student play 8 rounds of wibble wobbles.

  • Four is fairly easy to do but not enough to push the student to progress.
  • Six is a little more difficult but manageable. I tell students that six is just enough to learn how to do vibrato, but that it will take a while.
  • Eight is excruciating to a student! I tell students that eight is the magic number! Eight builds the muscle, the habit, and the ability. Vibrato will come quickly if we do eight.
What’s Next?

After the wibble wobble exercise, the next step is to build speed up naturally. The hand is still resting against the instrument, and the student still performs the exercise in 4th position. At this point I help the student to keep control of the vibrato motion while gaining careful speed.

First, we do our wibble wobbles, but we do only two rounds. Then we add six rounds of “strawberry blueberry” oscillations. This is a triplet rhythm that is faster than our wibble wobbles.

Second, once the student has mastered step one, we add another gear speed: we do 2 rounds of wibble wobbles, 2 rounds of strawberry blueberry oscillations, and 4 rounds of superduperwibblewobbles.


Rhythms

After the student is comfortable with the above exercises, I add additional exercises to maintain speed and control. I ask the student to perform the vibrato oscillation to a particular rhythmic figure. I use three main figures, and coincidentally these rhythmic variations coincide with Dr. Suzuki’s Twinkle Variations:
  • Mississippi Hot dog (Variation A)
  • Ice Cream sh! Cone (Variation B)
  • Cat Kitty Cat Kitty (Variation C)
  • Kitty Cat Kitty Cat (reverse of Variation C)
Note the student has already worked on the rhythms of variations D and E.

Great, you think, my students can now perform the vibrato exercises, but how do I teach them to do vibrato in first position?

In a future post, I will talk about how to bring vibrato down into the lower positions away from the shoulder of the violin and how to incorporate it into the repertoire.

For now, happy teaching!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: A Rock in a Sea of Confusion

It’s Monday Morning, and I want to discuss the importance of what we do as teachers and the gift we give to others. I want to share some powerful photographs with you throughout my discussion.

The US Coast Guard photos you see in this blog post depict Tillamook Rock Lighthouse ("Terrible Tilly"). I travel to Oregon every summer and have done so since 1984. I have visited the town of Tillamook and the cheese factory of the same name every year and most of the Oregon lighthouses, but I have never seen this lighthouse. I know it only by photos I have seen in books or on the Internet. When I look at these photos, I experience a lot of fear. This is not a place that I would seek to visit or live. This is a dangerous place. I would eagerly vote for hazard pay for anyone who was assigned to this post. This lighthouse serves a valuable purpose. It alerts others to the presence of danger and serves as a warning. It is a rock in a sea of confusion.

This is a great pictorial representation of what we can become as teachers to those around us whom we may influence. As teachers we are highly respected. I learned about this over a decade ago when I still practiced law (music was my first career, and I added a law degree along the way). Everyone loved to hate lawyers. When my life’s circumstances pushed me back into teaching music full time during my mother’s failing health circumstances, I quickly learned that everyone loves teachers. Teachers are respected, revered, and adored. Lawyers are not. I am reminded of the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote when asked by his mother about his choice of profession as a writer: “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men's diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don't see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”

As a lawyer, I had already experienced the disapprobation of our times; I say again that people love to hate lawyers, except when a lawyer is needed, usually in the middle of the night to help a parent handle a child’s transgression against society. The days of the respected and trusted Atticus Finch (ˆTo Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper) are gone. The picture of Perry Mason as the idealized attorney representing the innocent client who is a victim of police power corruption does not represent our current time.

Instead our children are presented with events such as 9/11 or the Columbine school shooting. I have survived both events and been touched by each of them. (Atticus Finch: "There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible.)

On September 11, 2001, a Tuesday, I was teaching an early day, about 8 am. As I finished up the lesson, my husband called to inform me that someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center. Huh? Since my father is a pilot, I knew that there were restricted air spaces in that area. Someone must have been incredibly stupid, I thought, to have violated this restriction.

I kept the news station on the radio while I cleaned the studio and waited for the next students to arrive. During that time, I learned about the tragic events in New York. Stunned, I spent a good portion of my day sitting at my desk and thinking (and writing, which is how I glean the most comfort). As the day unfolded, I realized that the businesses near to me were closed or had shut down and it was eerily quiet outside (due to the US flight restrictions).

I wanted to go home and sit and contemplate the momentous import of what had happened that day. But I could not. I was not sure who would come to the studio, and I was not sure how I could reach all of my students to find out their intentions. Instead, I just stayed where I was in the studio and kept cleaning and practicing and writing.

As the day progressed, my students arrived one by one. Their parents would tentatively open the studio door and poke their head around to peer at me: “Are you teaching today?” they would ask. “Yes!” I told them.

They would come into the room, the parents would exchange a tearful glance with me, and we would have our lesson. The students would be a little bit subdued: they knew something had happened but not what it was (and they would not understand the "hugeness" of the occasion at that moment anyway).

What I learned that day was that what we do as teachers is incredibly important. We can be the rock in a child’s life when everything around them is a sea of confusion. We are the stability that allows the child to handle difficulties or grief. We provide the child with the anchor they need so that they can go through the scary stuff. We are something that the child can hang onto when things are tough.

We do not have a 9/11 every day or every year. Still, children experience difficulties in enough measure that we teachers can be called upon to provide strength and support. Perhaps your student is suffering the effects and aftermath of a divorce in the family. Perhaps your student’s family is struggling to recover from a death or serious illness in the family. Whatever the type of event is in your student’s life, you the teacher can be the rock in the sea of confusion or despair.

What an awesome responsibility! What an honor to offer this kind of service!

This week, think about how you give the gift of yourself to your students. You may be the one bright spot in your students' week. 


