Written on October 16, 2012
in Auditions, Composers, How To, Musician's Life, Symphony Orchestra
As a classically trained musician, you know that the most important thing you can do is work on and solidify your technique. No matter how talented or expressive you are in your musical skills, it`s technique that gets you through.
Without having a strong technique to support you, you`re not treading a path to success; you`re treading quick sand. On the flip side, however, some musicians rely so heavily on technique that they`re virtually swamped by it. They`re so wrapped up in practicing scales, arpeggios and other exercises that they neglect to work on their repertoire.
When this happens, it`s important to prioritize how much of your practice time should go to technical warm-ups and exercises and how much should go toward practicing your musical pieces. It`s important first to remember what technique is for. You use these strengthening skills to fine-tune and hone your skills as a musician.
Once you`ve got a firm grip on your technique, you can put it firmly in its place as a background to your performance.
If you`re a singer, particularly an opera or concert singer, you have to be especially careful about not over-practicing. Many experienced professional singers are content with 20 minutes a day of warm-up scales and arpeggios before jumping right into repertoire.
If you practice your vocalizes and exercises too long, you`ll tire out your voice. As to how much you should practice your technique during a single session, here are some thoughts to consider:
- Mindless practicing is a waste of time.Most musicians agree that endlessly playing scales and arpeggios by rote over and over again without thinking isn`t a particularly valuable way to spend your practice time. If your head space isn`t in what you`re doing, your muscle memory won`t develop and muscle memory is the backbone of technique.
- Mindless practicing causes sloppinessand soon you`ll find yourself falling into bad habits that will make your practicing destructive rather than beneficial. Neglecting your repertoire leads to a lack of confidence. After all, you`re going to be performing your pieces, not your scales, in front of an audience.
If you concentrate on technique at the expense of your repertoire, your repertoire will surely suffer.
If you have extra practice time, devote it to your musical repertoire, not to your technical exercises, especially if you`re preparing for a performance. Set aside a time for scales, arpeggios and technical exercises and don`t go beyond it. Unless there`s something you specifically want to work on, such as a helpful exercise, keep your technical practicing in its place. It`s valuable, but you don`t want to practice scales at the expense of your repertoire.
Just remember, technique is vitally important, but it`s a means to an end and this end result is the skill with which you play your musical repertoire.
Written on October 11, 2012
in Auditions, Discipline, How To, Musician's Life, Personal Development, Symphony Orchestra
I am still a young musician. Unlike my professors and people who have been playing for many, many years, I am still learning.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started this blog, to share what I’ve recently learned and hopefully help other musicians find a higher level of musical understanding easier and faster.
Lately, I have been trying to practice a good amount of hours, and as usual, trying to do so as smart as I can.
It’s good to remind ourselves what’s really effective, what really works. After many weeks or even moths of practicing, one can stop thinking. You get used to a routine and stop looking beyond your own boundaries.
Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard it before. But you haven’t heard my approach yet.
Every musician take notice of it in master-classes, seminars, YouTube, lessons, etc.
Now, what does it take to practice slowly in an extremely productive way?
You practice slow and then it’s perfect?
Do they mean slow scales?
Here’s what I think. I’ve done a series of experiments and this is what I believe slow practice is about:
1) Music must be built up the same way you build up your muscles.
You work different parts, all separately.
- a) Intonation
- b) Phrasing
- c) Dynamics
- d) Bowings
After working in detail each of these technical issues, you can then put them together one by one.
- a) Legato + Intonation
- b) Intonation + Articulation
- c) Intonation + Legato + Articulation
And so on…
This will take a long while. I’m talking about weeks if not months, depending on the difficulty of the piece. Be patient, you’ll get there the smart way. Have You Practiced 10,000 Hours Yet?
You need a strong base to support a heavy piece of music with hundreds of details. You can then get deeper into the music and work aspects like musicality.
2) Slow practice needs time. Your brain is an awesome machine. Make sure you learn how to operate it.
You need time in order to cook your food and get the maximum out of it.
- a) Select hard passages.Slowly analyzing.Watch how your fingers move and how you get to the new note.
Your fingers learned how to get to “B” from “A”. But they haven’t learned how to get to “B” from “C”. (Yep, it’s that hard)
- b) Practice your excerpt really slow focusing onas many details as you can. After 15- 20 minutesleave it. You brain, muscles and mind get tired, it’s hard to focus longer that.
