►A very strategical method for practicing new music

Today, I’d like to share with my readers a text written by american classical guitarist and music teacher Louis Gehring in which he describes very precisely an interesting alternative approach to learning new repertoire on your instrument (a method focused on a phrase-to-phrase-approach as opposed to the more common “step-by-step-improvement on the whole piece”). Don’t get me wrong: all good musicians will learn a new piece dividing it into as small and as much phrases as necessary to musically understand and technically master all of them so to eventually be able to play the whole piece without sectioning. But what normally happens is, that you get to learn all of these phrases more or less at the same pace, some difficult ones might take longer, but anyway, when you’re at the point starting to practice performance, for example, you normally have all phrases more or less perfect. And here is where this method is different, come and read on (in the beginning of the text you probably won’t see anything new, but still is very well written. Step 3 is where it gets interesting.):

Step 1: ANALYSIS
Divide the piece first into main sections, and then subdivide these sections into phrases. The phrase is the basic musical and expressive unit of any piece, and therefore should also be used as the basic learning unit.
Step 2: FINGERING
Mark all of the fingerings for both hands. Since left hand fingering is included in most editions (but should, nonetheless, be carefully examined for possible improvements), this will entail more work on right hand fingering. Careful consideration should be given to finding the easiest possible fingering with the best musical effect. It is important to practice a given passage with the same fingering each time in order to learn more quickly and to produce an accurate, consistent performance.
Step 3: PRACTICE
Begin practice, starting with the first phrase only, carefully avoiding any mistakes. Study should begin by using the metronome set at approximately one half the future performance tempo (this initial speed will depend greatly on the difficulty of the composition). When playing at this speed is mastered with appropriate dynamics, articulations, and timbre, the metronome should be moved up one notch. After this speed is mastered, then one more notch, etc.
When the player has achieved three fourths of the performance tempo, he should go on to the next phrase in the same manner, and so on. After a section has been learned with this method, the whole section should be practiced with three metronome speeds: slow, medium, and fast (the performance tempo). This is the way the section will be studied from now on in order to maintain and perfect it.
Step 4: MEMORIZATION
Using the above method, memorization can quickly take place, again using this phrase by phrase approach.
Step 5: PRACTICE PHRASES OUT OF CONTEXT
After the entire work has been learned thoroughly and memorized, phrases should be practised out of the context of the piece (this is especially useful for compositions that do not lend themselves to easy division into phrases, e.g., fugal writing). Practice the last phrase of the piece (or of a major section) by memory, then the next to the last, and so on, moving from the end forward. Practice similar phrases together so that there will be no confusion under the pressure of public performance.
Step 6: ADDITIONAL TECHNIQUES
Practice without looking at the fingerboard.
Study away from the instrument by mentally recalling all movements of the hands (left hand positions, bar chords, fingerings; and right hand strokes, fingerings, string changes).

►The Alternative Music Lounge: Daniel Mille Quintet

Finally a new episode for this series =)… This one is about french Jazz Accordionist Daniel Mille who I happened to “discover” while listening to a radio program that was transmitting a recording of a live concert at OndaJazz Bar.

I really enjoyed his tunes… dreamy and inspiring, very melodic and showing great musicianship of him and also all other members of the quintet (Alfio Origlio – piano, Jérome Regard – double bass, Julien Alour – flugelhorn, Pascal Rey – drums).

