What do a first violinist, second violinist, violist and a cellist need in order to play completely together?
(it’s not a light-bulb joke 🙂 )
The Answer: Get Uncomfortable
Counting calories is uncomfortable, so is practicing at 6 am. But what choice do we have? What about the results you are seeking?
Quartet rehearsal is not comfortable when the violist keeps rushing (we violinists never, ever, ever, ever rush, especially when playing 1st). Wouldn’t it be great if you all just play it incredible the first time?
But it isn’t that way.
So, how do we deal with being uncomfortable?
Fear no more! I’m here to lead the way! (Cheers, applause, mass noise, wooooooo). Thank you, thank you!
First of all, if you think about it, uncomfortable doesn’t mean you are in pain.
It means you are not within your comfort zone.
And that is also OK because when you jump out of your comfort zone, you explore new possibilities.
If my math is right, you’ll be exposed to a bizillion new things (good and bad) that you weren’t exposed before when you sat in your comfort zone. Exposure will leads to experiences and experiences will make you smarter. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
Is there any way at all I can make the uncomfortable
YOU CAN’T. But there are some tricks you can use to soften the process and still get incredible results.
How to be Ok with Uncomfortable
* Savor Every Moment – Put your first vegetable in your mouth and touch it lightly with your tongue. Now chew. It tastes bad but it’s not painful. Immerse yourself in the flavor, even if it gets uncomfortable, realize there is no pain. I bet you never tried this way before. Repeat the process various days and see if it gets better.
* Realize you are not alone – There are 7 billion people with the same problem. For them a couch is more comfy than flossing. Uncomfortable will always be uncomfortable, you can only learn how to soften the impact.
* Become the Hulk – Man up! Scream, awhhhahhhahahahhhh for a few seconds and just do it. Then freak out!
* Get a little uncomfortable – Start waking up at 10 am. The next day at 9:50 am, then 2 days later 9:40 am and so on, until you reach 7 am. Changes are gradual—otherwise you won’t succeed.
* Look for it – Find discomfort and get into it. Practice being uncomfortable and adjusting. Keep thinking about the results.
* Observe yourself – Develop the ability to see yourself running away from discomfort. Go back and say: “No, I’m learning to take discomfort” and then immerse again.
ARE YOU PART OF THE EMPIRE YET?
It has always been the ultimate goal of many musicians. Sometimes, it’s even the reason young students sign up for music lessons; and definitely the “why” you and me spent so many hours locked up in a practice room.
We want to play it “A tempo”
From day 1 you imagined yourself on stage playing your solo with a great orchestra. That’s the goal. It’s hard to realize we must go through certain stages; an inevitable process. Playing fast is more than just being awesome, it’s actually knowing what it takes to earn that awesomeness. It is also being able to notice every single detail going on while you are performing.
Are you in tune? Is your performance clean at this tempo? Is my hand(s) working to facilitate movement? Play fast is one thing. Playing fast with all of the above completely mastered it’s another thing. After listening to a live performance of all the Paganini caprices, I personally get really excited. I feel the need to be able to execute/have the technique to play these caprices. I believe it’s vital to watch the pros in action. Get pumped up and find the motivation to start taking small steps in the right direction.
All the Elements Together
Playing Fast Requires Time. How much? It depends.
1. On the difficulty of the piece—
2. How many time you’ve done it, and
3. How bad you want it.
If you want it badly you are half way there, said someone I can’t remember right now. Every time you do something, anything, your brain carves some tunnels. These tunnels can brume away easily if they are not deepen enough. How?
Repetition and Time
At some point after hundreds of repetitions you won’t need to do it anymore (don’t worry it will take years so don’t even think about it). For now keep repeating smartly and you’ll be on the right track.
1. Think you are a turtle. It helped me. Move from one note to the other and feel everything; your finger playing that note, intonation, the distance between the new note and the old one and so on.
2. Understand the learning process. It’s not 3 days of slow boring practice. You need a plan.
3. As a rule, practice what you learned the day before (so it can be carved deeply) but still move on to new things.
…it’s also a big ingredient. Knowing that it won’t be “a tempo” tomorrow morning is a big realization. I understand, your eager to play it the way you would at Carnegie Hall. Yeah, that’s the goal but not now. The soonest you get to really understand that, the better and more efficient will your sessions be.
Believe in your abilities and wait.
1. Follow a working plan. Spend at least a month to see bigger improvements.
2. Don’t get frustrated. Big things are not accomplished overnight. Baby steps are essential.
3. Look forward to the end but don’t rush it. Try enjoying the process of building your different techniques and applying musicality.
Musician’s Best Friend; Mr. Beat
Or any other kind of metronome. He is your best companion. He will help you play accurate and evolve with conscience. Mr, metronome will treat you like if you were a baby. And that’s a good thing .
