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Pursuing Your Passion? Prepare to Give Up These 5 Things

music miscellany Jun 05, 2016

Lately it's all about passion. Pursue your passion; follow your dream. Are you just going to pursue it, or do you really want to succeed?  What price are you prepared to pay for the level of success you want?

We know that big dreams require big sacrifice. We see Olympic athletes live apart from their families for months at a time to attend the best training center. They keep strict food, training and sleep regimens. A huge commitment made in the hope of a gold medal.

Business people call it opportunity cost. "If I take advantage of this opportunity, take this chance on my vision, what will it cost me?" They know that by choosing to dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their vision, they are also choosing not to do some other things. That's the cost of opportunity.

Every dream, big or small, comes at a cost. Any level of music study requires sacrifice. Are you ready to commit, to pay the price for the success you want?

I've identified five areas where you must expect to...

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Is it a Mistake or a Symptom?

musicianship practicing May 30, 2016

Mistakes are easy to spot. We hear a wrong note, an incorrect accidental or rhythm. We can feel it - it just wasn't right.

But is your mistake simply that - an error - or it is a symptom of a larger problem? And how would you know the difference?

Sometimes a mistake is just a random slip, in the way that sometimes a sneeze is just a random sneeze. But we know that if we start sneezing more frequently, that mya be an indication that we are coming down with a cold, or that our allergies are flaring up.

A random sneeze requires a tissue. A cold or allerguies may call for a trip to the doctor.

A random mistake is easily corrected with an extra moment of attention.

But a mistake that keeps occuring is rarely just a mistake. If you have caught yourself saying, "I did it again," or "I always do that," then you can be sure that you have a problem to address, not mermely a mistake to fix.

The good news is that once you realize you are facing a bigger issue, the steps to correct it are fairly...

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Not Getting Things Done? 8 Steps to Making It Happen

music miscellany May 23, 2016

There's an entire culture built around GTD: Getting Things Done.

In my experience, getting things done is less about productivity and hustle and more about planning, setting realistic expectations and preventing panic. Whether you're worried about learning music or just making it through your busy day, it is possible to make progress on the things that matter to you as long as you don't let the wave pull you under.

I love watching surfers ride the ocean waves. (I am a watcher, not a surfer - a boogie board is enough of a challenge for me!) Surfers watch and wait for the right wave, trying to catch it at the perfect moment for a great ride.

Sometimes they make it to the beach. Often they fall off the board, and I see them go under the water and resurface a moment later, already watching for the next perfect wave.

I think getting things done is a similar pursuit. The wave of demands on our time and energy is powerful, and we should realize from the start that it will pull us under....

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Gounod's Ave Maria

music miscellany May 15, 2016

Charles Gounod


"My mother wants the Ave Maria played. Does it work on the harp?" asks the bride-to-be.

So, I play her a few bars of the famous Schubert song.

"No, that's not it," says the bride.

"Oh, you mean the other Ave Maria," and I play her a few bars. Happy bride, happy harpist.

It's the other Ave Maria, the melody that composer Charles Gounod wrote as an embellishment to a prelude written over a hundred years before by Johann Sebastian Bach, and commonly referred to as the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria.

There are some interesting similarities that the Bach/Gounod and Schubert Ave Maria settings share. They have a similar texture with long melodic lines set to delicately arpeggiated accompaniment. Each evokes a calm, reflective mood. And interestingly neither was originally a sacred piece, nor was either intended to be. I wrote about Schubert's Ave Maria in a previous post. Read on now for the unusual story behind Gounod's melody. Gounod credited Felix and Fanny...

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Everyday Practice Mistakes: Change Them Today!

musicianship practicing May 08, 2016

Is there anything you should change about your practice?

Our daily practice is our path to progress. It's how we develop mastery of our instrument and increase our understanding of music in general.

Shinichi Suzuki's famous quote,"Practice only on the days you eat," illustrates so vividly the importance of making practice a daily routine.

But anything we do every day can become so routine that we slip into bad habits, or at the very least, stop thinking creatively and productively about what we are actually trying to achieve in our practice.

Here are five of the most common mistakes I see music students making in and around their practice. Are you making any of these right now? It's worth spending a few minutes reading through the list to save yourself any amount of wasted practice time!

