Posts Tagged ‘practice’

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

 

 

Quote, Unquote.

Posted by Brian on 19th May 2012 in General Music, Practice, Quote Unquote

Quote, UnquoteI came across this quote reading an excellent article, “How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?” at Bulletproof Musician.com:

“If you practice with your fingers,
no amount is enough.
If you practice with your head,
two hours is plenty.”

– Leopold Auer upon being asked by violinist Nathan
Milstein how long he should practice each day.

The rest of the article talks about the importance of being engaged while you practice and discusses the the pitfalls of the “typical” practice routine and the importance of breaking down your material into small bits and really analyzing your playing as you work on those small chunks.

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part I: Why?

A week and a half ago, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting some of the techniques that were discussed for practicing without having an instrument in hand.

First, however, I thought it might be helpful to discuss why one might want to practice without a guitar.

For me, the most obvious situation where one might want to practice without a guitar is when there isn’t a guitar available. When you’re on the bus, or at your kids’ soccer practice, or waiting at the doctor’s office, you may want to wile away the time by practicing without your guitar.

You may also want to practice without your guitar to build non-guitar-specific skills. You can work on rhythm or ear training very easily without having your instrument in hand.

Another reason you may want to practice without your guitar is to avoid (or recover from) injury. Repetitive stress injuries are common with the guitar and we can reduce our playing hours by finding ways to practice without actually playing.

So now that you know why you might want to practice without your guitar, stay tuned to learn how to practice without your guitar…

May 29, 2012:  Part II: Visualizing

June 28, 2012: Part III: Rhythm and Tempo

Emulation

Posted by Brian on 21st February 2012 in General Music, Musicianship, Practice, Technique

This past week, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to an adjudicator critiquing the performances of young piano players, including my own children. There has been lots of great advice that could apply equally to musicians of all ages and abilities. But one suggestion got me thinking.

As the adjudicator was dissecting performances of some baroque-era pieces, she talked about how piano pieces from that era were, in fact, written for the harpsichord – a keyboard instrument that resembles a small piano, but which sounds much brighter and doesn’t have the volume or sustain of a piano. She then went on to say that when playing such pieces, students should be trying, as much as possible, to emulate, or mimic, the sound and feel of the harpsichord in their piano playing. She then went on to talk about the importance of trying to emulate other instruments too.

This got me thinking about something that I had heard years ago – and I wish my memory was better, but I do remember hearing about a famous guitarist, whose name completely escapes me, who developed his style by trying to emulate the saxophone music of… Charlie Parker… maybe???

Anyways, the point that I am getting to is that, if we really want to hone our expressive chops, we guitarists should not only be trying to emulate other guitarists that we like, we should also be trying to emulate great players of other instruments too.

Quote, Unquote

Posted by Brian on 7th November 2011 in Musicianship, Picking Hand, Practice, Technique, Uncategorized

“To be a virtuoso, one of the most important things you must have is as close to a perfect sense of rhythm as you can.”

Pepe Romero

 

“It is very important to work on the tone you have with your right hand [picking hand], to give emotion to a tune… Many guitar players don’t really take care of the right hand, but for me the right hand is producing the music”

Jacques Stotzem

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…

 

 

Tone Deaf?

Posted by Brian on 28th September 2011 in General Music, Practice, Rant

Its one of my pet peeves. And it happens all the time. “You teach guitar? I wish that I was musical, but I’m completely tone deaf.”

You’re not.

Not even close.

If you’ve had this conversation, you are not tone deaf. In fact “tone deafness” is a remarkably rare affliction and is usually accompanied by a host of other problems which would make “normal living” an impossibility.

If you can decipher a normal conversation, you are not tone deaf.

And, if you’re not tone deaf, you are overflowing with musical potential.

All that anyone needs to become musical is time and effort… (and a teacher). I am convinced that anyone – yes, ANYONE – can learn to play an instrument well enough to enjoy playing – and have others enjoy listening, if they are willing to invest the time and effort.

Of course, the best time to start learning music is as a small child, but the next best time is right now. So if you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t have what it takes to be musical, I’m telling you to get over it. Like the commercial says – if you want to be musical, then start being musical.

Now Hear This…

Posted by Brian on 19th September 2011 in General Music, Practice

Musicians can hear better than non-musicians as they age.

Its true.

That is, as long as we haven’t done physical damage to our ears.

According to an article in the Toronto Star, that was forwarded to me by a guitar playing friend, playing music keeps the neural pathways for hearing active, which helps us to understand speech in a noisy environment, among other things. Also, the benefit derived from playing music is directly related to how much time we spend practicing – just in case you needed a reason to practice…

“Practice The Piano. Do You Hear Me?” – Toronto Star, Monday September 12, 2011

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

Playing vs. Practicing

Posted by Brian on 5th August 2011 in General Music, Practice

A lot of musicians I know tend to confuse playing music with practicing music. Yes, playing tunes can be an important part of practicing, but just playing tunes is definitely not practicing. Here’s a list of ways to differentiate playing from practicing:

1. It is remotely conceivable that your family might enjoy listening to you playing.