Filtering by Category: Musical Wisdom
As a young musician, I was often caught between holding back and being a disciplined player. I was never really one to take a chance musically because I was afraid that I would make a mistake and/or I thought that others would think that my idea would be corny. I battled this for a long time. Usually, younger musicians tend to overplay and play everything that they know. I, on the other hand, held back a lot. I still do this even now.
I remember when I attended Purchase College and studied under Pete Malinverni. He told me that I have great musical instincts and I should trust them. He also told me something that I carry till this day:
"Always do what the music calls for."
This statement has helped shaped my view of music. It has enhanced and added to my musical instincts. It has helped in terms of what kind of musical vocabulary I should use for a specific tune, how I should shape a solo, and shaped my understanding of the musical language. It's all about knowing what goes where. Creativity is involved in this because sometimes I have to know how creative can I be with the given parameters.
Often times, other musicians and band leaders tell me to open up and play out more (I call that giving me the green light). My thing is that I want to blend in with the band. When I get the green light, I get excited! At the same time though, I make sure that I do what the music calls for. There are some cases where I had to "water myself down" due to the insecurities of others and in that made me a dishonest player. I felt like I had to lower my skill level because other band members didn't practice or take their craft seriously as I did. Discipline is still the name of the game though. I have to continue to play my parts with excellence. If the song is joyous, then I have to express that. If the song is sad, I have to express that feeling.
A good friend of mine told me that discipline is all about timing. It's like trying to throw a ball in between two train cars while train is moving. It takes patience and risk in order to do it. So when I play I pick my spots carefully. I play an idea just enough so that the listener would hear it but quickly enough to not be in the way of another musician or vocalists.
I'm really glad I learned it this way. Some musicians learned this concept in a more traumatic fashion. Just do what the music calls for and try to throw the ball between the cars. Take a risk but be patient!
Please feel free to comment!
I remember as a young student how much I hated the harmonic minor scale. Why? It was that skip from the flat 6 (b6) to the major seventh (M7). I loved the sound of it but my fingers wanted to boycott that interval jump at the end. In some keys, (primarily C, D, E, F, G, A and B) the fingering was pretty straight forward and manageable. When it came to the black keys, my fingers were tangled up in knots because the fingerings were completely different. With slow practice and a lot of patience, I managed to get the scales down into all the keys.
Fast forward to 2014. I was practicing the B flat (Bb) Harmonic minor scale and the fingering that I was using felt strange. I was using the fingering that I had used as a child but something felt off. I slowed down and examined what I was doing. I was taught to start with my 2nd finger in both hands and I remembered that clearly but something still didn't feel right. I decided to go read the fingering from the Hanon book and I was right. 2nd finger on the left and right hand on the Bb. I check out another book to make sure that the fingerings were correct and to my surprise, the fingerings were different. The right hand started with the 4th finger on the Bb and the left hand started on the 2nd finger on the Bb. I tried it out slowly and I felt comfortable. No awkwardness at all! What I learned was the key to playing this scale as well as others was contingent on where the 4th finger lands.
My ring finger surely had a work out that day but I immediately saw the benefits. Usually the ring finger is the weakest finger but the harmonic minor scale kept it accountable and honest. When I started to play my other scales and lines, my ring finger kept up! So not only did I learn a new fingering, my ring finger got stronger because of it! That skip was an excercise in itself!
It's a good thing to check out alternate fingering for scales and other musical ideas. Everyone does not have the same hand or finger shape so that also needs to be considered. Experiment weird fingerings when playing scales or when you are soloing. Experiment with different fingerings when you are learning music as well. The composer may have put that fingering there for a reason. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it won't. Don't be afraid to try it out.
With that being said, I would like to thank the harmonic minor scale and its counterpart the harmonic major scale for teaching me this valuable lesson. I will never forget this!!
Feel free to comment!!
I love to read. I read because it appeals to my imagination and it feeds my mind. I love learning and experimenting with ideas and concepts musically. Here are some books to check out that can help in one's musical development!
This book by Gerald Klickstein is a book that covers everything from how to practice to preventing injury to even the psyche of the musician. I shored up my practice habits reading this book. It reinforced practice habits that I had learned as a child. "The Musician's Way" is a great read!! You can follow him on Twitter @klickstein. He also has a website: http://www.musiciansway.com. The book is available in major bookstores and available for Kindle and iBooks.