Like I said, the brain is an amazing machine. Next time you come back you will notice a difference. Your brain it’s still working on it even though you are not physically involved.
3) Control your instrument with your mind. You don’t have to be a psychic though. Instrumental playing is really delicate. You can change something by moving your pinky slightly forward (string players) or by relaxing your right shoulder.
- a) Sometimes it only takes tobe aware of the problem. If youthink what you need to do (yes, only by thinking) you will perform it as well. Not always, but when the “fixing” is small.
Through slow practice you figured that the fourth finger is a little too flat. Be aware of it and don’t try to play it higher, think about it, then perform it. Next time you play it, you’ll fix it immediately.
4) Be aware of your body. With slow practice you will have enough time to notice a variety of things including how your body behaves.
Are you tensing up 5 measures before that hard passage?
I bet you will notice if you practice slow.
- a)Feelyour shoulders, fingers, hands, forearms, mouth, cheeks and every other part of the body that could be involved in your playing.
- b) Replay the excerpts with a new mind set- relaxation.
If you understand your machine’s needs and give it what it needs, then it will repay you by giving you a strong base. You two must work together as a team (yes, I mean you and your brain). It is the only way to feel the owner of a piece of music.
Slow Practice Means More Time for the Brain to Think
When you study slowly you forget slowly.
– Itzhak Perlman
Written on October 2, 2012
in Discipline, Musician's Life, Personal Development
What is exactly is being productive? Does it mean staying focus for a period of time? Is it what I need to do in order to play at my best level?
Those were some of the questions I asked myself when I first approached the term productivity. I wanted a straight to the point guide. How can I prepare the Tchaikovsky concerto the fastest, easiest and most effective way?
Fear no more! I will explain productivity with stuff I’ve tried and what others have taught me.
Here we go!
If you subscribe to my colleague Dr. Noa Kageyama at his Bulletproofmusician blog, you will get a Practice Hacking Guide. This guide will get you on the right track.
It is evident that you need to be willing to work hard in order to change bad habits for good ones, but keep in mind that as a musician you’ve already build strong elements to do it. By spending many hours in the practice room you already considered a disciplined individual.
Now, the question is—how long should I practice?
Here are some good answers to that question! (You can come back after reading the whole post) J
How Many Hours I day Should I Practice (Must read)
Today I want to provide you with an effective productivity plan. Not just my opinion on how long you should practice but more like how to take 100% of your efforts home.
In order to take advantage of every second you destined to practice, you must have a plan.
- What do you want to accomplish?
- How are you going to do that?
- What strategies are you going to use?
- How long will it take?
Planning a practice session is like planning out your life. You give direction and try to reach those goals while preparing other tasks. You can’t waste time—it’s limited.
Let’s say that you have 30 minutes to practice.
How would you get the most out of it?
How do you take 100% of your efforts home?
With 30 minutes you can easily take a big excerpt of music and work many things. Hopefully you picked a hard passage. Pick some technical as well as some musical problems.
5 minutes| tuning each note. Slowly watching your fingers from note to note
5 minutes| figuring how you would phrase that passage
5 minutes| actually playing the phrase with dynamics, etc.
5 minutes| repeating hard fingerings, bowings,etc. Cleaning everything up.
10 minutes| using the metronome and trying to get it up to tempo.
30 minutes will change the life of those measures forever. You were completely focus on those measures and actually worked things separately. You can even combine tasks by working on technical and musical problems at the same time.
I can personally focus for only 40-50 minutes at a time. After that, I am not really100% concentrated. I get distracted and start playing things without thinking much.
Many experts on the subject talk about 50 minutes practice and 10 resting (1 hour of work).
40 minutes – Warming up, technique, etudes, scales
10 minutes- Break
50 minutes- Concerto
30 minutes- Break
40 minutes- Mozart concerto
10 minutes- Break
50 minutes- Orchestral music
Total = 3hour practice with 50 minutes resting.
If I do it twice a day I will have practiced 6 hours and rested 1 hour and 40 minutes.
To practice 6 hours (the healthy way) I will need at least 8 hours available.
By doing the above, I give my body and muscles the essential time to rest. My mind will also pay me later by retaining more information.