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


This is the last Monday of the month. Time to check in and finish up what we have not done so far to keep our studio running smoothly. Review your checklists from the previous weeks and attend to any items that you have not yet taken care of. Because we are at the end of the month, look ahead to these items:

  • Time to set up your bill paying program. Arrange to pay your next month's bills.
  • Your students should have all paid their tuition by now. If they have not, make sure that you send an email reminder that the tuition is due (plus the coming month), and set a reminder in your calendar to check in with the student's parents at the next lesson.
  • Set up your monthly record keeping system for the coming month.
  • Clean up the studio. I was fortunate this past weekend to have my studio toilet overflow for some reason. The event caused me to mop the floor, but do not wait until a catastrophic event to get around to cleaning your teaching area. You do not need a large amount of time to clean your studio:
    • Set a timer for 10 minutes and run the vacuum until the timer goes off.
    • Swab a mop around the common areas for 10 minutes.
    • Grab a sponge and some cleaner and attack the bathroom with vigor for another 10 minutes (be sure to clean the mirror).
    • Run a dust rag or feather duster around the room for another 10 minutes. Then straighten up the place and throw away magazines or other trash.
    • Take another 10 minutes to put things away that need putting away or filing. There! You have spent an hour (or less) and the place looks terrific.

It is the beginning of tax season. If you have not yet taken care of these items, time to get cracking!

  • Gather your tax documents for the previous year and put them in a folder for processing later when you do your tax preparation.
  • Set up your studio record keeping system so that you can begin capturing your next year's tax records.
  • Make sure to file any tax record documents you may have generated in this current month.
Is there anything you can clear out of your studio space? I like to subscribe to the periodic suggestion from http://flylady.net to do a 27-fling boogie. This activity requires you to have a receptacle or large plastic bag and run around a designated area and collect 27 items that need to be removed from the area. What you do with the items is your choice. When I do a 27-fling boogie, I aim to collect items to be given to a charitable organization. I could also designate two boxes: one box for giving away and another box for putting away. Still, I think it is more productive to get rid of clutter rather than file it away somewhere else in an already overcrowded environment.

My catastrophic studio toilet experience this weekend reminded me that I need to organize my files better. I had two boxes of music on the floor, and they needed to be filed away (fortunately, the boxes were unaffected by the extra water, but it was a close one!). I plan to set aside 10 minutes at least every week to attend to any piles of music or supplies that are sitting around the studio and need a permanent home.

Happy teaching week!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Take Ten

Building a practice habit is as simple as taking ten -- ten minutes that is. When I ask my students and parents to practice every day, or at least on the days that they eat, as Dr. Suzuki was fond of saying, I am amazed at how easily my students and parents provide me with reasons why they cannot do that. Generally I do not assign a particular maximum amount of time to spend practicing, because I do not like the idea of telling a student to practice 2 hours, or four or five. I want my students and their parents to focus on practice goals and then to set up a practice routine that meets those goals.

I know of no goal that would allow a student to miss practicing, certainly not to miss practicing on a fairly recurrent basis. I understand that life sometimes gets in the way of our intentions and desires, but with a little thought and planning, we can still manage to find time to practice. The solution is all about priorities. If we place a high priority on practicing with our child, then we will find or make the time necessary to practice with our child.

I ask my parents to find a minimum of 10 minutes. That is all. When I reduce my expectations to the quantity of 10 minutes, my parents and students find it difficult to excuse their way out of it, because everyone can find 10 minutes in their day:

  • My university students have learned that they can generate 30 minutes to an hour each day just by avoiding the lobby of the music building and instead following a route through the music building that skirts the lobby. A lot of time gets wasted in the lobby with social activities.
  • Having a plan in advance for the day or even the week will help the student or parent to stay focused on what activities are productive and to pay less attention to time-wasting (and possibly nonproductive or unrewarding) activities.
  • Eat/dress/shower/walk faster.
  • Record TV shows and fast forward through commercial breaks.
  • Primp less in the mirror (this is a great generator of time for students in the teen years!).
  • Watch less TV.
  • A group of my studio parents used to take turns on certain days and go to the children's school to practice with each other's child. The school was delighted to allow this to take place during a time when nothing else more important was going on.
  • Practice before school.
  • Practice in those "twilight" minutes before dinner. Practice after dinner in those moments before the night's entertainment begins.
If a student or parent continues to argue about this, I ask them to bring me their calendar so that I can help them find some available time. If we cannot find 10 minutes, then I have to suggest the obvious: perhaps they are too busy or lack the commitment necessary to be taking music lessons at this time. The alternative is that the student or parent needs to eliminate one or more activities in order to free up some time. A parent cannot reasonably expect that a student can learn a skill and develop an ability in a time vacuum when no time is spent learning, practicing, and using the new skill and ability.

Here is a short interview of about one minute with the mother of one of my youngest students. This student began lessons at the age of 2.5 years. The student has a weekly 30 minute lesson and attends group classes of 45 minutes to an hour about twice a month. She has great concentration and plays beautifully. She is working to complete her Twinkle variations along with several other songs that we enjoy playing. Here is my student's mother describing her philosophy about practicing:


See how simple it can be? Can you really look me in the eye and tell me that you cannot find ten minutes a day to spend with your child in quality interaction? Your child is your most precious gift. Ten minutes is a small amount of time to spend to develop the gift of a lifetime for your child.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aunt Rhody: Dessert Tastes Sweet!

After reading and working through my previous posts that discuss the teaching and learning of Lightly Row and Song of the Wind, I am willing to bet that you are ready for a break! I am certain that your students and their practice partners are ready to catch their breath.

Dr. Suzuki understood the need for a “breather” now and then when he put together his repertoire of Suzuki volumes. When I explain this concept to my student's practice partner, I use the analogy of hiking up a steep mountain. Along the way, we run out of breath from exerting ourselves. Periodically we stop and take a rest. We get out our cameras and take pictures of flora and fauna or the vista before or behind us. Maybe we have a snack or a meal. Then, after a brief refreshment, we push forward to the next resting place along the trail.

As it is with mountain trail hiking, so it is with learning the Suzuki repertoire. Dr. Suzuki arranged the material to challenge us with new left and right hand skills and ever increasing complex musical forms. After a few songs, we find a song that breathes a little easier for us. We quickly figure out the finger patterns, and there seem to be few new technical skills included in the song. We find that we can just relax and enjoy the view, catch our breath, and let our muscles and our motivation and enthusiasm for learning get a little bit stronger as we give them a chance to build and harden.

