• Home Music Practice Tips!

    September 23, 2015 by Jennifer Spleit...

    The hardest thing about music practice at home... is getting started! Here are our favourite tips to get you set on the right path for success!

    Practicing tip #1: Set regular days & times for practicing.
    We all get busy, but we don't forget to go to school/work or forget to eat meals because they are at the same time each day! Pick a time for your music practicing and then stick to it! Even if you only have 10 minutes to spare, it's better than nothing and will help you build confidence in yourself, discipline, and improved music skills, too!

    Practicing Tip #2: Start with a warm-up.
    Athletes would never think of starting a game or practice without a warmup, and neither should we musicians! Taking a few minutes to go through some scales or exercises gives you the chance to focus on your posture, set-up, tone control, comfort... before complicating things with new skills, fast passages, and music-reading! A little focus on building good habits at the beginning of a practice session will go a long way in helping you build confidence, proper technique and more enjoyable music-making!

    Practicing Tip #3: Go to the hard parts first.
    Whether you're working on something new or an older song, skip straight to the hard parts. Try a small section, slowly, and then try it again and again - until you build up enough comfort to play it successfully and to play it faster! Once you've tackled the hardest bits, playing a larger portion of the song will feel easier!

    Practicing Tip #4: Your metronome is your best friend.
    It's a lot easier to keep count when you can hear the beat sounding out loud! Start off on a slow pulse until you can get the notes to fit right on the beat, or even try clapping the rhythm first before playing! Once you can play with metronome successfully at a slow speed, gradually increase the speed each time you practice. Playing with other musicians is easier and more fun when your sense of timing is comfortable!

    Practice Tip #5: Switch it up!
    Practicing every day is only dull if you're practicing the same WAY. Try working on something different each practice session. Focus on a different part of your song each day, or even trade off by concentrating on one piece one day, and another song the next. Pull out an old 'easy' song and see how well you can play it now that you're more advanced! Try sight-reading something new, or even inventing your own music. Any time you spend with your instrument will help make you a better musician, and switching it up makes practicing a lot more fun!

    Practice Tip #6: Use the Add-On Game.
    To build fluidity, comfort and "flow", start with one musical fragment and slowly piece it together with others like puzzle pieces. Try one measure only until you like how it sounds, then move on to the next measure and do the same. Now you're ready to ADD the two together! Play the third bar until it feels good and then go back and add it in to the phrase, too! Before you know it, you'll be playing the whole page with no trouble!

    Practice Tip #7: Make a show of it!
    Performing and sharing our art is the reason most of us study music, so why not do it more often? Recitals and orchestra concerts are great long-term goals but they usually take months of preparation. So why not create your own mini-concert in the meantime? Setting short-term goals will help keep you motivated in your daily practicing! Plan to play a song at your next family gathering, or ask if you can play at school for your class. It can even be as simple as asking a family member to listen to that half-page you’ve just been practicing! Try it – the performance rush you’ll feel makes it all the hard work worth it!

    Practice Tip #8: Make a video!
    These days everyone has a video recording device on their computer, cell-phone, or ipad. Set yours to record while you play through your song, and then sit back and be your own audience! You’ll be surprised at the details you’ll notice in your own playing from this new perspective – and it will help you decide what skills or passages to focus on next! And if you love it just the way it is, now you have a digital copy you can share with the friends and family who live too far to make it to your next big concert.

    Practice Tip #9: Clap it out
    Rhythm is often our biggest challenge when learning a new song. And trying to make sense of all that counting while playing notes makes it even harder! Put down your instrument and try clapping the rhythm. Once you can clap it steadily, it’ll be much easier to play. Extra tip: If you can clap it out with the metronome, too, you know you’ve really figured it out well!

    Practice Tip #10: Focus on tone
    A beautiful tone is what brings music life to life and it’s your bow arm that is responsible for producing sound from your instrument.  To focus on tone, try taking out the left hand fingerings from your playing. Just play the open strings! Follow the same rhythm, string crossings, and slurs in the song – except without the left hand notes – and see how gracefully you can play. Keep your elbow, wrist, and finger joints as relaxed and soft as possible for smooth motion. Once you find you can create a beautiful tone, add the left hand fingers back in, and TA-DA more beautiful tone!

    Practice Tip #11: Bow in the air
    Are you having trouble getting the bowings and slurs right in your piece? Put down the instrument, and practice some air-bowing! Sing or hum the tune while you feel the slurs and string crossings. Use small bow amounts on the little notes, and feel the stretch of the long notes. Don’t forget to hold the bow with a proper grip, and to keep the bow centred over your imaginary instrument! Once you’ve taught your arm muscles how to feel the bowings, pick up your instrument and try playing it out again. It should be a lot easier!

