Posts Tagged ‘performing’

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part II: Visualizing

Posted by Brian on 29th May 2012 in General Music, How to:..., Musicianship, Performing, Practice

Earlier this month, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. I am now working on getting some of the insights from that workshop written down and posted. Two weeks ago, I talked about why we might want to practice without our guitar. This week I am going to talk about visualization techniques.

We often hear athletes talk about using visualizing techniques to help them on their road to success. One thing that came up during the workshop was the legendary story of the golfer who kept himself sane as  a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam by imagining playing a round of golf at his home course each day. When he finally did get home, the story goes, he had only lost a couple of strokes off his game. While the veracity of this story may be in doubt, the benefits of visualization techniques are not.

One way that we can use visualization is to play “air guitar”. We can imagine playing new chord shapes or playing a familiar chord progression – maybe playing that chord progression on another part of the neck. We can imagine playing scales – working through the major, and various minor and modal scales, hearing them in our mind as we “play” them.

We can also pick up some sheet music (standard notation or tablature) and visualize playing it. If you are using standard notation, figure out the best place to play each note, and, where applicable, figure out which chord voicings will work most effectively.

Another way we can use visualization techniques is to use our computer or mobile devices. There are websites and “apps” that help you to learn your fretboard. Here is one from MusicTheory.net: http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/fretboard/yy998y

A final area where we can use visualization is in performance. Years ago I heard Olympic Gold Medalist, Mark Tewksbury tell a story about sneaking into the, then unfinished, pool in Barcelona and imagining the crowds and walking across the deck to the starting blocks and hearing the starters pistol and how it helped him to perform on the actual day of competition. As musicians, we can do the same by imagining an audience, imagining taking our place on the stage and nailing those first few notes. We can also use this type of visualization with our instrument in hand too – when we are working on performance pieces, we should be imagining our audience and even practicing our verbal bits between songs.

Stay tuned for Part III: Rhythm and Tempo

 

 

How to: Build a Set List: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty's BlogI recently read a great blog post from Adam Rafferty which describes his process for building a set list. He also talks about the importance of melody and some of the pitfalls to avoid when composing new tunes or adding repertoire. You can read the post here.

Adam Rafferty is a solo fingerstyle guitarist from New York City. He was featured in September’s Video-of-the-Month.

At the Sunderland Music Festival

Posted by Brian on 25th February 2012 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Journal, Performing

Last Tuesday, I had the privilege of playing at the Sunderland Lions’ Music Festival along with four of my guitar students. The tune that I chose to play this year was “Dune” by Bob Evans.

Last spring, on May 1st, I got to see Bob Evans play a concert at The Earl Pub in Stouffville. At the concert, he mentioned that there was a transcription of his song “Dune” available for free on his website. On May 2nd, I started to work on the tune. It took me three months to learn the tune, and another three months before I was able to try it out at an open mic. At long last, in approximately the same amount of time that it takes to make a baby, it was ready to be presented “for real” at the festival.

Below, is the video of me playing “Dune” in Sunderland. And while it is not my best performance of the tune, I’m pretty pleased with the results. At one point, I squeezed the neck too hard and produced an awful noise that was supposed to be a chord, and later on I had a minor brain cramp where I momentarily forgot where I was going, but overall, I was happy with the result. (And the adjudicator had nice things to say too!)

So, (with apologies for the quality of the audio and video) here I am playing “Dune” at the 2012 Sunderland Music Festival:

Adjudication

Posted by Brian on 13th February 2012 in Beginners, Musicianship, Performing

A regular theme of mine since starting this blog has been the importance of getting out and performing for people. Around the time I started this blog I committed to practicing what I preach and I’ve been a regular attendee at one local open mic and have put in a couple of appearances at a couple of others. Long time readers will know that I also entered the Sunderland Music Festival a year ago:

“The Sunderland Lions Music Festival is intended to promote higher standards of musical awareness and achievement in our community by providing young musicians with opportunities for public performance and professional assessment.” — Mission Statement

While “young musician” doesn’t quite describe me in terms of chronological age, it does describe me in terms of the potential for growth in my musicianship. And the experience of entering the festival last year was a great one. The festival is “adjudicated“. This means that a professional musician actively listens to your playing and critiques it. This is a very different experience from participating in an open mic, or singing around the campfire, or pretty much any other performance experience available to amateur performers. Most people after hearing you play will describe it in terms that are some variation on “good” or “bad”. An adjudicator will comment on your tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and other aspects of your playing. These are the things that make your playing “good” or “bad”, but most people are not musically literate enough (or energetic enough) to break down the elements of your playing and categorize the things that you do well – or not-so-well.