Dr. Suzuki arranged the repertoire to introduce new technical skills, but rather than constantly push us to the edge of the cliff, Dr. Suzuki allowed us to step back a wee bit now and then to enjoy the beauty of playing music and to celebrate how much we have learned about the instrument, music, and ourselves up to this point. I call this type of piece one of Dr. Suzuki’s "dessert" songs. “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” is a dessert song.

I spend very little time teaching my students how to play Aunt Rhody. I use the song to work on ear training skills and to show my students how to translate the musical sounds they hear into the notes and fingers they need to play to recreate the same sound. Occasionally a student has difficulty in this area because of perfectionist tendencies. This song is great for working through these issues.

Here is a basic summary of the skills found in the song:

Left Hand Skills
  • The song is in A major and uses the same finger pattern as the previous book one songs (close 2-3 finger pattern).The song basically moves stepwise, either ascending or descending.
  • There is a finger "tangle" spot in measure 4.
  • The song is in A-B-A form (3 parts and the first and third part are the same).

Right Hand Skills
  • There is a quick string crossing from the E string to the 3rd finger “D” on the A string.
  • There is a later opportunity to teach bow distribution concepts: long bow, 2 shorter bows, long bow, 2 shorter bows.
  • There is a forte and echo place in measures 5-8 where the student can learn about using bigger bows for bigger sounds and smaller bows for smaller sounds.

Previews (How to Teach the Song)
  • I preview the finger "tangle" spot in measure 4.
  • I help the student to practice the string crossing place in measure 6 from the E string to the note “D” on the A string.
  • If the student has not picked out the notes to the song on their own, I use the song as an opportunity to work on ear training skills.
  • I ask them to turn around from me because we are going to play a game. I play the first note and ask the student to try and find it on his or her violin.
    • I may have to guide the student a little bit by asking questions that direct the student, such as whether the student thinks the note is on the A or the E string.
        • Students do not yet understand the progression of pitches up the scale to the next string. This will come later on.
        • Parents do not understand this concept either. Women have a harder time grasping the concept of the pitch getting higher when the string length is shortened. Guys tend to get this right away.
        • I play the first 2 notes of the song and ask the student whether the notes are different or the same. I am establishing the thought process for picking out a new song.
            • I play the first 3 notes of the song and ask the student whether the new note is different or the same. If it is different, did the pitch go “higher” or “lower”? Students can have a hard time with the concepts of “higher” and “lower.” This will also come together with time.
            • I continue working through the first measure, and maybe the 2nd measure as well depending on the student. Once the student is able to play this small segment of the song, I will help the practice partner and student by writing down what we accomplished, e.g., 2A-2-1-A-A-1-1-2-1-A.
                • I know about the discussion of whether to use numbers or note names. I have struggled to remember to use note names from the onset, but I keep forgetting.
                • I find it helpful to enlist the practice partner’s help with this, and I ask them to remind me to stay with the note names.
                • If I use finger numbers, I only list the string name when the string changes. My students understand that they are to play on the same string until I have designated a string change.
              • This is the perfect time to work on those perfectionist tendencies or fear issues, if they exist. If a student suffers from these problems, the student will present in this way:
                  • The student will hesitate before playing anything.
                  • The student will hesitate for longer and longer periods of time until he or she becomes almost catatonic.
                • I encourage the student to stop "thinking" and just play, because “sometimes the fingers and bow know just what to do and thinking about it will get in the way of the fingers and bow.”
                  • I help the practice partner observe the student’s behavior so that they see exactly what I see. A child who is having trouble in this way probably has trouble in other areas at home as well.
                  • Remember, a parent could be the reason behind this problem. E.g., sometimes a strong, confident parent could be squelching the student’s comfort about experimenting.
                  • Also, a perfectionist parent or overly critical parent may promote this problem in the student. If a student cannot play something “perfectly,” or the student is not sure that they can play perfectly or correctly, they will stand before me completely stymied.
                  • If I identify a perfectionist issue, I instruct the parent to “burn toast.” This is my expression for activities that I want the parent to engage in at home and present in a new way.
                        • If the parent makes toast, I tell the parent to burn the toast and then throw a “hissy fit” and threaten to never make toast again because it was not perfect.
                          • If the parent makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I tell the parent to smear the peanut butter or the jelly all wrong on the bread, throw a silly tantrum about it, and go through the routine of never making another PB & J sandwich again because it was not perfect.
                          • The student will quickly get the message. The student will recognize how silly the parent is acting, and this opens the door for great discussions about the whole thing.
                          • This also alerts the parent to recognize when the parent is behaving in a way that contributes to the student’s problem.
                            • Once I work through the ear training exercise with a student, I find that the process of picking out the notes of a new song by ear go much easier with the next song. I continue working in this way through the literature in book 1 until the student at some point “gets it” and can do it for him- or herself.
                          Later Problems (or Just Later)
                          • I do not have very many problems come up later with this song. 
                          • I do use this song later for introducing more advanced skills.
                            • I use Aunt Rhody as a review song for teaching whole bow distribution:
                                  • Whole down bow
                                    • 2 smaller bows at the tip
                                    • Whole up bow
                                    • 2 smaller bows at the frog
                                    • I use Aunt Rhody to teach the low 1st finger pattern by substituting a Bb for B natural on the A string and F natural for F# on the E string. We refer to this as Aunt Rhody goes to Saudi Arabia, because the song sounds like music from that part of the world.
                                        • I use Aunt Rhody to teach the close 1-2 finger pattern on the A string. We substitute C natural for C#.
                                          Group Class and Other Options
                                          • We play the game where Aunt Rhody travels around the world.
                                              • We go to Saudi Arabia: low 1st finger on the A and E strings.
                                                  • We play sad Aunt Rhody. I tell the students that Aunt Rhody is homesick.
                                                      • We play Aunt Rhody with pizzicato and pretend we went to England.
                                                          • We play Aunt Rhody with our bows over the fingerboard (in the ditch) because we went to the rain forests in Brazil and our car got mired in the mud and ran off the road.
                                                              • We play Texas Aunt Rhody, which is a double string version, where we drone A or E string while we play the song.
                                                                  • Aunt Rhody is a great long bow or legato review song.
                                                                      • We use the song in group classes to practice making crescendos and echoes.
                                                                        As you can see, the Suzuki repertoire and how we approach the teaching presentation of the repertoire are full of possibilities. We are limited only by our imaginations. Aunt Rhody is a dessert song in my book, but it is a great song for teaching many possible concepts. Most of my students love Aunt Rhody, so it is always popular.