Productivity = wanting to reach a certain level under a certain amount of time. (Read Increase Your Productivity by Shortening Your Day )
It’s been proven that when you work with a deadline, you do so more efficiently. You accomplish more in less time.
Finally, I would like you to read how this guy is productive.
Written on September 29, 2012
in Composers, Musician's Life, Symphony Orchestra, Violin
Believe it or not, your knowledge on music history and theory will be reflected in your playing. It will help your performance unconsciously by understanding and visualizing patterns, hidden harmonies, structures etc.
Not convinced yet?
Go on YouTube and watch any interview by one of your favorite soloists!They often talk (know) about the time period the piece was composed, its relation to the modern orchestra and general impressions the contemporary audience may have. They also know the score (orchestra parts) like they know their hands.
Not convinced yet?
Yeahhhhhh, I know you are! 🙂
Anyway, as performers we approach music from a totally different angle. If we were composers, for example, elements like orchestration, harmonies and colors are supposed to be the primary focus. For us it’s sometimes technique, technique, technique.
So what can we do to expand that horizon?
How can we performers take it to the next level?
I believe the right answer stands by studying and analyzing how composers think.
If we understand composers then we can understand their music.
For example, let’s say that the composer is writing for the orchestra. He/She thinks and studies that instrument as a whole. Balance, melody line, accompaniment, colors, textures, harmonies, dynamics, contrast, ranges-that’s what’s going on in their heads. But, on top of that they have to know at least the basics of each instrument and their capabilities to write successfully for them.
Our job as performers constitutes to play those dynamics. Our job as a section is to play those dynamics as a section. If we play (p) instead of (pp), when (pp) is marked, then it is another piece. That (pp) has been thought as a complementary part of what’s going on around the orchestra–assuming we are working with a professional composer.
He studied orchestration. You studied clarinet. Trust him/her. 🙂
12 Things the Composer Might be Thinking While You Play Your Part
1. Dynamics are not being played as strictly as I thought them.
2. The oboist is not aware that his/her line is being doubled by another instrument.
3. Cello section is rhythmically helping the melody line. Please notice that!
4. They are obviously playing the root of the chord. It feels like they don’t even notice.
5. First violins are now complementing the harmony.
6. First violins tend to play sharp in upper positions. Why? Focus on the harmony guys!
7. Seconds can play more. I don’t hear them. They are really important.
8. Violas, forget the viola jokes you guys are essential in my music.
9. There is a xylophone in this piece. I don’t think the orchestra knows it.
10. That line is impossible to play, but is ok… I don’t care about the notes they are building a color.
11. I hope the musicians don’t notice I copied those measures from John Williams.
12. This composition was created to have an impact. Not so much about beautiful chords. I hope someone understands my purpose with the piece.
Written on September 20, 2012
in Auditions, Discipline, How To, Musician's Life, Personal Development, Violin
Want to be among the top 1% of classical music performers?
Then you have to be different.
First, you must behave like the musician you want to become. That way you will trick your mind to do the same things you already do but differently. It’s all a psychological game. You think it, you do it!
You can do it only if you really, really, want to.
(1 really is not enough—you need 2 reallys to be an “elite” performer)
Next, you’ll like to dedicate some time to master the following:
The Basics of your instrument.
Did you get it?
They are everything.
You think you know legato but you really don’t.
You can play for 50 years and you will still have to practice legato to maintain the same level.
Basics are for life and if you try to make them your best friend, they will accompany you and protect you from the evil (technical problems).
If you apply this, you will be among the top 5% of the performers out there. You hear them playing the big concertos—so what? If it’s not clean, in tune, rushed, why bother?
Basics are for life, don’t forget. Do it constantly for a couple of years and I will see you at the top of the mountain.
Becoming an Elite
You are not a complete “elite” performer until you reach the 1% of them—let’s get you there.
You have to go through all of this: Survive an Audition, Follow Your Dreams Like You Follow a Score, Live Through Music, Watch 3 Ted Talks for Classical Musicians, Tell a Story, Reach Some Goals in Music, Be a Good Orchestra Musician,Make a Living as a Classical Musician (or at least try), Practice Performance,Recover From a Bad Performance, Convince Your Mother that You Should Major in Music, Develop the Art of listening, Keep the Magic in Music After 10 Years of Playing,Grow as a Person in Order to Grow as a Musician, etc, etc, etc.
