Posts Tagged ‘boulder music lessons’

The Lasting Benefits of Percussion Study

May 4, 2017

by Chris Eagles

Drum and Percussion Instructor at The Lesson Studio

As a music educator, it is unreasonable for me to expect each of my students to pursue music as a career. However, through regular drum lessons and a good practice routine, I fully expect to equip each student with a skill set desirable in every industry. Music serves as a practical means to learn these skills in a fun, and challenging environment.

Each of my students will learn music fundamentals, rudiments and practical knowledge when it comes to percussion, this goes without saying. However, problem solving is inherent to each of these topics. It is the single most valuable aspect of percussion study, and maybe of music studies in general. Students who learn to flex their problem solving muscle will inherently  have a great deal of perseverance. In an age where “googling” can solve most any problem, it is easy for students to get discouraged when faced with a difficult issue. In music study, there is no easy solution. It seems strange to say, but the study of music is a great way of realizing just how much of an effect hard work, and persistence, with this comes a boost in confidence.

 

Playing percussion is a physical endeavor, possibly the most physically demanding of any instrument (of course this could be debated). Percussion forces students to be mindful of their physicality, many lessons will start with light stretching, or simply by checking in to see if the student (or the teacher) is holding any unwanted tension. This often forces the student to be aware how they are using their bodies in their daily routine, not just while playing percussion. Bad physical habits that arise while playing, can often be traced to something that is non music related giving further insight into a better, more effective use of our bodies.

Compiling a full list of extra musical benefits to taking private lessons (with any instructor on any instrument) is a task far too great for a short blog post, these were only a couple. I encourage you all to ponder them and consider enrolling your child, or yourselves in lessons to reap the lifetime of benefits. You won’t regret it.

 

A Lesson in Chords and Voice Leading

April 5, 2017

By Jim Simmons

guitar instructor at the lesson studio

Many famous artists have used and much good music can be made from strumming simple chords against melodic lines, vocal or otherwise. Nevertheless, during guitar lessons at the studio, I am often asked by those who have moved beyond a cursory acquaintance with simple chords and strum patterns how to choose more interesting chords, or how to differentiate their part from other instruments, especially another guitar prone to strum the same chords.

Possibilities here are myriad, and some comment should be made on how to navigate these choices, but before that, I want to introduce two concepts which may prove helpful in any and all scenarios from here on:

(1) Chord Scales, & (2) Voice Leading.

While both of these are topics unto themselves, much can be gleaned from their use in the present inquiry. Now, for a brief survey of options for the inquiring guitarist, and how those options will inform and interact with these two concepts above:

 

(1) Using a Capo/choosing a different register/chord shape (CAGED, etc.); (2) Adding or reducing tones;

(3) Doubling tones; (4) Using inversions;

(5) Differentiating strum patterns; (6) Playing a separate part, ostinato; (7) Playing a separate part, melodic; Etc.

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Now for the “how-to” part: I. Chord Scales

Regarding chord scales, begin with root position triadic chords (root-3rd-5th), barring

chords if necessary to locate each root in the overriding scale of the song (or portion of song). In a normal major key, this won’t be that hard, since the bass notes up the neck will complete a major scale (“do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do”). If the portion is in minor, or something more exotic (like a mode), you will need to revisit how to walk up the neck to

complete the scale, and in the case of minor, double-check for options that make minor so interesting (such a raised leading tone on a major V chord; use of the melodic ascending scale, or Dorian, etc.).

Establishing a chord scale (or more than one: (1.) Taking the scale up the neck with the root located on the same string; (2.) Exploring the chord scale across the neck, letting the root move across multiple strings) will provide your hands and ears with a lexicon of

 

options for each chord, each option profiled by its location on the guitar, its register, and its fingering (if it has open strings or not). Doing this is crucial for beginning the search for differentiated guitar parts.