                                                                        I had a young student who started lessons at age 5. She was one of the brightest students I ever had. She is currently studying in the science field at the University of Texas. When she was 7, she told me that “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” was her favorite song. Whenever she was fearful about something at school, she would sing the song to give herself courage.

                                                                        I have never forgotten that. That was the first time I recognized how powerful the Suzuki repertoire could be to a young child who is discovering the power and beauty of music for the first time.

                                                                        Monday, January 23, 2012

                                                                        Monday Morning Check In: Take Care of Yourself

                                                                        Today’s topic is an important one that we often neglect: taking care of ourselves. This is a season when the weather and our activities may compromise our health. I want to remind you today of the importance of thinking about ourselves and taking care to be sure that we are protected from the things that may adversely affect us.

                                                                        There are five areas that need our attention: health, work, home, lifestyle, and growth. Let us take a closer look at each area, why it is important that we pay attention to our condition in this area, what the bumps in the road are likely to be, and the areas we need to address or shore up.

                                                                        Health

                                                                        “If you have your health, you have everything.” Remember that saying? I could not find out the author, so if you know, get in touch with me.

                                                                        Without good health, we are miserable creatures. We find little joy in our daily activities. It hurts to move; it hurts to think. Good health is absolutely crucial to a pleasant day. Without it we have little energy to face the little kiddos in our charge. As professional musicians, we have trained ourselves to dig deep and find that reservoir of energy to put on a performance or finish a tough teaching day despite our general feeling of malaise.

                                                                        Poor or compromised health can come from many sources. Generally I think that poor health stems from a compromised system of strength. If our systems are firing on all cylinders, then we probably have the resources to fight off infection and disease. However, if we have run ourselves down in terms of scheduling, poor food choices, and lack of physical exercise, then we have set ourselves up for the possibility that a nasty germ or two will enter our system and take us out of commission for a time.

                                                                        In the problems we can find the solution. We need to be mindful of our food choices. What exactly are we eating? Is it the best thing for us? Can we substitute some other better choices? Are we paying attention to our body’s needs? Are we exercising regularly, both cardio and strength activities?

                                                                        Work

                                                                        Some of you may resemble me: you work all the time. Yes, I admit that I have a problem with this. I have thought long and hard about the possible reasons. I recall one job interview years ago when I announced with pride that I was a workaholic. Although I got the job in that law firm (surprise, surprise), I look back on that memory and shudder. How could I think that such an admission would be a good thing? Being a workaholic shouts out to everyone that I have a problem. I may be a people pleaser, which means that I do whatever I need to do to gain acceptance and accolades. The word was first used in 1968 to refer to a compulsive worker. Admitting that I have a compulsion to do work is an admission that I have a problem, because a compulsion is defined as an irresistible persistent impulse (Merriam-Webster). I understand how I might have thought at the time that offering up the fact that I enjoyed working would make me more attractive in the job market. However, over time I have come to learn that this issue should be greeted with caution and circumspection. Exactly why do I feel a need to constantly fill up my empty calendar (white space) with things to do?

                                                                        There is wisdom to be gained from stopping. There is the gift of self-knowledge to be unpacked if one stops long enough to look and listen for the kernel of insight. We tend to stay constantly busy, most likely to avoid dealing with some other difficult issue.

                                                                        Take a few moments today to consider how much time you devote to work. Are you addicted to work? Do you fill up your white spaces on your calendar with ruthlessness? If this is one of your troublesome areas, look at your calendar, find a white space, and write something different there: “White Space Time.”

                                                                        On a personal note, I had a very busy day scheduled this past Saturday. I had a heavy Artisan Quartet program in the evening, and during the day (starting at 8 am), I was adjudicating a local school district music contest, which would last most of the day.  I was ready and equal to the task (I have a LOT of energy). At the last minute, due to a glitch in the system, I found that I was double booked with someone else. Rather than insist that I continue with the judging because I was the first person asked, I opted to take the day off and let the other judge take over. I thought it would be a good thing to be fresh for the evening’s concert.

                                                                        It was a great day! I scheduled a nap in there somewhere, although it did not amount to much time. That was all right, because the rest of the day was terrific. At some point in the morning, I took the time to write a list of some things that I wanted to do during the day. Since it was an unexpected “white space day,” I followed my rule of choosing activities that I wanted to do, and not insisting that I do something because it needed to be done.

                                                                        Funny, but I spent quite a bit of time straightening up my personal bathroom. I set the timer for 15 minutes for a small task, but when the timer went off, I reset it and kept going, all the time knowing that I could stop when the timer went off. I don’t think I spent much more than an hour in there, but I accomplished a great deal and I felt terrific at the end.

                                                                        Give it a try and let me know if it works for you.

                                                                        Home

                                                                        Home involves a place and people. If you are not paying enough attention to either the place or the people who live there, then you will have more strife and stress than you can ultimately handle in terms of creating good health. The solution to this problem generally stems from one thing: TIME. You need to spend time in the place that you call “home” and with the people who live with you (including pets if they are your people, as in my case). How you treat your home and the people in it will say much about how you respect and revere these things.

                                                                        There. I have said it. Your behavior concerning these two areas reveals your attitude toward these two areas. Consider what your behavior is. Are you a bit slovenly in your housekeeping? I have certainly been there and done that. (See my discussion above about work and you will understand how easy it is for me to claim that I have no time for housekeeping). Although I have found it easy in the past to be flippant about hiring someone to do this chore, I understand in my core that my attention to this area sends the message to my loved ones that I care about them enough to take the time to give my attention to this area.

                                                                        If you have trouble with housekeeping, go to www.flylady.net. You will find everything you need to succeed in this area. Take it a baby step at a time.