You have to experience a life in music, let the years go by and understand what you are getting into. If you survive those years then you are almost good to succeed.
A positive attitude/mindset is all you need to make it happen.
As you probably know, music is hard as hell! Achieving your goals in music will require love for what you do—always (for the rest of your time on earth).
You will fail and you will have to get up, just try to learn fast.
You will play horrible; it’s ok, for you can play better another day.
You will… a million more other things, but you will overcome them because you love it, remember?
What is elite after all?
Elite means a group of people that are considered to be the best in a particular society because of power, talent or wealth. Yeah, of course I Googled that.
For musicians I would reorder it like this: talent, power and wealth. Talent leads to power as it leads you to wealth. But you don’t care about that right? You just want to be an awesome performer? 😉
(If you want to make money that’s another post: How to Make Money and Find Gigs or Make Art and Money at The Same Time )
Being part of the elite is more than just practicing and performing.
It is a way of life that requires a lot of sacrifices with and extraordinary paycheck—not money though—but self-respect, gratitude and wisdom. A life so rewarding that money could not get even close the final product.
To sum it up, achieving something of this magnitude requires a lot of focus for many hours a day. Only those who persevere will win. If you are involved already for many years, you might as well give the extra mile to get those awesome results!
This post in a few words:
· Basics (daily)
· Experience a life in music(years, it takes time)
· Positive attitude/mindset—at all times
· Love for what you do
Get the DISCIPLINE ASAP, it is the # 1 enemy. Well, procrastination is really the enemy but you get the point.
If you’d like more advice on the subject I have combined personal development with musicianship in this guide. Check it out!
I wish you great success and good vibes toward your elite status.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it! On Facebook or Sumble Upon would be great!
Feel free to reply to this email and/or share some comments!
Written on August 31, 2012
in Discipline, How To, Musician's Life, Personal Development
How awesome would it be if you could lay on a couch to watch Family Guy for hours?
If you ask me, I would tell you
that is 100% awesome
and probably the best hobby/activity/marathon ever invented by the human race.
Well, I’m 26 years old, just finished my master’s in music performance and I’m not married, yet. I don’t have to support anybody but me. The truth is that I could probably do those marathons for as much as 4 days straight, no problem.
Actually, I think I’ve done it once or twice.
Although I am not completely ashamed (just a little), I can explain
It’s so damn hard to open my case and play one scale.
For what! I’ve been playing scales since I know myself.
Boring stuff to enhance a technique that doesn’t seem to be enhancing or that it will ever be enhanced.
It happens to all of us! ( I hope so! )
If you are like me, you feel really bad after those marathons because you were not productive.
Don Juan could’ve been perfect by now, Mozart No.4 should’ve been the cleanest of all time—but you chose to watch Family Guy!
How awful! Shame on you! 🙂
heh, it’s ok! It won’t happen again right?
If you want to avoid a moment of regret after a 4-day-marathon, here are some tips that can help motivate the musician inside you and start doing NOW!
I’ve said it before but it needs to be said again; Often, the hardest part is to get started. So,go crazy! sit down for a minute and think ‘‘in 1 minute I will start running to open my case and do 1 scale”. I tell you, just that keeps me hooked for the rest of the day.
Exercise first thing in the morning. The benefits are incredible and a lot, your mind will be clear and your energies all boosted, ready to hit the practice room.
While you watch Family Guy, bring your sheet music with you. Play the passages mentally on commercials. It could get you going after that episode 😉 .
Sit down with full score in hand and your favorite recording. Learn from it and study it with your heart.
Eat fruits and hydrate well. They will keep you healthy and happy—2 vital elements to practice with your whole senses.
Now that you know what to do pick one and try it out.
Written on August 28, 2012
in Auditions, Composers, Discipline, Musician's Life, Personal Development, Symphony Orchestra, Violin
You know them. You venerate them. They are the whole inspiration and possibly the reason why you play an instrument.
If you are a young musician, chances are that you have a favorite player, usually a famous soloist. On the other side, if you are a veteran, you know how the business works, the good and bad things of a solo career as well as the ups and downs of an orchestral career.
