Where domestic skills + creativity meet, tempered with a dose of procrastination.

So February is up and that means the 4 weeks of my self-inflicted music challenge have also come to an end.

I was aiming for 12 hours of music practice a week. How was Week 4′s effort?

Thanks to the 2nd day of Winterfest I almost cracked the 12 hour mark. And that’s even missing a day!

11 hours and 35 mins was achieved. So close! If I had been paying attention and tracking the time I would’ve made up that last 25 minutes. Or if I hadn’t skipped a day…. oh well…

Day 22: Autoharp 2 hrs; dulcimer 2 hrs, pennywhistle 1 hr
Day 23: dulcimer 15 mins; voice 15 mins
Day 24: voice 1 hr 45 mins
Day 25: dulcimer 15 mins; autoharp 1 hr 30 mins
Day 26: nil. What happened? Too tired and went to bed early.
Day 27: pennywhistle 45 mins
Day 28: dulcimer 1 hr 10 mins; autoharp 40 mins

Voice: 2 hours
Dulcimer: 3 hrs 40 mins
Piano: nil
Pennywhistle: 1 hr 45 mins
Autoharp: 4 hrs 10 mins

And because it’s fun to do a pie chart I did one. After all, who can say no to pie? 

music dozen challenge pie over 4 weeksImprovements:

Voice – not so much that’s noticeable. I’d need to be more consistent with the exercises (ie daily) to improve breath control.

Dulcimer: Definitely. Flat picking control has improved, ie hitting the right string without looking down all the time. Corresponding fingering while flat picking also improved. Chord positions not memorized, although I now have to include that 1.5 fret, so getting used to that. Sight reading of tab has improved. Beginning to relate standard music notation to the fretboard. Chop chords improved greatly – not perfected – but getting there.

Piano: Bass clef easier to read – not automatic though. Improvement in remembering the fingering for scales, small improvement in dexterity.

Pennywhistle: This was the surprise outsider – huge improvements made here, from memorizing fingering, slurring, to improved agility switching between certain notes. Upper register notes still iffy, but those very high ones are hard and I’m reluctant to go over and over them in an apartment.

Autoharp: Late entrant proved an easy instrument to see instant improvement. That is, I went from knowing nothing to being able to do some simple strum patterns and melodies of some simple tunes.

Ocarina: Only a 15 minute curiosity play. Managed to get pleasant sounds out of it.  It smells funny though.

I’m glad I did it. All that forming good habits stuff works. It’s also encouraging to hear /feel the improvements after  only 4 weeks.

I discovered these very important criteria/facts:
1. Instrument, music, music stand etc must be accessible and organized.
2. This means having organized spaces that are kept free of other clutter, including where I sit and where tab/sheet music is stored. Maintaining these spaces is ongoing.
3. Small chunks of time add up over the week.
4. Getting enough sleep is really important!
5. Practicing when tired is still doable, if all I do is some scales and technical exercises. I have energy for that, but no more energy to put into playing a tune. Go figure that one.
6. I used to do more vocal exercises all the time when pottering around. Why did I stop? Shouldn’t have stopped!

If anyone reading this suffers from guilt trips about not practicing enough. Don’t feel guilty, instead look at how you use your time and aim to change some of the daily habits.  Yes, attending Winterfest certainly boosted the practice hours, but I discovered how pleasant and relaxing it is to do some practice after dinner and even better, how uplifting it is to practice in the early mornings before work. As long as it doesn’t make me late for work of course, practicing music puts me in a very cheerful mood to start the work day.

Week 3: Music Dozen

Well, Week 3 (last week – 15th to 21st) was interesting.


Day 15: Voice 15 mins; Ocarina – 15 mins
Day 16: Voice 1 1/4 hours; Piano – 1 1/2 hours
Day 17: Dulcimer – 15 mins
Day 18: Dulcimer – 1 1/2 hours
Day 19: nil
Day 20: nil
Day 21: Voice – 1 hour, Dulcimer - 2 hours; Autoharp – 2 hours

10 hours total practice time. But I feel I should explain myself.


I bought an ocarina, a strawfire seedpod-shaped Alto C ceramic ocarina from these people.  It arrived and so I had to test it out. Being strawfired – a process where the ceramics recieve an extra ocarinafiring packed in burning straw - which gives them lovely earthy tones, but also makes them smell. Some folks like this smell, I don’t, but I’m told it will fade. The last thing I should do is attempt to wash it out. Put up with it and let it fade over time. Anyway, burnt grass smell aside, this ocarina has a beautiful tone. Ocarina tab, however, is annoying to read, and so I need to memorize the fingering so as to use standard musical notation instead.