On YouTube I was not able to find videos of the same combo (first two videos is Daniel Mille together with André Ceccarelli, Jérôme Regard, Stéphane Belmondo while the third is with Remy Vignolo, Eric Legnini and Pascal Rey and the last features Alfio Origlio, Jérôme Regard, Julien Alour, Andy Barron) but the music is as good as what I heard on radio, so have a listen by yourself right now:

L’Attente

Les Beaux Jours

Ouro Preto (original by Daniel Goyone)

At Montreal Jazz Fest (video is an excerpt)

To finish this post, here are some more links about him:

http://www.myspace.com/danielmille

http://daniel-mille.artiste.universalmusic.fr/

 


About this series:

One of the ideas I have for this blog is to start periodic post series about a few interesting topics. Like one post a week or a month, about the same topic but always bringing you new (or classic but little known) musical discoveries.
This series that I gave the name “The Alternative Music Lounge” is about presenting you bands and projects that I like a lot or respect much because of the quality of their music although they haven’t made it into the so called “main stream” and therefore probably will remain unknown for many people.
Whatever might be the reasons for this (sometimes their creations are just too good, too unique, lacking any “commercial characteristics”, othertimes it’s just another case of being disregarded by the music industry, we all know what’s usual to happen…), I think the’re more people out there who might like their music but just didn’t have a chance to discover it yet, so I hope these publications of mine might be helpful.
By the way, if you’re a musician and think I might like your music and would like to propose your creations for being featured in a post of this series, you’re welcome to comment this post or any other future post of this series, stating your project’s name, a link to where I can listen to some tracks and a way to contact you.
I promise to try and listen to everyone’s tracks and respond, even if I happen to not accept the proposal.

 

 

►Introducing: “Music from my friends”

Finally had the time to finish production of the first track that’s not composed by myself, so it also is the first track to go on the new page I added to my site some time ago and which had been empty until now.

It’s an instrumental track, more precisely classical chamber music (string quartet and flute), with a dreamy, slightly sad but beautiful melody, composed by Rita Faleiro and produced by me (production environment was ReNoise, using samples and the final mix was done in Audacity).

Go to this page to listen to the track, a free download is also available.

Hope you enjoy :)

►The Alternative Music Lounge: Jon Gomm

This time, I’d like to present you a musician who until quite recently was almost unknown, the moment that Stephen Fry (an english actor and television presenter) discovered him and decided to share his music to his 4 million twitter followers, saying just one word: “Wow” (read more here). So, by now I might have about 50% of my readers thinking:

« ah, another of those “assisted fame victims”, who raise to world fame and then fall down into the gutter quicker than you can say “G sharp minor seven” and in reality show nothing special »

But the other half of you (hopefully!) waiting with expectation for more details and, obviously, for hearing his music.

Well, if you’re still with me, here we go:

His name is Jon Gomm, he is a guitarist living in Leeds, England and until recently used to do about 200 gigs per year in very small venues or even on the street, just to survive.

Now he is touring Europe and received offers from around the world.

I got to “know” him yesterday, on the portuguese tv talk show “Herman“, where he was guest and played one of his songs.

I was impressed, he manages to combine several special techniques with great virtuosism and musicality, making his guitar sound like three or four instruments at the same time.

This includes complex percussion patterns on the guitar’s body and strings (the drums part), tapping, slurs and harmonics combined with pedal effects and a very neat trick with the tuning pegs, changing forth and back the tuning of the actual note in a way that sounds like a pitch bend (the electric-acoustic guitar part) and adding walking bass lines on the 6th string (the bass part), finishing it all up with his voice, which sounds really nice aswell.

But enough said, have a listen for yourself:

Jon Gomm – Passionflower

Here’s his website: Jon Gomm


About this series:

One of the ideas I have for this blog is to start periodic post series about a few interesting topics. Like one post a week or a month, about the same topic but always bringing you new (or classic but little known) musical discoveries.
This series that I gave the name “The Alternative Music Lounge” is about presenting you bands and projects that I like a lot or respect much because of the quality of their music although they haven’t made it into the so called “main stream” and therefore probably will remain unknown for many people.
Whatever might be the reasons for this (sometimes their creations are just too good, too unique, lacking any “commercial characteristics”, othertimes it’s just another case of being disregarded by the music industry, we all know what’s usual to happen…), I think the’re more people out there who might like their music but just didn’t have a chance to discover it yet, so I hope these publications of mine might be helpful.
By the way, if you’re a musician and think I might like your music and would like to propose your creations for being featured in a post of this series, you’re welcome to comment this post or any other future post of this series, stating your project’s name, a link to where I can listen to some tracks and a way to contact you.
I promise to try and listen to everyone’s tracks and respond, even if I happen to not accept the proposal.