    Practice Tip #12: Try some sight-reading
    Reading sheeting music is an important part of being a musician. Yes, it can be hard at first, but if you can read, you can learn any song! To develop your sight-reading, take out your old music and try playing a song you haven’t worked on in a long time. Since you don’t know the song for memory, you’ll have to rely on your reading skills to work out the notes and rhythms. Even more fun: visit your local music shop or browse an online store to find sheet music by your favourite band/artist! Figuring out the newest Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez or Maroon 5 hit will make practicing extra special!

    Practice Tip #13: Make it a date!
    The best part of making music is being able to share it with others. So why not share the practicing with a friend, too? Make a date with another musician to practice together. If you are working on the same songs, you can help each other and learn from one another as you play! If you don’t know the same songs, try playing some simple scales together with different bow-strokes or in a round, and then try figuring out a new song together just for fun. Having company in your practice session will make the time fly!

    Practice Tip #14: Get unplugged!
    Computers, Cell Phones, Ipads and Ipods can be a serious distraction. It's just so tempting to check your messages every few minutes to see if you missed anything! When it's time to practice, leave the electronics in another room (except your metronome!) and don't go looking for them until you've completed your musical workout. Your practicing will be more successful, and if your friends are wondering where you were, a little mystery never hurt anyone.

    Practice Tip #15: Set a Performance Goal
    Daily home practicing occasionally needs a little encouragement and knowing that you have a concert coming up can be the perfect motivation! If your next orchestra concert or school exam is still a long way off, set your own interim performance goal. Sign up for the school talent show, invite your grandparents over for a private show, or ask your church if you can play before the service. Reaching for your goal will keep you inspired in your practicing, and the pride you’ll feel after your performance will inspire you to keep it up after the show, too.

    Practice Tip #16: Take short breaks
    When you practice, your whole body is hard at work: brain, muscles, and emotions. Take small breaks during practice sessions to re-energize. A few moments of stretching will relax you from head to toe. Take a walk or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing and re-oxygenize your brain. When you return to your instrument a few minutes later, you’ll feel fresh instead of exhausted or frustrated and you’ll practice more constructively. Remember, it’s QUALITY not QUANTITY of practice that counts!

    Practice Tip #17: Keep a Pencil in your case
    If your metronome is your best friend, your pencil should be your next-best friend! Keep a pencil in your instrument case, and another one on your music stand. And don’t be shy to use it! If a quick notation in your music will help you play a part better and save your practice time… well, why not mark it in? You can also mark the difficult passages with a circle, asterisk or bracket and then you’ll know where to focus your practicing in your next practice session.


  • Supercrawl Author Readings

    September 12, 2015 by Stephen Near

    As part of Supercrawl 2015, members of the Lit Live Reading Series gathered a group of Hamilton-area authors to record a series of readings to be accessed online through soundcloud. These readings can also be accessed via listening stations on James North during the 'crawl. These listneing stations feature readings by the authors and are located at the corners of King William St at James North, Mulberry St at James North, and Colbourne St at James North.

    You can listen to these readings by following the link on your smart phone or digital device and clicking on the author LINKS below













    Enjoy the words of these six fabulous Hamilton-areda authors!

  • The Accessibility of Art

    April 22, 2015 by Elizabeth Abraham

    Spring is here!  This is a time of year that I associate with many happy things, most particularly getting outdoors and exploring what our great city has to offer.  Monthly Art Crawls on James Street North are at the top of my list.

    One thing that I’ve struggled with at Art Crawls past is purchasing pieces of art to take home with me.  I’m a person whose background is mostly in musical performance, with no formal training in visual arts.  One of my biggest regrets was never taking an Art History course during my schooling.  This has in the past made me feel somewhat self-conscious about what constitutes good art. I’ve historically been drawn to abstract paintings, sculptures and mixed media that incorporate vibrant colours, geometric shapes and textures, but I find it difficult to articulate why I’m attracted to these elements, and if these pieces could be considered “good art”.

    I recently came across a post on my Facebook news feed about a working class couple from New York who had amassed a priceless contemporary art collection over several decades.  In reading the article, I discovered that the couple had been the subject of a 2008 documentary entitled Herb & Dorothy, which detailed Herb and Dorothy Vogel’s infamy in the New York art world as unassuming collectors of modest means.  Herb worked as a Postal Clerk, Dorothy as a Librarian, and both made a pact that Dorothy’s salary would go towards the couple’s living expenses, while Herb’s would be entirely devoted to acquiring pieces of art.

    The couple had no formal training in art collecting, but they had simple rules: the piece had to be affordable, transportable via taxi or subway, and small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.

    The Vogels gravitated toward Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960’s at a time when both were unpopular, and Pop Art was on the rise.  They purchased pieces from unknown artists according to what they liked, rather than collect works based on who or what was popular.  They eventually donated their entire collection to the National Gallery in Washington in 1992, which was where they spent their honeymoon decades earlier.