The 2 days of no practice were due to unexpected life things getting in the way. Can’t control those!

Autoharp? Yes, I am learning a little autoharp now. The why and where and who will be explained in it’s own post soon.

The 5 hours of music practice on the last day of Week 3, was achieved because I went to Winterfest – a 2-day gathering of workshops and performances by some very talented players of various folk instruments. Winterfest is an annual event organized by the Lone Start State Dulcimer Society. All kudos to those people!  I went to both days and I’m very glad I did. (It also saved what would’ve been a very poor week, practice-wise.)

This covers 8th  to 14th February

Day 8: Voice 15 mins, Piano – 45 mins. Saturday night I did spend more than 45 mins on the keyboard as I was trying to figure out how to transpose some music.  As I was practicing arpeggios I  did some vocal exercises at the same time. Efficient!

Day 9: Pennywhistle – 30 mins.
Day 10: Dulcimer – 1 1/2 hours
Day 11: Voice – 15 mins, Pennywhistle – 30 mins
Day 12: Nil. What happened? I was tired and had no motivation.
Day 13: Piano – 45 mins (scales, arpeggios, sight reading), Voice – 10 mins
Day 14: Pennywhistle – 40 mins.

Total:  4 hours 20 mins.
Breakdown: Voice –  25 mins, Dulcimer – 1 1/2 hrs, Piano –  45 mins, Pennywhistle – 1hr 40mins

So what happened?
Barbershop rehearsal that week was cancelled due to weather – that would’ve been about 1 3/4 hrs. I didn’t go to choir practice either – another 60 mins lost – and no singing lesson – another 30 mins lost.
Then I was feeling a bit tired and not particularly motivated the rest of the week. The pennywhistle ended up with the most because it’s easy to pick up and play. The piano (keyboard) got  more time because of new sheet music to sight read. Also, the table where the keyboard is, was kept neat enough to be usable without too much tidying up first effort.

So…. already I can see that having an organized space to practice in is one of the challenges facing me. I spent yesterday tidying/rearranging things, but the “music table” got everything dumped on it while I was working on other areas. Straightening that out will be today’s priority. Getting to choir practice today is also a priority. Can’t help bad weather though!

Well, to recap – I declared that I would challenge myself to practice music for 12 hours a week. This began on Feb 1, and so here its the end of the 1st week already. How did I go?

Day 1: Voice – nil, Dulcimer – 1 hour, Pennywhistle – 15 mins
Day 2: Voice – 1 3/4 hours, Dulcimer – 15 mins, Pennywhistle – 20 mins
Day 3:  Voice 1 3/4 hours, Dulcimer – 35 mins
Day  4: No practice
Day 5: Voice – 30 mins, Dulcimer – 1 hour, Pennywhistle – 30 mins, Piano 30 mins
Day 6: Dulcimer – 45 mins
Day 7: Dulcimer – 30 mins, Pennywhistle – 15 mins

Total hours practiced: 9 hours and 55 mins. Not 12 hours, but not too shabby, eh!

Being a total obsessive nerdy sort, here’s the breakdown:

Total Voice: 4 hours
Total Dulcimer: 4 hours 5 mins
Total Pennywhistle:  1 hour 20 mins
Total Piano: 30 mins


Pushing to use time in little chunks isn’t as easy as it sounds. By nature, I am lazy and easily distracted. It’s that old story of being tired when you get home from work etc. No surprises that the pennywhistle was the easiest to pick up when I wasn’t in the mood – nothing to set up – no accessories like picks etc to find. Sometimes I got up early and practiced before going to work. As long as everything else was done (lunch packed, shower etc) this worked well.  I gave up caring about whether it was too noisy or not!



Well getting lots of sleep makes such a difference!

Dulcimer – 1 hour, Piano – 30 mins, voice – 30 mins, pennywhistle 30 mins.

Well disappointingly I did no practice on day 4. I was very tired all day and ended up going to bed at 8pm. What’s causing the fatigue? I suspect its the 30 day food restriction thing. My body is learning to switch from using starches/sugars for the easy energy hit to using fats instead. I’ve read about this – wish I’d read about though before I started! Gee I hope I get more energy soon.

Voice: 1 3/4 hours. Barbershop  last night which is usually 2 hours ended a little early. I’m being honest here…
Dulcimer: 35 mins. I’m pleased that I squeezed in some dulcimer practice after dinner and before heading off for barbershop.

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