Things to consider:
1. He is your best friend only if you follow him. Don’t lose him. To be efficient is to follow your best friend.
2. Work strategically. Select some excerpts of the pieces you are working on and perform them really slow simulating the conditions you will be executing when you play fast. (e.g. Same part of the bow).
3. When you are satisfied move up. Perhaps 5 points up and try to stay on top of your technique as well as the musical understanding.
Separating all the technical difficulties and practicing them one at a time can very much helps the final result. It will allow your brain to cook things better.
As you work your way up, individual technique practice will enhance each area so that the entire technical aspect works towards one another.
1. Remember the tunnel carving. Repetition makes these tunnels deepen to the point that the info stays forever.
2. Slow practice is crucial for coordination of both hands.
3. To have a smart practice session, you must analyze from different points of view at all times.
As you continue to grow as a musician, you will find that organization is probably the number one thing to focus in order to have a satisfactory performance. You want to play fast? Great! Now, let’s see how we can do that with a good level of musical and technical understanding. You must know your music, the orchestra parts, accompaniment, main lines, how your part develops and where to, and how your line fits among the rest.
When the fast part arrives, controlling your emotions will play a big role. Staying steady and being a good musician should be the priority at all times. Have fun, show off what you have practiced and keep growing as a musician. If you did your homework, you will be growing as a person as well.
In order to level up your complete persona, you must try everything.
That’s right! You have to try it all.
But it looks gross!! It doesn’t matter, eat it. You might be missing the best flavor your tongue could ever experience.
Musicians don’t always take this approach. I mean, we are artists. We are supposed to be the craziest living beings on earth. Look at modern art and you’ll understand what I mean.
Besides, in what other profession you get to be the slave of a piece of wood or brass or otherwise lose your tone, pitch and complete feeling of the instrument?
We lock ourselves in the practice room so that we could play from decent to really good performances. And that is awesome, the work really pays off. But there are other ways to keep experiencing life and put it in context with your music career.
For example, when I travel and get to witness fascinating place, I can somehow communicate those feelings through my instrument later on. What I have experienced in the past helps me understand those emotions—then I just have to find a way to communicate them. That’s where my violin comes in.
You have to go out there! Live! Experience stuff, do crazy stuff.
Set yourself free.
Do the things you are more scared of! Prove that you have the courage to face what gives you Goosebumps. It’s all part of the learning experience. You go through things in life so that you can be prepared the next time it happens or so that when something bigger arrives, you can deal with it.
Try risking more, more often. You’d be surprised of the consequences. They will not be as bad as you originally thought.
One day at the Time
It is the number one rule to be an efficient and productive person (my opinion). You may have these million projects on your mind but they won’t come alive if you don’t take the first step.
Baby steps are essential. Organize your “to do” list and set a deadline.
Persistence and Perseverance will get you there. Work only a few things every day, know what comes for the future but don’t worry about it.
Take a few tasks and tackle them. Feel the joy of accomplishment. Then do the same the next day. Before you know it, you’ll get to the end.
The 21 days to change a habit
As a musician/person, we’ve built many bad habits over time. It’s important to identify them and correct them applying the right techniques.
According to the people who like to do research, changing a habit is as easy as spending 21 days doing the opposite. Painful, not cool and sometimes horrible—but it is a proven method. You could start by going to the gym every day for 20 minutes. Or by drinking 3 full glasses of water every day (additionally to those you would normally drink).
To be a complete person/musician you have to take small bites in a strict manner. You can’t miss a day for at least 21 days. There is a quote that I really like; When you want really want it, you are already half way in.
Last advice; travel, risk more than you usually do, persevere, take one thing at the time and wait 21 days to get used to new things. All of this will grow you into a greater person/musician.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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?
It Helps Your Brain Activities
When you listen to classical music, you can fine tune your brain to:
- Improve memory
- Control pain
- Enhance creativity
- Increase motivation
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
In a hospital study, researchers found that heart patients received the same anti-anxiety benefits from listening to 30 minutes of classical music as they did from taking the drug Valium.
Has a Positive Effect on Your Linguistic Abilities
Researchers had found that those who listened to Vivaldi while exercising had increased scores on verbal fluency tests after their workouts compared to those who exercised without music.
It Will Make You Smarter
Listening to Mozart (especially the piano concertos) may temporarily increase one’s IQ and produce many other beneficial effects on mental function.
It is the most complex of all the music genres
Classical music can be explained by professional musicians who analyze the structure, harmony, form and orchestration of a piece. It takes a considerable amount of knowledge and technique to work in depth the structure of classical music and perform it with great level of understanding.This is why classical musicians are more likely to play any other music genre very easily.