Last year the adjudicator praised my phrasing, but pointed out a lack of dynamics in my playing. So now, I pay more attention to my dynamics. I’ve discovered, both by playing and listening, that dynamics can really grab the attention of your audience and can really help to convey the emotion of a tune. I also found it very interesting listening to the critiques of other musicians, particularly those who played other instruments.

This year, I’ve signed up again and I’ve persuaded a number of my students to sign up as well. I’m really looking forward to hearing what the adjudicator will say about my playing this year. I’m also curious as to what he will say about my students’ playing. As a teacher I imagine that the experience of having someone analyzing my students’ playing will be very educational as well.

If you are interested in checking out an adjudicated performance, the Open Guitar Class of the Sunderland Music Festival will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at the Sunderland United Church, 10 Church St., Sunderland.

 

Tune Up!

Posted by Brian on 16th January 2012 in Beginners, Ear Training, Musicianship, Performing, Playing well with others, Rant

“I thought that the professional touch that made your set was the fact that your guitar was in a proper state of tune.”

I recently played a short set at a local open mic, where a musician friend was in attendance and I received the preceding note the following day. I sometimes forget how sensitive some people are to tuning – my ear seems to be less discriminating than most. I can hear when something is out of tune, but it doesn’t grate on me the way that it does some people. Having said that, I do recognize the importance of tuning.

It actually took me years to figure out tuning. Then one day, the clouds parted and I saw the light. Not sure what the trigger was, but suddenly I “got it”. For others, tuning is as natural as breathing. But the important thing is that you must always strive to play in tune, especially when playing for (or with) others.

Every time you pick up your instrument, you should check the tuning. These days, it is much easier than when I was a budding young rockstar. You can now buy electronic tuners for as little as $15 (though I would recommend spending a little more). And while I think that you should always try to tune by ear first, you can easily check your work with the tuner.

If you get used to playing in tune all of the time, it becomes way easier to tell if you are out of tune, and you may even get to the point where you will be able to critique other performers’ tuning… Best of all, you are way less likely to annoy your audience, even if it is just your cat.

How to: Open Mic

Posted by Brian on 25th October 2011 in How to:..., Performing, Practice

One of the biggest and most important steps when learning to play music, is performance. Somehow, when people are listening to us play, everything changes. Songs that we can play perfectly and effortlessly in an empty room, become much more difficult when someone, especially someone unfamiliar, is listening.

Of course the first step is to play in front of family and/or friends. Just say, “Hey, I need to practice playing to an audience. Can you listen to this and tell me what you think?” And if you have friends or family who play music, do them a favour and ask them to play for you.

The next step, is to find an unfamiliar audience. And the best place to do that is at an “open mic” (also commonly called an “open stage”).

Now don’t be scared… they’re not a bad as you think.

People who go to open mics don’t go to be critics. They go to encourage. Most are participants, and the ones that aren’t are usually trying to work up the courage to participate. And yes, your first performance may well be a “train wreck”. But it won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…

Here’s how to prepare for your first open mic.

Check it out.

Find out as much as you can before you go. Are you allowed a certain number of songs, or a certain amount of time? Is it a “themed” open mic (i.e. bluegrass, celtic, etc.) or is it truly “open”. If it makes you more comfortable, go and check it out once before you perform, but take your instrument, just in case. If someone asks you to play, its okay to say, “I’d like to listen a bit first.” But if they ask again later, don’t say no.

Prepare.

Decide which songs you’re going to play and practice, practice, practice. If you want to perform standing up, practice standing up. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice blindfolded. Videotape yourself. Watch the video. And practice some more.

Perform

Play your best song first. It’s not a concert. You don’t need to save the best for last. Playing your best song will maximize your comfort level.

Don’t bail out. Even if your first tune goes horribly, stay with it. The longer you’re up there, the more comfortable you will get.

Stay until its over. If you can, stick around and listen to other performers. On top of being courteous to the other performers, there is a very good chance that someone will come around and thank you for coming out and encourage you to come back. If this doesn’t happen, its not you – it’s them. Find another open mic. Also, try to complement or encourage at least one other performer.

Evaluate

You will probably be your own worst critic. Don’t wallow! Try to pick just one thing that you will try to do differently next time. Think about what other performers did that you liked, or didn’t like and try to apply those things to your next performance.

Go Back

Finally, no matter how well, or poorly, it went. Try again. If you didn’t like the “vibe” of that open mic, try another one. But make sure that you try again – it will be easier – and it certainly won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…

 

 

Advice from David Ross MacDonald

Posted by Brian on 13th September 2011 in General Music, Guitar, Performing, Practice

In my last post I talked about attending a guitar workshop with David Ross MacDonald and shared his thoughts on making mistakes when we are performing. This time I’m going to share some of his thoughts on practicing.

