Archive for the ‘Ukelele’ Category

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.

The Importance of “Jamming”

March 12, 2013

By Casey Cormier, Guitar instructor at The Lesson Studio

Musicians of all ages can benefit greatly from collaborating with other musicians, no matter what age or level of playing experience.  Private lessons in a one-on-one setting are paramount to developing technique and learning the fundamentals of music theory, but outside of that half or full hour block of time what can be done to improve?  A daily practice routine, as well as a weekly “jam” session with other musicians, is a great way to further any player’s abilities in an efficient manner.  For a violinist, this could mean playing with a quartet of other string players (cello, viola, other violinist).  For a drummer, this could mean joining or forming a rock band.  Vocalists can get in on the fun too, finding a pianist to accompany them or another vocalist to offer harmonies.

One major obstacle in getting the budding musician involved with collaborative music making:  self confidence!  In part this is the instructor’s job, to reassure the student that, at any level, they can participate in a jam session, even if it’s just playing one note per measure.  But some responsibility must be put upon the student to make that initial step.  Programs such as the Rock Band and Bluegrass ensembles, put on by The Lesson Studio, can help make this step an easier one, with the support of an experienced music instructor guiding the budding players towards musical cohesion.  Even if it’s just one other musician to play with for an hour a week, in between private lessons and solo practice time, the benefits are immeasurable.

Casey Cormier, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier

Scales & Why You Should Practice Them

August 17, 2012

By Casey Cormier, Guitar & Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier

“Eat your vegetables before dessert,” says Mom.  “Stretch before taking the field,” says Coach.  “Practice your scales before playing that song,” says music instructor.  What do all of these things have in common?  Many consider them boring, or unnecessary, but all are good for you!

I’ve been asked many times before, by all ages of guitar students, “do I have to play this scale?”  I always say, “You don’t have to, but your hands will thank you for it in the long run”.  Scales help stretch your fingers, improve your picking and fretting technique, and prepare your wrist for those challenging chord switches.

Of course, the ability of the student should inform what scales he/she practices.  For beginners, the C major scale is great practice for the open position natural notes, ear training (do, re, mi can be sung along to it), and outlining the C major chord.  For intermediate players, the pentatonic scales (5 notes per octave) are great for strengthening the wrist, and provide barre chord approximation as well as lead guitar preparation.  For advanced players, playing the modes – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, and so on – is equal parts ear training, technique building, and hand strengthening.  Not sure what some of the terms above are?  Don’t worry, you’ll learn as you progress on your instrument of choice.

Scale practice of all types can become stale, so it’s important to mix it up with some exercises.  A metronome is always useful for pushing one’s abilities.  For guitarists, try string skipping, playing in 3rds (do, mi, re, fa, mi, sol), and alternate picking to keep it fresh.  No matter what, you’ll have that song to look forward to after a quick warm-up session, and be surprised by how much easier playing will become!

Building a Woodshed

July 10, 2011

 by Josh Kossman, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman

Don’t worry, this is not a blog about carpentry! Wood shedding is musical slang for getting some serious/productive practicing done, and THAT is what this blog is all about. Proper wood shedding can be broken down into three steps: creating a blueprint of what you want to accomplish, locking yourself inside, and shedding your old habits/licks for newer and more improved ones.

The first step to productive practicing is to create a blueprint for yourself; that is set little (and big) goals to accomplish each time you sit down to practice. While it’s definitely beneficial (and fun) to sit down and strum a few tunes, it’s not always the most productive. In order to grow and improve while we play we must narrow down what we play. Instead of aiming to play an entire song, we should only play the sections that we’re struggling with. Say there’s a difficult chord change in a given song; instead of playing the whole song and playing through that change, we should solely focus on that part. Set a little goal (draw a blueprint) for yourself and work at it, and you’ll find yourself able to play that part a lot quicker!

The next step in wood shedding is simple: lock yourself inside! Productive practicing should be devoid of all outside distractions (yes, you’re cell phone is an outside distraction). Once inside the shed you should only be focusing on what it was you went in to work on. You’ll see and hear your mistakes a lot clearer and you’ll find yourself growing and improving a lot faster, trust me.

The last step in productive wood shedding is to accept that the way you’ve always played a certain lick or chord might not be the best way to play it. In order to improve as musicians we have to look how we’re playing and how we can streamline/maximize. Personally, I’m constantly changing my technique and expanding my options for playing certain styles, which means I’m constantly in the wood shed shedding my previous techniques and outlook on musical in general. The best part is, the more we change the easier it gets to change again!