►About practicing a musical instrument

So, lately I’ve been working full-time as a classical guitar teacher, finally I have the job I always wanted.

In this context, I’ve been noticing that up to a certain level of experience, most aspiring guitarists – and not only kids, some of my students are adults – have a serious difficulty in learning the right habits and methods of practice.

I think this isn’t limited to guitarists, I think it happens to many aspiring musicians, I won’t even limit this to classical music.

And it is not necessarily linked to their talent (or lack of) or capacity of discipline and dedication.

So, what exactly am I referring to?

Them practicing for quite a long time, yet not managing to solve certain difficulties or not managing to improve all the exercises or pieces I gave them.

Often the problem is this: they play the exercise or piece over and over, from the beginning to the end, and as if that wasn’t enough, they often try to reach final tempo without having solved technical difficulties at slow tempo first.

So, I thought it could be interesting for some people out there, if I’d write down, right here, what I usually try to explain to them.

How to practice a musical instrument correctly:

• Choose a place where you won’t be bothered and that is silent enough so you can hear yourself very well. It should also have a “positive” acoustic, I mean, it should sound nicely to you, a room with a cold sound or an uncontrolled reverberation can really take the pleasure from playing. Ah, and temperature should be nice, avoid a place that’s too hot or too cold.

• Have a clear idea of what you are going to work (this is something the teacher should help to make clear – point out priorities and what is expected at the next lesson, for example) – if you just “start playing around” it’s hard to accomplish anything.

• Start with something that helps to “warm-up” your fingers – it doesn’t have to be technical exercises, but I really recommend that – a little technique should always be part of your practice. For minimum, stay at this half an hour, or until you feel your fingers are “warm”, but if you want to improve technique or a specific exercise, try to work on this a little longer.

• Then pick up the musical piece your teacher has given priority for next lesson, or, if that’s not the case, pick the piece that you know you’re having most difficulty or have made less progress yet – or that you have less time to prepare for a certain goal.

Now, you have to think first: if the piece is ready for being played as a whole, then you can start with playing it once, from beginning to end, to get “focused”. If it’s not ready yet (if you encounter major difficulties, failures or have to stop repeatedly while playing, then it’s not ready), avoid playing the whole piece.

In this case, begin with the section, part or musical phrase you feel that needs more work, and then continue to the second difficult/less well prepared part/phrase, etc. If it’s a long piece, divide it into several parts. This is where musical analysis is needed – you should have done a basic formal and harmonic analysis to the piece prior starting to play it. Give priority to the parts you know that are less well practised.

While working like that, if you encounter something that you’re simply not able to play most of times because of technical difficulty, many notes simultaneously and not having it by heart yet, speed, sound, dynamics or any other reason, stop and isolate this phrase or section. Try to really locate the problem, “zooming in” to just one measure, a few notes, or even just two notes. When you have found it, practice that little bit of music over and over, until feeling some improvement.

If problem is speed, start slowly.

But do not repeat without making a little break between each repetition – to avoid getting tired, risk of injuries or just to avoid starting to play with auto-pilot – you need to be able to think about what you just played and improve according to that. So you have to listen carefully.

Don’t try to solve it in one session, though, unless you feel you’re almost there, because, remember: you probably have lots of other little bits like this one, probably even lots of other pieces, so don’t loose control and overview of your time. Also, don’t go too far: if you reach the point of fatigue, you won’t be able to improve anymore, so after some time you should move on to another problematic section/phrase.

After a little bit – hopefully having felt some improvement – progress to the next “problem” or to the next section.