Here I mention the CAGED method for chords and scales, as searching through the neck for other chords will naturally run into the options this technique will present. Simply put, the CAGED method will supply quick landmark options for each chord, which can be accessed either through using a Capo or playing all chords by-hand. I will revisit CAGED shortly, but these two approaches compliment one another very naturally (no pun intended).

One other strong benefit to establishing chord scales becomes important in the next phase: discovering the notes of the melody within accompanimental chord shapes

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Part II: Voice Leading

While this topic sprawls across all of music and music history, I want to limit our discussion of it to two main concepts any guitarist will appreciate: smoothness of chord change, and supporting the melody inside chord shapes.

Regarding smoothness of transitions between chords, two ideas become important: how close each chord is to one another; how harmonically smooth the change of each chord is one to another, that is, in terms of tension and resolution and stepwise motion between chord tones. Let’s say your chord progression involves going from an E major to a B major (I to V in the key of E), a certain amount of block-iness may be hard to overcome, but let’s try and see what happens:

Our first two options involve moving up the neck to the V chord either to the 7th fret of the low-E string (a barred E major-shape), or to the 2nd fret of the A string (a barred A major-shape). Let me say neither of these is “bad” necessarily, so no guilt here, but let’s analyze each option in terms of voice leading: by opting for the barred E major at the 7th fret, we here a transposition of every tone up a Perfect 5th; now, we have the open E string “do” resolving to “ti” in an oblique way (“ti” is on the G string here, 8th fret); again, the fact that it’s oblique is neither good or bad, just neutral, but if the music called for this motion to be heard clearly, the guitarist using this 7th fret choice of a B major could

simply strum only out to this note on the G string, and not provide the other two strings.

Now let’s compare this option to the second of these, barring an A-shape at the 2nd fret: a similar choice can be made here, taking the strum all the way out to the B string and leaving out the E string. Which of these is easier or better, I leave to you to decide, and they both have advantages and disadvantages, which we will look to presently.

The first of these is that both of these shapes reduplicates the exact same chord tones, except that the 7th fret adds one last tone, the reduplication of the B on the 7th fret of the E string; otherwise, the notes produced (assuming one strums the second option from the A string) are exactly the same (notes given by string, low-to-high):

Option 1:

B – F# – B – D# – F# – (B) Option 2:

 

(F#) – B – F# – B – D# – F#

So, while there is some difference in the timbre of each of these choices (notice the thicker strings resonate a darker quality than the thinner, higher ones), these two options do little to provide any profile between the guitarists. Thus, we may consider another “voicing” of the chord, or even chord shape. Beginning with chord shapes, we might decide to place the Capo on the 4th fret, and use a C-shape chord for our E major (I) and a G-shape for our B major (V). Some very nice changes occur in this scenario: we now

here the 3rd on top of the I chord, and, while we may have a reduplication of the high B on the E string (if Guitarist 1 is using the 7th fret bar for the B chord), we still have some new tones resulting from the G-shaped B major chord.

Guitar 1 (Open)                                                   Guitar 2  (Capo 4, or 4th pos.)

E-shape                                                                       C-shape

E (I):  E – B – E – G# – B – E                                   (G#) – E – G# – B – E – G#

E-shape, barred, 7th                                                                              G-shape

B (V): B – F# – B – D# – F# – (B)                              B – D# – F# – B – D# –  B

As you can see, now we have more harmonic variety, which may be what you’re going for. If it isn’t, then we need to look at our last few options, but at least we see how many more choices are possible with only exploring one other position on the neck.

In terms of the voice leading, we also see that our “do”/”ti” motion is accomplished with much greater ease in the Guitar 2 part (the 5th fret resolves to the 4th fret). Let’s assume one further possibility: the “do”/”ti” motion is actually part of the melody. In this case, the notes of the melody could be synced with Guitar 2’s voicing with much less effort than Guitar 1.