"The Practice of Practice" is an awesome book to have. The author, Jonathan Harnum brings a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in the art of practicing. There are definitely many eye-opening revelations in this book. He gets into the minds of many great musicians and the concepts that are revealed are astounding. This book is available at Amazon.com and is available for Kindle. Jonathan Harnum's website is http://thepracticeofpractice.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @PracticeTactics.
These are two of many books that I have in my library. There are more books that I would love to share. If this is helpful to you, please let me know!! Enjoy!!
Lately, I have been practicing more on the basis of revelation rather than information. What do I mean by that? Well, let's go back to when I started playing piano as a child. When I was taking lessons, I was learning based off of gathering information and data (for example, this is a C major chord: C, E, G.). This had no bearing on the teacher giving me great insight on music. This was solely based on how I perceived and received what was being taught. On the other hand, I loved to experiment with music on my own free time and gather revelations on what I have learned on my own. Looking back, I realized how much I needed to experiment AND have structure in my musical development.
As I got older, I became more of a music theory, chord and scale book fiend. I figured that if I "played" the formula of how a chord progression works and learned my musical ideas from a bebop run book, that I would be creative. However, it made me mechanical musically because I was gathering information. In contrast in learning the books and "formulae" of great music, when I listened to music, I learned at a faster and more efficient rate because I was witnessing creativity. The key thing was when I listened to music, there was always something new that was revealed that I hadn't heard before in the song or piece. In the theory/information/formula aspect "2+2" will always equal "4". In theory, a C major chord is "C E G". If I were to be creative with the C major chord, I could play it as "C G E" or "C E G" with each note in a different octave.
There are some cases where information can become an "A-HA!" moment and that is a revelation also. There were things that were said to me as a teen that I finally understand because I have finally experienced the information first hand. Information becomes revelation when the thought becomes an experience. Experience and learn as much as you can musically. I'm still learning and I'm hungry for more revelation musically. Information and trivia has its place but revelation through experience with the information will increase learning in leaps and bounds! Revelation is generally active while information alone is passive. Here are some quotes to check out:
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” - Pablo Picasso
“Learn the rules, then break them intelligently.” ― Jessica Bell
"A theory can be proved by experiment but no path leads from experiment to the birth of a theory." - Albert Einstein
"After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well." - Albert Einstein
"There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. I love music passionately. And because l love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art gushing forth — an open-air art, boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art." - Claude Debussy
"Works of art make rules but rules do not make works of art." - Claude Debussy
"You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail." - Charlie Parker
Now I'm not saying that the books are not great tools. What I am saying is that when I was actively experiencing music, that was when I got revelation. It is not only limited to listening to music. When I am learning a piece on sheet music. I get revelation as well. Sometimes it's as simple as a specific hand movement. Sometimes it's an articulation or even a nice melodic line that can potentially be a seed to a song or lick. I guess what I am trying to say is revelation is more organic because it grows and becomes a part of you.
I remember practicing the piano one day and I realized something. When I really wanted to execute a musical idea, I would raise my shoulders. I would think that by doing this, the musical idea would magically be played. Wrong.
Raising my shoulders was more of a hindrance than an aid in my playing. I couldn't execute whatever I was playing because I was unknowingly creating unneeded tension from raising my shoulders. From the audience's perspective, they feel that I am really "into the music" or I'm trying to "sell the song" to them. From my side of things, my ideas are not coming out as clean as I would like.
So how did I remedy this situation. Well, I had to practice slowly. Very slowly because I needed to know when I would do it. Crazy enough, my shoulders would rise up like I was being controlled by a puppet master. Once I recognized this, I put my shoulders down and "reset" and started over. I started again and sure enough it happened again. I raised my shoulders. So, I had to reset again. All of this information by practicing slowly. After a while, I had "cut the strings" and I was free...for the moment. The lesson that I learned from this experience is to relax. I had to think of my body as a garden hose. A garden hose is connected to a pipe and water flows through it freely. When there is a twist in the hose, water does not flow freely and little to no water may come out. So raising my shoulders was the equivalent to twisting a garden hose. Energy was not flowing properly because it was twisted up in my shoulders. Now not only am I very conscious about what I am playing, I am conscious about the state of my body as well!
