Announcing: Dr. Flegg’s Structured Practice Method!

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a post to this website. I’m happy to report that I continue to get close to 2,000 visitors every month in spite of this. But, it’s time to explain why I’ve been so quiet (I have a really good reason!).

Some Background

I’ve been performing professionally on the trumpet for a little over 30 years. This means that for the past 40 years or so, I’ve practiced the trumpet. Nearly every day. For many, many hours. But in spite of (or perhaps because of) my vast experience with practicing, I’ve always believed I could do better… be more efficient, more thorough, more effective.

I’ve read countless articles, papers and books on the subject. I’ve taught hundreds of students over the years, seeing again and again how we all struggle with similar challenges. I’ve studied with many of the world’s finest trumpeters. In short, I’ve studied practicing very deeply.

One thing you’ll see again and again if you read about practicing: Most people recommend you keep a practice journal. What most people don’t talk about, is HOW to keep a practice journal. I’ve tried journalling off and on for years, but paper journals seemed cumbersome. Yes, it’s helpful to write things down, as that process definitely focuses and refines your thinking, but what if you’re working on something specific and want to track your progress, or quickly refer back to the notes from the last few times you practiced that passage? With a traditional journal, you end up flipping all over the place trying to find the two or three sentences you want to see.

About two years ago I started experimenting with different ways of solving that problem. Eventually, I settled on a system where I used a collection of folders and documents in Google Docs. By the Fall of 2013, my system was working quite well for me, though I still knew it could be better.

Toward the end of 2013 I decided the way to take my journalling system to the next level was to develop a computer program to automate it. I began work in January of 2014, and the project has been my main professional focus ever since.

It turns out there are a lot of things to learn and do if you want to produce a high quality web application, especially if all of your professional training is as a trumpeter! I have learned an enormous amount over the past year about programming and about the interwebs. It’s been a fascinating and exciting journey for me, and it’s nowhere close to being finished.

That being said, I’m very happy to announce to the world that my Structured Practice Method is now available to the public.

Dr. Flegg’s Structured Practice Method

I’ve actually been using it in my own practice since May of 2014, and all of my students at Wayne State University and Saginaw Valley State University have been using it since the Fall Semester 2014. It has been incredibly helpful. I have definitely noticed that I am a more effective practicer than I was previously, and the difference in my students has been even more significant.

As of today, I’m opening up the “Public Beta Testing” phase of the application’s development. I’m accepting a limited number of new subscribers in order to really run the system through its paces. I think most of the kinks have been worked out by my students, but in computer programming, I’ve learned that there’s always another bug in there somewhere!

I also hope to get valuable feedback from musicians who are not my students. The dynamic of the student/teacher relationship can make it difficult to offer honest criticism and suggestions, especially when at the end of the semester I’ll be giving out grades.

If you’re a musician who practices, please stop by Dr. Flegg’s SPM and sign up for a free beta tester account! I promise you you’ll be glad you did!

PS: I have big plans for the future of this application. While it currently allows teachers to monitor their students’ practicing from within the app, I’m already working on adding some great additional features to help teachers guide their students in their practicing. Stay tuned to the Structured Practice Method website and this blog for more announcements!

PSS: I also would like to give credit where credit is due. My step-daughter, Katherine Perkins, has been incredibly helpful in developing the public face of the SPM. Among other things, she designed our logos and has been a great help and encouragement in my work. And, she uses the app herself to track her workouts! Perhaps more about that at a later date.

Finally, I’d like to publicly thank my wife, Betsy, for putting up with me over the past year. I’ve put a LOT of time in on the computer when I could have been taking the trash out, or doing laundry, or… Thanks, Honey, you’re the best!

-Mark Flegg

New Host, New Look!

If you’ve visited my website in the past, then you can see for yourself that some things have changed around here! I’ve switched to a new hosting provider (the company that provides the physical computer and internet connection that house my website) and done some re-design of the website itself at the same time. There are two main reasons for the changes:

  1. My previous hosting company, iPage, wasn’t working out as well as I had hoped. I switched from ICDSoft to iPage about two years ago in order to consolidate all my domains and websites into one hosting account. This resulted in a monthly savings of about $10, which for sites with as little traffic as I get is a very large amount! Unfortunately, the sites loaded way too slowly on iPage. I don’t know why… maybe they put too many websites on each server, or use slow hardware, whatever… it doesn’t matter. The bottom line was that my website was taking as long as 9 seconds to load up. Not good!! I’m really hoping that switching to the new hosting company will fix that. So far, it looks pretty good! The new hosting company is A2Hosting.com, which is local to my area, and a relatively small company. I’m a big fan of buying local when I can, so that was a big factor in my decision.
  2. The last time I made any real design changes to my website was way back in early 2007, when I switched from PHPWebsite to WordPress for the underlying CMS software. At the time, in order to make the site look the way I wanted, I had to go through and manually edit dozens of code files. That’s all well and good until you want to change it again… then you have to find all the original changes you made so that you can be consistent and place all the new changes in the right places. What a pain! WordPress has come a long way in the past 5 years… now the vast majority of design changes can be achieved with simple drag-and-drop maneuvers! I re-designed the site from the ground up this time in about an hour. I have no idea how long it took the last time, but it was many times that, for sure!

Another item that is significantly different from previous incarnations of my website is in the Upcoming Performances area. In the past, I’ve had to manually create an entry every time I wanted to post information about an upcoming performance. There have been some long stretches of time where I was just too busy to get this done (for example, the first six months of this year, while I was in the final phase of finishing my Doctorate – more on that in another post!).

Now, I have a new system in place that will automatically pull information about upcoming performances from my personal calendar. This means that when I enter a performance on my computer, or even on my phone, if I want it to be on the website all I have to do is change one little pull-down menu! I’m hoping that this will result in a more up-to-date performance calendar here on markflegg.com! Ideally, it might even mean that on those occasions when I have time to work on the site, instead of updating performances I’ll be able to create actual content!

I hope you enjoy the changes to the site! Please feel free to post a comment with your impressions.

 

FSO – Mahler V

Enrique DiemeckeFor our first concert of 2009, the Flint Symphony Orchestra will be performing Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. As a trumpeter, performing any Mahler symphony is always a treat, and I’ve been fortunate to perform nearly all of his symphonic works during my time with the FSO.The fifth holds a special place as one of the most important orchestral trumpet parts in the repertoire. I’ve wanted to perform it since the very early days of my musical career, so I’m very excited about this performance. More information is available here.