The final layer of considering voice leading in your guitar parts is considering how you can support, or directly represent the bass and melody of your particular piece. In terms of support alone, when choosing a chord voicing, you may want to lean towards voicings which contain the melody note(s) somewhere in the chord. I often try to keep the melody going continuously on the High E and B strings while providing the rest of the chord in the middle strings, and also providing a bass line in the Low E and A strings.

That may be a bit much to bite off right now, but it gives you an idea of what the guitar is capable of, as well as how different guitars can complement one another in musically practical ways, such as one guitar strumming simple chords, while the other supports or provides melodic elements.

Let’s look at a few other considerations to conclude this brief exploration in creating guitar parts.

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Part III. Other Options: ostinato, counter-melody, inversions, strum patterns

Ostinato

An ostinato is a musical idea that obstinately stays part of a musical texture (ostinato is Italian for “obstinate”). Several musical examples come to mind: think of Ravel’s Bolero, or the high electric guitar from Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” the main riff to “Kashmir” from Led Zeppelin, or any Ratatat song, for that matter. A great deal of popular music, whether classical, rock, or EDM thrives on repetition (and often transformation) of small musical ideas. Depending on the context, an ostinato may be created that doesn’t conflict with the melody, or even supports it. One favorite of mine is the melodic ostinato  (or riff) that accompanies the song “Release” from Pearl Jam’s Ten record. Another beautiful, but radically different (much “heavier”) version can be heard in “Tempting Time” by Animals as Leaders, at 2:51”.

Counter-Melody

Somewhat similar to an ostinato is a counter-melody, a melody that wouldn’t be considered the primary melody, but that weaves about more independently than a simple harmonization.  In the chorus of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” we here a counter-melody in Slash’s guitar part against Axl’s vocals. Another well-known counter-melody occurs half- way through J.P. Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” in the high piccolo/flute part, against the main theme. Melodic descants are yet another type of counter-melody, When constructing a counter-melody, take care not to step on the main melody too much. Inversions

As you become acquainted with all of the methods above, you’ll find chord inversions lend themselves readily to voice leading, most especially for bass motion. For instance, an E/G# (in the key of E, a I6 ) goes to an A (IV) smoothly, since the bass note only has to ascend a half step (G# to A). Once you’ve mastered your chord scales, experiment with trying them again in first and second inversion (first inversion puts the

3rd in the bass; second inversion puts the 5th in the bass).

Strumming Different Patterns

Quite a lot can be gained simply by strumming similar or even the same chords in an entirely different way. For instance, consider letting one guitar strum eighth-notes in a palm-muted fashion, while another guitar fingerpicks, or strums only on strong beats (like the downbeat of each measure). This method is especially effective when one guitar is acoustic and another is electric, but is useful in almost any situation to create a new texture.

I hope you found this Blog lesson useful! Good luck fishing for guitar parts, and have fun while you’re at it!

The Responsibility Never To Be Bored

March 20, 2017

by Rex Weston

Instructor of cello at The Lesson Studio

I think of the cello as the best toy ever. Part of that is the flexibility of the instrument – it can be used to play any genre of music: classical, folk, bluegrass, celtic, rock and roll, jazz, hiphop. It can make a wide and lively variety of sounds, and it can take up many roles: bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, folk guitar, fills, harmony, and melody.

And there are a lot of fun things that happen when playing. The act itself should be physically pleasurable – as far as the brain is concerned, playing a difficult passage is as stimulating as skiing a difficult mogul run. Playing an instrument lights up an EKG like a Christmas tree.

Making great and weird sounds is fun. Playing a tune is fun. Improvising is extremely satisfying. Playing music with other people is great fun. Being swept away by playing great music is one of the high points of anyone’s life. Writing and improvising music are totally engaging.

But the most important part of the cello for me was the end of boredom in my life. I learned that if I was doing anything, and I was bored, that I needed to STOP, and figure out how to make it interesting. That it was absolutely my responsibility not to be bored. When practicing a piece, the moment I checked out with boredom meant I was no longer learning anything. That I might still be making sound on my instrument, but it wasn’t doing me any good at all, because my brain wasn’t focussing on what I was doing, and that made practicing pointless.