Any thoughts? Feel free to let me know what you think! <a
How does one play more fluently? How does one play with such clarity? It has to be piano technique!! When she plays, it looks flawless and effortless. I often thought and asked those questions when I was younger. The answers that I got were to "Practice your scales" and "Do a lot of Hanon exercises". They helped in a way in terms of finger strength and durability but as I got older I wanted to understand how they translated into real music.
One day I met a classical pianist named Orett Rhoden at Carnegie Hall. He was very inspiring. After the concert I had a chance to talk to him and ask a few questions, one of the questions being...Yep you guessed it (or maybe you didn't...I won't judge you...LMBO) "How do I improve my technique? Should I use Hanon?" To my surprise he said, "Hanon? No way. Use the Chopin Etudes." I was very excited that I went to the store the next day to by the Chopin Etudes. I started on the first one and I was very impatient. (By this time, I wasn't taking formal classical lessons and I was doing more jazz stuff). Despite how I felt, I learned something: Every piece or song that is learned has a specific technical challenge. The thing is as a musician, I don't play music because I want to show off that I have learned and conquered a technical challenge. I play music to play music and express myself through it. Etudes covered the bases in that not only was I learning great music, I was getting stronger and developed more dexterity and flexibility.
Another thing that I have learned about technique is that it seems like it is taught in a cookie cutter fashion like a one size fits all type of deal. However, everyone's hands and fingers are not the same size and shape. I have sizable hands and slim fingers. I can reach a major tenth effortlessly with both hands. Some folks have bigger hands, some have shorter fingers. Yes there are common threads in terms of technique with how the hand works but it won't work for everyone. I'm not saying that scales are not important. They are foundational since music comes from scale. There are some things that are important in technique such as having maximum relaxation and maximum control. When those concepts are deeply rooted in our musical makeup, how do we move on from the elementary stages and begin to make and enjoy music?
I used to think that technique primarily a physical thing. This belief changed as I learned that technique is starts in the mind. Technique is the means to an end, which is to make good music. A musician can play a piece technically flawless but there is no emotion. Bill Evans said it best:
"Technique is the ability to translate your ideas into sound through your instrument. This is a comprehensive technique...a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it. What has to happen is that you develop a comprehensive technique and then say, Forget that. I’m just going to be expressive through the piano."
So technique starts in the mind and comes out physically and audibly. It requires a lot of patience. Impatience will do more harm than good in learning music.
I guess when a musician is trying to strengthen their fingers, there are exercises that are made for that. It's a start but it shouldn't be the end. It is a foundational tool that should be applied to something for it to be useful. How does a person get better at math? Is it by playing chess? No. It's by studying and learning math. How does a person get better at Chopin? Is it by learning Hanon? No. It's by learning and practicing Chopin. Every musical situation is different so the one size fits all approach will not suffice.
So in closing, I learned:
1. Technique starts in the mind and comes out physically and audibly.
2. Technique requires a lot of patience. Impatience will do more harm than good in learning music.
3. If I want to learn a specific thing musically, learn that thing.
4. Etudes are great to learn not only because of the technical challenge. It's because it's musical and enjoyable to listen to.
5. The piano is not a gym. It's a musical instrument.
6. Most importantly, technique is not the end. Technique is the means to the goal and the goal is to make great music.
Please share your thoughts. I'm really interested in the point of views of others. I love to learn!
"The moment you stop being a student, you become a critic. Never stop learning." - Unknown
Hi everyone! I hope you are well today! I read a very interesting article in the May 2014 issue of Downbeat Magazine called "Melodic Study, Deep Listening and the Importance of Context" by Branford Marsalis. He was talking about his journey as a young musician studying licks from John Coltrane records, just trying to get what he could. Art Blakey asked him "When Coltrane was a young player, what do you think he listened to, tapes of him in the future?" Once Branford heard this, he was flummoxed. (So was I!) Branford states that "he had to accept the idea that Coltrane and his contemporaries didn't develop their originality by rejecting the music that came before them, but by embracing it."
