I just saw an amazing video from Felicia Day's blog over at Geek and Sundry. I'm a huge fan of her work, but only recently realized that she is also an excellent violinist. Here is here duet with Tom Lenk:
I found this video both fun and impressive. Please go to Geek and Sundry and like all of their videos and their page. They are changing the face of entertainment.
Have you ever heard a performance that, in the first five minutes, you started to wonder what sin you must have committed that the universe would put you in this audience?
I have. Also, I'm pretty sure it was for that one time I stole a church hymnal.
A great performance will stay with you forever. A terrible performance will seem to last forever.
If you'd prefer to avoid giving lousy performances as a musician, try some of the following advice:
1. Choose your music wisely
This is the first step to crafting an excellent performance. You have to be able to assess your ability level and the challenge presented by a piece of music.
If the music is too difficult, you will not sound good, if it is too easy, you won't be challenged.
I use the 80% rule. You should be able to sight read at least 80% of any piece you intend to perform. The other 20% should be at least appear attainable in the half the time you have before your performance. Be careful, because this decision will make or break you.
2. Good practice, seriously good practice
How much are you practicing? No, really how much? I recommend practice plans and logging practice time for more reasons than I can explain in one post. Mostly, it promotes planning and honesty with yourself.
If you're not practicing at very, very least a few hours a week, you aren't progressing very much. If you practice 3 hours a day, you're on the super star route. Most people fall somewhere in between, and that's okay.
Make a plan and stick to it. Try to have your music ready a couple of weeks before your performance so that you have time to create "ease" in your playing.
3. Do your part
If you are in a performance with other musicians, make sure your part is ready to go before your first group practice.
There is nothing worse than trying to practice when an ensemble member can't play their part. It's a waste of time, and pretty rude. When you practice with a group you should be working on ensemble sound, not individual parts.
This is the same for solos with piano accompaniment. These are usually more like duets than solos w/accompaniment. If you aren't prepared to practice with the pianist, you're putting them through grief.
4. Emotionally connect with your performance
Music requires a connection to the piece you are performing. Listen to recordings of your pieces and try to connect emotionally. Apply this to your playing and make music - vibrato, dynamics, tone color, precise articulation, and phrase shaping are the biggest difference between a mediocre performance and a great performance.
5. Sell it, dude!
When you step on that stage, you take over. Be a presence, smile, and engage that audience. If there is room for some theatrics, employ them. Just ask yourself, "Would I care if I were in the audience?"
If you apply the right music with good practice and great musicality, people with love what you do.
It's not easy to be amazing. It takes hard work and dedication, just like you would expect. It is worth it though.
I was talking to some students this week about practicing. They were wondering what it was.
Unfortunately, practicing is underrated. Anything worth doing requires a great deal of practice, but I see people all the time that just don't get it. They think people are just "talented" or that skill is basically equivalent to magic. Those people are wrong.
Being a skilled musician is about dedication and regular, regulated practice. I have put together some of my favorite practice tips:
1. Actually practice. Like, get out your instrument and play it. Schedule time, force yourself, and do it at least semi-regularly. Don't pretend, don't make excuses, practice or resign yourself to being lousy.
2. Log your time. It seems stupid, but if you'll log when, how long, and what you practice you can better evaluate if you're being effective.
3. Only play as fast as you can play accurately. You know what I mean- you have a nifty solo you're working on, and you want to play it quickly, so you totally butcher the whole thing. Well, that's a waste of practice time. Practicing something fast and wrong ten times is going to hurt more than help. Just play it slow and correctly, then add speed. It's better. Really.
4. Don't forget fundamentals. Scales, arpeggios, and technical etudes have been around for centuries because of one thing- they work. Fundamentals are well, fundamental and should be a significant part of your practice routine if you want to be more awesome.
5. Incorporate play. Make sure you play some music you're excited about and make sure you spend some time just "playing" your instrument. Improvise, play along with the radio, or learn obscure techniques for instrument or special sound effects. Get your funk on, or something like that.
6. Listen to music. I think this is self-explanatory, but it's amazing how many people don't listen to someone who plays their instrument. It will inspire you and change the way you play forever, in a good way. Unless you listen so someone who sucks, so don't do that.
7. Goals! Don't just practice the same things, challenge yourself with new materials and things that will stretch your skills.
8. Practice buddies. Get a practice buddy and play some duets. Challenge each other to practice more and use each other's ears to craft better sound. There is a danger that one of you might quit and ruin the momentum so make sure you are a strong practicer by yourself as well.
9. Find a good method book. A good book will have an excellent progression of skills. It will grow you gradually and fill in any gaps you may have in your learning while also establishing a future path. Things like the Arban Book for Brass, the Deville Book for Saxophone, or the Klose Book for Clarinet. (Those last two are public domain and free, Click the link)
10. Get nerdy. Dive in and learn all the weird things about your instrument. History, famous players, and instructions techniques. These things will enhance your practice and inspire you.
Most importantly, don't give up, and good luck.
As a fan of the Big Band Era, I'm sad to hear Patty Andrews has passed away. I'm also sad to admit I didn't know she was still alive up to now. I forget how long ago the 1940's weren't.
Patty was a member of the Andrews Sisters, the singing trio that produced the sound that defined an era in vocal jazz. The other two members were LaVerne Sophia and Maxine Angelyn.
My first memory of hearing the Andrews Sisters had to be with a Bing Crosby Christmas record that I found in my grandfather's music library. Here is one of those recordings:
As a nostalgia nerd, I also watched all of the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movies when I was growing up. They performed on the "Road to Rio" in the clip below, with Trumpeter Harry James No Less! This was great!
Also, I'm not saying the Andrew's Sister won us World War Two, but I'm sure this helped:
It was another time, and it was pretty awesome.
As freemusiced.org is growing, and the podcast is finding its audience, I have decided to split the blog into several blogs. We now have the FreeMusicEd Blog as well as Gannon's Blog and this, Stephen's Blog. I will put site updates on the FreeMusicEd Blog and Gannon and I will put personal articles on the others. I hope this will make finding content easier. More to come!