Tips for Classical Musicians

Category: Symphony Orchestra

Classical Music Vs. Musicians

When was the last time you listened to classical music?

Was it yesterday? perhaps 3 months ago?

I personally don’t listen to much classical music because I focus all my energies into practicing.

It is a fact, after a 6 hour practice session I don’t feel like listening to music at all!

I could not be more WRONG! That was me! and it’s still me sometimes  I had a professor during my undergrad who always mentioned the possibility of musicians not liking music. He said that somehow, we musicians don’t enjoy listening to music anymore.

 

Not everybody, but a good majority! What happened to us? Where did we lost it? Is it true that we musicians don’t like to spend time listening to good music?

 

I mean, common! That’s what we do! It’s how we make a living–or at least how we intent to make it happen. I consider myself completely guilty on this one. I know it’s important but still, I don’t compromise enough to actually do it. I think if we get to know the many benefits we get from listening to music, perhaps we could organize our study sessions including more listening.

 

These are some of the things that come to mind:

 

1) You will learn style.

2) You will learn the composer.

3) You will learn traditional performing standards.

4) You will learn about tempos, colors, atmospheres.
5) You will learn what your part sounds like when the others are playing.

6) You will learn orchestration (if studied with score).

7) You will learn the best orchestras in the world.

8) You will learn other parts.

9) You will learn new music

 

Today, we have more than enough resources to listen to classical music for free. On YouTube you find everything. As a good resource I will recommend www.naxosmusiclibrary.com. Investing in a streaming site like this one will pay off in the long run. It is a good idea, also, to build up your personal library with scores and Cd’s, but I know there is a lot of money involved there. On the meantime, if you can’t afford that you can stick with YouTube and perhaps Naxos music library.

Get your free scores here www.imslp.org. I’m sure you knew this site

 

I invite you to join me and take the challenge of listening those works you are working on and other stuff by the same composer. Taking aside 15 to 20 minutes daily will do.

As we analyze the character and what actually makes the composer unique, we will level up an understanding of the music we play. I believe, that will put us at the top of our field.

In general, when you are informed and know what’s going on around your world, you are on the right track to know your competition, your business and what holds you back. You will be better prepared to deal with it. When you get to know who the next little virtuoso is and who won which competition, you maintain a good preparation and set some standards.

 

Knowing what is going on is part of your business. Don’t forget. This stuff we don’t learn in the practice room but it’s what completes us. The more you know the better– it’s a thumb rule for all fields. In an industry where contacts play a big role, knowing as much as possible is essential to manage a successful career. We can start simply by listening to recordings and knowing most of the recordings of the pieces we are working on.

 

Last advice,

 

Be involved! Subscribe to music magazines, blogs like this one and streaming sites! They can only add to your career development. What other thing would you add to the list of benefits?

 

Feel free to comment

 

Carol

 

November 6, 2012     0 Comments   , , ,

How to Make Scales Fun to Practice

Let`s face it—practicing scales isn`t much fun. Most pianists see scales, along with arpeggios, as a necessary evil on the road to musical dexterity. On the flip side of the coin, those boring exercises are crucial if you want to be a good pianist or instrumentalist.

Whether you`re a singer, saxophonist, guitarist or keyboard player, technique is vital to your craft. You`ll be glad of those hours of practicing scales and arpeggios when you`re playing hard stuff.

Likewise, if you decide to become a pop or jazz performer, you`ll still need the manual dexterity you acquire by leaning your scales.

There`s no way to avoid them if you want to play really well.

There are, however, things you can do to make practicing scales more entertaining. Here are a few tips to make your scale practicing more endurable and even enjoyable:

  • Find some imaginative scale studies to work on. You don`t have to do the same scale exercises day in, day out. There are plenty of creative books on the market today that are geared toward making scale practicing more interesting. Visit a music store or go online and find some new exercise books.
  • Make it more exciting by taking your scales all the way up and down. You`ll be panting for breath after the first couple of scales and you`ll feel as if you`ve run a marathon, but it`s good for your muscle memory and adds some excitement to your practicing.
    Set some imaginative and creative goals. Try to play a scale perfectly 10 times in a row, or try to play the scale 20 times in three minutes without making a mistake.
  • Practice hands separately and then together (pianists), as this creates a little variety. You can also practice your scales in syncopated rhythms, accenting certain notes. This not only adds interest, but it also helps you build your muscle memory.
  • Remind yourself how much the scale practicing is going to help you in some of the repertoire pieces you`re working on. For example, if you`re working on a Bach Prelude and Fugue, you can easily see how much your performance is going to benefit from some intensive scale practicing.
  • It’s important to find some books that will make scale practicing a more enjoyable activity, instead of the tedious, boring chore that it can be. With the right choice of exercises and a little imagination on your part, you`ll be amazed how quickly the minutes will fly by as you practice your scales. You`ll also be amazed at the improvement in your playing when you`re working on 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.

Carol

October 19, 2012     0 Comments   , , , , ,

What About Technique?

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.

Carol

October 16, 2012     0 Comments   , , , , , , ,

4 Steps to Cook a Good Piece of Music

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.

Slow practice.

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.

It’s everywhere.

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?

Slow movements?

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.

  1. a) Intonation
  2. b) Phrasing
  3. c) Dynamics
  4. d) Bowings

Etc.

After working in detail each of these technical issues, you can then put them together one by one.

  1. a) Legato + Intonation
  2. b) Intonation + Articulation
  3. 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 wayHave 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.

  1. a) Select hard passages.Slowly analyzing.Watch how your fingers move and how you get to the new note.