                                                                        Lifestyle

                                                                        This area is related to the work area, at least for me. It is also related to the other areas as well. How we choose to deal with the various areas I have listed here constitutes our lifestyle choice. Too many times we react to the events in our lives as if we had no control over their occurrence. I would like to suggest that we are captains of our lives in more ways than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. Do we want to spend our days working to accomplish our goals or to help someone else achieve their goals? Make no mistake about this. I am all in favor of helping others else achieve their goals. That is a function of teaching. If, however, we are allowing ourselves to drift through life without a plan of action, then we are allowing ourselves to be subject to the desires and plans of others.

                                                                        I prefer to choose the lifestyle I lead. I am a busy lady. That is okay. I like to do many different things. I am a curious person. I enjoy being involved in many different activities and learning about new things. Because I maintain a working list of goals and preferred daily activities, I am confident that I am pursuing my lifestyle choice rather than that of someone else.

                                                                        What are your goals? Are you living the lifestyle that you desire? In what areas could you improve? Make sure that you have a list of goals for the coming year. Also make sure that you have a system for keeping track of these goals. Is your behavior in line with the goals you have set?

                                                                        Growth

                                                                        This is my favorite area of taking care of myself. I remember a Star Trek episode in which the Star Trek crew discover a race that have “evolved” to the point that they no longer need their physical bodies. There were only three brains under glass jars. To me, this episode represented the dangers of not exploring the physical and spiritual realms of growth. I have discussed the need for physical attention above, but here I advocate for attention to our growth spiritually and mentally.

                                                                        I believe that we need to stimulate our brains by developing a program that actively engages our mental facilities. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, new language learning – all of these activities serve to stimulate our mental facilities. In addition, we need spiritual nourishment. We exist here on this planet at this moment in time for a purpose. It is important that we reveal the purpose for why we are here now and why. However we determine our answers to these puzzling questions, we still need to consider the questions, our answers, and our responses.

                                                                        Taking care of ourselves is a conundrum. It is a riddle, a puzzle, an exercise, and an answer to many of the issues that plague us.

                                                                        Let us make a commitment today to spend time throughout the week contemplating the areas I have listed above, what problems we have in these areas, and how we can improve.

                                                                        Have a great week!

                                                                        Thursday, January 19, 2012

                                                                        Look at Me and Other Rules

                                                                        I often overhear a parent tell the child to “look at me when I’m talking to you.” In most of these cases, I have found that the student in question is not necessarily a visual learner, so “looking” is not the student’s natural response. Sometimes a gentle reminder to the parent that the child is not a visual learner will go a long way to lightening up the parent’s assumption that the child is disrespecting the parent by not looking at them. Also, I may need to remind a parent that some children become quite embarrassed when scolded in front of another child, adult, or especially the teacher, and these children tend to cast the eyes downward, or face away, or hide behind a music stand or another person.


                                                                        I find it more helpful to discuss with the child that certain behaviors are considered polite. Even though I know and understand that the child can hear me without looking at me at the same time, I explain that there are many people in the world who will want the child or student to establish eye contact during conversation of any kind. And then I help the child to do just that.


                                                                        In Ron Clark’s “The Essential 55” book, he lists the basic rules he asks his students to follow. One of them is to look the other person in the eye when he or she speaks (Rule 2). I enjoy referring to Mr. Clark’s book on occasion for a renewed focus. For example, recently I have begun asking students to look me in the eye (Rule 2) and answer questions in complete sentences (Rule 14). This may be more difficult concepts for younger students, but it is a great set of expectations for high school and university students, who are beginning to face the world as young adults and who may need interview skills for employment opportunities or college applications.


                                                                        Other popular rules in my studio are that at the end of a lesson, a student may have a “Dum Dum” lollipop, which is a tiny little lollipop of about 15 calories. The student must ask for the treat and use the word “please.” Then the student must remember to say thank you within an acceptable lapse of time (Rule 9; Mr. Clark says three seconds is the appropriate length of time). If the student does not remember to say thank you, then we will throw the lollipop in the trash can. No student yet has forgotten to say thank you. In fact, they usually remember to say it at the time they receive the lollipop. I even had one student’s mom call me on the drive home from the lesson because the child was upset that I might not have heard her say “thank you."


                                                                        Mr. Clark's little book is full of great rules for students, and for adults too for that matter. I highly recommend this book for every parent. Manners and general civility should never go out of style.

                                                                        Monday, January 16, 2012

                                                                        Monday Morning Check In: How to Handle Grief

                                                                        This will be a different kind of Monday Morning post, because this is a different Monday for many of us in the Austin Symphony Orchestra. On December 27, 2011, the symphony’s members lost a valuable colleague when Jennifer Bourianoff died in the hospital from a viral pneumonia infection that seemed to spring up overnight. Although our colleague had been in poor health in the past year, she continued to fulfill her symphony responsibilities as best she could while she battled her health issues.

                                                                        This past weekend the symphony honored Jennifer, a valuable member of the first violin section and Assistant Concertmaster, by dedicating the subscription series concerts to her memory. As the symphony members and conductor Peter Bay prepared for the weekend’s performances, we wrestled with how to handle our individual emotions and feelings about the situation. Rehearsals were subdued. Many musicians expressed themselves through conversations, story-telling, and recalled memories. Others were more introspective and quiet.

                                                                        Almost everyone found something to “grinch” about in a small way, a phenomenon I refer to as “kicking the dog.” Most of the musicians handled the rehearsals just fine, but there were pockets of time when folks seemed a mite more irritable about something trivial than the situation required. I thought this was one example of how people handled their grief. Things were not normal. Things would never be the same. We continued to play our instruments and make music together, but there was a rift in the fabric of who and what our symphony was. As hard as we all worked to make our final gift to Jennifer and her family as beautiful and flawless as we could, we still struggled ourselves with having to work around the hole in our hearts and in our membership.

                                                                        As I watched these small occurrences of kicking the dog, I thought about what would be a good way to handle grief and mourning. The answer will be different for everyone, but I made some observations of the types of things that people found helpful in our situation.

                                                                        Dissociation

                                                                        Basically, dissociation is a defense mechanism. We have probably all used this technique at some point when we “zone out” or daydream while performing an activity. Many of us can probably recall a time or two when we drove somewhere and have no recollection of the drive because we were on autopilot. I have used this technique to focus or “tunnel in” on something I am doing, such as writing a lengthy paper, running a marathon, or surviving a difficult recital performance.

