Can’t sing? Do it more often — ScienceDaily

From Science Daily, reporting on research from Northwestern University:

The ability to sing on key may have more in common with the kind of practice that goes into playing an instrument than people realize, said lead researcher Steven Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music.

“No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, it takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing,” Demorest said. “When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better.”

via Can’t sing? Do it more often — ScienceDaily.

Singing well requires practice. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re tone deaf. Just keep singing.

The age-old art of musical page turning is under threat from the accursed iPad – The Independent

Simon Usborne writing for The Independent:

But about five years ago, Haywood caused a stir with a new approach. He reaches for an iPad and rests it against the stand. An app displays the same, scanned page of Chopin’s “Scherzi”, but I am now truly redundant as Haywood flicks his left foot on to a Bluetooth pedal to turn his own pages, wirelessly and silently.

At first, many concertgoers and reviewers were more interested in the device than the music, but now tablets are used more widely. Several similar set-ups have emerged, meanwhile, including apps that will listen to the music, turning pages automatically (the best time to turn, Haywood says, is a few notes short of the end of the page).

What does it mean for human page turners? Are they under threat? “I think maybe they are,” says Haywood, who says the ultimate solution would be a score that could be projected in front of his eyes, using a Google Glass-like device.

via The age-old art of musical page turning is under threat from the accursed iPad – Features – Classical – The Independent.

Maybe. On an infinite time horizon, musicians will probably use tablet computers or some other digital solution that simplify things and which may make page turners redundant. But I see this process taking a couple decades at least. As I’ve written, the current iPad suffers from some serious drawbacks for sheet music purposes even while it offers some tangible benefits. If you have perfect eyesight and the latest iPad, then things can go pretty smoothly. If you just need Bluetooth page turning, then great. But handwriting? That’s still missing unless you like deciphering illegible scribbles. There’s also the high cost of entry: an iPad isn’t cheap. And the first time your iPad or sheet music reading program crashes on you during a performance is when your trust in the system begins to break down (which happened to me once).

But who knows? New technology has a way of surprising us. The rumored iPad Pro might alleviate some of these issues. If interactions with the iPad suddenly became much more organic than they are currently, then this could become very popular very quickly.

Eric Whitacre on Reddit

Use the smallest amount of musical material possible. I wish I could tell myself that now. Make every single note be a reflection of a few simple ideas and throw everything else away. And don’t overthink it – if the piece wants to be simple and elegant then let it be.

via I am Eric Whitacre, composer, conductor, 5th member of Depeche Mode (application pending). AMA! : IAmA.

A Morning Ritual for German Learning

It's not just for German though.


This photo represents one of my better ideas. As part of my miracle morning, I’ve created this routine that allows me to do my German study right away. If you’re trying to learn a new language and want to systemize your study, then give this a shot.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Journal in German. Right now I write one page by hand every morning. This was very hard when I began, but it’s become progressively easier, and I keep my computer nearby to clarify grammar or look up words when I get stuck. If a page is too much, then just write a few sentences.
  2. Save new words. If I look up a word, I write it down within a monthly note in Evernote beside the definition, and then I’ll highlight the word in orange.
  3. Read. In this case it’s Calvin und Hobbes. It’s lighthearted, and the vocab ranges from truly child-like (“Mami” “Vati”) to advanced. Again, any words I look up are written into Evernote, though I don’t highlight anything. If you’re not really ready to do serious reading in German, then you might consider studying a blog like German is Easy.
  4. Review. The next day, I can look at the highlighted words, and I have a list of words that I’ve looked up. When I journal, I can then try and use the words I learned the day before. I can also try to incorporate new words into what I say during the day.
  5. Listen to German podcasts. When I move on to my mobilization exercises, I’ll pop in my headphones and listen to a podcast in German. On weekdays, this is usually Langsam Gesprochene Nachrichten, though I subscribe to several others as well.

In total, this lasts about 40 minutes, and it happens after I’ve done my meditation.

Three 2014 Habits to Take into 2015

Omnifocus Windows

Although I learned early on that my New Year’s resolutions are bound to fail, I do like making small habitual changes throughout the year. Especially with some semblance of stability in my life, I want to adjust my routines to be as effective as possible at keeping me healthy and happy.

Here are the three that have made the biggest difference this last year. I plan on continuing and expanding all of these through 2015, and I can recommend them if you’re looking for some new habits.

Morning ritual

This year, I made it a rule that I do a physical warmup at the beginning of my day. For the first three quarters of the year, that was the yoga sun salutation, which is a series of poses that gently stretch and open the body. I still like doing these, but I’ve switched it out for a series of mobilization exercises. These are movements that also stretch and open the body, but they work particular joints more directly, and I find them gentler.