And when you feel you dedicated enough time to the piece, go to the next piece, again following clear hierarchy of priority (leave the piece you have most well prepared to the end, because if for some reason you get interrupted or have to finish your practice session earlier than planned – or you might also get “hung up” for more time than planned on some difficulty you really need to solve – then at least you will not leave out any piece that really needs practice).

When you feel that a piece is getting ready for practice at what we call “performance level” (it means you can play the piece at final tempo (or close to) and with all musical, technical and acoustical problems clearly managed), you will have to change strategy for that piece:

• Go through the piece, once, from beginning to end, with the score in front of you, slowing down only on difficult passages – maybe repeating them sometimes, but then move on – or, if you have little time, pick out directly those passages.

• Then, put away the score and play the piece once from beginning to end, by heart, and with maximum concentration, imagining you were playing it at a concert (or really play it to some friend or relative). When you reached the end, look back and analyse carefully how you did. What went well, what went less well, what did you like, what part do you think needs improvement, where did you feel insecure, etc…

• After this critical reflection, get the score and go through the piece again, picking out those passages you stated that need improvement, and work each of them exactly according to what needs to be done (for example: improve memorization, sound, control, dynamics, etc…).

I could add many more tips and details to this post, but I think it would get way too big, so I’ll finish for now, and maybe write a follow-up one day with some more ideas.

Hope that this can be useful for some of you, and now: stop surfing the internet and start practicing, hehehe! 😛

Musical Instrument Practice Humor
A funny pic that says it all, about practicing a musical instrument... (Found on the internet, credit belongs to the original author, it's NOT mine)

►The Alternative Music Lounge: Dhafer Youssef

After quite a while without anything new in this series (since I started to work full-time I have found it more difficult to have time to write on the blog, unfortunately), know here’s finally one more listening suggestion.

In this series, I’ve already presented to you a great musician who plays the Oud (Rabi Abou Khalil), but here’s another one, and I think the only things they have in common are the instrument, their interest in Jazz and the quality of their music…

His name is Dhafer Youssef and he was born in Tunisia but moved to Europe in 1990 to have more freedom and ways to perform his art – playing the Oud, singing and composing.

His music ranges from Jazz and World Music over Fusion right all the way to Avant-garde.

I especially admire his musicality (having listened to the album Malak (1999)  – where he performs with Markus Stockhausen and Renaud Garcia-Fons, among others), his impressive voice (listen to him singing unissono with a trumpet, for example, and you will feel that shivers going down your spine, I grant you) and the astonishing dynamic range of his music (right from ppp to fff, it’s like classical music – never had listened to something similar in Jazz or World Music before) aswell as the criativity of his compositions and the quality of his interpretation along with his other band members.

Have a listen for yourself:

http://www.dhaferyoussef.com/music/samples/malak/04-kind_of_love.mp3

http://www.dhaferyoussef.com/music/samples/malak/02-iman.mp3

Some more recent recordings of him (Dhafer Youssef Quartet):

Here’s the link to his official site: Dhafer Youssef

and the article on Wikipedia.

 


About this series:

One of the ideas I have for this blog is to start periodic post series about a few interesting topics. Like one post a week or a month, about the same topic but always bringing you new (or classic but little known) musical discoveries.
This series that I gave the name “The Alternative Music Lounge” is about presenting you bands and projects that I like a lot or respect much because of the quality of their music although they haven’t made it into the so called “main stream” and therefore probably will remain unknown for many people.
Whatever might be the reasons for this (sometimes their creations are just too good, too unique, lacking any “commercial characteristics”, othertimes it’s just another case of being disregarded by the music industry, we all know what’s usual to happen…), I think the’re more people out there who might like their music but just didn’t have a chance to discover it yet, so I hope these publications of mine might be helpful.
By the way, if you’re a musician and think I might like your music and would like to propose your creations for being featured in a post of this series, you’re welcome to comment this post or any other future post of this series, stating your project’s name, a link to where I can listen to some tracks and a way to contact you.
I promise to try and listen to everyone’s tracks and respond, even if I happen to not accept the proposal.