I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m definitely in winding-down mode right now. As I type this, I have just a few teaching days left before the summer holidays, and with the heat as it is, it’s tiring. Whilst I continue to offer music lessons on selected days during the summer holidays, not all teachers do this. In fact, I know some teachers who finish in June and return in October! This isn’t a post about whether music lessons are or aren’t offered over the summer holidays; indeed, for those who have lessons in school, these naturally take a break over the summer, as has always been the case.
In this blog post, I wanted to share a few of ideas of things I think you could do over the summer while your music lessons are on a break. Some students, like us teachers, enjoy a break too, and that’s understandable, but for those who’d like to continue making, enjoying and learning whilst music lessons are on holiday, here are some suggestions of things you could do.
1. Revisit previously learnt repertoire
For me, this is probably the most important one. It’s amazing how many students learn a piece, then never touch it again. Yes, there are some pieces even I wouldn’t wish to revisit, but nevertheless, it’s good to keep a selection of pieces up-to-date. Andrew Eales offers some useful advice on his website about creating an Active Repertoire list, and it’s well worth a look. Also, you’re absolutely allowed to revisit easier pieces. Don’t feel (as I often did as a child), that it was somehow taking a backward step to return to playing easier pieces. They are there to be enjoyed as much as any other.
2. Set yourself a challenge
Some students relish a challenge, and the summer holidays can be a great time to set yourself one. It might be to learn a particular piece, master a particular technique, or even learn a new skill. Remember, setting yourself a challenge doesn’t automatically have to equal working towards and exam!
3. Return to unfinished pieces
I don’t know about you, but I have piles of pieces which I’ve made a start on learning in the past, but somehow, for various reasons, never got round to finishing. Sometimes, they just turned out to be too hard at the time. Sometimes, I just wasn’t in the right place to progress with them. Occasionally, I just wasn’t feeling it with a particular piece. You should never be ashamed of not finishing a piece. As I say so often, it’s as much about the journey as it is about the outcome. The summer holidays can be a good time to return to some of these, to see them afresh with maybe a new perspective.
4. Listen to music
I confess, I’m really bad at listening to music. I go through phases where I listen to lots, then maybe months where I never put a CD in the player. Maybe the summer is a good time to treat yourself to a new CD (or even, dare I say it, a download). You can even listen while on holiday! It can be a great way to get to know new music, but sometimes, it’s also a good way to learn more about music you already play. Why not take a look at this blog post where I shared 10 classical albums I couldn’t live without?
5. Plan for next term
The summer holidays are a good time to reflect, and it’s a great time to think ahead to the new term, which for most, starts in September. Think about why you started learning an instrument in the first place. What did you want to get out of it? Has that changed? Is there anything you’d like to do less of, or maybe do more of? Do you have aims, goals or aspirations you’d like to fulfil? Are there particular pieces you’d like to learn? Would you like to work towards an exam or festival, maybe even perform? These are all great questions to ask yourself, and I don’t know about other teachers, but these things really help me focus our lessons and plan ahead too.
6. Enjoy a concert
I was going to title this ‘go to a concert’, but of course, the summer is a great time to enjoy concerts virtually and digitally too. Our own Lichfield Festival is on at the moment, and there are lots of other similar festivals on around the country too. Perhaps the biggest one is the BBC Proms. Even if, like me, you can’t get to the Proms in person, you can enjoy every concert live on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds, and having just checked the programme, quite a few are being recorded for broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Two.
7. Choose new repertoire
Sometimes, the summer holidays give you a chance to go back through pieces you’ve already learnt in your music lessons, and this can be a good way to get an idea of what music you’d like to play next. Maybe there are pieces by particular composers you’d like to play? Perhaps you feel there are some gaps in your repertoire you’d like to fill? Lots of the things I’ve mentioned above can help you discover new repertoire, and a few years ago, I also wrote a blog post exploring how you can use platforms like Spotify to do this. If you’re a flautist, then you might enjoy this blog post where I shared 10 amazing discoveries for the flute.
8. Get your instrument serviced / repaired
I’ve given myself a pat on the back because I have actually booked my flute in for a service this summer, and may I say, it’s long overdue. Repairers too get busy at this time of year so it’s advisable to book ahead, but the summer can be good time to give instruments a bit of an overhaul, sometimes a little TLC. Even if your instrument doesn’t need repairing or servicing, giving it a good clean (I’ve already made a note for myself to remind me the piano needs a very good clean!) as this can really improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your playing (also, don’t underestimate the psychological effects of having a bright, shiny, polished instrument to play!)
9. Sort your music out
If you’re anything like some of my students, you’ve probably got to the stage where the music you’ve been using is in a complete muddle. It’s a good time to have a tidy up, and maybe even retrieve those books which have fallen down the back of the piano (yes, I do need to move the piano and retrieve Improve Your Scales! Piano Initial Grade!) If you haven’t got one already, get a case or a folder to keep any loose sheets together. Some of my students have very sophisticated systems of folders, but I wonder how most of them ever find anything they need.
10. Make music with others
I like to get out and about in the summer and where possible, visit friends, so it’s a good time to meet up and make music together. I think this is especially useful for teachers because we often miss out on that, but it’s good for students too. For teachers, I know The Curious Piano Teachers have some meet-ups for members, but equally, do arrange your own, maybe with other teachers locally. For students too, it’s a good time to play duets, or to maybe just ‘jam’ with friends and family. Like religion, music is there to be enjoyed, not just endured!
When I was a child, I always enjoyed playing to anyone who came to visit (poor them). It meant I started performing from an early age, and I think it’s one reason I’m not particularly phased now. Admittedly, I’ve never been interested in performing, and am more than happy teaching and accompanying, but it is a skill everyone should try and develop. One of my adult students conquered some of their performance nerves by opening the window and playing to the window cleaner every time he came. It doesn’t have to be big! Performing doesn’t have to be making your stage debut at Carnegie Hall.
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12. Have a break!
Finally, remember that as important as all the above is, make sure you have a break from music and music lessons too. It’s OK to put your instrument away, and have some time out. It won’t go anywhere, and it’ll always be ready and waiting for you to come back to it refreshed and nourished. A break and a holiday will have just as much a positive impact on your playing as any of the things I’ve touched on above.
Whatever you’re doing this summer, enjoy the break, and enjoy your music. I’m going to be taking a break from blogging and reviewing until September, but there are literally hundreds of posts for you to catch up on here. I’ll be back in September, and I’m already planning new posts, with a healthy stack of lovely new books waiting to be reviewed too.
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