I was confused. Musicians were using the word “technique” in seminars and master classes and I felt they were speaking Mongunese. To me, it sounded like I needed tools from the Home Depot and work on my technique.
Yeah, laugh all you want. But that was a tough year. I had been playing my instrument for 3 years and was recently accepted to major in violin performance.
The term “colors” was another confusing one. How do you explain colors in music to a guy who is lost in a conservatory?
I was lost—and the worst violinist there. I felt bad. Who likes to be the least awesome? No body. And if you are last chair of the second violins (me), it’s pretty obvious.
I had to do something about it immediately. I studied my options but had no clue how to come out of that last chair. The only thing I knew was that my life was about to change…
I didn’t appreciate being the sucky violinist and I should’ve.
The first year as a conservatory student was the best for my development. I was lost and my skills sucked. But when you are the worst musician you can learn from everybody, not only the star players but from the average as well.
They are still better than you.
No matter what you hear or see or experience inside the conservatory, everything will affect you directly. You will level up rapidly because you’ve never seen or heard that before.
If you are passionate you’ll catch up quickly and I promise you’ll leave them behind. At least those who don’t commit the same way you do. Get rid of those first, then follow the star players.
Listen to their performances and don’t envy their playing. Admire them and know they’ve been doing it longer and working harder.
Awesomeness doesn’t come from drinking natural water,
When you find yourself in the last position, analyze your options and learn from the guys on top. Your goal should be to be like them, no less.
You’ll be up for a long and difficult ride. Welcome to the path of the erudite.
For the empire!
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.
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.
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?