Archive for the ‘Classes & Workshops’ Category

Performance “Do”s and “Don’t”s

April 30, 2010
Alaina Ferris, Voice & Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Alaina Ferris

There were many times in my performance career when I was thrown onto a stage without ever being told what to do. However, there are a lot of things to consider before and after you perform. Stage fright is a natural part of performing, but it can be assuaged with proper preparation. Take the time to read through this performance checklist. Hopefully it helps you with your next performance!

  1. Arrive ahead of schedule!
  2. Make sure you have all of your materials.
  3. Be sensitive to dress codes.

Approaching the Stage

  1. Make sure you have all of your materials in your hand, before you go on stage.
  2. Bow and acknowledge the audience.
  3. If you have not been announced, say your name and the piece you will be playing.
  4. Take your time! Tune your instrument, arrange your music, take a few deep breaths. Do not begin playing until you are ready.

During the Performance

  1. Attitude not only shapes how you play, but affects the engagement of the audience. Be positive. Be willing to talk to the audience. Different kinds of songs require different approaches and attitudes. Determine your attitude before you perform the song. Is the song light and playful? Is it quiet and contemplative? How can you reflect the song’s mood in your physical performance?
  2. Never be ashamed. Mistakes are part of any performance. Do not point them out to the audience. Accept them and let them become part of your playing.
  3. Inclusive Awareness: Be aware of the audience without letting it affect your concentration. Nervousness is natural. The best way to combat it is to be aware of it without letting it stop you.
  4. Be patient with your performance. Space and silence are equally as important as every note you play. Do not rush through the piece.

Performing with a Band

  1. Always acknowledge your musicians! If the song features a solo, announce the solo before or immediately after the piece.
  2. During the solo, look at the soloist!
  3. Name all the musicians in the band again before or immediately after the last piece of the show.
  4. If you are playing with an accompanist, announce them at the beginning of the performance.

After Your Performance

  1. Bow, collect your materials, and walk off stage.
  2. Learn from your experience, let it inform the choices you will make in the future, but accept your mistakes and do not dwell on them.

The Little Things

April 22, 2010

By Mike Gersten, Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Gersten, Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Gersten

You may be familiar with the expression “it’s the little things that count”.  In track winners can be decided by a tenth of a second; in baseball an inch can decide whether a pitch is a ball or a strike; and being just a little out of tune can turn an amazing performance into a catastrophe.  When it comes to practicing and taking care of a woodwind instrument it is the little things that make all the difference.  This Sunday I’ll be doing a woodwinds workshop at the lesson studio and I’ll be talking about little things we all can do as woodwind players to help make us better players.  Here is a little preview:

We all know that we need to practice in order to get better, but no one has a lot of time.  By using certain practice techniques you can maximize the efficiency of your practice sessions.  Now, I won’t tell you that you’ll be able to learn a very difficult piece in five minutes.  This isn’t a late-night infomercial.  However, I will say that these techniques will help you learn to play the music well in the quickest way possible.

What good is knowing how to play your instrument if you’re instrument doesn’t work?  You’re instrument should run like a well-oiled machine.  After all, your instrument is a machine with you as the motor.  We will discuss how to take care of your reeds, keys, and pads so your instrument will sound its best and you can avoid hefty repair costs.

In addition to these topics we will talk about listening to music and anything you else you want!  Feel free to bring your instrument and any music you are currently working on or have questions about.  Please call The Lesson Studio to reserve your spot as space is limited.  Oh yeah, did I mention that it’s FREE!  See you there!

AAA Brass

March 9, 2010

By Miles Horn, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Miles Horn, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Miles Horn

I grab my Miles Davis, “Live Around the World” CD and slide it into my car’s player. As the disc is fed into the machine and I hear the familiar whir of plastic parts, I ponder about the technology behind the music coming out of my speakers. Not the technology in the speakers nor in the CD player, but technology on a more basic and much more fundamental level: how does Mr. Davis’s trumpet produce those amazing tones? How did the trumpet evolve time? And what, if any, is the importance of those little valves?

As to the history of valves and the brass family, it’s best to start at the beginning of it all. No one is positive what the first lip reed instruments were, but certain historians believe they were conch shells, hollowed tubes from specific plants (like bamboo or eucalyptus), or hollowed animal horns and bones. An early example was the Shofar, a goat’s horn used to call members of the Jewish faith to prayer. It wasn’t until humans were able to forge more malleable metals into thinner forms that the modern lip reed family truly blossomed. Bronze was used early on to contsruct horns but was too bulky and did not resonate richly, but the introduction of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, marked a large step forward for the development of horn instruments.

Brass made shaping horns much easier. Compared to bronze, the alloy has a lower melting point, is more malleable, and produces a brighter clearer tone. The material helps create resonance and makes tuning easier because each metal has a different resonating frequencies.

