Practicing at home

My wife’s violin teacher, Raphael Spiro, told her the definition of practice is “correct repetition”.  Here is how to make the best use of your time!

– having regular practice times is best
– 100 minutes per week is the goal (unless you can play the assigned music correctly and with a beautiful sound in less time 😉 )
– When you are playing and make a mistake (EVERYBODY DOES!!!), don’t go back to the beginning.  Go back a few notes and play through the notes you had difficulty with until you can play the passage correctly
– Don’t always start at the beginning.  Start by playing the last two measures, then the last four, then the last eight, . . .

(with help from violinist extraordinaire and master teacher, my wife Nancy DiNovo)

The goal of this practice method is to create mastery and confidence in your playing.  At any point, if you move on from one step to the next and find you’re not ready, repeat the previous step before moving forward.

  1. Name the notes – say the letter name of the note out loud
  2. Name the notes in rhythm
  3. Name the notes in rhythm while fingering the notes (even better if you can sing the correct pitches at the same time!)
  4. Play the passage very slowly three times.  Pay attention to what your muscles have to do to make the passage work smoothly and efficiently.  Include all accents and articulations.
  5. Then, play the same passage four times under tempo with full musicality: dynamics and markings as well as musical expression while paying attention to the connections between notes where appropriate.  Strive to improve each one making each repetition more fluent and tonally beautiful than the previous one.
  6. Perform the passage perfectly ten times in tempo.  You will probably notice that after five or six repetitions the passage will start to sound even more fluent.

FYI – apparently the magic number for you to have mastered ANY skill is to do it 17 times in a row without making a mistake.  Yes, numbers 4 through 6 add up to 17!


And, two quotes from Carrie Brownstein, musician, actor, and author
“I found community and belonging through creativity and music”.
And, on being able to do both comedy and music, “I think I wouldn’t have come to comedy and been able to do a lot of improvisation if it weren’t for music.  I think that helped me gain a lot of confidence.  It gave me faith in the spontaneous moment, in the unknown, about going somewhere that could be unexpected where you might fail.”

Keep practicing – you never know where it will lead!

sage advice from Kurt Vonnegut

In 2006 a high school English teacher asked students to write a famous author and ask for advice.  Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond – and his response is magnificent: “Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusts:

I thank you for your friendly letters.  You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years.  I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.  What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously!  I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives.  Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her.  Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on.  Make a face in your mashed potatoes.  Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed.  No fair tennis without a net.  Make it as good as you possibly can.  But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing.  Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, of Ms. Lockwood.  OK?  Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticles.  You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem.  You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!
Kurt Vonnegut




When I was 15 I spent a month working on an archeological dig.  I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject?  And I told him, no I don’t pay any sports.  I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went WOW.  That’s amazing!  And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good an ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them.  I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

And that honestly changed my life.  Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them.  I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.

Students should have:

September, 2020

Dear Parents/Guardians of students enrolled in Band,

Welcome to our band!  I am thrilled that your son/daughter has chosen to play an instrument this year.  Learning this new skill can lead to a life-long pastime and a love for music.  In addition, countless studies have shown that learning to play a musical instrument provides a unique opportunity for cognitive development.

Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Mr. Denroche.  This is my twentieth year teaching Grade 7 Band in SD41.  In addition to holding an Honours degree in Music Education from the University of Western Ontario, I have been a professional horn player for over thirty years.

What instrument will my son/daughter be playing?
I will meet with all students before finalizing what instrument your child will play in class this year.  Your child may be assigned an instrument other than his/her first choice for either musical or physical reasons.  I truly appreciate the flexibility shown by my students because our collective artistic experience is based on having a full range of instruments in our class – and your child’s willingness to practice regularly!


Virtual Band Night
SD41’s Virtual Band Night will be an online Zoom session 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept 29th.  This free one-time event provides an opportunity for each student to learn from an expert on their particular instrument how to assemble, lubricate (or not), clean, and establish good playing habits.  This saves me having to go through this procedure with each different instrument during class time while others wait for their turn.  Unless your child already plays the instrument, please attend! It’s the best way to have a great start to the year.  If you can’t make the Zoom session, I believe they will be recorded so it can be viewed at a later date.

Other than the instrument that has been decided upon with Mr. D,, what does my child need for class?

– Essential Elements 2000 Book 1 method book for your child’s instrument.

This year SD41 band teachers have decided to use our purchasing power to make a special purchase and the exact number of books my students will be needing this year have been ordered.  They will be $15 (tax included).  Plans are underway to have the purchase made through cash on line.
That being said, I have been using Essential Elements for years.  If you have a used book for your instrument that says Online Resources Included on the top left corner of the cover and the activation code on the first page hasn’t been used, you don’t need to buy a new book.

 a 1″ three-ring binder is highly recommended.  All the music your child will be getting over the year is much easier to organize if it’s in a 1″ binder.  Instruments and music should be treated with respect.  If music can not be stored flat inside the case, DO NOT PUT YOUR MUSIC INSIDE YOUR INSTRUMENT CASE.  In addition to possible damage to instruments, jamming music into cases results in music frequently falling off the music stand because it does not lie flat.

All clarinet and saxophone players should have FOUR #2 REEDS in a reed guard.  A reed guard, designed to store reeds flat and keep them from warping and being damaged in the case, is made of hard plastic.  Reeds should not be stored on the mouthpiece but the student can use an old or damaged reed to keep the ligature from bending.  I usually have reeds on hand for emergency use that I will sell at the beginning of class – $2 for clarinet reeds, $3 for alto sax, and $4 for tenor sax.  For the best in sound and embouchure development, most clarinetists will be using #2½ early in the term.
—-  If you buy a box of reeds for clarinet, please buy a box of #2½ reeds along with four #2 reeds to start.  Saxes can buy boxes of #2.

Oboe players – if the reeds I have ordered do not show up before the 29th, please buy one medium soft reed.

Folding music stand
If possible, please buy a folding music stand for your child’s use at home to promote good posture and playing habits.

Practice schedule
                  Please set up a regular practice time with your son/daughter.
Like all subjects, students will require different amounts of time to learn playing skills and assignments.  Practicing a minimum of 15 minutes per day, at least three days per week is the best way to achieve a reasonable standard of performance and will make a huge difference in your child’s progress and the quality of the band experience.   Band builds upon previous skills and it’s very difficult to catch up once a student falls behind.

Buying an instrument
I recommend renting an instrument for the year.  However, for those who prefer to purchase an instrument for their child’s use, I highly recommend making a purchase from a reputable music store that can repair the instrument.  Although some instruments can be bought for a price that seems too good to be true, they are often more difficult to play and can be expensive or even impossible to repair.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding recommended brands to either purchase or rent.

If you have any questions, you may contact me through the school or at

Musically yours,
Mr. D

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