Imagine paying a fixed amount of money into your bank account every month only to find that it always vanishes before you pay the next months money in, never gathering any savings. This is exactly what many brass students find is the case with their playing despite the amount of practice they do and it is extremely frustrating. When attending any workshop or masterclass with a professional or lesson with a teacher or even from watching a video online it is important to think about the factors that make that teacher teach how they do and say what they say. This comes down to three areas:-
1-How the professional has been taught themselves.
2-What experiences this professional has gained from teaching others.
3-What the professional has learnt through their own time in the practice room or on stage.
All of this should be respected and you should use their experiences to help as much as possible but not everything you are told will suit you or work for you as a player. Everyone is different and often musicians can believe that what works for them must work for all. It could also come down to how things are explained and how they then align with your own experiences and past learning. Sometimes the same idea can be explained very differently and you may already do this thing correctly but you can be made to believe you have something wrong with the way you play. It is important to approach new teaching or masterclasses from professionals in three steps. This way you will maximize your practice efficiency and make more progress towards your goals.
1-GATHER all the information.
2-FILTER out any areas you think are not appropriate to you (if unsure, don't filter anything)
3-EXPERIMENT with the new ideas in the practice room in the most basic of ways and see what works for you.
It is about having an open mind. YOU are your own best teacher or will be in the future and this is the best way to become successful. We can take guidance from professionals but YOU are the one who has control over your own development. You have to find ways to develop your skills in your own way.
SOME THOUGHTS ON PERFORMANCE.....
Below are some important elements that contribute to creating a great performance, whether in a concert, audition or competition. During the class we will likely discuss these points at various stages based on the performances we hear.
1- Advance planning
When you know you are performing in an event (unless it is very last minute) you should start preparing. You might not have time to work on the music yet due to other performances so you have to prioritize your practice but it is important to work on a variety of repertoire. Use time without the instrument to find information about the composer and the music and have a listen to a few different recordings because this goes a long way towards making your performance great. Get the difficult bits right first so decide on the most tricky technical aspect of the piece and work some suitable basic exercises into your daily routine or warm-up. Run through the piece a few times first to get a feel for it as a whole, decide which bits are the hardest and start work on those areas first. Don't just practice things you find easy or things you feel confident with just because they sound good! Every day should start with a good warm up and/or a daily routine which covers basic playing fundamentals but as a performance approaches don't become a slave to your routine, be flexible and find time to run your piece(s) through in a variety of acoustics. Be sure to plan enough rehearsal time with the pianist and don't let the pianist somehow change your musical interpretation of the work.
2- Looking good sounds better!
Audiences listen with their eyes and ears so practice performing your piece regularly. Even perform it in your mind to help your physiological preparation, and picture yourself giving the best performance of your life! Film/record yourself and spend time listening to it, you will be amazed at how you can improve. Use body language throughout your performance and in your practice, this makes the music even clearer to an audience and the pianist/conductor will follow you better. Dress appropriately when you perform and try not to have the music stand so high that it covers the audiences view of you, this will make audiences trust you and not make it feel awkward. Know when and how you are going to bow and always soak up the applause with a smile no matter how you think you have played. Always acknowledge the pianist or conductor/ensemble. When you perform, the audience members are most important so do not worry about any small slips, always play in a way that is involving the audience. Play musically and steer the audience through a musical journey. Stand tall and try and give off a confident, strong personality no matter how you feel.3- Practice makes perfect?You must find the correct way to practice that gives you good results. This practice method may be completely different to everyone else and different to what teachers tell you. You have to be your own teacher and experiment to find what works for you! Dont be over ambitious with repertoire until you feel secure in all areas. Practice the things you find hard, every day! Work on techniques that enable you to play 100% accurately. If you lack consistency in certain areas then find ways to solve this. Don't just repeat difficult passages over and over and although you shouldn't accept mistakes in the practice room, you also shouldn't think negatively when mistakes happen. Mistakes are what make us better so use them to your advantage. You must start as slowly as needed to play tricky bits perfectly, making it 100% correct (including dynamics, sound, correct note lengths, style etc) then build speed from there. Always focussing on strong foundations and basic fundamentals will help you succeed and making up exercises (or use the Arban) that are similar to the bit you are working on really helps. Use a metronome but also swap and change rhythms, keys, dynamics and do anything to make the initial part harder or just different (but still slowly) so that your brain doesn't get bored with just repeating the same thing over and over. Break passages into smaller chunks and always run a bigger section of the music to put the part you were working on into context. Use a timer to help you work for set times on difficult parts and factor in enough resting time. Closer to a performance you can find every opportunity to run your piece or programme through with no stopping, evaluating after. Always allow enough resting time in your practice so you are at full strength on the day. Brass playing is about being a master at controlling air. Practice good habits always (not bad habits!)
4- Creative thinking, picture painting
A useful way to get more involved in your music and be able to portray the music to an audience more convincingly is to imagine a picture or movie scene that goes with the music. This is a great way to get your head away from the notes and really make the music come alive. The more vivid the images the better the affect. You want to be playing stylishly at all times and not just playing correct notes. If you sound like you are listening to the music being played through a music software program (Sibelius etc) then it is time to start getting more emotional in life, put feeling into your music making and start thinking outside of the box.
5- The X factor
Certain performers just have the X-factor. You might feel that you play great but still don't get hearts racing with your playing. Number one and most important is your sound. Always work on your sound as it is the most important thing in making an audience sit up and listen. Your sound should become part of the audience and have an effect on everyone that hears you. This is often achieved by putting in more effort with the airflow but also just by listening to performers whose sound you would like! Having a concept is the key and a belief that you will succeed. Next you can think about note lengths. Often brass players play notes too short. The longer you can get away with playing notes (within the style you are playing) then the more of your sound is out there! Next is articulation. You should find ways to use different often subtle articulations in your playing to add an extra dimension but ensure you have great clarity at all times. Dynamics are obviously an important area and are directly linked to your sound, remember your sound should be amazing at every dynamic. Then you just need that extra bit of flair which comes from being a bit of a show-off and even having a little bit of over-confidence. This should never turn into arrogance and you should always be humble to others and appreciative to those around you. The best way to improve performing is by performing more so go out and find new opportunities!
If you have any questions about anything then you are welcome to drop me an email.