Now I’ve folded these into a “miracle morning”, which is a series of little rituals popularized by Hal Elrod. These include meditation, journaling, my exercises, and some other steps.

Look, I’m incredibly skeptical of self-help stuff. The claims for the results are often so ludicrous that to go in believing that waking up at five will lead to millions of whatever-currency-you-have, then you’re bound to be disappointed. So I’m not doing this thinking that doing it alone will solve all my problems.

I do like the basic idea of it though, and I’ve gotten up every morning a little bit – about an hour – earlier to do this.

Results? My joints are happier with me. I wake up with fewer little aches and pains. My mood has improved. I wouldn’t say that it’s a “miracle”, but it’s the obvious result from starting the day in a healthier way. There are all sorts of ways to expand this in 2015, and I’m looking forward to more experimentation.

If you don’t do any of these, then you might try finding some morning ritual that gets you moving and active. The sun salutation is good. So is a walk. If you’re curious about my mobilizations, I’ll eventually write them out.

Calorie Counting and Health Tracking

When iOS 8 for the iPhone came out, it included a health application that listed a bunch of health data. Since it was empty, I decided to actually feed it some data. The phone already tracked my steps, so I started counting the calories in the food I ate using My Fitness Pal. I also began using RunKeeper again to track my exercise sessions.

I will probably stick with this for the long haul, though counting calories is especially tedious at times. What compels me is how informative it was. I was amazed at how high-calorie some foods are, and by elimintating some things from my grocery list, I’ve lost a few pounds (bye bye sliced bread at home). At the very least, this keeps me aware about what I’m eating.

Results? A few pounds lost, and I exercise more consistently. I’m mostly curious about how far this technology combined with good habits can go. I don’t have any extreme fitness goals, but I do want to maintain a basic level of fitness consistently. I also don’t have any plans to buy further technology to track more. Rather I just want to keep the habit and strengthen it.

I won’t lie though: this is a pain. I bought a scale to weigh foods at home, but when we’re out, I just have to guess the weights and the ingredients. MyFitnessPal does do some great work with branded foods and barcode scanning and all that, but it’s still work. Step tracking is about to become ubiquitous in our phones and watches, but calories counting? That takes some effort. But the clarity that comes from actually tracking this stuff is eye-opening.

Weekly Review

I’ve been doing some form of GTD for years, but I always skipped out on the weekly review part of it. That changed in the latter half of 2014. I’ve set aside some time on Sunday mornings for reviewing my projects and tasks in Omnifocus.

This doesn’t take very long since my life is not super complicated. Mostly my complications are of my own making (this website, for example, is a personal choice rather than externally-imposed), but using GTD and Omnifocus does help visualize it all. The review is important for maintaining a big picture of it all and seeing what I’ve let languish or what needs to be taken care of soon.

Results? I do consistently use the system more to do my tasks, and I think I’m more productive. There’s nothing really gamified in Omnifocus, so it’s hard to see exactly whether I became more productive or not (unlike Todoist). but I do feel like I’m more on top of the tasks of my life more. This has also been useful for building these new habits, since I can send myself daily reminders to do certain things.

If you don’t use GTD, I still think it’s a good idea to set aside some time to evaluate the previous week and begin planning the next. What went well? What didn’t? What do you want for the next week?

Other Atempted Habits

Here are some other things that I think are still good ideas, but which I didn’t consistently apply:

  1. Sight singing/interval practice: I actually did practice sight reading a lot using a variety of sources, so I did improve substantially. But I can’t claim to have created a real habit yet.
  2. German podcasts: I listened to a lot of German podcasts, so again, this isn’t failure, but I didn’t find a consistent habitual time to do this.
  3. Updating the budget: I did update my budget spreadsheet when I needed to, but I need to habitualize this somehow. Otherwise piles of receipts form, and math errors start to creep in.
  4. Consistent bed-time: ::Sigh::. Total failure. This one is hard when you work late and inconsistently. I’ll give this one another go though.

Upcoming Habits for 2015

What habits do I want to add this year? I’m going to be vague here, because sometimes good ideas come to me later:

  • I do want to change some habits around buying food. German cantinas are one of the best and worst aspects of German theaters. They’re the best for socializing and feeling comfy in one’s working environment. They’re the worst if you want to save money since another Brötchen or Kaffee or Cola Light or Kuchen is just downstairs.
  • I also want to develop a more consistent practice routine. A “miracle practice” or something like that. I practice plenty often, but I’d like to ritualize it a bit more.
  • Likewise for weekly and nightly rituals. I’ve recently heard/read some interesting ideas for these. The GTD weekly review is one such ritual, but there are others I’d like to try additionally.

And then… who knows? The year is long, and six months in I could have an epiphany.

In any case, wish me luck, and I hope some good habits became a part of your routine in 2014 and that 2015 is a year of growth and happiness for you.