Time to Prepare!

Time to prepare!

Having a brand new instrument and not really playing it is a bit frustrating. I know that it is important to prepare, and as the old adage goes

"to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail" (invented possibly by an Ofsted inspector to wind up teachers...)

I know that the idea is that we are not supposed to start things until 9th July. However, I can’t help myself as I just want to get on and play it! I have refrained from having a go at it. I've stopped myself from doing everything apart from the basic setup and putting the instrument together. At least this way I can hit the ground running when I start on 9th July. This is for a great cause and I want to make sure that I raise some much needed funding to help support the great work Home Start do.

So far I have done the following things:

  • bought a viola
  • installed the bridge
  • tuned the strings
  • got some rosin onto the bow
  • downloaded trinity grade 1 specification
  • bought Abracadabra Viola (it has all of the grade 1 pieces and is a tutor book too)
  • worked out what scales and arpeggios I will need to do for the exam

I have also looked at a few free tutor books online for any help/guidance I can use when I start to play for real.

How things Feel

I love learning new instruments and this one is so different to what I am used to. I am a little bit nervous about playing it for the first time in front of someone as I have no idea what the sound that comes out will be like. Is watching videos on YouTube about bow hold before July 9th cheating?

In terms of making sure I play regularly and develop good intonation I think it is going to be important to play along with another instrument or multitrack my own playing. I've created the beginnings of a practice schedule so that I make sure I get to the right level - I am of course after a distinction for my Grade 1!

I am checking that the instrument is holding its tuning and that it settles down well. I am not sure if most people will borrow an instrument for this challenge as I know some instruments are very expensive to buy. Also, what musician needs yet another instrument in their house? I already have a couple of trumpets, trombones, euphonium, tuba, ukuleles, guitars & bass guitars to name but a few. I now have a viola to add to the list!

The Schedule

So the timetable for completion on this challenge is as follows:



Date Week Number Tasks
July 9th Week 1 1st group lesson in Oxford & Complete step 1 and step 2 in Abracadabra
July 16th Week 2 Complete steps 3 & 4 in Abracadabra
July 23rd Week 3 Complete steps 5 & 6 in Abracadabra & G Major Scale
July 30th Week 4 Complete step 7 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale
August 6th Week 5 Complete steps 8 & 9 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale
August 13th Week 6 Complete steps 11, 12 & 13 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale & Edelweiss
August 20th Week 7 Complete steps 14 + 15 in Abracadabra + D + G Major Scale + Arpeggio + Edelweiss + Edelweiss, We’re off to see the Wizard and Summer is icumen in
August 27th Week 8 Complete steps 16 & 17 in Abracadabra & D + G Major Scale & Arpeggio & Edelweiss & Edelweiss, We’re off to see the Wizard and Summer is icumen in
September 3rd Week 9 Complete steps 18, 19 & 20 in Abracadabra & D, G & C Major Scale & Arpeggio & Edelweiss, We’re off to see the Wizard and Summer is icumen in
September 10th Last Day! Grade 1 Exam in Oxford & 1st Concert in Oxford

I am not sure how I have ended up having 9 weeks as I am sure that there is only supposed to be 8 weeks to do this challenge. Maybe I will need to relook at things if I need to reduce it all to just 8 weeks.

Prepare for the Future

I am already beginning to contemplate the idea of trying to do the same with grade 2. I wonder if that could be done in 8 weeks too? Could this mean that there is the potential of being able to play at grade 5 standard (not just three pieces learned well) within just 40 weeks?

I know that does appear to be a little forward looking and quite optimistic in terms of the time i have available to practice and play. Surely this is all part of the challenge of learning an instrument as an adult. It's also a good way to remind myself of the challenges that my students face on a daily basis. How is it possible to carve out the time needed to work on playing an instrument when things are already so very hectic?

Hopefully, I will find a way through this. More importantly, I'll be able to provide a better answer to my students that struggle to fit in practice time. My usual answer is ‘well, I’m very busy too and I know it can sometimes be tricky, but the only way to get better is to make the time’. Although this may be true, it isn’t very helpful for a 10 year old and especially unhelpful for an adult!

To donate for the wonderful charity Home Start, please visit my MyDonate page.

Shaun Humphries Administrator
Shaun is currently involved in developing a Music Theory Course that will help people of all ages gain a greater awareness of the building blocks of music. Shaun began playing the cornet at the age of seven. He joined the Salvation Army Junior Band and obtained his grade 5 by the age of 10. It was at this time Shaun was truly inspired by an amazing teacher at school who made a real difference – way beyond what he could ever have imagined. Shaun moved onto tuba during his last year at secondary school. He joined Swindon Pegasus Brass and then the NYBB a year later under the direction on Colin Shiner. Shaun read Music at Anglia Polytechnic University, majoring in composition and performance under the direction of Alan Bullard and Michael Clack. He taught for a year at Wells Cathedral School as a practice supervisor, and was conductor of a number of small ensembles. Shaun continued his studies and achieved his MA in Music Performance, under the direction of Nicholas Hitchin (ENO) at Colchester Institute School of Music. Shaun has worked as a peripatetic brass teacher for a number of years with the Swindon Music Co-operative, Wiltshire Music Service, Bath & North East Somerset Music Service, and Northamptonshire Music Service. He has performed as a tuba player within a variety of ensembles including the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain, West London Sinfonia (as principal tuba), Swindon Pegasus Brass, and MK Brass. Shaun is regularly asked to perform as a deputy tuba player for Trinity Camerata, Aylesbury Vale Symphonic Wind Band and Towcester Studio Band. As principal tuba with NOW, Shaun was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall and Central Park in New York, and worked with Andrew Hall, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine as an Associate Musical Director for the opening of the MK Dons Stadium. Shaun has been heavily involved with music in Buckinghamshire and has worked as a director with a number of bands including Towcester Studio Band, MK Brass (as a deputy conductor), MK Development Band, Secklow Brass (as a deputy conductor), Great Horwood Silver Band, Wolverton Band, Brackley Wind Ensemble and is a founding member and conductor of Fantini Chorus. Shaun is currently principal tuba with Banbury Symphony Orchestra and Musical Director of Hook Norton Brass Band. Shaun has been Musical Director for a number of shows, including productions of Calamity Jane, Little Shop of Horrors (With Buckingham University), Grease, Joseph, and Footloose. He has recently performed as the Director (and Musical Director) for Honk! Junior. After studying for a PGCE at Oxford Brookes University, Shaun has worked as Head of Department in a number of secondary schools in Milton Keynes, Rugby, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire. He is now a peripatetic music teacher offering lessons within his home studio or via Skype if required. Shaun is also a certified Life coach, a Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and a Certified Hypnotherapist. He enjoys working with and helping individuals increase their self awareness, develop focus and improve productivity. With his past experience he is able to help you to develop greater resilience, confidence and self belief within your workplace or home life. Through developing thinking strategies, breaking through barriers (such as limiting beliefs and thought patterns) and developing new behaviour patterns Shaun can help you realise your true potential!