Either way, a world-class soloist is always a person we all admire. We look up to them whether we admit it or not. They have been there for you since the beginning. You know, that time where you picked up the instrument for the first time.
For some reason musicians and colleagues of mine, always try to find a bad habit or gossip or something to hurt the soloist’s reputation in any way.
Soloists equals high level of achievement in many forms—they must dominate not only the technical part but things like marketing, psychological behavior, people skills, concentration, perseverance, endurance, self improvement, etc.
That exactly is what we all look for—a total immersion of our person/musician that develops into a complete professional. (This guide can help you achieve that)
We often associate success with traveling, big audiences, and strong presence among the classical music community.
But being a soloist is way more than we think it is…
It’s like being an astronaut. You go to space and work orbiting earth—or somewhere else. You are privilege enough to have the first words ever spoken on that surface and the whole world looks up—you are “in the spot”.
What we don’t realize is, perhaps, that astronauts have hundreds of people backing up their projects and helping the crew succeed from earth (the orchestra). They couldn’t have landed on the new world without that backup from earth.
Astronauts are the most visible members of the whole operation but not the only ones—and because of that, their failures are more exposed to the world. They become more vulnerable.
Yeah, you may be famous and perhaps able to send greetings to your family from a new world, but if an oxygen hose breaks up there by accident, who is going to be in trouble?
Not me, I’m safely on earth telling you what to do from an air conditioned office.
Same thing happens with soloists—they have to go through many stages, all exposing great deal of delicate matter. Their lives are part of a beautiful journey that “maintaining a status” becomes the ingredient that separates them from everybody else.
If a renowned soloist play less than expected, social media will take care of the rest. You and me will find out and their reputation will change their status.
I believe soloists earn their position in this game.
That is why I admire Joshua Bell. The whole world talks crap about him and he knows it, nevertheless, he remains intact. He maintains a status and has a very unique way of selling his product—watch him playing 😉 and you’ll see.
(Read this blog post “Why I Think Joshua Bell is Successful”)
As if it wasn’t enough already, soloists have to deal with jetlag, cultures, languages and food. You can probably imagine what the term “family” means to them—a world-class soloist is on the road 85% of the year.
These are some of the disadvantages soloists confront. Of course I didn’t mention the advantages because we all know them.
Having a close look at these points can help us understand what soloists are made of—the unavoidable exposure that puts them on the “spotlight” and the small details that makes them human beings.
I’m no expert on the subject or even close but I’ve work with many of them and seen them in action. What I can tell is that whether they are on their best shape of their career or not, world-class soloists will always join us (spiritually)(death or alive) and inspired us to do better and keep growing as professional musicians.
Again, here is the link to the Survival Guide for Classical Musicians guide.
Do you know any world-class soloist? What have they told you? Any cool ideas you’d like to share?
Written on August 11, 2012
in Discipline, How To, Musician's Life, Personal Development
If you’ve read Dr. Noa Kageyama’s articles at the Bulletproof Musician, you’ve heard about the use of sport psychology with classical musicians. Athletes and musicians go through many stages in which they must overcome a series of challenges in order to be considered among the top people.
We train every day—to be the best we can be. To perform at the highest level possible and to keep opening doors for the future.
BUT, to be as successful and legendary as, say, Michael Jordan or the equivalent in the classical music world, we’ll need to work as hard as him.
He didn’t fly from the free-throw line to the basket from one day to another. It took years of goal settings and purpose. When he was in high school, the school team didn’t take him because he was not good enough. Michael worked his career from the bottom up—and we can certainly do that as well.
As you’ve probably figured, he was one of my childhood heroes and today I want to translate some of his quotes into classical musician’s language.
I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.
Uffff, this one is my favorite of all. He said in an interview: “I’ve been trusted with the last shot over 100 times and missed, I’ve lost more than 900 games, missed a million shots. All that, contributed to what I have achieved to this day”.
You will lose auditions, play horrible, have bad days, bad experiences, etc. It is not what you do when everything is beautiful, it is what you do when things get hard. Those moments will teach you like nothing else. If you persist, you will win an audition eventually. If you play out of tune and keep working on it, you will play in tune some day.
The key is to keep working and find your way around your problem. Know it exists, and work consistently on it.
