Here's a practice trick that might be helpful. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in playing a phrase that we lose sight of maintaining a good TONE on every note throughout the phrase.
Sometimes, it helps to extract a few notes from the phrase and play them independently, just focusing on tone.
Here's an example from the opening of the Hindemith Sonata...
You know you want your best tone on that third measure but how many of you slow it down to focus just on tone quality? Like this...
Work on this fermata example, get your best tone and than GRAFT that tone back into the phrase! (Like a skin graft).
What's the danger here? Simple: unmusical playing, robotic playing etcetera. As always, we have to strike that balance.
Recently I have used this "tone grafting" idea in lessons with good effect. It's nice to have that recent memory of good tone as you proceed through the phrase.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
At some impressionable age in my life, someone made this comment to me:
"So and so is such an amazing player. He can play SO LOUD!"
I cringe at the impact this made on me! Specifically, I cringe at the number of orchestra auditions I took where my evil doppelganger self took over my brain, saying that we needed to show the committee that I can play SO LOUD.
The list of loud orchestral excerpts for trombone is a bit longer than the list of soft excerpts. In my mind, however, the king of the loud excerpts is the first movement of Mahler's 3rd symphony.
Apparently, many students feel the same way about this excerpt because I've heard all too many people lose all good judgement in the all-consuming pursuit of ..
PURE SONIC POWER!!
For many trombonists, the possible antidote to this mindset may come from the vocalises of Marco Bordogni. Faced with these pleasant, lyrical pieces, they naturally try to show off their most lovely sound.
So here's the trick: take the notes of that Mahler and play it using that Bordogni lyricism.
Mind you, this is a practice technique, not audition advice. However, my hope is that some of the Bordogni habit of beautiful phrasing and lovely tone will rub off on the Mahler.
While you're at it, try playing Tannhauser faster, softer and prettier. Same concept.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Doea anybody remember stereograms? That's one shown above. They were all the rage a while. Commercially, they were known for a while by the brand name "Magic Eye." Basically, you stare at the image for a bit (going a little cross-eyed seems to help), and a 3-D relief image begins to appears. The one above shows a dinosaur...I think. Officially these are known as autostereograms.
Allowing your brain to perceive that image requires, for me, a certain "passively focused" state of mind. If I try to force it, I can't see the image. If I relax, it begins to appear.
This reminds me of that perfect pitch course by David Lucas Burge. We got the CD's recently and, bit by bit, I've been wading through it. I gotta say, that man sure can talk a long time without getting around to the point! Still, he finally does start getting to a point and....well, I'll let you know what I think if I ever finish it.
At one point, he mentions that you can't force perfect pitch. In fact, the harder you try, the more the ability seems to recede (like one of those nightmare hallways..)
To perceive the pitches, Burge advises us to use a more passive frame of mind...sort of a non-judgmental awareness.....kind of like those stereograms.
I think the same is true when listening to your own intonation as you play. Here's a trick to try:
If you are unsure of your pitch on a certain note...move it up and down by very small increments. Instead of getting overly concerned about "right" or "wrong," simply listen as the "color" of the pitches changes with those very small slide movements. If it seems to settle on one pitch as the best one, let it sit there and then glance at a tuner for some feedback.
If it doesn't work, oh well, you can always stare at another stereogram...(this one seems to show some kind of geometric shape with multiple levels...I think)
Thursday, April 25, 2013
During brain surgery, patients can experience vivid memories of older events when portions of their brains are electrically stimulated.
The electrode touches a spot and all of a sudden, you vividly remember riding your bike when you were 11 years trying to get home before that thunderstorm.
This has always amazed me.
My teaching year is coming to an end and, for extra credit, I'm asking my students to reflect on the year as whole and write down some "themes" for the year. With any student, there have been those wonderful "breakthrough" moments when they make a little adjustment technically or musically and experience a leap forward in their playing. I LOVE those moments. I sometimes think of them as Golden Moments.
Now that the year is ending and juries approach, I would love for my students to be able to vividly recall those breakthrough moments.
Performance is the art of remembering
I suppose inserting electrodes into my students' brains might be frowned upon by my university so I'll have to refrain from that.
In an ideal world, however, there would be some way to grab onto those Golden Moments and bring them to the forefront of the brain so that, each time one goes to play, the memory is right there...
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Imagine you are a painter wishing to capture beauty with your brush strokes. You might begin by placing a clean canvas onto your easel and preparing samples of the colors you wish to use.
What if that canvas is dirty?
What if you spill some blue into your white paint?
Your inspiration may be powerful but, if your basic materials are flawed, your final creation won't reflect your vision.
Think about this lick from the Mozart Requiem...
Can we make an argument that, before we get into the nuances of this (or similar) passage we have to demonstrate the basic control over the instrument to simply be able to play it very clean and accurate, not favoring any particular note?
Turning the notes of an excerpt into a kind of exercise
might be called "canvas work."
In other words, building the technical ability to play these notes very accurately and evenly is similar to preparing a canvas and your paints so that you can then begin to create. It takes discipline to realize your inspiration.
Or maybe I'm wrong....
Maybe the nuance and subtlety have to be there from the very beginning.
Consider these two examples:
You start by making it very solid, technically and then add in musical expression.
You start by making it very expressive, musically and then clean up the technical details.
Or maybe even that isn't correct because it assumes a binary simplicity. Anyway, this is a subject I've thought about before (in blog form).
Here's a 2010 post, along similar lines.
Here's a 2011 post, also similar.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
I have seen some unsuccessful attempts at vibrato with a remarkable amount of jaw movement but with very little change in the sound itself.
I have seen other players get a beautiful vibrato with little or no visible movement of the embouchure. What's going on here?
For the unsuccessful attempts, it's almost as if the center of the embouchure is actively resisting all physical movements and firmly "locking on" to that steady sound.
For some reason, this reminds me of the "rubber pencil" magic trick. Maybe some of of you have done this trick before. If not, stop and try it now. Here's a video that may help...
The key here is to...
Focus on the pencil, not your hand.
When attempting vibrato, perhaps the key is to...
Focus on the vibrato, not your embouchure.
Visualize the center of the embouchure as supple, pliable...not rigid or tense. Focus your attention on the controlled wavering of the sound, not the mechanism that creates it.
For mid-range notes some find it helpful to think of "woe-woe-woe-woe." For higher notes (with the partials closer together), I prefer to think of "ya-ya-ya-ya." But neither of these is literally what I'm doing. I arrived at those vocal sounds after the fact, not as a means of figuring out the vibrato in the first place.
If you have ever watered a garden with a hose, perhaps you spent some time making patterns in the stream of water by shaking the hose. This also reminds of me of vibrato. I'll bet when you were making those patterns, you weren't focused on the arm holding the hose but rather on the patterns in the water itself.
Same idea as the rubber pencil...
Friday, March 29, 2013
Arnold Jacobs used to say...
Make every note worth 50 bucks.
In the "First Studies" section of the newer Arban's Method, Joseph Alessi uses the phrase "Tone Cloning" For this section, he goes on to say:
Clone each note so all the notes are the same style and tone quality.
Sometimes I hear my students playing a passage and I hear a mixture of good notes and clunkers. Imagine that each note is a car on the car lot. Your ears are the customer. Would they be willing to "buy" EVERY note that comes out of your bell? You want to give those ears a fine selection of well-crafted shiny notes. Those clunkers do have a way of standing out...
Good music is made from good notes.