    Artist Richard Tuttle was an interview subject in the film, and perfectly encapsulated what Herb and Dorothy’s process was for selecting works of art: “Something goes from the eye to the soul without going through the brain.”

    Filmmaker Megumi Sasaki, who spent a great deal of time with the couple in preparing the documentary, summed up best what I enjoyed about Herb and Dorothy: “One of the greatest lessons I learned from Herb and Dorothy is that you don’t have to explain, you don’t have to theorize art to like it.  The important thing is to look.”

    After viewing this documentary in full, I honestly feel more motivated than ever to go out and acquire pieces without feeling the need to explain why I love them.  In the words of artist Lucio Pozzi, “Art is not something you have to explain, but feel.”

    With that I say support our local artists, buy what you love, and happy hunting!

    Elizabeth S. Abraham is a Family and Criminal Lawyer at Wasserman Law Firm in downtown Hamilton.  She currently sits on the Board of Directors at Hamilton Arts Council and Wesley Urban Ministries.

  • Volunteer for the Win

    April 17, 2015 by Stephen Near

    This week is National Volunteer Week which means you may have seen a lot of talk across social media about the importance of volunteers and the contribution they make to the not-for-profit sector. Part of my job with Hamilton Arts Council involves finding volunteers who are willing and able to contribute their time to furthering our goals. Aside from finding the right person for the right job, organizations that seek volunteer support must themselves be prepared for the experience. This can present challenges to those in the not-for-profit sector where a do-it-yourself attitude often rules the day.

    Join Volunteer Canada in celebrating Canada's volunteers!

    Like many not-for-profits, the Hamilton Arts Council has worked extensively with volunteers to shape our work in the community. Our organization has gone through many changes and volunteers have helped us turn ideas into action along the way. And some of our most valuable volunteers have come from the most unexpected places. For example, my friend Marvin was a recent arrival to both Canada and Hamilton back in 2011 and was looking to put down roots in the city. He not only offered to volunteer for the arts council in a number of ways but also took our mission to serve the arts community very much to heart. From designing our e-newsletter to troubleshooting office technical issues to support at countless fundraisers and events, Marvin exemplified the type of volunteerism that is a boon to the not-for-profit sector and greatly helped the growth of the arts council. Much of that has to do with the fact that, as a volunteer, his desire to contribute and strengthen the community was close to our own. In other words, the arts council and our volunteer shared the same values in common. This alignment creates a meaningful volunteer experience and helps retain their talent in the long term.

    The Hamilton Arts Council's MVP volunteer!

    Ultimately, volunteers are an important agent for organizational growth not just because they are an extra hand but because they advance our mandate in the work that they do. Tasks that might seem mundane are often exciting opportunities for growth in the hands of dedicated volunteer. It all comes down to giving your volunteers a stake in the success of the organization and tying their success to the future of your organization. So, this week, I hope you'll remember to take a moment to thank all of your volunteers who have helped make your organization what it is now and what it will be in the future.

    For further resources regarding volunteers and Hamilton volunteering opportunities check out the following resources:

  • Give Me Space

    February 20, 2015 by Stephen Near

    Get in a conversation with any theatre artist working or living in Hamilton these days and talk quickly turns to a variation on several topics including who is doing what work in the city, where to look for additional funding for projects, and how theatre is growing in Hamilton. But no other topic seems to arise with such force as the urgent need for more space.

    The Bright Room at the Staircase Theatre

    At last year's Stage Directions, hosted by the Hamilton Fringe Festival, one of the discussions was on how theatre artists can have greater access to what is seen as a hidden cache of space in Hamilton. And if what many theatre artists say holds true--that the best way to get a project off the ground is to book a space--then the need to reveal this cache is critical to the growth of Hamilton theatre. With this in mind, the Hamilton Arts Council has begun a project to gather information on available spaces in the region and post it on our site in our new Space Directory.

    The Hamilton Theatre Inc space

    This Directory not only includes performance and rehearsal space for theatre artists, musicians and other performing artists but also gallery and studio space for visual artists. It is meant to be a widespread and growing resource that can be easily accessed by artists wherever they are with contact information and details on venue availability and suitability. The Directory includes widely known spaces as well as a handful of lesser known venues with a goal of being as comprehensive a listing as possible to serve the arts community of Hamilton.

    The factory floor space of 270 Sherman

    The question of finding viable and affordable space is, in many ways, the issue of the day in arts creation circles. A recent blog article on performance space in Toronto cited ten under-the-radar live venues that are actively in use but which deviate wildly from conventional theatres. All of these are repurposed venues with some being modified retail and storefront properties. Though our Space Directory isn't meant to address such repurposing, we do hope it will make the process of finding suitable space easier and encourage further talks between artists and developers in Hamilton towards creating new and innovative venues that can accommodate the cultural growth we're now seeing here.

    For more information, feedback or suggested additions to our Space Directory follow the LINK or contact our offices at