Equally important is the shape and length of the horn, for they contribute to the production of the harmonic series of any brass instrument. The discovery of the harmonic series is credited to a priest named Marin Mersenne. He discovered that within each note were multiple overtones that do not sound as loudly. These overtones make up the harmonic series which, before the invention of the valve, were the only notes that could be played on a horn, meaning that there was one fundamental note and then the next note at exactly double the frequency and so on until the player reached the instrument’s physical limits. This is why bugle calls, like the familiar ‘Taps’ melody or the theme for the Kentucky Derby, are so sparse in notation; bugle players could play chromatically but only after reaching the 18th partial in the harmonic series. On a pipe tuned to concert A above middle C, which has the frequency 440 Hz, the next partial is at 880 Hz, and to play chromatically, the player must start playing at 7920 Hz. This is hard to achieve for any musician, and in the early days of brass music, the men who played herald trumpets and signal horns in the royal courts sported the best teeth of anyone around.

On December 6, 1814, an inventor named Heinrich Stölzel wrote a letter to King Frederick William III of Prussia asking if the King would use Stölzel’s new invention, the valved horn, in his royal and military bands. Unfortunately for Stölzel, few the big composers, sponsors, and even players tolerated the use of early valved instruments, and Stölzel was repeatedly rejected during his correspondence with the royal court.

Meanwhile, also in Prussia, Friedrich Blühmel was also trying, unsuccessfully, to patent his new invention, a different variation on the valved horn. Since these two men could not patent their new designs alone, they decided to work together, and on April 12, 1818, the two men received their joint patent. Two minutes later, Stölzel turned to Blühmel and purchased his half of the patent for 200 Thalers, or dollars, and sent another payment two months later..

With the invention of the valve, the playable range of an instrument was extended beyond the harmonic series of that instrument. The valves added length to the horn and created a new harmonic series in the instrument, opening the door to chromatic playing within a more comfortable range. Chromatic playing meant to the music industry of the early 19th century a new step in melodic lines. Suddenly, a player could play any note within multiple harmonic series by simply depressing a button or lever. Anybody, even those with poor dental hygiene, were capable of playing music.

The valved horn is a relatively simple mechanism. Air is pushed into the horn through the mouthpiece, creating sound by the vibration of the buzzing lips of the player. With the horn at its natural position, with no valves depressed, it is at a set length and will respond to a certain manipulation within its own harmonic series at that length. The valve redirects the air into passageways that lengthen the horn enough to create a dramatic difference. Think of a slide whistle and the effect of pulling the slide out: lengthening the instrument lowers the tone . Now imagine if you could instantly have the slide at the bottom of the whistle by pressing a button or lever. Presto! You have the basic concept of valves on a brass instrument.

It might not seem that moving the air from the primary pipe into the valve pipes matters, but there are ways to tailor valves to certain styles of playing. Stölzel’s design was a fairly simple one and is still used today on instruments like the modern trumpet, baritone, euphonium, and some tubas. The design, called a piston valve, consists of a single cylinder that holds the entire construction of the valve.

All types of valves have their pros and cons, most of these cons have to do with how cleanly the air is redirected and what happens to it when it does. when the valve is depressed on the modern trumpet, the air is sent through several 90 degree turns which contribute to sound degradation and creates more pressure within the instrument, making it harder to blow through and produce tone. The sound degrades because of the shape of the tubing and the bend within that tubing. When a player buzzes into the mouthpiece, they create a pressure difference that moves laterally, and as a result, the sound waves continue to move in their initial path and do not respond well to turns or changes in direction. This happens in the valve that Stölzel invented. Stölzel’s design is much better for playing fast licks because the valve moves much more smoothly, but it requires a few more pumps between notes and playing legato was more difficult for the musician. The valves Blühmel invented is more capable of playing long slow legato lines but is not as quick as the piston valve. Blühmel’s valve design, instead of sending the air through 90 degree redirections, maintained the lateral direction on which the air flows. The tubing lined up in a straight line, and the instrument was lengthened without losing any quality of sound. Instead of turning into the lengthened pipe, the valve just continues straight ahead, causing no reflection or refraction of sound waves.

There are many options for valve construction that have been invented since, one of which is the rotary valve. It is very similar to the piston valve but lays on its side. The rotary valve has many of the draw backs of the piston valve but is better for playing legato lines.

Though brass has been evolving for millenia, we have not seen the last of brass design. People are still tweaking the instruments to make them more well rounded for playing in all styles. One of the new horn designs that was once being worked on by Mark Veneklausen, who tried to remove all 90 degree turns from his model of the French Horn. Unfortunately, he lost funding for his project and the Vhorn, as it was called, was lost. However, the demise of the Vhorn shows that the evolution of Brass design has not stopped.

Can You See What You’re Playing? And I’m not talking about the notes on the page.

March 9, 2010

By Hollie Bennett, Intern at The Lesson Studio

You know you’re a true music nerd when you start finding all the similarities between everything you do or see and how it could relate to music. And you know you’re especially bad when you just see something and bam! Now that you watched that special on the Discovery channel about outer space, you know how you can explain vibrato to the twelve year old. But really, finding those parallels between, let’s just call it this for fun, the “real world” and the “music world” can help you understand exactly what you’re doing even more than before.

