Notes from the Train by Alice Hamlet | October 4, 2018
An interview about the upcoming How to Practice Workshop with New Jersey Symphony Orchestra violinist Naomi Youngstein
Performing Arts School
60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights
Friday, October 12 @ 7:00 PM
FREE and Open to the Public
How long have you been a member of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra?
I joined in November of 1987, so nearly 31 years ago.
What are some highlights of your favorite performances (or one favorite performance) with NJSO?
Two performances stand out: Zdenek Macal conducting anything by Dvořák, and Xian Zhang conducting the Pines of Rome—earthshaking!
When and how did you start amassing tips and insights about practicing for students?
My own teacher at Manhattan School of Music, Burton Kaplan, wrote books and gave workshops about practicing. I use some of his ideas, those of my colleagues, and a lot of my own. Over the years, I’ve learned what works for the school age student. The most important thing to know is that each student may need a different selection of techniques.
If you had to give just one tip about practicing to a beginning student, what would it be? And for an advanced student, would that one tip be different?
For the beginner, I’d suggest always starting by imagining the sound that you want to make. Often the beginner is so concerned with being “right” that they don’t always hear what’s coming out of their instrument. For the advanced student, I’d suggest knowing one’s goals for every piece during each practice session. The advanced student is juggling many things at different levels of preparedness, and deciding what you’d like to accomplish is vital.
What do your own practice sessions consist of?
I always play scales, often etudes and exercises, and usually whatever upcoming pieces we’re performing with the NJSO. This week I reviewed all the harder sections of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which we perform at the end of this week.
How do you suggest students structure or divide their practice time (ie scales, etudes, repertoire)?
Each student has different needs. Try to get to everything in each session, but each student’s teacher can help the student set priorities. Those priorities can change from week to week.
How important is the use of a metronome in practice?
CRUCIAL!! How do you know if you’re improving if you don’t measure it? You can’t know if you’re controlling a skill or a passage unless you use the metronome. Always write down what metronome marking you’ve achieved. Who could remember such a number from day to day?
For students playing pitched instruments, how do you suggest they work on intonation?
Listening to chords, tonality, matching pitches, always use whole phrases. Out of tune notes always occur in a context, so simply playing higher or lower doesn’t help. Knowing if one is sharp or flat, and how much, is super important.
Favorite food: Definitely pasta
What are you listening to these days: I walk two miles every day and listen to podcasts all the time—my favorite subjects are food, travel, politics, and shows about NYC.
When not commuting, Alice Hamlet is the Director of Marketing at the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts and is also on the faculty of the Performing Arts School, teaching cello and music theory.