What to change and how to change it

1. Irregular practice.  There are very good reasons that we tell our students to practice every day. A consistent and regular practice schedule is...

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How to Discover Your Musical Signature

musicianship May 01, 2016

What is your musical signature? Maybe you've never given it any thought, but I can assure you that you have one. So how do you find it, or refine, or even define it?

Handwritten signatures are special. I remember practicing mine when I was a teenager, mostly when I was doodling during class. What did I want it to look like? I experimented with slanting my letters to the right and to the left, tested versions that were very feminine or strikingly bold. I tried making it legible or just a scrawl. It seemed an important thing to test. My signature was me on paper.

Signatures are powerful. Have you ever been surprised by the signature of a famous person that seems to contradict their public persona and consequently had a shift in your opinion of them? Or maybe you've experienced, as I have, the sharp emotions evoked when you see the signature of a long-departed family member or friend.

Just as your written signature is your individuality on paper, your musical signature is your...

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Resolving Everyday Dissonance, Musical or Otherwise

music miscellany news Apr 25, 2016

 Augmented Fourth

Musical dissonance occurs when two notes played simultaneously have a clash of wills. The notes just don’t play well together. The interval shown here is the classic example of a dissonant interval: an augmented fourth, a tritone.

Hundreds of years ago, dissonance was essentially prohibited in music. The perceived conflict between tones was held to be incompatible with musical expression.

But as music developed over the centuries, our ideas of dissonance changed. Sound combinations that we now take very much as a matter of course would have sent medieval listeners running for an exorcist.

In a similar way, we have come to expect a certain amount of dissonance in our daily lives. Conflict between our working and personal lives and the many demands on our time and energy create tension that can bring us to a crisis point.

Music theory teaches us how the tension created by dissonance can be eased and eliminated. Students learn about “dissonance...

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5 Things Your Desert Island Composer Can Teach You

musicianship Apr 18, 2016

If you were stranded on a desert island and could have with you the music of only one composer, whose music would you pick?

It’s an old question, and one I almost always find difficult to answer. I love so much music, it is almost impossible to narrow my choices to one. But inevitably, my thoughts do circle back around to one composer: Johann Sebastian Bach.

On a recent trip to Germany, I took the opportunity to visit Leipzig, a city with a rich musical heritage and the city where Bach spent most of his working life. I visited the churches where he led the choirs, taught and performed, and I was thrilled to hear his music played on the organ in both churches. It was a profound experience for me.

And in that heady atmosphere, once again the question came to me: what is it about Bach’s music that creates such a deep connection with me?

And as I have often before, I single out the same characteristics of the music: complexity defined by order, melodies that are arching and...

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Set the Bar Low for Your Next Performance

performing Apr 11, 2016

Set the bar low for your next performance.  What?!

We are taught to aim for the best possible performance. We are accustomed to setting the bar high and going for the gold. And that's a good thing, right?

Not necessarily.

Sometimes setting the bar high can create more pressure, more self-induced pressure. We practice harder and longer as the performance gets closer, and we sweat the details, wanting every nuance to be just right.

That's where we lose our way.

We begin to put the performance ahead of the music. We unconsciously rate ourselves and our efforts as more important than the composers' creation or the listeners' experience. We lose sight of the reason for our performance.

Not only is that the wrong outlook, but it's a self-defeating one. Our focus shifts from the big picture, the musical mood or picture we want to create, to the nitty-gritty - the notes we want to fix, the noises we want to avoid, or the errors we want to eliminate.

And the narrower our focus gets,...

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Aural Skills: Yes, They Really Matter!

aural skills Apr 04, 2016


I won't say I told you so, but...

I was reading a post on one of my favorite music blogs, The Bulletproof Musician, and was so excited to find someone else talking about one of my favorite subjects: aural skills.

The latest post begins by exploring the very real benefits of mental practice, meaning practice away from the instrument. My students have heard me talk about this before.

There are many effective ways to practice and make meaningful progress even when you don't have your instrument at hand.  Perhaps the first and most obvious way is to listen to recordings. We are musicians and by extension, we are auditory learners, at least in part.

I also recommend that my students play the "air harp." I know it sounds funny, but pantomiming your practice can help you learn your music in a different way. You can review the basic physical movements required to play while you are listening to a recording or simply reviewing the music in your mind. Both these...

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