Example:

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)

  1. 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.

BRAIN POWER!

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.

  1. 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.

Example:

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.

  1. a)Feelyour shoulders, fingers, hands, forearms, mouth, cheeks and every other part of the body that could be involved in your playing.
  2. 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

 

Carol

October 11, 2012     0 Comments   , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Be A Smart Musician

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.

 

Carol

September 29, 2012     0 Comments   , , , ,

What Does it Take To Be A Soloist ?

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?

 

Carol

August 28, 2012     0 Comments   , , , , , ,

Adventures of a Classical Musician

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.

Cool Stuff!

Carol

July 27, 2012     0 Comments   , ,

Weezic : Play With a Symphony Orchestra at Home

How many musicians play alone with their score and metronome? How many musicians dream of playing concertos but will never have the chance to play with a real orchestra? Too many!

http:/weezic.com is a new website for classical musicians, aiming to give them the opportunity to play with orchestra accompaniments. On Weezic, you can find thousands of titles in sheet music for free and play along with a virtual orchestra. Contrary to all the “minus one” CD backing-tracks, accompaniments on Weezic are completely customizable:

– each instrument part has a separate track so you can choose which part you want to hear or not.

– it is possible to set your own tempo: slow down the accompaniment and accelerate progressively, in order to work slowly any hard part.

– you can even change the tonality of the accompaniment. This last feature allows musicians with instrument tuned differently (pianos tuned slightly above or below A=440 Hz, baroque flutes tuned at A=415 Hz etc.) to play with the accompaniments.

It is then possible to save mp3 files of your customized backing-track, in order to use it where you want.

With this new website, every musician can practice great classical works at his own pace, and feel the thrill of the soloist or the orchestra musician, at home.

Hundreds of classical works are available (duos, trios, quartets, symphonies, concertos..), and new accompaniments are released every week.

Bored of practicing alone? Visit Weezic, and never play alone again!

 

Carol

June 12, 2012     0 Comments   , , , ,

An Amazing Journey With an Amazing Orchestra

We have been touring with the Orchestra of the Americas for a month and a half now. It has been really fun but I believe a lot of the musicians are getting really tired of traveling- including myself. We learned the different cultures, how to play their music , some of us learned how to dance, and some just watched- all this thanks to classical music. We are on this tour to play classical music mainly, but in our free time anything could’ve happen. We all went sightseeing. The tour visited 4 countries; Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. In this countries we shared unforgettable moments with our colleagues, coaches and specially guest artists. We were lucky enough to meet Joshua Bell and party with him- also with Ilya Gringolts (Russian violinist) who played with us a few concerts in Brazil and, composer in residence Philip Glass for whom we had the honor to record his cello concerto. I think those memories will be in our minds for a long time if not forever. As classical musicians, when we get to be with the big guys and work closely with them- you feel like all these years worth of practice are finally paying off. It is the end of the tour but not the end of our careers. We will look forward to the next time we get to do this again and play with people like them-it is a great learning process for all of us. We can watch and listen closely so that one day we can be like them.

Many bad things happened but I believe good things dominate the tour. The worse thing was when the staff of the orchestra sent home one of the cellist due to his behavior but the best thing was how we interact as musicians from 20 different countries and learn a little bit from each other. Our different ways of music interpretation became one to form a unique sound, the orchestra of the america’s sound. We all have new friends for the rest of our lives that share the same passion, the same love. It is such a small world that when you meet a fellow musician you are 95% sure that he will know someone you also know. You might find out that you have lots of mutual friends on Facebook, it’s crazy! And it is because it is a small world that we have to maintain it unified ! We own the classical music world and we have to protect it and promote it so that people can learn art- and enjoy art.

It was a great tour I can’t wait for next year!

 

Carol

August 15, 2010     0 Comments   , , , , ,

The Reality of the Music Business

When we listen to music, we are providing our mind and soul some sort of relief and pleasure. That is why we do it! We simply enjoy to listen our favorite artists and it feel so good to sing along or even hum an instrumental piece. As musicians, we enjoy music the same way non-musicians do- we have more knowledge regarding the structure of the music but in the end it’s the same pleasure. We do music because we like to perform it as well- it feel so good to participate in a concert and play with your colleagues, and even more if we play a solo or as a soloist.

As a young musician I was told by a composition teacher that I will find success only if I look for it, only if I keep doing something to make it happen- ALWAYS. Since then, that advice have been in my head and will continue to be there for the rest of my life. It has make a difference in my approach to the business.

Being in the music business is not easy stuff, we all know it’s hard to make it in to a symphony orchestra- the competition is huge. Make it as a teacher would require a certain amount of degrees and certifications. And all the other branches in music are really hard to achieve due to the competition and the fact that we probably have to work in multiples places on different tasks. Teaching, performing, composing and gigging have been my duties for the last few years- and I am still working on my masters!

I always say to younger students that want to major in music- “ Think twice! or maybe more than that! But, if, after you think about it for a while, the only thing you see yourself doing in the future is MUSIC and you will be unhappy doing anything else-Oh yeah! GO FOR IT! Know all the sacrifices that you are about to do- all the energy that you will need to practice hard- the stamina you will need to produce quality content, if you are a composer. If you analyze the possibilities, they are endless. If you are into music and work hard in any branch, I am 100% sure you will have a job! there is no reason to be afraid of failure. There is a lot of things you can do as a musician, so, no worries it will happen.

Think about it!… and if you think this is for you- why not give it a try? After all, it is what you really want to do!

 

Carol

August 4, 2010     0 Comments   , , , ,

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