Imagery is such a staple part in music, at least for me. Hearing a piece of music that really attaches itself to me makes me feel in colors, imagine stories and truly understand the emotion that the composer or performer was trying to convey. Part of me thinks that as a musician that is your true purpose in life is to tell the story, show the audience what is happening, even if you don’t know, you need to show that you do. Sometimes doing crazy things like pulling out your box of 64 Crayola crayons that you haven’t used since the fourth grade and literally coloring your music the color that you thinks conveys each part of your piece can do wonders. Even making up words to go along with what you’re playing or seeing a story that can play out in your head can get the emotional and expressive side to connect with the technical of your playing.

One of my favorite topics to bring up to students is the Olympics. I’ve probably been driving my students crazy trying to convince them to watch everything from figure skating to the super-g to curling. The parallels between musicians and athletes are really interesting to me. How much work each party puts into perfecting their own craft is mind blowing: hours in practice versus hours on the ice or snow. You can find so many similarities. Figure skating spins and trills is one of my own teacher’s favorite analogies. You can also think of the idea of balancing between technique and musicality as the way a speed skater like Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski balance around their turns with speed skating. So go out and try to find those parallels and start imagining them will you play. It might just help even more than you’d think!

Singing from the 11th Century—Sunday Night’s Singing Practice Class

January 28, 2010
Alaina Ferris - Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Alaina Ferris

By Alaina Ferris – Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

The Sunday night Singing Practice Class that I am hosting a The Lesson Studio was inspired by a method of voice instruction from the 11th century. Guido d’Arezzo, an 11th century Benedictine monk, created the solfège method so that singers could learn to sing melodies that they had never heard before by using a system of syllabic notation: Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do, etc. Each syllable is committed to a specific note frequency (this is known as the fixed Do system). Through practice, sound patterns and muscle memory enable the singer to sing the pitch without having to hear it played first from another instrument. In this way, singers could reclaim their voice as an independent instrument. He wrote:

“In dealing with an unknown melody […] we ought not to look for the sound from some person or instrument, like blind men who can go nowhere without a guide. Rather, we ought to fix fast in our memories the characteristics of every note”

Guido de Arezzo,
Letter on Singing Unheard songs, 1030 a.d.
Trans. by Lawrence Rosenwald

I take this quote very much to heart in that I believe every person, not just “singers” or “musicians” should have the opportunity to learn the characteristics of notes and sounds that come from their bodies. Singing is not simply an act of assimilating music through other sources, it is an act that comes from within human body.

Our singing practice class uses Guido’s solfège syllables to “fix fast in our memories” the sounds and characteristics of specific notes. The class also uses this opportunity to understand how these sounds and musical pitches feel. By incorporating simple breathing and movement exercises, we further establish the connection between internal processes we are using to create a sound that is both internal and external.

Too often, I hear stories of people who have spent their lives under the assumption that they can’t sing, or worse, shouldn’t sing. The class is the perfect opportunity for anyone to reengage with an ability that is already nestled in the human body. It is also a great opportunity for experienced singers and instrumentalists to work on their ear training.

For more information about Sunday night’s Singing Practice Class, or about Boulder voice lessons, please call 303-543-3777 or contact us via e-mail.

Winter/Spring Semester Registration Begins

November 12, 2009

On Monday, November 16, 2009, The Lesson Studio (TLS) will begin its Winter/Spring Semester registration!

The dates for our Winter/Spring Semester 2010 are: January 9 – May 21, 2010

TLS has instructors for guitar, piano, voice, drums, bass, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, tuba, euphonium, ukelele, oboe, cello, flute, mandolin and banjo! We also offer music therapy, a free workshop series, and summer music camp. We have an in-store drop-off/pickup for instrument repair. Included with your semester tuition are weekly instruction with the teacher of your choice; supplies including weekly goal sheets, staff paper, CDs, and music charts; assistance from three administrative staff people; free Wi-Fi in the reception area; 10% off coupon for a local music store; and best of all, an end-of-semester recital! Our Fall recital is held at the Old Main Chapel at CU and our Spring recital is held ON STAGE at the Boulder Creek Festival!

If you are a current student, be sure to let our staff know if you prefer the same day/time or a new time slot for your music lesson. If you are new to The Lesson Studio, please call 303-543-3777 for your FREE CONSULTATION today!

As always, please visit for more information.The Lesson Studio logo

Singing Practice Class Begins!

October 30, 2009

When: Sundays, 6:30 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.

Where: Studio F @ The Lesson Studio
3200 Valmont Road #8

Cost: $35 for 4 consecutive sessions in November/DecemberAlaina Ferris, voice instructor, The Lesson Studio.
Class begins again in January 2010.

Age:  Ages 14 and up.

Are you a singer looking to improve your pitch quality? Are you an instrumentalist hoping to further your aural skills? This class is a concentrated 45 minute vocal workout that focuses on pitch quality, breathing techniques, and vocal independence. We will employ a combination of Eastern and Western singing styles to further our understanding of pitch and rhythm. Come practice in this relaxed group setting. This class is appropriate and beneficial for all levels.

For more information or to contact Alaina, call 303-543-3777 or e-mail us.