I can relate to this because when I was younger, I wanted to play all of the cool stuff AND was a big music theory buff on top of that. I can tell you the musical modes and the science behind what I was playing. It was good, but I felt limited. Music theory is important and being musically current is important as well, but what good is it if one does not know who and what came before? Context is the key in all of this. I'm really grateful for websites like www.allmusic.com and www.digitaldreamdoor.com because they show the "family tree" of musicians. I can find out who Keith Jarrett was influenced by because of these websites.
Another thing that I picked up was that in order to pick up musical vocabulary, you MUST listen to music. Music is a language and the fastest way to pick up a language is to listen. Anyone can pick up a book of licks and lines (I'm not saying those books are bad.), but it's through actively listening that one can improve at a faster rate. Learning lines, chord progressions, melodies, arrangements, etc thtough through listening intentionally will be held more dearly because it will be more personal.
Listening to the music is an awesome journey because there is always something to listen to. I'm not saying that music theory doesn't have it's place. Music theory plays a part, but as Claude Debussy says, "Art creates theory. Theory does not create art."
Check out Branford Marsalis' article in the May 2014 issue of Downbeat. Also check out www.allmusic.com and www.digitaldreamdoor.com. These are some great resources!! Enjoy and feel free to comment!
Hi there! I hope you are well today. I was reading a book by Ron Gorow called "Hearing And Writing Music". The premise of the book is recognizing intervals as quickly as your eyes recognizes colors. Musical intervals (2nds, 3rds, etc...) make up music and our ears can tell what they are. A point in the book that struck me was that no matter what key a song is played or sung in, the intervals in the song are still the same. (Try singing "Happy Birthday in different keys). With this point I began to think: Changing pitch is one thing. What about changing the tempo? Let's use the "Happy Birthday" song since it's easy. If you sing it fast, the song is still the same but it will be shorter. If you sing it slower, the song will take more time. Even if you were to hear that song on a 33 rpm setting on a record player, it would in the original tempo and key. What would happen if you changed the setting to 45 rpm? The pitch would be a lot higher and the tempo would be exponentially faster to the point where it would be a blur. The point would still stand that the harmonic and melodic intervals would still be intact. So with that discovery, I decided to experiment with the elasticity in my practicing.
Generally when I am learning a new tune, I practice it slowly. After a while, I pick up the tempo gradually. Then after that, depending on the original tempo of the song, I practice it as a ballad and as a supersonic technique piece. I do this for the sake of how the song feels.
I use elasticity when I am working on trouble spots in music that I am working on. I extract the spot, slow it down until it can not be recognized. When I have it under control, I begin to raise the tempo until I am comfortable. That is the elasticity of music.
Think about it...when you stretch a rubber band, the contents of the rubber band is still the same. After stretching it, it goes back to its original state. You can compress a rubber band into a ball and it will go back into its original state. Musical elasticity is a wonderful tool that I have used to help me learn at a more efficient rate. Give it try! I would love to hear your input!
Hi there! Hope your day is going well! Today's blog is about the quarter note. Yep. The quarter note. It can be mundane, predictable, boring, yet steady, consistent, and reliable. It's all about perspective. So why is the quarter note so important and valuable but overlooked? Well, let me tell you about a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend of mine who is an excellent drummer. I had asked my friend about how he practices on improving his timing and he explained that he uses a metronome, which I figured he did and I use one as well. However he threw a curve ball. He said that he practices everything at 40 BPM. Everything. I understood slow practice because I do that but I was curious about the number "40". I asked him about the 40 BPM and he said:
"Our bodies are designed to lock in at 60 BPM (60 seconds in a minute) and multiples there after (120, 180, etc...). When you practice at 40 BPM, it forces you to pay attention to the beat and not rush."
As soon as I got home I tried it and sure enough, he was right. (I'm willing to give anything musical that I have learned a try so that it won't be head knowledge but knowledge through experience so that I can think on my own terms). After a week, I must say that it was very relaxing. I noticed that my feel and time musically was heightened.
So one day I am practicing my scales and I am at 40 BPM and practicing them in eighth notes, eight note triplets and sixteenth notes. Then it hit me. There is so much space in the quarter note!! The quarter note is solid and it won't move so there is no need to rush at all!!