                                                                        I have also used this dissociation technique when I am faced with grief in great proportions. As a performing musician, I learnt from an early age that “the show must go on.” This old saw refers to the fact that musicians cannot really afford to take a night off. We have to dig deep on those days when we do not quite feel up to snuff. When faced with deep grief, I hypnotize myself to tune out those thoughts while I get the task done. I get into my “work mode.” And so I used this technique to survive this past week, as I sat behind Jennifer’s empty chair, which had been draped with white satin and decorated with a large bouquet of flowers.

                                                                        Today, however, there is no longer a need to use this technique, and the dissociation walls have crumbled. I am now turning to the second useful technique for handling grief.

                                                                        Tears

                                                                        I spoke with a therapist years ago about why therapists encourage the expression of grief through tears and crying. The therapist explained that tears were nature’s way to heal the body. Although we need spiritual and emotional healing, tears are a physical expression of that intangible healing. So rather than hold the tears back, the therapist suggested that it would be better to let the tears flow, and the more tears that flowed over time, the closer the person would come to achieving ultimate emotional healing. Today I am accepting the catharsis that comes from using this technique, as have many of Jennifer’s friends and colleagues as well as her family.

                                                                        Writing

                                                                        Years ago I lost a very important pet, my black lab mix Zubin (yes, named after Zubin Mehta as suggested by a conductor friend). This was my first dog as an adult, and I felt as if he was my best friend, my child, and my sweetheart, all rolled into one package. We took trips together. We played together. I taught him so many tricks. We had so many memories, so that when he passed away, I was “heart sick.” I came to the conclusion that I was hanging on to my memories with my grief because I was afraid that I would lose the fresh crispness of my memories; I feared that my stories and memories would fade with the healing of time. I could not bear the thought of forgetting all that my sweet fellow had been to me, and so my thoughts were making my heart sick.

                                                                        I bought a pretty little journal and spent an evening writing in it until I could think of nothing more to tell about my darling boy. I wrote about all the tricks my dog performed, all the funny stories I could recall, and my feelings of loss now that my beloved pet was gone. I drank a lovely bottle of wine during my writing event, as I recall, and turned it into my small celebration of my love for my sweet dog.

                                                                        After I finished, I closed the book and put it on the bookshelf. Every once in a while I would feel drawn to pull the little book off the shelf and read what I wrote that night. These feelings seemed to occur on or about the anniversary date of my pet’s death. (I find it interesting that our mind and spirit revisit these feelings on a cyclical basis). Once I finished writing my little book of memories, my grief subsided and I was able to move on past it, in spite of my loss. Because I had taken the time to write my way through my grief, I now had a permanent record of my beloved dog, and I no longer needed to fear that I would forget him. He would always be a permanent part of me through my writing. Jennifer has also been a big part of my daily morning pages entries in the past few weeks as I write my way through my memories.

                                                                        Instead of sending a sympathy card, our symphony members opted to write in a small journal instead, as suggested by our musician’s committee chairman. Some members wrote personal letters to Jennifer. Others wrote stories and memories to share with Jennifer’s family. People glued pictures of Jennifer on the pages. We used the journal as a special place to pour out the words that best reflected everyone’s individual emotional needs. We remembered our Jennifer in unique ways, as each person who wrote in the book found their own special way to share our individual and collective connections with Jennifer on the journal pages. I am sure the book will be a treasure to Jennifer’s family in the future.

                                                                        Celebration

                                                                        Every person we meet makes a valuable contribution to our lives in some way and on some level. We should celebrate that connection, no matter how brief or momentary, how complicated or complex. As with all performing musicians, each of us connect and relate with each other on a sliding scale of intimacy depending on the type of performance collaboration we are called on to make together. No matter whether we were very close or just the briefest of acquaintances, we have made a connection together. That small connection — that thread in the fabric of life — ought to be acknowledged, respected, and honored.

                                                                        The symphony celebrated our connections with our colleague of over twenty years through a series of performances. Other members celebrated through special dedicated performances in the community or as part of the funeral events. Other members bought flowers or sent cards to the family. Still others may visit the grave site or schedule an intimate gathering of friends to celebrate that Jennifer touched our lives in a special way.

                                                                        I noted with interest that in these past two weeks, there were different combinations of people grouping together and making new connections or rebuilding former connections that had been lost. Death has the unique ability to tenderize the heart in a way that nothing else other than a deep religious faith can. Jennifer's death softened the hearts of many of our symphony members in a way that drew us closer to one another as we shared our mutual grief over this new entry in our organization's history.

                                                                        All of these different expressions of celebration help us to individually honor the value and worth of the person whose memory we celebrate. Just as the ancients of the bible erected pillars or altars to commemorate a place where a special event occurred, so does our individual acts of celebration remind us of the importance of the person who touched each of us in a special way.

                                                                        Acceptance

                                                                        Finally, I offer the technique of acceptance. When we accept something, we no longer fight to change circumstances. We no longer express disbelief or shock that this tragedy has occurred. We no longer shake our fists in the air or our heads at the ground. We sit quietly as the momentous experience wraps itself around us, and we accept that “it is what it is.” Once we can do that, we can begin to face the next stage our life holds for us.

                                                                        Let me remind you that everyone experiences and survives grief and mourning in different ways and over differing periods of time. While you may have reached this stage of acceptance, there may be others who still struggle to break the surface of the emotional pain and breathe air again. Look around to see if there is someone who needs help. Helping others to process their grief may be just the thing to help you to handle yours.

                                                                        There is no one way to handle grief, and many people use many different ways to wrap their minds around sad events. Ultimately, time will pass, and the grief will lessen. We will not forget the person we lost, nor should we try to do so. Everyone comes into our lives for a purpose and a season. Some stay in our lives longer than others, and some touch us in very special, close ways.

                                                                        I will miss you, Jennifer. You were a part of my life in many ways over the past two decades. I have many memories and stories of times we shared together, on and off stage. Thank you for the gift of yourself that you gave to all of us, and thank you for the gift of your music.

