Yale Musicians Figured Out How to Make Practicing Suck Less

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By Ken Liebeskind

Music students aren’t usually instructed to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, but that’s not the case at Yale University. A recent course at the university called “Innovation and Collaboration” inspired five Yale School of Music students to launch Practice Portal, a digital platform that allows users to share techniques and tricks for the bane of every musician’s existence: practicing.

“We had an idea about creating a resource to reach out to musicians about practice frustration and thought it would be great to have access to a database that would connect people who work on the same music as we do,” said Igor Lichtmann, one of the students who helped create and develop the portal. “We met with web developers and graphic designers and conceptualized it on paper and got the grant from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), so now we’re building the first prototype.”

Lichtmann grew up in Germany and attended music schools in both Austria and the Netherlands. It wasn’t until he arrived at Yale, though, that he realized that he had potential as an entrepreneur, too.

“Yale did a great job of providing students with this [frame of mind] and tool set,” said Lichtmann, who is a graduate student studying guitar. “At most music schools you’re taught musical concepts, but at Yale, you learn entrepreneurial skills that help you go out into the world to make things happen.

“As a musician you have to be an artist and player and you’re your own boss so you have to market yourself. Developing entrepreneurial skills was a great opportunity for students who didn’t have a technical or business background.”

Yale School of Music students who developed the Practice Portal (L–R: Igor Lichtmann, Jiwon Sun, Lydia Consilvio, Chris Garwood and Felice Doynov)

“We teach musicians how to be entrepreneurial,” said Astrid Baumgardner, the instructor of the aforementioned course. “This group [of students] said musicians have problems with practicing, so they built a community through social media and got people to livestream their practicing methods and share them with other musicians. They received a grant from the YEI for their entrepreneurial effort, which is great, and it’s resonating.”

The grant—all $1,000 of it—allowed the students to pursue the project. This summer, they’ll apply for a YEI fellowship program and a $25,000 grant.

“The students are trying to be innovative in a not-always-innovative space and are trying to improve on an area that’s a pain point for many musicians,” said Kassie Tucker, YEI program director.

Lichtmann and his fellow student collaborators began their process by setting up Facebook pages for each instrument that encouraged viewers to live stream their music and ask questions about it. “There were two groups of respondents: people who streamed and uploaded videos and people who followed the videos and commented,” he explained. “We started a couple of months ago and have 15 to 20 who have streamed and many others who commented. People have posted from all over the U.S. and Europe.”

The Practice Portal website features live stream videos from practicing musicians that develop a dialogue surrounding rehearsal issues, techniques and tips. Christopher Garwood posted a video that recorded him playing “Bach Gavottes 1012” on guitar with a question attached that asked, “What do you guys do to make sure your hands feel good before a performance?” He received a number of replies, including advice to massage and run his hands under warm water before playing in order to eradicate pre-performance stiffness.

Moving forward, the site will provide a forum for music educators to post instructional videos, allowing musicians around the world to learn from true professionals.

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