Monday, May 15, 2017

PRACTICING SANITY

    How would listeners to your daily practice sessions describe what they hear? Would they say you are insanely amazing, or amazingly insane?

    Great performances follow great rehearsals. Great rehearsals require great practicing. And great practicing is characterized by clear thinking. Needed: daily generous doses of sanity. 

    Helpful adjectives for your practice sessions: calm, patient, organized, purposeful, controlled.  Not: frantic, hurried, haphazard, out-of-control.

    Inspired energetic playing must first be disciplined. Inspiration without discipline is as useless as discipline without inspiration. You must develop both, but discipline comes first. At the end of your day, you want to be satisfied that you worked efficiently, not frustrated that nothing happened. The improvement you want won't happen with fruitless frantic flailing. 

    Sloppy practice never produced a polished performance, but it does give your nerve demons permission to wreak havoc on your performance! Preparing to do your best is better than hoping for the best, which is insanity.  








    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    Getting a Good Grip

    One phrase can be better than a thousand words, and more memorable!

    Years ago an orchestra colleague was commenting on Maurice Andre's amazing clarity. I'll never forget his six-word summary: "He has contact with every note!"

    What does every note require? A clean start, centered pitch, and a good sound. Great players take excellent care of their notes.

    There's a quick fix for sloppy articulation, poor accuracy, and faulty intonation. Simply slow down and get a grip on each note. A more relaxed pace gives the brain and the ears a chance to focus on vital details. Only after you can hear an individual note, can you begin the polishing process. Think slow-motion cleansing.

    Imagine that every pure note you play rewards you with a crisp ten dollar bill. How much money would you accumulate by the end of the day, if any? Or, if you could cut and paste any of your random notes, would they sound good enough to splice into the Pictures Promenade

    Consider your driving. You shouldn't speed frantically through neighborhoods, blowing past stop signs, riding on sidewalks, and recklessly doing wheelies on private property! No, you carefully obey all traffic signs keeping control of the car at all times. Play as well as you drive. Handle all notes with care. Quality-control matters.


    Tuesday, October 25, 2016

    The Unseen Instrument!

    "You have two trumpets, one in your hand, and one in your brain."  Train the one in your brain first. (Arnold Jacobs)  The audience sees that shiny trumpet, but they must hear that glorious trumpet sound that emanates from deep within you. That's the one we train!

    Our job is to build vast reserves of musical expression in the imagination flowing through the instrument and reaching the audience unimpeded. That's the goal. So the trumpet becomes not the obstacle, but the receptacle and the conduit for your great musical message. 

    As Mr. Jacobs stressed, think music not muscle, message not mechanics. Your secret weapon and power source is the trumpet in your brain. Nurture it, depend on it, and let it teach the trumpet in your hand.  It will discipline your work to be drama-efficient. Always sing before your play. Without that strong first trumpet, the second one doesn't have a chance! 


     










    Wednesday, September 28, 2016

    Are you better than a metronome?

    Which is best, rhythm from your mind or rhythm from your gut? Answer: both, but one is preferable! Is your rhythm mental or instinctive? Are you using your brain or your heart? One teaches only mechanical perfection, while the other stimulates musical expression. 

    Your mind can try to make you play in perfect time, but your inner rhythmic instincts can do a much better job.  To put it crudely, music from the mind reaches the mind, while music from the gut reaches the gut.

    Think of the metronome as no more than a strict school master. It is not a drama coach. It's the angry drill sergeant, but not the sensitive maestro. It's better to train and rely upon your God-given inner rhythm, than to depend solely upon your ability to place every note in its proper position. 

    Are metronomes superior to musicians? Nope. A stoic metronome is not capable of phrasing, nuance, or expression, only millions of lifeless clicks. Its only function is obnoxious clicking. Certainly a living person should be superior to a machine! We have breath, energy, and purpose.  A metronome has none of that.  It has no brain, musicality, expression or soul! Don't live only by the boring pulse of a machine.

    Great time-keeping is the foundation upon which energy, phrasing, and expression are built.  Always be building artistry on top of great rhythm. Don't neglect your inner rhythm, and don't be boring. You are much better than a metronome!

    Friday, September 02, 2016

    Got junk?

    JUNK-ELIMINATORS:

    1. My first notes of the day will be pure quality. 
    2. I will play slow enough to be accurate and clean.
    3. I'm going to play perfectly for 5 seconds. Then 10, 15.
    4. I'll be paid for only good notes.
    5. I'll play my solo very slowly, resting every 4 measures.
    6. It will never be said that my playing is boring.
    7. Every phrase will be stunningly musical.
    8. I'm going to be able to impress my friends with how softly I can play without loss of tone.
    9. I'm going to amaze my friends with how loudly I can dominate without loss of tone.
    10. My future employer is listening just outside my practice room door!  . . . . "You're hired!"

    Freedom in playing comes when junk has been dealt with. No one wants a flawed product. Goal: eliminate wasted notes and wasted time. Put the practice room on stage.  Eliminate junk playing.



     
       


    Monday, August 29, 2016

    A Simple Practice Plan

    You have arguably only one goal when practicing or performing, and that is quality control. Whether the notes are long or short, low or high, loud or soft, the aim is the same.  Produce the best possible sound on every note.

    Step one: THINK SLOW. Give yourself enough time to find the center (the sweet spot) of each note. Don't proceed until all of your notes are usable.  (During one of my lessons with Mel Broiles, he accused me of "spraying the air with thousands of notes of highly questionable value!" He used a slightly different wording, but I got the point.)

    Step two: THINK MONEY.  Imagine that every top quality note you produce instantly deposits dollars into your checking account. Likewise consider that any stuffy, unfocused notes will painfully charge your account big bucks! It's your choice: severe fines or rich rewards. 

    Step three: THINK CONDUCTOR.  You live for the conductor's favor, not his displeasure. When you play, you want to see his uplifted hand and expression of approval, not an annoyed grimace as he frantically shushes your strained efforts.

    Step four: THINK AUDIENCE. They're why we do what we do! It's not about us. We simply deliver beautiful phrases to a music-hungry audience one good note at a time.  That's the goal even in the practice room. Always insist on high quality and drama.  Think APPLAUSE, STANDING OVATIONS, BOWS! Quality is guaranteed!




    Thursday, June 09, 2016

    Taming the Bear

    An audition can be like a snarling bear who seeks to maul each contestant daring to step onto the stage.  All it takes to get him provoked are a few timid and unconvincing excerpts.  Dare to squeeze out one more excerpt played like that and that great bear ferociously charges the stage, chewing up the sorry contestant, and spitting out his bones on the spot. "Growl. Get outta here! Who's Next?"

    That bear however is very tamable! Two things will not only keep his rage at bay, but can also turn him into a friendly pet (more or less). Those weapons are preparation and communication.

    It's been said, "You don't have to play perfectly but you do have to play accurately."  The goal of perfection puts great pressure and extra fear of failure on the performer. Whereas accuracy (of styles, tempos, dynamics, drama and overall musicianship) communicates better, and rescues the performer from himself.  Perfection is about the performer; communication is about the audience.

    Prepare daily to defeat the audition monster with accuracy and dramatic communication. Poor preparation is followed by fear of the bear.  So slave wisely over the details, but slay the bear with your practiced noticeable dramatic skills as well.  Be sure to practice the message at least as much as the mechanics.

    At the next audition the bear may threaten, but you have assured his defeat with your mighty weapons: singing, expression, rhythmic precision, dynamic contrasts, beautiful phrasing, excellent quality of sound, drama, and game-changing standout musicianship!