                                                                        *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

                                                                        This is the middle of the month checklist:
                                                                        • Have you received all of your tuition payments for the current month? If not, make a list of who owes what money, and make one or two calls per day to remind your students' parents to bring the payments up to date.
                                                                        • Is your studio or teaching space straightened up and clean? Take a few minutes at the beginning and end of each teaching day this week and put things away, straighten up teaching materials, and clean the bathroom.
                                                                        • Do you have the schedule for the next week or two laid out? If not, take the 5-10 minutes to do that. Then look through your calendar and determine when you will practice or devote time to your other goals.
                                                                        • Have you set up a system to catch your receipts and records to be used in filing your 2012 taxes? Take a few moments to set up such a system now. 

                                                                        Wednesday, January 11, 2012

                                                                        Practice Tip: Building Tone with Open Strings

                                                                        I think Dr. Suzuki hit on a brilliant idea when he suggested that we practice tonalizing on our open strings. I would like to share my experience with you on this matter.

                                                                        For those readers who are unfamiliar with the term "tonalization," and apparently my spell checker is unfamiliar with the word, Dr. Suzuki coined this word to describe what we instrumentalists do in comparison to the vocalization that vocalists do. Just as singers work to produce good quality tone and volume, so too can we instrumentalists.

                                                                        Tone is a broad topic, but we do not need to discuss what tone is in order to understand how best to produce it. Dr. Suzuki suggested plucking the open strings and listening to the resonance of the pitch and then recreating the "ringing" sound with the bow playing the same pitch. There is something special about the resonance of our open strings. There is a brightness, a clarity, and a lingering and shimmering vibration in the air. The open strings sparkle and emit an extra "umph" in their sound.

                                                                        When I am working with a student to build a stronger tone, I ask the student to play open strings as much as possible. For example, when playing notes on the D string, I might ask a student to play the open D string as strongly as possible about 6-8 times before playing the D string passage. Similarly, I will ask for repeated A strings or E strings. I notice that once a student has played an open string numerous times with the aim of making the string vibrate back and forth as widely as possible with as slow a bow as possible, the student then works to make the passage live up to the tone level set by the resonating open strings. I also think there is a kinesthetic value to this exercise, as students learn how to "feel" the pitch as well as hear the pitch with all its resonant overtones. I find that playing this open string exercise on the G string is quite lovely; the vibrations I produce resemble the same variations used in meditation chants, which help to stimulate the internal organs.

                                                                        I have a simple tune that I like to use for this purpose, called "Lullaby." Originally I found this little song in David Tasgal's "Family Violin Method" and used it as an open string song in my PreTwinkler classes. My students loved it so much, the song has become a regular feature in my classes. One young student even went so far as to secure Mr. Tasgal's permission to record the song onto his mother's folk song CD.

                                                                        Mr. Tasgal has graciously given me permission to print the music for this cute little tune. I myself use this tune to get focused for a practice session or to test out the resonance in a new performance hall. I can feel my back muscles relax as I play the song and concentrate on getting the most resonance from each open string. I play the song through two times; the first time I start the piece with a down bow, and the second time I reverse the bowing by starting with an up bow. My young students like it so much, they spend a great deal of time and effort to learn to play the song. I notice that my students have to expend a lot of concentration and focus energy to change the strings correctly and to use longer, slower bows. For a young PreTwinkler student to spend the time and effort to achieve this ability is a tribute to Mr. Tasgal's composition. My students enjoy this tune.

                                                                        I have printed out a copy done on Finale, because it was easier for me to put it on my blog in this manner.


                                                                        The only way I could figure out how to add an audio recording to the blog was to make a "video" of the song while playing it on my computer. If anyone knows how to embed an audio player on blogger, please contact me. Meanwhile, here is the recording I made:

                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrQ8u34laQo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

                                                                        Mr. Tasgal has gone on to publish a new series, "Strings Fun and Easy." I have not yet had a chance to look through those books, but I will write out my experience once I have looked through them. You can learn more about Mr. Tasgal and his new series at: http://www.stringsfunandeasy.com/. The previous series, "Family Violin Method" can be found at: http://www.familystringmethod.com/, although Mr. Tasgal is encouraging newcomers to try out the new series.

                                                                        Have fun playing those open strings this week. And if you have not changed your strings in a while, or your students are playing with dull, lifeless strings, buy new ones! You will enjoy playing this song with bright, shiny, new resonating strings!

                                                                        Monday, January 9, 2012

                                                                        Monday Morning Check In: Freedom From Limits

                                                                        I made an interesting discovery this week. As I have written in the past, I complete “morning pages” daily on a fairly consistent basis. I habitually wake up on the early side of the day and spend about 20 to 30 minutes thinking and writing about whatever is on my mind.

                                                                        This past week I have struggled with “skittered thoughts.” This is my description for those times when I cannot seem to calm my mind down, when my mind seems to be in the active “monkey mind” as the yoga instructors refer to it. My thoughts alight on one thought only to bounce off a few seconds later and head off in another direction. Very disconcerting.

                                                                        I accomplish very little on mornings like this. My goal is to complete three full hand-written pages in my composition book (4 if the book is wide-ruled), about 25 minutes’ worth of writing. On “skittered thoughts” mornings, I flit from one idea to another, jump up a minute later to make a note about something, cross the room to complete a small task, and then return to my writing. All of my actions seem relevant at the moment I do them because I cannot calm my mind down to a speed that allows me to grasp the core of an idea to wrestle it onto the page. Instead, I reach to catch the tail end of each thought, and my skin starts to crawl with unexplained physical energy. I am agitated and exasperated because I cannot seem to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time.

                                                                        Less coffee, you suggest. I wondered about that myself, but I have not altered my caffeine intake in years. I always drink the same size cup of caffeine every day. If I add to my load, I do it later in the morning.

                                                                        I also thought that the problem stemmed from my having something I needed to really digest on the written page. I worked hard to dig into the words and see what the pen turned up. Nope. Nothing changed.

