Posts Tagged ‘banjo lessons’

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 Cluck

October 2, 2011

by Wilson Harwood, Banjo, Uke, Guitar and Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Wilson Harwood, Banjo, Uke, Guitar, Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Wilson Harwood

It has been a great pleasure and somewhat frustrating task to learn the cluck.  Until a month ago I didn’t even know what the cluck is.  For those of you who are also wondering what the cluck is I will give you my own definition.  The cluck is a technique used by claw-hammer/old time banjo players.  It is used as a percussive accent where the players uses the nail of the middle finger to strike a string and then immediately stop the string with the index finger nail resulting in a resonant “cluck.”  Those last two sentences are much easier written than performed. The cluck is not easy and I have had trouble creating the perfect resonance each time. With some steady practice you to can cluck!

If you are starting out learning the cluck, bring your middle and index finger together so they are touching. Next put your index finger slightly behind your middle finger so that it is touching the underside  of you middle finger.  Now strike the middle G string with the outside of your middle finger nail and let your index finger follow through and stop the sound of the string. If done correctly you will get a loud resounding “cluck.”  Practice this method slowly and deliberately at first and then work in the frailing pattern.  The cluck replaces the strum or “dit” when you frail.

Below are some helpful resources to learn more about the cluck:

And some more descriptions on clucking:

Practicing on a Regular Basis

March 18, 2010

By Hollie Bennett, Intern at The Lesson Studio

As busy as I’m sure most of you are (I know I sure am) fitting in consistent practice times can be such a pain. I definitely can sympathize with other practice procrastinators. All throughout high school I’d come home from a two hour swim practice or a six hour shift at work and think “Do I really want to practice now?” And even now, I’ll come home from a night of working at The Lesson Studio and think to myself, “Do I want to walk to the practice rooms or crawl into bed and watch an episode of American Dad?” Especially when it’s snowing, the motivation to walk outside in the cold dwindles even more than usual.

Though this may be true, you have to rise above and really when you practice procrastinate, you end up practicing in bigger chunks than normal. Maybe even needing more time to practice than if you had just practiced all week instead. If you plan out a consistent practice routine, that may mean only twenty minutes a day, depending on how much you’re working on. Sometimes you have to approach practicing like going to the gym. You’re not going to get anywhere working out to your complete max three days in a row. You’d accomplish more going every other day, allowing time for your muscles to rebuild and relax. Practicing is the same way. If you practice two hour for three days in a row and then don’t practice for four days, once you return to what you’re working on, it may be familiar in the way you and your second cousin who lives in a different state and you only see every other year at the good ol’ family reunion are familiar (that might be a slight exaggeration) but definitely not familiar the way you and your best friend are familiar.

Finding time during the day can be easier than you think, but sticking to it can be harder than you think. The most effective way, in my opinion, is scheduling it into your planner. Literally writing down exactly when you’re going to practice makes it harder to get out of doing it. Now with little kids, they don’t exactly have that trusty iPhone that they keep all their play dates and snack times scheduled, but consistency can help them get used to practicing routinely. Practicing right after a food event like lunch or an afternoon snack can be a great time. Practicing right after eating can help them to focus longer. Also sitting down and making it a team effort can help a lot. It helps them stay focused and thinking about what they’re doing and it can also make it more fun.

So now, get out that pen and find some practice times that you can really STICK to whether it’ll be twenty minutes twice a day or an hour every afternoon. If you do it could maximize your lesson time and help your musical growth develop at an even greater rate than before!

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!

How to Excel Locally, by Wilson Harwood, Guitar and Banjo Instructor

November 18, 2009

In my experience there is nothing to help you improve your playing more than to go out and play with other musicians. To me, this is the greatest part of playing and one of the strongest ways to improve song repertoire, inspiration, rhythm and countless other nuances in your playing. We cannot forget to mention it is a whole lot of fun as well. So, for those of you in the Boulder area, here are some places to start getting out and playing. I am speaking from the perspective of a bluegrass and old time enthusiast, but this advice could help any musician.

To start, let’s talk bluegrass. It just so happens there is a Colorado Bluegrass Music Society. Their website has a great page devoted to “Jams”. On Tuesday there is a jam in Lyons at Oskar Blues. I haven’t made it up to this one, but I hear it is a big one with lots of incredible players. On Wednesday, check out “The Big Pick Bluegrass Jam” at the Pioneer Inn up in Nederland. In our very own Boulder, Abo’s Pizza hosts a Thursday night jam at 7pm. Always call ahead to check times. Those were just some local examples, but there are many more in Fort Collins, Denver, Loveland and more!

So now you have picked a bit, how about seeing some pros. If you check out KGNU‘s website, you will find a list of upcoming bluegrass shows around town, both in large venues and tiny hole-in-the-wall bars. Seeing shows is also an integral ingredient in your education (I know — life is hard; right?). Check out the Southern Sun Pub to see show times and jam times, not to mention great beer.

When I said excel locally, I really meant locally. The best way to play more than once and with those at your level is to ask friends, co-workers, and neighbors if they want to jam. Try it out and if you find it to be to easy or hard or just bad chemistry, keep looking. If it works, try to play once a week. Having a goal with a group is a great way to get motivated. Hope this first blog helps a lot.

Next time I am going to write a bit about Santeria and the music of Cuba.

Have questions for Wilson, or would you like to schedule a lesson with Wilson at The Lesson Studio? Call 303-543-3777 or e-mail: thelessonstudio@comcast.netbanjo instructor, guitar instructor, The Lesson Studio

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