Now the typical response to boredom, and the one I was trained as a kid by television to do, is just to switch channels. The problem with this is that it is the opposite of productive, and just leads to a life of channel surfing. The productive way to deal with boredom, is to analyze the problem and find a way to make it interesting. This requires creativity.

Let’s take a simple problem in practicing a difficult passage in a piece of music. Playing the passage over and over usually doesn’t help. That is because the brain has checked out in the process – if it isn’t interested it won’t help you out. Doing the same thing again and again – sorry, but your brain has left the building. So the way to get the brain back in gear is to look at and play the passage many different ways. Playing the passage in different rhythms is a good start. After one has played the passage in a jazz swing rhythm, a salsa rhythm, a reggae rhythm, a waltz, hiphop, a march, playing the passage straight becomes suddenly simple. Basically you have to have fun to learn something. And the chances are that if you are not having fun, you are not learning anything.

This obviously applies to the rest of your life, too. Instead of checking out when being bored in a classroom, the new response is to look for something in the subject that is interesting, and explore that aspect in depth. It is called self-directed learning, and is the only way we really learn anything that makes a difference. It works in your job, and it works in your life.

After learning your basic chords, what’s next?

February 27, 2017

After learning your basic chords, what’s next? This is a common question that I get when teaching adult students who are self taught or have taken lessons for a few months. In this video, I describe a technique called travis picking and how it can be used to create more interesting arrangements with the basic chords you already know.

 

 

I hope you enjoy this instructional video. If you want to learn more about our program, visit rockpopma.com and http://www.thelessonstudio.com, and contact us if you’d like to sign up for in-person lessons!

Live Music is Worth It!

February 1, 2017

by Ani Gyulamiryan

Instructor of piano at The Lesson Studio

ani_blog_1 Taiyuan, China

In the piano lessons I teach at the Lesson Studio, I often get a first-hand view of how music takes a hold of us. Western classical music, specifically, has gained a universal appeal since its inception in Europe. Countries like America and China have adopted and even continued in their own right to advance Western Classical music, and music lessons are both a staple of education and cultural inheritance. The concert hall is where our cultures diverge; in the West, the majority of classical concert goers are from the older generations, but the audiences in China are predominantly comprised of young professionals, kids and entire families.

In the summer of 2016, I completed a month long tour across China with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. I performed in a multitude of majestic concert halls, which have cost China billions of yuan to build in the past couple decades. In every concert of the fourteen cities we performed at, there was row after row filled with bright, enthusiastic, curious children. And they were part of an audience of young men and women, students, professionals and entire families that attended our concerts in order to be exposed to Western music (performed by an American orchestra). It was very moving to see how receptive and appreciative the near capacity audiences were in every city we toured throughout China.

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Shenyang, China

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Chongqing, China

Colorado has also continued to expand and grow its musical education. There are more music studios in every county than there were just a few years ago. They are doing better each day because of the growing interest in music education and awareness. However, students often seek lessons to become musically aware, instead of becoming proficient in an instrument. Although music lessons can be any student’s introduction to great music, artists and venues, eventually they must grow to become ‘plugged-in’ with the current music scene themselves. As a piano teacher of ten years, I have noticed some trends in the music lessons at private studios and various education centers. One growing trend in private lessons is a focus on music appreciation within the framework of individual lessons that dismisses its importance outside of the lesson and the private teacher’s influence.

As a piano instructor, I often tell my students about the composers they study, their adventurous and rebellious lives, and the intended meanings behind their masterworks. However, it is rare for these students to have experienced live performances of the works they study. The music scene today is vast, and performances at local concert halls offer a great exposure to the masterworks of classical music, but many music students remain largely unaware of these events.

