Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Be Distinctive!

MIDNIGHT RHYTHM by Leonid Afremov

This could be your deal-breaker at the next audition! Our hidden microphone reveals the committee's exuberant reactions to your playing: "This candidate is amazing! A rock star, a monster! Nobody else even comes close! How soon is this person available?"

That's the response we strive for. Don't just try to survive a performance ordeal with minimal wounds. Grab their attention. Go for it. Be distinctive!

One of the easiest ways to win votes is arguably more impressive than sound, style, dynamics or articulation. Even a flawless showing will not be effective without this fundamental element of music. The good news is that it can be practiced endlessly with no pain and all gain. You can improve this skill without ever picking up your instrument. It can be practiced while behind the wheel, bored in class, shoveling snow, or when lounging in a sauna. It's RHYTHM, that sturdy framework without which boredom sets in like gangrene.

Rhythm is the last thing you want to be conjuring up just before you play. It must become automatic and consistent. A good sense of rhythm provides stability, energy, and order. Rock-solid rhythm makes great ensembles great. It is also contagious, giving the feeble strength, the insecure confidence, and the hesitant boldness. It shares generously, but it also greatly benefits the one possessing it. Who needs a metronome!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Where the Audition Starts

Your audition doesn't just take place when you play it. It was happening every day for months in the practice room whether you knew it or not. What goes on from day to day is pretty much what will happen in front of an audience. Traces of excellence should be frequent and obvious.

Firstly, you probably don't want to listen to this guy, unless you're his dog. Most likely the young blaster sounds like he looks. Posture and possibly attitude adjustments are needed. Conductor and potential colleagues just might have some serious reservations about his stage presence let alone his trumpet playing. This issue can be fixed instantly. Be careful. The visual matters.

Secondly, his daily approach should be organized for consistency. No shocking new insights here, just reviewing the time-tested steps to success that have always worked, but tend to get neglected. Make these a way of life. There will be no time on the big day to begin thinking about these. They must be habitual:

  • Use an adequate air supply for each passage.
  • Be able to sing the music accurately.
  • Divide practice into many brief sessions for control of clarity, sound, and ease.
  • Practicing slowly gives the brain and ears a chance to keep up. Help them out.
  • Pause frequently to reset and refocus.
  • Dynamics should be clearly discernible.
  • Musical interest and style should be obvious.
  • Incredible rhythm must be automatic.
  • Intonation must be unobjectionable.
  • Run-throughs ought to happen regularly.
  • Be able to play faster than needed.
  • Do even more run-throughs!
  • Gain experience in different locations.
  • Learn to "play cold".
Travel and audition days are never normal. Anticipate distractions. Focus on your music just as you have been doing for months. After all, this will be just another performance opportunity. Just do it. You've been there.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

No Speed Limits!

Rushing is forbidden, but speeding is encouraged. Rushing disqualifies, but being able to play the trumpet at high speeds is a skill worth training for.

We've all been lectured to take it slow, break it down, and even play at half tempo. Fine and necessary. But how about also learning to handle the horn at great-neck speeds? Set the speedometer at way-fast and give it a go. Let's fly in the fast lane and bypass all of those poky old ladies and Sunday drivers.

Speed is a requirement in so many pieces. Why not put pedal to the floor and still see how much scenery you can observe? We're talking hyper-alertness, awesome facility, amazing sight-reading chops with the agility of a wild cheetah. Fill up for your trip at Starbucks, open wide those eyes, clean your windshield, scan the road ahead, and GO!

When it's time for the performance, you can easily slow down to normal speeds which will seem like a walk in the park by contrast. Push your speed ceiling in the practice room, and avoid the likelihood of crashing in concert.