Use Your Feet

One of the things that he talked about was practicing without the guitar. He suggested that to build our internal sense of rhythm, we should use our feet. Apparently, David spends a lot of time doing a sort of two-step which I’ve tried to illustrate on the left.

As he “two-steps”, he counts out various rhythms in time with his feet. For example:

Eighths: ONE-and-TWO-and-THREE-and-FOUR-and…

or

Triplets: ONE-an-a-TWO-an-a-THREE-an-a-FOUR-an-a…

or

16ths: ONE-e-an-a-TWO-e-an-a-THREE-e-an-a-FOUR-e-an-a…

Clear as mud??? Hopefully you get what I’m trying to explain here.

You could also clap out these rhythms while two-stepping to help embed them in your brain.

Now play your guitar while doing this two-step. The idea is that as you practice you will “trust your feet” to keep the rhythm of the tune intact, making us more aware of our hesitations and those times when we speed up through difficult passages.

Egg timer

Another suggestion he had was to find a 3-minute egg timer – one of the old-school hourglass-type ones with the sand that flows through it. (Good luck with this – if you know where to get one, let me know!) Using the timer when working on scales, exercises, etc keeps us from spending too little time on the difficult things and too much time on the easy ones. It also gives us a demonstration of the relative nature of time – passing quickly on the easy bits and creeping along on the hard ones!

Perform!

As part of his discussion of performance mistakes that I covered in my last post, he also talked about the learning opportunity that those mistakes give us. Making mistakes in public performance is different from making them privately. Apparently, when we make a mistake while performing, our brain triggers a shot of adrenaline which helps us to remember to not make that mistake in the future. This is certainly consistent with my experience – the tunes that I have performed most often are the ones that I play best, even though they are not necessarily the ones that I have practiced most.

He also talked of other things – knowing the fundamentals of music theory, singing intervals, and that sort of thing – all good advice, but these were three practical suggestions that I hadn’t heard before. What things have you added to your practice routines that have made a big difference?

 

David Ross MacDonald’s website: www.DavidRossMacDonald.com

Let Them Go

Posted by Brian on 2nd September 2011 in General Music, Performing

Last weekend I was at the Eaglewood Folk Festival where I attended a wonderful guitar workshop hosted by David Ross MacDonald, an Australian singer-songwriter who also has excellent fingerstyle guitar chops. He had a number of excellent suggestions for improving ones playing, which will show up in a later post, but for today I want to share what he had to say about making mistakes.

He talked about going to school and studying jazz and how that experience made him far too analytical about his playing – to the point that he hated his playing and was reduced to playing washboard in a jug band. (Not sure if that was literal or figurative – he had that dry Aussie humour that can be hard to read.) Anyways, he had to learn to make peace with his mistakes.

According to David, it takes us about 150 milliseconds to realize that we’ve made a mistake. (I’m not sure where that number comes from, but I have no reason to doubt it.) He observed that sound travels at 340 metres per second and that by the time you realize that you’ve made a mistake, that mistake is “somewhere out in the car park.” He encouraged us to set our mistakes free. If we wince or shrug or duck or otherwise wallow in our error, we’ve just spent about 10 seconds focused on a mistake that lasted for a fraction of a second. We need to let them go.

Here is David Ross MacDonald playing his instrumental Old Mac’s Tractor:

David Ross MacDonald’s website: www.DavidRossMacDonald.com

The Next Step…

Posted by Brian on 3rd July 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Journal, Performing

For the half dozen (or so) of you that read this blog regularly, you know that a little over a year ago, I committed myself to getting out and performing more. Shortly after that, I reported on performing at my first open mic as a solo instrumentalist. Now, I am pleased to report that yesterday, I played my first full set as a solo instrumentalist.

It was at the Stouffville Strawberry Festival. I played a full 50 minute set as part of the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s “Showcase”. It was… not horrible. It was… fun… fun in the way that I imagine bungy-jumping is fun. I lived, therefore it was fun.

I realized shortly after I was invited to perform that I was going to have to play pretty much every song I knew. I had to go back and dust off a couple of tunes that were all but forgotten to fill out the full fifty minutes. I even learned a new tune. In a new tuning! It meant more practice. It meant more focused practice. All good things.

Now I’m looking forward to next time. Next time I will try to remember that I don’t have to tune by ear when I have a tuner on the ground in front of me. (Sorry for the delay folks – though it did help fill out the set.) Next time I will have more repertoire. And next time, (hopefully) it will be more fun… maybe even fun like a birthday party is fun.

If Only I Had a Better Guitar…

This is an old blog entry from Tuck Andress of “Tuck & Patti” fame. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should look him up, but all you need to know for now is that Tuck is a guitarist of the first order… and he has found three bits of wisdom that some of us never find…

Tuck & Patti: It’s the Guitar’s Fault