The only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be average
You know, I am such a big fan of Jordan that even though I’ve read all these quotes already I still get goose bumps every time I go over them again. The amount of energy I get when reading this quotes it’s incredible. I feel like I don’t want to be average myself either, I want to practice 8 hours a day until a reach my dream. I want to be as good violinist as he was a basketball player.
That quote is very well related to the next one…
I was the first one there and the last one to leave
No doubt about it!
In one of those million documentaries I’ve seen of him, he said that when he left basketball and started professional baseball, he was up really early and trained 4-5 hours more than the other players.
Of course, he was not professional but his reputation as a basketball player got him into the baseball team. He wanted to get better more than anything in the world and that was the right attitude at the right moment. When is the right moment? Always.
Although he never really became a star as a baseball player, his skills improved immensely over time. He was born to be a basketball player the same way you were born to play that clarinet. 😉
I’ve known many musicians who started playing the piano but ended up playing something else and became professionals in that other instrument.
These quotes are all connected in one way, find inspiration and passion for what you do, work with a future in mind and you will rise.
Write me back!! Do you have any favorite quotes that inspires you as a musician? Do you believe sport psychology can help us? What else can give us musicians energy to keep dreaming and working toward personal goals?
Written on August 7, 2012
in Discipline, How To, Personal Development
Have you wondered what exactly is the hardest part of being a musician?
In my opinion, keeping the performing level you are at.
That means staying in shape—working against procrastination, our #1 enemy.
What if you’ve been playing over 10 years, how can you still open your case to practice your instrument?
It is not so easy to think about playing scales when you have done it for what feels like ages, right?.
I’ve wrote many articles on motivation but today I want to take a different approach on the subject.
If having strength to open your case is the main problem, I invite you to take one second and visualize your goals.
Where do you want to go?
What do you want to achieve while living here on earth?
Imagine for a second that you have all the money in the world—what would you do?
Would you buy an orchestra and play principal flute just because you can?
Would you hire the Hollywood Symphony to record your compositions?
What would be your wish if you didn’t have limitations?
The answer to those questions will take you to your passion—the thing(s) you really want to achieve in life, your goals.
Musicians must realize what they want in order to change the brain into “taking action” mode. Once your brain send the right signals you will move toward it immediately.
You have to play those etudes. Scales are not boring if you don’t make them boring. Think and re-think bowings, phrases, intonation, counterpoint, etc.
Remember that the greatest musicians have the basics abilities of their instrument completely mastered.
That is where you want to be. It is the only common goal for us performers—to master the basics of the instrument. To take the overall control of that piece of wood, brass or whatever material your instrument is made of. You know etudes get you there! you also know scales help with these problems as well. The reason you are in music is because you love everything about it, even scales and etudes, you just haven’t realize that yet! 😉
To love those things is to dream and believe that it will help you get to Carnegie Hall, or not, but they will help you become a better competitor 😉 . The main goal is to be at the cutting edge of your technique so that you end up achieving personal and professional goals in music. Because you want to move forward in your career, everybody wants that, but only when you are clear on what you want, you can actually move toward it with ease.
No matter how far your goal may be, taking baby steps is the only way to make it come true. Those small steps will have enough time between each other to mature—building the essential tools to arrive completely prepared to what is going to be an achieved goal.
Written on July 27, 2012
in Composers, Musician's Life, Symphony Orchestra, Violin
I know it’s been a couple of weeks since I updated the website, the reason? I am having a blast in Chile (I wrote a report detailing how you can do it as well, get it here).
What an excuse! you may think. The truth is I needed a break from real life. After many auditions, finishing my masters and getting ready for what’s next, my mind screamed for a break. I didn’t actually give it a very long one but at least I’m doing something out of the ordinary.
Summer means new experiences and getting to know new people, new frontiers. I try to expand my horizons, learn, and then put it to work toward a new goal.
My new goal: Making it into a professional orchestra ASAP.
But on the meantime I will work hard, practice and have some fun in Chile 🙂
I must say, playing with the “rock stars” is an amazing treat. Having them so close inspires me to be like them–or at least play like them. Check this out…
Yep! That is Sarah Chang and YEP, that’s me using my bow to praise her. Wow, and to think that I first heard about her so many years ago. I’ve always wanted to meet her and listen to her playing live. Well, luckily that night I got my wish—awesome spot, the pleasure of accompanying her and listening from the first stand.