With that being discovered, I go on to sight read some music and in reading, I get another revelation: Once I get the understanding of the space that the quarter note has, I will understand the different combinations of divisions and sub divisions within the quarter note. Now I'm looking at the music differently. A quarter note has become a building block. A letter. A seed.
The power of the quarter note has changed the way I play and listen to music. There is no need to rush. In the quarter note, there is plenty of time and space!! Enjoy it!!
P.S. Try practicing at 40 BPM!! I would like to know what you have experienced doing this. Don't discount a musical theory because it may not make sense intellectually. If you try it out first, then possibly it will make sense afterward.
Well we are halfway through January and I've come upon some things. (By the way, I know it's been a long time since I put up a blog! Please forgive me! Lol!). In my musical journey, I've checked out many different theories and methods to improve musicianship. Most of them are great and they give great insight on different things from music theory to technique. One thing to keep in mind is that with all of this knowledge and insight, these things are a means to an end. The end is to make music. Music is art for the ears and a musician should never forget that. So what I am doing is that I am listening to more and more music for the experience. Music is a language so why not understand and improve musical vocabulary by listening to music. Since this switch, I have experienced exponential growth in creativity and the language. I didn't discount music theory in this. It has it's place. I use theory to identify what I am hearing and playing. The average listener won't understand theoretical aspect of music like (C# 7 flat 9), but they sure can relate to music sounding good and the confidence, conviction and emotion behind what is being played. This leads me to another thing. I used to be under this thing where I tried to listen to one artist that I like for a month. It was cool but I realized that this wasn't for me. I view music as food. Sometimes I will have the same food for days because that's what I want. Other times, I will have different foods each moment just because. My thing is as long as I am being musically and creatively fed, I'll be satisfied. In doing this, my practice sessions are more like creative experimentation sessions. I am more fulfilled doing this. I think it is important to experience music on different levels. Just like food, some foods I will love right away. Other foods I will have to develop an acquired taste for. Sometimes I'll be in the mood for a specific food just because. I believe that all of this fortifies one key thing in music: Listening. My ears are getting bigger and bigger just because I am actively listening with intention. This paradigm shift is also shoring up my learning methods in paying attention to detail and working on things until I can't get it wrong. This is actually an amazing breakthrough for me. Try it out if you want. Don't knock it until you have tried it. If it works for you, great! If it doesn't, no worries! It's not the end of the world. Customize it to your learning method. Everyone is different so as long as it brings the best result (also as long as it is healthy mentally, physically, emotionally etc) go for it!!
Here are a few things that I picked up today: 1. Where you are is just a stake in the sand in comparison to where you are going.
2. You do not have to ask for permission to be great at what you do.
3. If you wait for the perfect condition, you will never get anything done.
4. Although going to school is great and getting your degree is a wonderful achievement, you do not have to learn a specific skill before you go out and be "marketable". In music, you learn by experience. You add skills along the way. (This is not a pass to not practice on your own.) You have trust in the skills that you already have and get yourself out of the way. There is always something to improve on. Don't beat yourself up.
5. If you feel like you are not good enough, then you will never go out to play music. If you don't go out to play music, then no one will hear what you have to offer musically.
6. Playing along with other musicians will increase your progress and will increase accountability.
7. Have fun playing music and relax.
8. Network, network, network!!
Put these nuggets to good use! Onward and upward!!
Lately, I have been learning more and more that music IS a language. Yes, it is a saying which can come off as a cliche, however it still holds true. I have been working on my sight reading a lot lately. I can read music and learn a piece when I have to. The one thing that I want to improve is my sight reading. Think about it. When you go to the doctor's office and you see a magazine that appeals to you, you just take it up and read it. You probably haven't seen the magazine before but you still read it AND you understand it. I want my sight reading to be that way as well. Playing music is like speaking a language, writing music is like typing an email (or this blog), so reading music on sight should be like going to Barnes and Noble to read through books that catches your interest. It is a humbling experience but it is worth it. I can sight read hymns pretty well but I need to branch out and challenge myself with different styles of music. At the end of it all, I want to be fluent in the language of music, always adding vocabulary to what I already know!
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzz7sbRC9X0] A friend of mine asked about how to become more fluid in playing runs so I sent him a video about it. He said that it was very helpful and I hope it is helpful to you as well!!