To gain a broader exposure and appreciation of classical music, I encourage students of classical piano, orchestral music, jazz, or any instrument to explore their community and find the best performances in their area. Check the local library for amazing performances coming up, search on university and music schools’ websites for their upcoming concerts, find the season schedule of local orchestras. Attend some of these live concerts in order to develop your own musical taste! Western classical music is more varied in style than the number of different genres of music, so there is much variety to enjoy.

Music appreciation occurs not only in the classroom or during a music lesson, but also outside of it in the ever changing and rich world of the concert and recital hall. Attending a live concert will develop a student’s ear, make them more aware of the musical culture, enable them to become more musically educated, and aid in their personal musical growth. Hopefully every student can remember a concert they attended that made a powerful impression upon them, inspired them to continue, or was possibly the best musical experience in their life so far.

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Yichun, China

 

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Tangshan, China

Photo Credits: Roger L. Powell

 

The Ergonomically Correct Pianist

March 19, 2016

by Ashley Pontiff

Instructor of piano, flute, and voice at The Lesson Studio

An ergonomically correct pianist = a happy, healthy, exquisite performer!

 

Natural Mechanics: The Piano and the Human Body

By understanding how the natural mechanics of the human body work, and aligning our natural mechanics with the natural mechanics of how the piano is made to respond, we can attune to more precise performance techniques. These precise performance techniques can be applied to every genre of music and help bring out the nuances that only natural playing can, as well as prevent injury caused by improper use and unnatural movements. Just like athletes, musicians must maintain their health and do everything in their power to prevent injuries if they are to excel and be successful. Unlike most athletes, the motion musicians use to play is largely repetitive. Repetitive motion can put strain on your joints, ligaments, and tendons. The only way to combat the weakening of joints and tendons is to utilize numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments (particularly stronger, larger ones) as your mechanics for playing as opposed to isolating smaller ones.

 

Dorothy Taubin was a piano teacher who revolutionized piano technique by studying human body and piano mechanics, and aligning a piano technique that utilizes both in its most natural and ergonomic form. When playing a single note on the piano, the action should come from the forearm, and not the isolated finger. The action built in to the piano, should serve as a springboard to lift the arm and hand back up after playing. The more lift you have before you play, the greater the spring from the keys you will obtain. If there is no initial lift, there is no spring. Think of jumping on a trampoline. The higher you jump up initially, the bigger the bounce you will get in return.

 

As an experiment, try playing one note repetitively for 1 minute by isolating the single finger from the other fingers when playing. Which muscles, ligaments, or tendons are being used when you isolate one finger from the rest? How tired or sore do your finger, hand, and wrist become? They probably become pretty sore and tired, or will eventually. Then, try playing one note repetitively for 1 minute by using the forearm muscles to gently lift and lower your wrist, hand, and finger to play the note. Use the spring from the piano to bounce the arm back up as you prepare to play again. Notice that now you are using more muscles, ligaments, and tendons and the action is being distributed across more areas of your arm and hand than in the first trial where you isolated only one finger. Also, by allowing your arm, wrist, hand, and finger to work together, the piano’s natural mechanics (springboard action) are being utilized and are now doing some of the work for you. With this technique, you are no longer pulling or lifting to bring your finger and arm upwards. Once you initiate the first preparatory lift, gravity does the work in allowing you to play the note, and the piano action does the work in spring boarding your arm, hand, and finger back up out of the keys. By allowing your arm, wrist, hand, and finger to work together in one fluid motion, the workload is distributed to various muscles, ligaments, and tendons in order to accomplish a task. By learning this technique, your body is now operating naturally and in sync with how it was designed.

 

Creating Balance at the Piano:

Creating balance at the piano begins with how we sit at the piano. We must make sure we are well balanced and feel comfortable and relaxed in our seated position. If we are not balanced, muscles, tendons, and ligaments tighten in order to hold us in a balanced state, and can create tension in our arms, wrists, fingers, neck, shoulders and other parts of the body. This tension does not allow for free, relaxed movement nor proper natural playing technique. A student that is unbalanced at the piano has to “hold on” somehow. For example, a student whose feet do not reach the floor must hold at the point where they can make contact. So, students in this situation brace their feet against the face of an upright piano and hold on with their fingers to the keys. They often start to lean back to balance themselves on the bench because their arms are extended forward over the keys. This is a very tense, uncomfortable way to sit and injury can result from making the body do something against its own natural mechanics for an extended period of time. We must be stable in order to play without tense muscles. All the involuntary stress that unbalanced playing puts on the body causes mental fatigue, excessive strain on the body, and less than desired musical sound.