So now when you hear a musician talk about Wood Shedding you’ll know they’re not talking about a strange skin issue or their weekend backyard projects. They’re talking about something we all should do, and we all should do more, practicing! After all the only way to improve and be able to play on whatever stage we wish is to…Practice, Practice, Practice. Happy shedding!

Caring for your Instrument as the Weather Changes

January 30, 2011

By Josh Kossman, Guitar/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman, Guitar/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably noticed vast and sudden changes in our beautiful Boulder weather lately. What most of us probably haven’t noticed, however, is the effect the changing climate has had on our instruments, specifically our acoustic stringed instruments. Even slight changes in temperature can cause our strings to go out of tune but 30 degree swings, like the ones we’ve had the last few weeks, can do considerable damage to our instruments. Luckily, there are steps we can take to prevent such damage from occurring.

The first and most important step to your instrument protection is keeping it stored in a climate controlled area, NOT in your garage or car. Again, even slight temperature variations can cause your strings to go out of tune, but varying temperature extremes (for example, leaving your guitar in the cold car all day and then suddenly bringing it into an 80 degree house) can actually cause the wood to warp and possibly even crack. Instead, store your instrument at home, where the temperature won’t be changing so drastically. And if you have to bring it along with you to work, don’t leave it in your car. Instead, bring it into the office to store for the day. That way, when you bring it into The Lesson Studio’s heated facility it won’t crack or warp.

The second step in instrument protection is maintaining good humidity. This is especially important in Boulder’s dry air. All instruments, but especially acoustic stringed instruments (mandolins, guitars, ukuleles, violins, violas, cellos, etc…) need a healthy amount of humidity where there stored so that their wood doesn’t dry up and crack or split at the seams. Some of us have humidity controls in our heating devices at home, but for the rest of us we need a different solution. The best thing for the instrument would be to buy what is called a Damp-It®. A Damp-It® is a holed rubber tube with sponges inside that you would insert into the sound hole of your instrument. It is outfitted with a nifty clip so that it won’t fall all the way in. When wetted the Damp-It® will moisturize and greatly extend the life of your instrument. If you cannot get a hold of a Damp-It®, you can poke holes in a 35mm film canister, fill it with a wetted sponge and keep it in your case. This works, but is not as effective as a proper product manufactured to moisturize your instrument.

The third thing we can do, and by far the simplest, is to just keep an eye on our instruments. Every day you should check the wood on your instrument. Look for warps, bends, cracks, or splits. Hold your instrument so you can look straight down the neck and check if the angle is true. Play a bit and listen for buzzes or anything that sounds odd. If you do find something that troubles you, bring it into The Lesson Studio for your teacher to look at, and hopefully it will be something simple we can fix.

I hope this blog has shed light on some basic instrument maintenance techniques. As musicians, it’s extremely important we keep our tools-of-the-trade in good functionality and tone. It makes it easier to play and easier to listen to. So, enjoy the changing weather, but be wary as well. Keep a steady eye and an ear on your instruments and treat them with the love and care you would yourself.

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!

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 http://www.thelessonstudio.com for more information.The Lesson Studio logo

Importance of Routines, by Mikee T

November 5, 2009

Today, I am going to talk about the importance of routines.

According to the Oxford American Dictionary:
routine |roōˈtēn|
noun
a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program : I settled down into a routine of work and sleep | as a matter of routine a report will be sent to the director.
• a set sequence in a performance such as a dance or comedy act : he was trying to persuade her to have a tap routine in the play.
• Computing a sequence of instructions for performing a task that forms a program or a distinct part of one.
adjective
performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason : the principal insisted that this was just a routine annual drill.
• monotonous or tedious : we are set in our dull routine existence.
verb [ trans. ] rare
organize according to a routine : all had been routined with smoothness.

Everything in life works better with a routine. When you take your car in for routine maintenance, it runs better. When a toddler has a routine for bathing, eating, playing, etc, things go smoothly. If a soccer tam has a practice routine: run 3 miles, practice kicking, then run scrimmages. Practicing on your instrument should be treated the same way.

Set aside a time everyday, or at least five days a week, to practice. 30 minutes, 10 minutes, 4 hours. Whatever the amount of time is, just make sure you actually do it! Mornings work best. You have the best chance of completing your practice routine in the morning before you go to school, answer the phone, or turn on your computer. Once you “give in” to the day, your chances of practicing dwindle by the second unless you have a really strong will, or are required to practice. However, being required to practice associates a negative connotation to your instrument. It’s all about fun.

To contact Mikee T about a music lesson in guitar, bass, mandolin or ukelele, please call 303-543-3777 or e-mail tls@qwestoffice.net.

Mikee T guitar instructor The Lesson Studio

Mikee T