Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Filling Up Space

Conservatory practice rooms have their purpose and even a benefit or two, but there is a big problem with them. There just isn't enough space in there, physically or acoustically. Sometimes there is barely enough room for a mute change. If you want to switch mouthpieces, you first have to leave the room. Take a deep breath, and your shoulders are touching both walls. After a couple of long tones all of the air is stale, and in mere moments everything in there smells as bad as it sounds.

What's more, all of your notes are dead on arrival. Because there is no resonance, the only feedback you get is the slap in the face from your notes ricocheting directly off the wall, which soon describes your playing. Breathing tends to become shallow since everything is plenty loud in there. Consequently, the lips can be forced to do way more controlling than necessary. It isn't long until Frankie Fatigue and Sammy Smashmouth once again barge into the room to keep you company for the rest of your day. Assignment: find a way to get rid of them!

With that said, these cubicles do offer a great benefit. You can hear everything! All flaws are quite audible and exposed. We now have no excuse for ignoring weaknesses. Such a completely unforgiving acoustic teaches us honesty and humility, revealing that we are not as good as we imagined. That miniature stage presents us with our urgent practice agenda. It's clean up time!

Let's move to the concert hall. Look around at the space that needs to be filled up. Your sound will have to travel all the way back, all the way up, and to both sides in a split second! First lesson is to breathe accordingly. Your sound must have presence, projection, and resonance. Good air flow, and lots of it, will be the key to your survival. With a destination for your sound in mind, you will be able to shift much of the work from your chops to your air. Chops squeeze, lungs blow.

The stage also is the arena for music-making, whereas the practice room is the classroom for working. Since playing is more fun than working, and performing is more fun than practicing, your challenge is to bring the stage into your practice room. Add play to your work. It then becomes not about where you are, but how you are thinking.

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