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A Few Quick Tips For Creating a Well-Balanced Seated Position at the Piano:

How do I know if my bench is too LOW or too HIGH for me when sitting at the piano?

-Elbows Align with Keys √

 

When seated upright at the piano, your arms should be able to hang relaxed without raised shoulders, and the point at which your elbow naturally lies (when hands are placed on the keys of the piano) should align with the tops of the keys. Wrists should not be bent upwards or downwards from your arm and fingers should be at a natural curve downward toward the keys. To correct this alignment, adjust the bench up or down so that your elbows align with the tops of the keys.

**If a bench is not adjustable, or does not go high enough to achieve this alignment, place sturdy foam garden kneeling pads, books that won’t slide, or carpet squares on the bench in order to raise the seat.

 

What if my feet don’t touch the floor?

-Use a Stool or Propped Up Books √

 

Feet should be firmly planted on the ground to maintain balance. If a student’s feet do not touch the floor, use a stool or prop up books underneath their feet to raise the ground level, so that they feel balanced and stable at the piano. Once this adjustment is made, make sure that the bench is not too far forward causing the student to lean back.

Follow these Ergonomic tips and you’ll soon be on your way to being a happy, healthy, exquisite performer!

 

For more information regarding the Dorothy Taubin Technique, natural playing, and photos explaining proper seated positions, read “The Well-Balanced Pianist” at

http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/bptaubman.htm

 

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

 

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 Warm Up!

November 11, 2013

Carrie Blosser, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Carrie Blosser, trumpet and brass instructor at The Lesson Studio.

Carrie Blosser, trumpet and brass instructor at The Lesson Studio.

The warm-up in brass performance is the most important part of the daily practice. It is in this time that you as a musician have the opportunity to address the fundamentals of brass performance in a critical and thoughtful way! As much as any other part of the practice session, the warm-up also contains the opportunity for each and every brass performer to grow and learn on a daily basis.

Warm-up thoughts:

First and foremost, the warm-up should be musical and of the highest quality possible. Every note that you play on your instrument should be the most musical and best sounding quality that you are able to play. Play everything musically no matter what!! The physical functions in brass playing should always be guided by musical goals.

Many brass players (and much of our literature) are focused on the mechanical aspects of playing and lose sight of the fact that the physical aspect of playing is most effectively produced as a product of musical goals.

The warm-up should be done daily, and as early in the day as possible. Before school or work is the best time to do a long or short warm-up, even if that is the only playing you do in your day. By putting in your time daily, you are reinforcing great fundamental habits on your instrument. What is done in the warm-up sets the tone for the day, the week, the month, etc.

The warm-up should not be done if the musician is not thinking about what they’re doing. Mental focus on your warm is an essentially element, not your math test, work presentation, or other daily things. Focus on the quality of sound you are about to product and the musical goals for your day.

The warm-up should be comprehensive without being excessively tiring. Schedule your practice time, whatever the amount of available time, make it your goal to hit every part of the warm-up. Condense or expand your warm-up as time allows, this way you are touching on every essential of your instrument everyday!

The most important facet of the warm-up is the direct relationship of musical goals with the most efficient physical means available. Efficiency and musicality go hand in hand, focusing on a musical product allows you to forget about the physical nature of playing.

Warm-up format:

Mental Focus: Focusing attention on the musical task at hand

Breathing – Free Flowing Breath of Air – Use OH-HO as a model

Mouthpiece playing – single notes – Sing then Buzz

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!