                                                                        Then I remembered an old saying, referred to as “Parkinson’s Law.” This expression was published by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in an essay in “The Economist” on November 19, 1955: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” See the full article at: http://www.economist.com/node/14116121. This expression means that if I allow myself 10 minutes to dust my living room, then amazingly enough, it actually takes 10 minutes! The flylady.net folks use this phenomenon to their advantage by suggesting that house cleaning activities be timed so that they last only as long as the time you allow to complete them.

                                                                        What could it hurt to try it? I grabbed my iPhone and asked Siri to set the timer for 23 minutes, which she gladly did for me. I asked Siri to play the "Beethoven for Book Lovers" playlist to put me in the writing mood. Then I started writing as fast as I could, because I knew that 23 minutes was about 3-5 minutes too short for how long I would need to write three pages of long-hand writing. Surprisingly, I ended my third page of writing at the sound of the timer going off. I happily report that at no time during those 23 minutes did my mind skitter around my thoughts. I wrote with a purpose and fierce determination to finish before the timer sounded.

                                                                        I did not stop with that one day’s writing experiment. I continued the rest of the week by repeating the timed writing exercise, and I completed each day’s writing assignment with no return of the skittering thoughts problem.

                                                                        I went to the grocery store the next day. I had a bank deposit ready to put in the bank, but I had not yet put the checks into my account. Usually I make my deposits as checks become available, and then I grocery shop as I need. I use a grocery list and do not usually succumb to impulse purchases. I do not limit myself much when I shop for groceries; I usually have enough to buy what I need or desire.

                                                                        Because I had not yet deposited my checks into the bank and was using a debit card, I did not have the funds in the bank to cover shopping in my customary manner. I had to pull some cash from an emergency stash before heading off to the store.

                                                                        How could I limit my purchases so that I would come in under the amount that I had in my wallet? I grabbed a grocery cart, whipped out my iPhone, and used the calculator function to record the price of each item as I put it in my cart. I kept a running tally of my proposed purchases as I swept through each grocery aisle. At some point I came dangerously close to a total that exceeded the amount of cash in my purse. I surveyed my cart and decided to switch a few items for smaller sizes, and in one case I decided to buy one package rather than two.

                                                                        I was amazed that I had managed to arrive at a final cart total that fit within the budgeted amount of money I had put in my wallet. As I thought about the entire shopping experience, I realized that I had spent about $20-30 less than I might have spent if I had shopped in my customary way. I had still bought everything I needed, but I had made some choices along the way that altered my final total in a positive way. By saving money on my shopping trip, I had given myself the freedom to make additional purchases in the future, whether groceries or some other category (clothes or books),

                                                                        What did these “limiting” experiences teach me? I learned that by limiting the amount of time or money I would spend on an activity, I gained more focus on my activity. I concentrated on what I was doing in order to succeed within the limits I had set for myself.

                                                                        I made choices. I could not buy everything. I could not write about every thought that entered my mind. I prioritized and selected what I purchased or wrote.

                                                                        There is a value in setting limits. Freedom is lovely, but I notice that when I have a free day (which is exceedingly rare in my life), I do not get very much done. I end my free day wondering where the time went. What I learned this week is that by setting limits to how I spend my time, my money, and my attention, I actually create more time for myself to do something more or at least to do nothing if I so desire.

                                                                        I once learned of a study about children playing in backyards. In one backyard, the children were told where the boundaries of the backyard were, but there were no visible markers of the boundaries. In the other backyard, the children had a fence that clearly set off the limits of the backyard; the children were very aware where the backyard ended because the fence stood there.

                                                                        In the unfenced backyard, the children played throughout the entire yard area, but they tended to stop short several feet from the "boundary." In the fenced backyard, the children played in every inch of the yard, including the last few feet within the fence. The conclusion was that when the children were aware of the physical boundaries, they played more freely within the perceived physical limits. When the children were unsure where the actual boundaries stood, they curtailed their spatial play area. They did not feel free to use all the space available to them.

                                                                        The lesson to be gleaned here? Setting a clearly defined limit allows more freedom. In other words, we gain freedom from limits.

                                                                        I have given you two examples of how setting a limit might offer more freedom in return. Imagine how many more ways we could use this trick to free us from the thoughts and things we use to limit ourselves.

                                                                        What a paradox! By setting limits we free ourselves from our limits.


                                                                        * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 


                                                                        This is Monday Morning. Have you done your weekly homework? Have you reviewed and completed the checklists from last week? Here is the typical weekly list checklist. Look it over and make an effort to get things in order.




                                                                        Weekly Checklist

                                                                        o Have you scheduled all your necessary appointments or lessons for the week on your calendar?

                                                                        o Is there anything you want to accomplish this week that needs to be broken down into manageable steps over several calendar days?

                                                                        o What major projects or goals are you working on this week?

                                                                        o What materials do you need to gather to complete a particular project this week?

                                                                        o What steps can you take this week to move yourself forward on your goals?

                                                                        o What can you do today to make some forward progress on your goals?

                                                                        o What phone calls do you want to make this week? Do you need to schedule time to make those calls?

                                                                        o What emails do you want to make this week? Do you need to schedule time to write those emails?

                                                                        o Are you waiting to hear back from someone? Have you scheduled the day when you will follow up with that person?

                                                                        o What errands do you want to do this week?

                                                                        o Have you scheduled time to do those errands?

                                                                        o What materials do you need to gather together to complete those errands?

                                                                        o Have you sent out your tuition bills for the month?

                                                                        o Have you done your record keeping from the previous week (or month)?

                                                                        o Have you scheduled your practice time for the week? Maybe I should move this item further up the list, because I think it is an important daily item.

                                                                          I added something new to my checklist. My father sends me a beautiful day planner calendar from the Smithsonian Institute every Christmas. Since I use my iPhone for my calendar and just about everything else in my life, including teaching, I have not found much use for the planner.

                                                                        This week I tried scheduling my daily activities for each day. I started out the week by "inking" in all the activities, appointments, and lessons I had. Then each day I would visit the day planner and schedule what I would do every hour of the day in general. This is something different than the activity log I completed in the past. I found that I could use the day planner for this same purpose, and I like that I can see the entire week at a glance. So I will be adding a new entry in my weekly checklist: have you planned out your activities for the week?