My last article was about inspiration. So once we are inspired, how do we own music?
I see it as having the music and the technique in our hands. Not our mind. To achieve that thought requires repetition in our practicing. Not a little repetition but a lot of it. Starting slow, using a metronome, and working at making our body work in a non-injurious and relaxed way. Trying to avoid bad habits in learning the scales, etudes, or works of music. Remember that if we learn the music in an imperfect way, that is how we always play it.
We use our minds when thinking about what to do. Posture, seeing the notes, understanding that even scales are music and not exercises is a big plus. Whether we are memorizing something or reading from the page the idea is to get the music off the page. It helps if we treat our practicing as if an audience is listening to us.
For students of all ages, an excellent teacher is important. For those that are out of school and no longer taking private lessons, it is even more important to not ignore any imperfection in our practice. The mind and then the body remembers what we learn whether it was correct or imperfect.
It is important that we arrange our practice session to include scales, etudes, and repertoire (whether that is learning tunes or learning concertos, or any other music intended for the public).
Scales are the building blocks and it starts with the chromatic scale which is the alphabet of music. Few students understand the chromatic scale and the idea of half steps as the basis of most of the music we play. So that becomes something that the beginner seems to learn slowly and after several years. Once they know the chromatic scale it is important to do exercises based on this scale. Then come the major, minor, augmented, and diminished scales along with the many modes from many countries. Though we may play from music or tunes that we have learned it is important to memorize scales. Try starting scales as whole notes, the half, quarter, etc. Starting with whole notes not only makes it easier to memorize the scales it allows us to study our hands and body to ensure that only the parts of the body that have to be used in a certain way are doing their job and everything else is very relaxed. Remember that fast is relaxed not only in the hands but in every other aspect of our body.
Next, we have the etudes which generally work on a certain problem we encounter on our instruments. But make no mistake, etudes are music as much as they are a study of something. Play music at all times. Again start slow with your metronome and gradually increase the speed. If you increase the speed and start making mistakes slow the metronome down to the previous speed and don't go faster until your fingers know the patterns they must learn. Practice the difficult parts more than anything else. I like to play the piece through, work on the problems and then play the piece again. That isn't the end. The next day we may still not feel comfortable with our study but chances are it will be a bit better. We keep doing that daily until we own the notes and the music.
Most soloists whether they are classical, jazz, country, swing, ethnic, etc. play by memory. Those in smaller groups, for example, a string quartet, aren't expected to play by memory, however, in the past few years, I have seen chamber groups of all types playing by memory. The point being whether we are playing by memory or reading music, we have to take the music off the page and make it our own.
So in making the music something we own how much liberty should we take with phrasing marks and tempo etc. These are all things that make a piece of music unique to us. That is the interpretation of the composer or songwriter. Much can be learned by who wrote the music. Was that person a pianist writing for other instruments or a musician of any type composing to include piano, harp, or electronics? For example, many times composers that are adept at using the computer will step the notes and rhythm into their computer very slow and then speed it up to the tempo they like. Many times that makes it impossible for an instrumentalist to play their music at the tempo they are hearing. So we may have to leave out some less important notes just to play the music. Or another example is a pianist writing for an orchestral instrument. Do they know how to phrase their music for a flute, or violin and do they consider or understand what exactly an orchestral instrument can do. In the last broadcast email, I had a quote from Andres Schiff that said " a bar line is like a jail cell." I see phrasing all the time where the musical line goes over the bar line but the phrasing mark is kept within the bar line. This is exactly a time to use our knowledge to place the phrasing line above the notes that are married together.
So if you have done all of this for 20 years or so, and you are more than just a good musician. you should be ready to learn the "business" of music.
Consider if you are a soloist, a chamber music group, a jazz band, or any saleable entity. Why should you have an agent, a publicist, recordings, social media involvement, and other help? Then there is your package with still photos and a video. Oh and don't forget to keep practicing every day. Remember someone else can always sell you better than you can sell yourself. It is easy for someone to say how great you are and why you should be hired. It is much more difficult for you to say it yourself as it borders on narcissism.
If you can't afford all the help, or you are not "discovered" you will have to do it yourself. That takes a lot of time away from playing and practicing. The business person in your group should be spending a minimum of 2 hours a day just looking for opportunities for your group. Or if you are a soloist you have to do it yourself.
Just a warning. There are many agents out there that will ask you to give them money so they can do the work for you. It is so much better if they do the work for you and then takes a percentage. That is called a work incentive instead of an agent for hire. There are also attorneys in the music and entertainment business that besides being able to make you a water-tight contract (employers seldom back out of paying you BTW) they can have some really great contacts that can help you.
A Closing Thought
PERFORMING ARTS REVIEW: My friend Dan Kepl has a website located at https://www.performingartsreview.net/about where he reviews mostly independent CDs. I think in a couple of days he will have my new CD "Almost Alone" review up on the site. This is one of several I have done that has been reviewed by Dan.
The site is set up so you can search around to find me and in the meantime come across some great musical artists which will give you a little time to peruse the state-of-the-art performances that are available and discussed by artist and interviewer and of course you get to pick what you are interested in. It is always an interesting presentation. I know as we go more and more to the digital presentation of music this valuable website will continue to examine all the great music available to us these days.
Until next time:
Always be happy with where you are at, while you are trying to get to where you want to be.