Archive for the ‘The Lesson Studio’ Category

Creative Processes and Products- Order and Chaos in Dialogue

March 5, 2016

Jim Simmons no guitar

By Jim Simmons

When beginning to write your own music, you will quickly discover the need to record your ideas. Soon after this discovery, another usually follows: namely, the need to make decisions about the ideas that have emerged.

These two problems have many solutions, and that is a good thing, because as you grow in your craft, so too, will your craft change. Even stranger is the fact that your creative process will also undergo its own changes and life cycles. Let me give an example:

Genesis used to write all of her chords down on paper, with the lyrics underneath, but now that her guitar technique has improved beyond simple chord playing, she’s found it difficult to describe what her guitar accompaniment is doing with words, letters, and symbols on paper. After trying to notate riffs and ideas simply by labeling them as they occurred (idea 1, idea 2), she became frustrated at never quite remembering what she had played. So, then Genesis began to video herself playing the ideas.

Now, what could some of the hidden difficulties be in the new approach? Perhaps our song writer still has the necessary and difficult task of sifting and choosing before her, and this may not just apply to different sections of the song—perhaps, she’s discovered there are two versions of a section that seem equally satisfying, and she can’t choose between them.

I have recently been undergoing certain changes in my own creative process, similar to the ones described above. I want to offer a few encouragements to any creators out there who’ve struggled with such challenges.

First of all, your song, project, piece, whatever it is—it doesn’t have to be the end-all-of-all perfect artistic/musical statement that you make. So, don’t feel the need to put all of your ideas into one song/piece/etc. Hopefully, you’ll write more in the future, so leave something else to say for later projects. Secondly, if you have differing versions of a musical section, that may be a good thing, since deliberate variations often lend interest to the listener. Regarding creative process, remember that just because it’s a “process” doesn’t mean it has to be systematic. It’s true that sifting through videos, audio recordings, lead sheets, and other sorts of sketches can be a chore, but such work will always bear fruit. Even if you wind up creating “too much” material, you may eventually use some of the leftovers to get you started on another work.

Lastly, creativity is, in my mind, more a way of life than a means to an end. It’s true that an artist should seek to share their work with others, and that it’s a shame when an artist never gets their ideas out of their head. But, similarly tragic is an artist haunted by perfectionism and the fear of failure. As good as you (and I) want that song, or piece, or project to end up sounding, creating music and art are values in-and-of-themselves. So, on one hand, be passionate about the quality of your finished product. But, on the other hand, be free, messy, methodical, imperfect, and committed to the chaotic, ordering process of creativity.

Here are some videos documenting a piece as it grew. I was sick at the time, and not very concerned with my playing technique, so some of the notes sound pretty bad, and some of the videos end with me more frustrated than satisfied, but I am so glad I can now reference these for the new version of the piece that is now underway.

 

Happy Creating!

Jim Simmons

 

Part 1

https://youtu.be/yV2omIwbb6w

 

Part 2

https://youtu.be/ImQ7S7SCTkM

 

Part 3

https://youtu.be/mAmsnKcG0f4

 

Part 4

https://youtu.be/myDghjcYWUc

 

Part 5

https://youtu.be/a4ACWH5A2IM

 

Part 6

https://youtu.be/0J0FYVyhJqI

 

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Handing Mistakes

February 15, 2015
Michael Sebulsky

Michael Sebulsky

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Michael Sebulsky

Whether it be playing a memorized, classical piece in a concert hall, playing a jazz solo at a local jam, or simply sitting and learning with friends around the campfire mistakes are likely to happen. A mistake is defined as an unintentional musical moment, contrary to musical expectation. Some mistakes seem more critical than others. Whether it is a broken guitar string, a wrong note played on the piano or a vocalist’s voice not reaching the expected high point a mistake does not have to end or ruin a performance. Most good performances contain a mistake, if not more than one. Chances are that if you have seen a live music performance that you have seen many mistakes, whether you noticed or not.

Instead of being afraid of making a mistake, a practicing musician can follow the following tips to learn how to make mistakes and other “unintentional musical events” a part of a good, smooth musical performance.

1. Practice performing

One of the most important aspects of a good performance is to practice the attitude and experience of the performance. This can be done in many ways. Ask your close friends (whom you feel comfortable around) if you can perform your music for them. This is a great way to experience the sensation and nerves of performing for a group of people, albeit people who you know to be your “musical allies.” Allow the performance to go on, no matter what! This is where most of your mistakes will come to light. Allow your friends to give you honest and constructive feedback and feel free to ask them questions about the performance. Remember that your experience of your performance is not always (or ever) the same as the experience your audience has!
Practice performing can happen while learning a piece of music, even before the entire piece is ready. A musician can be well benefitted by working section by section through a piece for performing. When a certain section seems ready (even when the whole piece isn’t) the musician can enter into “practice performing” by not allowing themselves to stop while playing this section. Making notes of what went well, what felt shaky and what went not according to plan at this stage in the learning process can help to better shape the remainder of the piece.

2. Do not memorize the mistake.

So many times we let a mistake stop us in our tracks. (There will be more about not stopping in the next section.) By stopping, we are actually setting ourselves up to repeat the same activity. Muscle memory plays a huge part in this activity. One great way to remove the muscle memory is to take a break, and begin the learning process of the mistake section again. Good, successful practice sessions allow the musician to not only practice the notes and chords of a tune but also the mental strength and focus necessary for executing the performance with excellence. Mental fatigue can cause mistakes. So get up, grab a glass of water or a piece of fruit, talk to someone for a moment and distance yourself from the learning momentarily. When you return you will see what parts of the piece are memorized both mentally and muscularly. Sometimes slowing down and starting from scratch causes a musician to focus more on the music, and not the expectation of an error.

