Dan DiPasquale is a member of the MakeMusic Innovators program.
Throughout my career, I’ve strongly believed that it’s important to involve as many students as possible in festival and contest. Not only are they great performance opportunities for both individuals and ensembles, but the preparation for these events are amazing opportunities for musical growth.
However, despite their name, the preparation does not always feel so “festive.” Balancing concert programs between multiple ensembles, preparing for sight reading sessions at contest, all while dealing with interruptions from snow days and testing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
MakeMusic Cloud can help take the stress out of festival prep. It has a variety of helpful tools to keep rehearsals on track, while ensuring that students continue to build essential musical skills during practice.
Here are some ways that I utilize MakeMusic Cloud while preparing my orchestras for festival.
MakeMusic Cloud allows me and my students to try pieces before committing to purchasing. We can search through the Music Catalog to listen, or even practice, a variety of titles.
For Solo and Ensemble events, I often search through the Suzuki and Highland-Etling books as they usually have multiple NYSSMA Eligible pieces in them. These books are available both digitally on MakeMusic Cloud and in print from Alfred Music. I typically suggest which pieces my students should try and then let them choose their favorites. Allowing students to choose their own music creates a level of ownership that encourages practice and enjoyment.
The playlist feature allows me to keep an organized grouping of festival pieces that I like, or that I am considering, to reference when placing orders later on. It’s helpful to track titles by level, instrument type, and it makes sharing the lists with my students easy.
You can also use the State Lists tool to find titles from the required lists in your state. The tool includes required lists from 26 different states across various ensemble types and levels.
Whether they’re preparing a solo, small ensemble, or a large ensemble piece, MakeMusic Cloud will help keep student practice on track. I can assign specific sections that I want them to work on, and listen to each individual’s recordings to track progress. You can also adjust the tempo of any title while practicing, and the accompaniment will slow down to match!
I find that duets and trios are an excellent way to get students involved in festival, but matching schedules for the small groups to meet can be a challenge. Every title in MakeMusic Cloud comes with the accompaniment track so students are always able to practice as if they’re with the full group.
As an orchestra teacher, this time of the year is also when I tend to introduce shifting. It often shows up in the required scales or the pieces they are working on. I lean on the Sound Innovations series, which is in MakeMusic Cloud, to help me introduce the concept. I can demonstrate an example, then send them off to different corners of the room to practice with headphones while I rotate around to help individuals.
The Compose tool also allows me to write, share, and assign new exercises directly in the platform. If there’s a skill or exercise I can’t find, I can simply create it myself and instantly send it to my students. Click here to learn how to get started with Compose.
Intonation and Tuners
One of my favorite MakeMusic Cloud tools is the built-in Tuner. With this, every student has access to a tuner every time they practice. The visual and instant feedback is a tremendous help for students new to playing solo or small ensemble repertoire.
I also always have the tuner projected on screen during class, whether we’re learning scales or rehearsing as a group. We can check pitches as we go and play along with drones to help keep us in tune.
Sight reading is often the toughest aspect of contests and festivals. Even after spending months on their pieces and acing their scales, sight reading can still trip many students up.
Sight Reading Studio is a feature that creates endless sight reading exercises based on the parameters you set. You can create templates and assignments for students to practice on their own, or create an ensemble template and work on it in class. It allows you to customize the exercises however you want, like specific rhythmic figures, key or time signatures, intervals, and more.
If your state has scale requirements for solo and ensemble, you’ll find them in MakeMusic Cloud. It can be difficult to find time to practice scale exercises on top of rehearsing pieces, sight reading, and other rehearsal activities. With the required exercises built-in to the platform, you can simply assign the scales to each student and track progress individually from their recordings. They’ll also get feedback from the built in assessment tools and can listen back to their recordings.
Even if your state doesn’t have required rhythms for scales, it can be helpful for practice. I often use the Texas scale exercises as they can be pretty challenging and require more thought than simple quarter notes. Once my students have mastered the scale in a simpler rhythm, I encourage them to try Texas or other states’ exercises to build their confidence and skill.
MakeMusic Cloud is a game-changer when it comes to festival and contest preparation. It allows us to balance the multiple skills and requirements easily, all while providing valuable feedback and pushing students to perform at their highest level.