3. Don’t stop and focus.

Stopping is the most commonly repeated mistake. We stop because we are not expecting what has just happened. Stopping during the performance of a bad note negates the correct rhythm and placement of the note. Do not allow a note to be both bad melodically and rhythmically by stopping! Instead, allow yourself the opportunity to play the unexpected, incorrect note and allow it to be apart of the performance. In most cases, one wrong or bad note is not something your audience will remember or even notice. By not stopping, the performer draws less attention to the unexpected error and more attention to the overall performance.

4. Practice fixing the mistake.

The activity of fixing a mistake is not one that any musician should endeavor to work on during a performance. In fact, while practicing performing, the idea of stopping is completely frowned upon. Instead, continue playing and practice the activity of not stopping when a mistake occurs. What you will learn is akin to an entirely new skill, that of thinking on your feet as a musician. This is where mental focus on the piece is crucial. Knowing your piece can allow you to patch a mistake during a performance without stopping and smoothly guide you to the next section of your work.

5. Make the mistake a part of your playing.

The great Chet Atkins once quipped that, “The first time I do it, it is a mistake. The second time it is my own arrangement.” A performer can benefit from the idea of knowing that some errors actually help the performance to sound unique! Essentially, not all mistakes are bad or contrary to a good, solid performance. There is no such thing as the mythical “perfect performance.” Therefore, allow mistakes to be a part of the overall sound of the performance and do not let them distract from the larger picture, which is a musical, smooth performance.

Using these tips should help your practice time, your performances, and your understanding of how to handle mistakes. Taking each one of these tips and applying them to your daily study will show results quickly and benefit your overall performing, making your instrument much more enjoyable to study.

Signs You Might Be Cut Out for a Career as a Musician – or signs your child might be cut out for a career as a musician

November 4, 2013

By Hugh Lobel, piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel , The Lesson Studio

Hugh Lobel, Piano

1.     You enjoy practicing. This first one might seem obvious, but it’s critical to pursuing a career as a musician. Regardless of whether you want to be a folk singer, a rock drummer, or a classical pianist, you’ll need the chops when you hit the stage and there’s only one way to get there. Professionals spend hours a day practicing their instrument, maybe even seven days a week, and if you don’t honestly enjoy the act of sitting in a practice room working out the finer points of your technique and your music, trying to be a world-class musician can feel like a real slog. That doesn’t mean that you will enjoy every moment you spend in a practice room; to the contrary you’ll often find yourself practicing out of necessity more than desire. But if you don’t enjoy it at any point, the constant effort might not be worth it.

2.      You’re a night person. By this I don’t mean the kind of person that sits up until 2 a.m. playing Farmville on the weekend. No, a musician is someone who doesn’t mind WORKING late into the night. Remember that gigs (see also concerts) almost always occur in the evening, and may start as late as midnight or even later! Don’t forget that the concert might be late, but your job doesn’t end when the gig ends.  There are people to meet, there’s equipment and stage material to strike, and after-parties to attend. If you’re a classical musician these after parties are often formal, and might be necessary to help inspire those donors to keep on giving! If you like the idea of making late nights a regular thing, the world of music might just be right for you.

3.      You’re patient. Very VERY patient. Astronomically patient. If you want to be a world-class musician you have to think long-term. No one becomes a success over night, and for that matter, no one masters a difficult piece of music in a day! There will be goals that can be achieved in a day, such as getting a certain scale a little bit faster, but some goals will take a week, a month… possibly even years! Making it to fame could take decades, and often does! But for the true musicians amongst us, these things don’t matter as much. We can keep working away in those practice rooms, taking those gigs, enjoying our successes where we get them and keep pushing forward. There’s always something bigger to achieve, but the day-to-day achievements are important steps. Keep your eyes out for those, and that patience won’t be so hard to find.

4.      You’re a perfectionist.  Remember how I mentioned that you’d be in a practice room a lot, and that patience is important? Here’s where those two things come together. A musician greatly benefits from perfectionist tendencies. You’ll be in that practice room a lot, working out some incredibly difficult techniques and figures, and it helps to really want each moment of a piece to be exquisite. After all, what’s the point of running through the first three beats of that one measure two hundred and thirty six times if you don’t really care whether you hit each of those notes at just the right time with just the right amount of volume and just the right intonation? Perfectionists have to deal with extra stress: we worry that everyone hears every microscopic imperfection that comes out when we play in public and judges us for it. We bite our nails, grind our teeth, and pull our hair out over what other people think of a three minute song (and no this is not healthy,) but we also find nobility in striving for something outstandingly good, and nothing satisfies an audience quite like a performance that blows them away.

There are more signs I could go over… possibly in a future post, but these are all requirements for a career as a musician. If you don’t find that you fit all of these requirements, DON’T SWEAT IT! You can still learn an instrument beautifully, and play to your heart’s content for family and friends. You can carry your skills with you through your entire life and share your love of music with everyone around you. But if you are thinking of making a career out of being a musician, think about these necessities, and talk to your teacher more about what it takes. You just might be cut out for it after all!